Top Ten Reasons To Avoid the Nikon Coolpix P500 – Bryan’s Review
To see more test shots from the Nikon P500 check out the GALLERY.
Occasionally a company known for quality of build as well as design will unveil a product that is so ill conceived and even more poorly implemented that it casts a shadow on the entire reputation of the company. For Nikon, that product is the Coolpix P500. What follows is born from my time owning this contraption and experiencing first hand just how wrong a product can get.
1)The Nikon Coolpix P500 tries to do everything but does not do anything well. This camera is packed with more features then I care to list. The manual is electronic only, most likely because if they printed it, it wouldn’t fit in the box. The features all sound nice but in reality are almost universally so poorly implemented to be useless.
Photo is unedited. F6.3 at 1/30 of a second. ISO 200
2) The camera is based around a sensor usually found on much cheaper cameras. This is major because without a solid sensor, everything else falls apart. At an MSRP of $399, the fact that this camera has a 12 megapixel sensor is puzzling. However megapixels are not what this sensors lacks the most. My old Canon SD550 has only 7.1 megapixels and takes better photos. The problem is the sensor only really works at ISO 100. Anything above that introduces strong noise reduction and above 400 the noise reduction is so strong that people will look at your photo and ask why you did not try to focus it.
Photo is unedited. F5 at 1/80 of a second. ISO 200
3) Manual focus feature is welcome but so poorly implemented that it is useless. Remember, this camera is a superzoom with an electronic viewfinder and an LCD screen as your only two options for focusing with. The EV is so small and low resolution that it might as well not exist. When using the LCD, manual focus brings up a zoom of the center of the frame so you can more easily focus. The problem is even with this zoom, pulling focus is an exercise in frustration. I was glad the feature was there but wish it was implemented in a useful way.
Photo is unedited. F6.3 at 1/100 of a second. ISO 200
4) Aperture Priority mode ignores your aperture settings if you zoom out. This is major once again and became a deal breaker. I am sure Nikon can fix this with a firmware update but I have a feeling they have no intention to based on the response from their customer service saying there is nothing wrong. Basically it works like this. The lens is not a fixed aperture lens. This means that when zoomed in, it cannot retain the most wide open F-stop. That’s fine. However if you zoom in and set the f-stop to 8.0 and then zoom back out, the camera opens up the aperture to f-stop 3.5. It does not need to do this and it is counter-intuitive when shooting in aperture priority.
Photo is unedited. F4 at 1/640 of a second. ISO 200
5) The superzoom lens has too much distortion and distorts in a non-common way. I’m used to barrel and pincushion distortion on superzoom lenses. The distortion from this lens defies classification. Its not that it just has barrel distortion at full wide; it also has stretching and pulling and other oddly shaped distortion that I’ve never seen before. In addition, the lens is just not very sharp. An unsharp lens combined with a poor sensor is a recipe for disaster.
Photo is unedited. F3.7 at 1/1500 of a second. ISO 200
6) The auto-focus is slow and dumb. If you set the auto-focus to center point, it is slightly faster. However your only two options are the whole frame or center point. Neither works all that well but the whole frame auto-focus is a disaster. It will routinely choose 5-6 points to focus on; none of which are what is actually the subject of the photo.
Photo is unedited. F3.4 at 1/200 of a second. ISO 200
7) Battery life is poor and the camera does not come with a charger in the box. Enough said.
Photo is unedited. F4.2 at 1/1250 of a second. ISO 200
8 ) When you turn on the camera with the lens cap on, it tries to move the lens into the ready position even though it is obstructed. This is a very annoying design feature. The lens should not even need to protrude to work at full wide. Nikon could have extended the shroud or designed the cap differently. Instead they left this design flaw fully intact. It is the little things like this that make me wonder if Nikon even cares if this camera is good or not.
Photo is unedited. F5 at 1/100 of a second. ISO 200
9) Auto White Balance varies wildly between shots of the same scene. This combined with the fact that this camera only takes jpeg files makes for a very annoying time doing post production.
Photo is unedited. F4.2 at 1/320 of a second. ISO 200
10) The images this camera takes just look weird. I cannot place my finger on it but even in a bright sunny day photograph, the images just look flat and lacking. By flat, I don’t mean low contrast. I instead mean that they lack dimensionality. I have a feeling that this camera has a lower dynamic range than most and so captures images accordingly and then compensates with in camera processing to make the image look “normal”. This is just a theory but it is the only thing I can think of to explain the weirdness of the images.
Photo is unedited. F3.4 at 1/1250 of a second. ISO 200
In conclusion, stay away from the Nikon Coolpix P500 like a medieval peasant would avoid the plague. I know for a fact that Nikon is more than capable of making fine cameras that produce wonderful photos. This is not one of those cameras. I would go so far as to say that this camera is single-handedly destroying Nikon’s reputation around the world and they would be best served by taking it off the market.
Jamie and I dumped this contraption and picked up the Canon T2i instead. This is mostly because we already have a collection of fine Canon lenses. We both love the camera and coincidentally the camera fits in the same case we picked up for the P500. If you can afford the price difference, get that camera instead because you will not regret it.