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Nikon Coolpix P510 review: Nikon Coolpix P510

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The Good The Nikon Coolpix P510 is a fun camera to shoot with, overflowing with photo and movie features, and backed by very fast shooting performance and excellent low-ISO photo quality.

The Bad The P510 has trouble focusing at the telephoto end and its low-light/high-ISO photo quality has room for improvement. Also, the camera feels cheaply constructed.

The Bottom Line The Nikon Coolpix P510 is easy to recommend for its features, photos, and performance, but the usefulness of a 42x zoom lens is debatable.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

For those after the absolute longest lens on a compact camera, meet the Nikon Coolpix P510. At roughly the same size as Nikon's last full-size megazoom, the 36x 22.5-810mm P500, the P510 packs an "oh wow"-inducing 42x 24-1,000mm lens.

The thing is, there are not a lot of things you can do with a lens that long on what's essentially a point-and-shoot camera. With the lens fully extended, it's very difficult to hold the P510 still and keep your subject framed, and the autofocus is very slow, so fast-moving targets are a challenge to shoot. Plus, while the image stabilization is very good, you're still going to want it on a tripod to avoid blur and using its higher ISO settings.

That said, the zoom range does give you a lot of shooting flexibility and the P510 has plenty of other positive attributes that make it worth recommending.

Key specs Nikon Coolpix P510
Price (MSRP) $429.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4.8x3.3x4.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 1 pound 3.6 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 921K dots/Yes, electronic
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 42x, f3.0-5.9, 24-1,000mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080p at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 240 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; wall adapter or computer via Micro-USB
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software ViewNX 2 (Windows, Mac)

The Nikon Coolpix P510's photo quality is very good to excellent and significantly better than the P500. Now, that doesn't mean it's as good as a digital SLR; pixel peepers might be disappointed by what its shots look like at 100 percent. For the P510's price and features, though, most people should be more than happy with its results.

At its two lowest ISOs, subjects look sharp with fine detail good enough for large prints up to 11.5x15. Things look softer as noise reduction increases as you go up in sensitivity, but it isn't until you reach ISO 800 that subjects lose significant detail and look a little smeary at smaller sizes onscreen or in prints.

ISO 1600 is OK for Web use, but colors look muddy. The highest sensitivities -- ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 -- really aren't usable. That's unfortunate because once this camera's lens is fully extended, they would be helpful. (Read more about the P510's photo capabilities in the sample photo slideshow.)

Video quality is pretty good, certainly good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. Panning the camera will create some judder and I noticed trailing behind fast-moving subjects, but that's typical of the video from most compact cameras. The zoom lens does function while recording, but you will hear the motor in your clips as you use it. However, a bigger issue is the camera's slow autofocus. In fact, there were times when I extended the lens and it never focused.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix P510
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
White balance Auto (normal), Auto (warm lighting), Custom, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash
Recording modes Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Special effects, Night Landscape, Landscape, Subject backlighting/HDR, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, User, Movie, High-speed Movie
Focus modes 9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF, Subject tracking AF, Target finding AF, Manual
Macro 4 inches (Wide); 0.4 inch (at 3 increments from the maximum zoom position to the telephoto position)
Metering modes 224-segment matrix, center-weighted, spot
Color effects Nostalgic sepia, High-contrast monochrome, High ISO monochrome, High key, Low key, Selective color, Painting; Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome (customizable)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 5 shots

The P510 has a great mix of shooting modes, making it a good choice for both snapshooters and those who want more control. There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Nikon's Scene Auto Selector, located in with the other Scene modes. It adjusts settings appropriately based on six common scene types. If the scene doesn't match any of those, it defaults to a general-use Auto. Then there is an Auto mode, which shuts off all photo settings from the user except for image quality and size.

Outside of the Scene Auto Selector there are 16 other scene modes, such as Landscape and Portrait as well as a Pet Portrait mode that will automatically shoot when it detects a cat or dog face, as well as two panorama modes: Easy and Panorama Assist. The latter uses a ghost image on the screen to help you line up your successive photos. The former just requires you to press the shutter and pan the camera left, right, up, or down to create a panorama in camera. These modes never handle movement well, so they're best used on scenery without movement in it. Nikon also added a simple 3D photo mode. It works like the Panorama Assist mode; you take one shot, and move the camera slightly to the right, and it fires off a second shot and combines them into one MPO file for viewing on a 3D display.

P510 shooting modes
The P510 has shooting modes from full auto to full manual.

If you want to do more than just point and shoot, Nikon includes Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-speed-priority, and Manual modes on the P510. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 8 seconds to 1/4,000 of a second. Apertures at the wide end go from f3.0 to f8.3 with a total of 10 stops. The telephoto end has just four stops: f5.9, f6.6, f7.4, and f8.3. Beyond aperture and shutter speed, Nikon includes manual adjustments for noise reduction, sharpening, contrast, and saturation, color filters and toning for monochrome photos, and things like exposure bracketing and flash exposure compensation. And if you come up with a set you like, you can store them in the Custom mode for easy recall.

The P510, in general, is a fast-shooting camera. From off to first shot is barely more than a second, and shot-to-shot times both with and without flash are about 1.7 seconds. If you need to shoot faster, the camera's high-speed burst will capture at 6.5 frames per second at full resolution for up to five frames. Other continuous-shooting options include a low-speed full-resolution burst capable of 1fps for up to 30 frames and 120fps and 60fps bursts that capture up to 60 shots at VGA and 1-megapixel resolution, respectively.

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