- Review Date: 05/09/2012
- Bottom line: Bigger than a compact, but smaller than a D-SLR, the 42x Nikon Coolpix P510 packs a high-quality lens that delivers sharp images. Integrated GPS, 1080p video capture, and plenty of other features help it nab our Editors' Choice for the best full-size superzoom camera.
- Pros: Long 42x zoom lens. Sharp images. Snappy performance. 1080p video capture. Integrated GPS.
- Cons: High-speed burst limited to 5 shots. No hot shoe or mic input.
The Nikon Coolpix P510 ($429.95 direct) is the successor to the company's popular 36x P500 ($399.95, 4 stars). The P510 ups the zoom factor to 42x, although it does so by sacrificing some coverage on the wide-angle side of things. The camera adds a built-in GPS and ups the resolution to 16 megapixels, but is otherwise similar to the P500. If you're in the market for a camera with a really long zoom lens, the P510 is the best of the bunch, so it's our Editors' Choice for full-size superzoom cameras.
Design and Features
Looking a bit like a miniature SLR, the P510 comes complete with a handgrip and an eye-level viewfinder. Of course, you won't be able to remove its lens—but the integrated design is one of the factors that makes such a long zoom factor possible. The camera measures 3.3 by 4.8 by 4.1 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.2 pounds, making it a smidge smaller and lighter than the 35x Canon PowerShot SX40 HS ($429.99, 4 stars), which measures 3.6 by 4.8 by 4.2 inches and weighs 1.3 pounds. If a full-size superzoom is too much camera for you to carry, take a look at the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS ($349.99, 4 stars)—it's got a 20x (25-500mm equivalent) lens and can fit snugly in most pockets.
A number like 42x is quite impressive on its own when talking about zoom, and even more so when you realize that it starts out at a relatively wide-angle 24mm (35mm equivalent) focal length. It goes all the way up to 1000mm, which is the longest telephoto reach in its class. This is much longer than the 810mm that the camera's predecessor manages on the long end of its zoom—but the P500 features a 22.5mm field of view on the wide side of things. The difference may only be 1.5mm, as the difference between the two is a step backwards, give or take, but for situations where you're up against a wall, a step backwards isn't possible. To be fair, none of the current crop of superzoom cameras manage a field of view that's wider than 24mm—it's just unfortunate to see the camera lose a bit of versatility on one end in order to gain a longer telephoto reach.
There are enough physical controls on the P510's body to satisfy demanding shooters, and fully automatic operation is also possible for the set it and forget it crowd. The top of the camera houses the mode dial, Function button, zoom rocker, and shutter release—there's also a second zoom rocker located on the lens itself. The bulk of the control buttons are on the rear of the camera—these include Exposure Compensation, Flash Control, Macro Mode, the Self Timer, and a Record button for video. Like most cameras in its class, the Nikon uses an electronic power zoom to extend and retract the lens. Fujifilm does produce a few models, including the FinePix HS30EXR ($499.95, 3.5 stars) that support manual zooming. A camera with a manual zoom may be more comfortable for SLR users who are used to adjusting the focal length of zoom lenses by hand.
You can frame images via the camera's rear 3-inch LCD, which is quite sharp at 921k dots, or the eye-level electronic viewfinder. The LCD is hinged so it can be viewed from above or below, but it doesn't swivel out from the camera like the display on the Canon SX40 HS. The P510's EVF is fairly small and not that sharp, which makes it okay to verify image framing, but not much else. The Fuji HS30EXR has a larger, sharper EVF that is more enjoyable to use, and even makes it possible to focus the camera manually with some precision.
Performance and Conclusions
Considering the size of its lens, the P510 is quick to start up and shoot. It manages to do that in 1.6 seconds, can rattle off a burst of five shots in a second, and records a relatively short 0.4-second shutter lag. If you want to shoot images continuously at a lower pace, the camera can fire a shot each second for as long as you care to hold the shutter button down. The 24x Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 ($499.99, 3.5 stars) takes 2 seconds to start and shoot, but can shoot continuously with 0.2 second between shots—the same rate as the P510's 5-shot burst—and records only a 0.1-second shutter lag.
I measured the sharpness of the P510's lens using Imatest software. It uses a center-weighted algorithm to determine just how well the camera can capture an image of a printed test chart, with a score of 1,800 lines per picture height or greater considered being acceptably sharp. The P510 is just in that range, as it manages 1,865 lines. The Canon SX40 HS scored similarly on the sharpness test with 1,836 lines.
Imatest also measures image noise. As you increase light sensitivity (ISO), image noise increases along with it. If an image is composed of more than 1.5 percent noise, it looks very grainy and may be unusable. The P510 is able to keep noise under this threshold through ISO 1600, although there is a loss of some image detail at this setting. At ISO 800, noise is very well controlled and image detail is very good. The Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR delivers images that are a bit noisier at ISO 800, but also retain a good amount of detail.
The camera's integrated GPS takes a little while to lock on to a signal—five minutes for the initial lock, and two minutes the next day at the same location—in the relatively open skies of suburban New Jersey. I had a hard time getting a signal at all in Manhattan, which is not surprising as it is an environment that often proves challenging to GPS-equipped cameras. When the GPS is on and locked in, it does a great job adding your current location to photos, and if you use software like iPhoto, Picasa, or Lightroom 4, you'll be able to see exactly where the photo was taken on a world map.
The P510 records 1080p30 and 720p60 video in QuickTime format. Footage is colorful and sharp, and the camera is able to zoom and focus while recording. The sound of the lens moving in and out is audible on the soundtrack, but not overwhelming. There's a standard mini HDMI port on the camera, so you can connect it to an HDTV to view photos and video, as well as a proprietary USB connector so you can plug it into a computer. Unlike the Panasonic FZ150, the P510 does not have a hot shoe or a microphone input—so you won't be able to mount a higher-quality flash or use an external microphone. There's no dedicated battery charger included, so you'll have to plug the camera directly into the wall to recharge the battery. The P510 records files to SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards.
The Nikon CoolPix P510 is a very versatile camera. Its 24-1000mm lens makes it possible to capture wide-angle landscapes and to fill the frame with distant objects. Understand that, despite a design that is reminiscent of a D-SLR, it doesn't offer the same level of image quality—but no SLR can pack such an impressive zoom lens in a small package. It's also lacking the hot shoe that is found on the Canon SX40 HS and Fujifilm HS30EXR, so you won't be able to use an external flash. But images from the camera are very sharp, and it does a nice job in low light. Add in a GPS, an electronic viewfinder, and a tilting rear LCD, and you have a camera that earns our Editors' Choice.
Alas, a 42x lens may be an overkill for some. If you don't need the telephoto reach, take a look at the $350 Canon PowerShot SX260 HS —which is small enough to fit into your pocket or purse, while still managing to pack a 20x lens. If you're more serious about video than stills, the Panasonic FZ150 is worth consideration—it's more expensive and only offers 24x zoom, but it incorporates a microphone input and a hot shoe.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.