Nikon Coolpix P500 – Jamie’s Review

April 10, 2011 by  

To see more test shots from the P500 see our gallery HERE and to see Bryan’s top ten reasons to avoid this camera click HERE.

I am actually going to write this review over the course of a few weeks starting from the first day I received the Nikon Coolpix P500. We will actually be writing two reviews, one from Bryan which will probably be way more technical than what I will write about. So let’s start from the beginning, why did we get a another camera. Considering we already have a 5D Mark II this camera seems like a step down. Don’t get me wrong I love my Mark II, LOVE IT, but at the same time it is not something that’s easy to carry around everywhere. I usually bring it to big events and photo trips because I know that I will get amazing images every time. I don’t like bringing it to parties or hikes or random things like that because I feel it weighs me down. I needed to get a camera that was going to be more versatile. We were prepared to shell out $650 for the Rebel T2i which is also a superior camera to the P500 but also not as versatile because I would still have to carry around lenses. Now let’s get one thing straight, comparing a DSLR to a super-zoom is like comparing apples to oranges. The P500 is very good at what it was manufactured for but I knew that when I bought it I wasn’t going to get DSLR image quality. For one thing it has a very small sensor and so the low light capability is not going to be great, but that’s not what I bought it for. I was more excited about finally having on camera flash, something my Mark II does not have. Yes I could use an external flash but if you know me you know I hate carrying around extra equipment. You will almost never see carrying an external flash, a battery pack or a tripod. I try to keep things simple.

Taken in Pet Portrait Mode F3.4 at 1/15, ISO 800

Aperture Priority F4.5 at 1/30, ISO 400

The main reason we purchased this camera was to have a second shooter. We shoot at least five events a year for the San Diego Running Institute and we usually end up renting another camera body each time. Along with these events we also go to many other things where we like having two cameras so this renting business was getting rather expensive. So why not just go with the T2i? Well as I was doing research on cameras I remembered that a couple of years ago we were looking into Panasonic’s super-zoom which everyone was raving about. I thought why not check out super-zooms, and I did, relentlessly. I looked at three different Panasonic’s, the Canon SX30, the Pentax, Sony etc, I read hundreds of reviews. What made my decision even more difficult is that I couldn’t decide what features were important to me. Did I want RAW capability? Did the camera shoot in 3:2 format? Did it have HD video capability? Could it do Macro? In the end I ended up going on Nikon’s website and saw that the P500 was about to be released. I have no experience with Nikon products so I really didn’t know what to expect. At this point my brain was so overwhelmed with information I think I was most impressed by the fact that I could get the camera in red. Luckily, the color turned out not to be the best feature on this camera.

Macro Mode, Manual Focus, F4.4 at 1/60, ISO 1600

Macro Mode, Manual Focus, F5.6 at 1/40, ISO 1600

My first impression was that this little camera was gorgeous, I got the red one (of course). I had to wait for it though, a long time. It took them a month to finally send it to me and I drove myself crazy reading reviews and finding out more information on the thing before I finally got it. It is also very light which is in stark contrast to the Mark II. Even when I put a 50mm on it I still feel like I’m carrying a small brick. My husband doesn’t seem to share this problem but I have weak little arms. I also found it easy to navigate the menus which is good considering I hate reading manuals (it’s manual is 252 pages!). I pretty much figured out where all the settings were in the first few minutes which says a lot since I am not familiar at all with the Nikon menu. I did look in the manual to figure out what some of the symbols meant, there are so many features in this camera to help the user in every possible shooting situation it’s overwhelming. I just wanted it be able to shoot in manual or aperture priority, I could care less about the other “scene” modes. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have interesting things to offer, for instance, one of the first things I played with was the “Pet Portrait” mode. I just aimed the camera at my dog and it instantly recognized her face and took three photos. Nice touch.

Macro Mode, F4.7 at 1/200, ISO 320

Full zoom, F7.1 at 1/400, ISO 1600

One thing I found slightly annoying is the lack of shortcuts to change the ISO, metering and focus point settings. I am so used to this on my Mark II that I find it somewhat disappointing that the option isn’t available to me. But this seems to be a feature mostly prevalent on DSLR’s and that is not what I purchased so I’m not going to complain. It’s not like they didn’t try to make it easier, for instance you can set an ISO range when you shoot so the camera never changes the ISO above or below a certain sensitivity while shooting. I also dislike that you have to take the lens cap off before you turn it on or you will possibly damage the lens component. For someone who is as forgetful as I am this is no bueno, I have a feeling I will forget this step many times. The electronic viewfinder is another thing that I just can’t get used to. Most of the reviews I read have showed that people love the EV but I just can’t make myself like it. For me, unless the viewfinder is as large as that of the Mark II it’s useless to me. That’s just my own quirkiness though and really not a flaw with the camera. Plus every time I look through it I feel like I’m looking through the eye’s of a robot. Yes, that’s how I would really describe it. I absolutely love the large screen so it’s really not a problem that I have to frame all my photos by using the LCD, it’s not the true photographers way but this isn’t an SLR it’s an elaborate point and shoot. There was something that I did find problematic that I discovered and that is it has it’s own type of USB connection which is still a mystery to me. It wasn’t compatible with the two types of USB’s I already had connected to my computer, mini and micro, so I had to plug yet another cord in. This was all fine and dandy until the Friday I forgot the cord at work and realized I didn’t have a card reader that supported SDHC cards. Even Nikon’s website is not helpful when trying to figure out this mystery connection. One person even asked a Nikon staff member what the smaller end of the cable was to which he answered “micro usb”. There are 3 types of micro USB, none of which appear to be the same as this particular connection. I almost thought Nikon came up with there own USB input but I later found out it was Mini B (8 pin). Of course that whole inconvenient episode was my fault for not “planning better” as Charlie Sheen would say. I ended up buying an extra USB connector.

Easy Panorama

I have been shooting in mostly aperture priority which is what I shoot with the Mark II. I am starting to find what settings I prefer. For instance, I set the auto focus to center instead of auto. I find that the camera focuses much faster in this mode. I also tend to not raise the camera’s ISO above 400. I do shoot at ISO 1600 when I have to take photos at my work without the flash and the noise is not that bad, barely noticeable actually, I just prefer to keep it at 400 or below. When taking photos with the flash I like to underexpose the flash at least half a stop, this helps to avoid blown out highlights. I have also been playing with the manual focus feature on this camera. Yes it has manual focus and it doesn’t suck! You can set the side zoom to be a manual focus control which is pretty cool. The manual focus doesn’t work at full zoom but it works really well for macro shots. Like I said before there are a bajillion different settings and modes on this camera. I find that there are so many things you can set on this camera that I forget which settings to check. The other day I took a group photo and forgot to turn off the auto high ISO feature which totally ruined the photo. I also unfortunately did find a huge flaw in this camera which may only matter to me. I have found that when shooting aperture priority or full manual if you zoom in and out the camera does not keep your aperture setting. For example, I set the aperture to F8 at the widest zoom, I then zoomed in to photograph an object. When I zoomed back out to wide the aperture automatically changed to F4 or F3.4 and didn’t stay at F8 which is what I set it to. If it is going to do this on it’s own then what is the point of Nikon putting an aperture priority feature? They might as well have just made this a full auto camera if they didn’t want the user to think at all. As a result I will constantly have to check my aperture to make sure it didn’t automatically change to something else. Nikon’s response to this and I quote “This happen because the aperture change accordingly with the zoom this happen on any mode not only aperture priority.” Don’t even get me started about the grammatical errors in this sentence on top of the fact that this makes absolutely no sense. Nevertheless, this is a problem because one of the reasons I bought this camera is because it had a manual mode.

Flash underexposed by 0.7, F3.4 at 1/30, ISO 200

F7.1 at 1/1250, ISO 200

Now it’s time to sum up the review with the pros and cons (at least the ones that matter to me). I’ll start with the cons:

  • Only satisfactory image quality
  • Poor auto focus
  • Inconsistency in white balance
  • Noticeable lag time between shots
  • Aperture changes automatically even when the mode is set to Manual or Aperture Priority (this is the one that really bothers me and so does Nikon’s answer)
  • No shortcuts for settings like ISO or metering
  • No sensor to tell you when the lens cap is still on when powering up
  • No RAW file format
  • No info in the display or EXIF data showing what mode you are shooting in
  • Does not have the ability to choose an auto focus point besides the center

And here are the pros:

  • Macro mode is fantastic
  • Manual focus works well especially with Macro
  • Large LCD screen
  • Easy Panorama mode really is easy and the results are totally awesome
  • Pet Portrait mode
  • Menus are easy to navigate
  • Surprisingly good performance at ISO 1600
  • Very light and easy to carry around
  • It’s RED!!!

You may have noticed I said nothing about the video quality, while I have taken videos on it I am just not a video taking person (I can’t scrapbook videos). From what I saw the video looked acceptable but it’s not a feature I really care too much about.

Dawn/Dusk Mode, F4.7 at 1/800, ISO 160 on a tripod

In conclusion I have been pretty disappointed with this camera. We ended up returning the camera and will be purchasing our first choice the T2i. I really wanted to make this camera work for me but it simply was not up to the task. I don’t think I will ever buy a “new” camera again until it’s been vetted by reviewers for at least six months. I tried to cut the camera some slack with the image quality, I knew it was not an SLR but I found myself making excuses for how bad the images were turning out when everything was pointing to the camera. Many images looked soft around the edges, had no consistency in the white balance reading, and were just….blah. There is a lot of distortion at full wide angle as well. Many of these issues could be fixed in Photoshop but I am not the type of person who wants to spend hours post processing and I wouldn’t even have a RAW file to work with! It makes me sad that I had to return it since I hate doing returns, especially when it’s electronics purchased online, but I knew I would never be happy with it. I was so impressed by the Macro mode on this camera I thought that for sure everything else would be great. I’m not saying that nobody should buy this camera, in fact I recommend it to amateurs looking for a point and shoot that can do all the work for them and then some. But for pros and semi pros it is just not up to the job, the camera basically forces you to shoot in auto and for someone like me that is not acceptable. I hope Nikon can improve upon this camera because super-zooms are a great idea but it seems the execution has fallen short.

In camera HDR


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