Nikon Coolpix P500 – Jamie’s Review

April 10, 2011

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

Sensor Cleaning Tutorial

August 28, 2010

Sensor Cleaning for Interchangeable Lens Cameras

It would be nice if camera bodies with interchangeable lenses sealed themselves during lens changes. Since they do not yet do this, there is always some dust or fibers which may sneak into the camera body during a lens change. The dust and fibers are then attracted to your sensor like a magnet because of the charge the sensor carries when it captures light. Dust which is not on the focal plane is usually not noticeable in photographs. So for instance a little dust on the end of your lens or dust in the camera body but not on the sensor will not be noticeable. However as soon as that dust or fiber sticks to your sensor then it will for sure show up on your photos as a dark spot.

This is a solved problem right?

The short answer is no. Many new cameras incorporate either a system to shake the sensor or to electrically push the dust off the sensor. The dust and fibers however are still in your camera body where they can re-attach at a later time.

How do I know if I have dust on the sensor?

You might already know you do have dust but if you want to find out for sure then take a photo of the clear blue sky. Then download the photo and zoom in to 50-100%. If you see dark spots where there should be none, then you have dust on your sensor.

What do I need to do now?

These instructions are specific to the Canon 5D Mark II but can be used on any DSLR or even any camera with an interchangeable lens. However you will need to read your cameras manual to find out how to put it in “cleaning mode” and follow the instructions for that mode. Make sure your battery is fully charged before doing this.

What tools do I need?

You will need at least three things and a few more optional items. The three mandatory items are:
1) A good blower
I like the Giotto Rocket Air Blower which you can pick up for about $15 including shipping. Note: do not use canned air as it has propellant which can leave residue. Also be wary of CO2 as some canisters have lubricant.

2) Photographic Solutions Sensor Swabs for your sensor size. This is the most expensive part at $35-40 per 12-pack.

3) Eclipse Optic Cleaning System Cleaning Fluid Note: This stuff is extremely flammable so you can only buy it in person in the store. If you don’t live in New York then you’ll have to find it at a local camera store. One bottle lasts a long time.

4) Optional: Sensor scope or magnifying loupe. These can get pricey and this one is $75. It does help in visualizing the problem though so you know where to concentrate the blower.

A Primer on sensors

It does not matter if you have a CCD or a CMOS sensor. The sensor always has a protective glass over it and it is this glass that you will be cleaning. Canon incorporates a low-pass filter in this as well to remove infrared light. Other manufacturers don’t do this. However the cleaning method remains the same regardless. While the glass is not delicate, it can be scratched so that is why care needs to be taken to prevent contamination anytime you will be physically contacting the sensor glass. Since it rests on the focal plane, any markings will be visible. If your sensor glass is damaged already, it is possible to repair although it is expensive. Contact the service department for your specific manufacturer to find out your options.

Let’s get started already!

The first thing I will say about this process is that it is best done in a clean room. If you take your camera to the manufacturers service center then this is what they do. Since most people I know don’t own clean rooms then a closed off room will have to do. If you have an air filter, turn it on high for about an hour ahead of time and then turn it off right before to let the air calm and the dust settle. If you have pets, kick them out. The last thing you need is your dog wagging his tail and some fur flying into your camera body.

1) Detach your lens and cap the end and temporarily put your body cap on the camera. Then put your camera in “Cleaning Mode”. Note: This is different from “clean the sensor now”. Like I mentioned before, every camera is different but to see how to do it for the Canon 5D Mark II just watch the video below. Lastly take off the body cap. You should notice that the mirror is now out of the way (if your camera has a mirror).

2) Grab your blower and proceed with blowing any dust and fibers out of the camera body. It is possible that you can clean the sensor only using the blower but if you cannot, it is still a good step to include. Blow as much out as you can while being careful not to touch the blower tip to anything in the camera including the sensor or the mirror.

3) Take one sensor swab and the sensor fluid and place it next to the camera. Now carefully open the sensor swab making sure not to touch the end with the swab on it. Apply a drop of liquid on each side of the sensor swab. Now firmly but gently swipe the swab from the left to the right of the sensor glass. Then make one swipe from the right to the left using the clean side of the swab. Now the swab is used and cannot be used again so just put it down anywhere. Once you put the body cap or your lens back on then you can take your camera out of “cleaning mode”.

Time to test the results

Place a wide angle lens on the camera if you have one and go outside. Aim at a clear blue sky up at about 75 degrees and opposite from the sun. Take several photos at the widest angle and then download them and look at them between 50-100%. You should not notice any dust but if you do you can repeat the steps. Sometimes just using the blower again can fix the problem.


Use your newly cleaned camera often. It may get dirty again but you now know how to clean it. This should lead to a much more enjoyable experience. If you end up with an impossibly to clean sensor then you might want to take it to the manufacturers service center.

Photo 191: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction with CS5 Tutorial

May 23, 2010

Jamie and I have been pushed to do more creative work in our latest class then any of the previous classes we have taken. The most recent example being our “Truth is Stranger than Fiction” assignment. We each had creative blocks for a fairly long time before we came up with the ideas for our individual projects. Once we each decided on what to do the next challenge was taking the photos and editing them in the amount of time left. I personally was limited in that I didn’t have access to a pickup truck and so I relied heavily on the abilities of Photoshop for post production work. In the paragraphs to follow I will take you through the steps I took to make just one of my images. I will also tell you what I would have done (and may still do) to correct some of the less successful images.

The Premise:

My idea for the project was to take photos of myself on a couch that I am in the process of disassembling in my garage in various locations where you would not expect to find a couch. In addition I would be staring off into something out of the frame and have a gaming controller in my hands and a headset on. Seeing as I was crunched for time and didn’t have a truck I decided to take the background shots separately from the subject shots of me on the couch and then merge the two into a composite image in post production. This proved to be a difficult task as you can imagine.

The Execution:

The first step was for me to take the photos for the background settings. I wanted to choose settings where it would be strange for a couch to be sitting in the foreground. In addition I needed photos which had an empty space for me to place the subject. I took two such shots and then went into my massive library of images to find the other four. Fortunately I had many images with empty ground in the foreground. Why I have these photos, I don’t know but it worked out. Next I needed to take the shots of the subjects.

I dragged my old couch out of the garage and set up the shots. I put it in direct sun but didn’t worry about the background. I set up the shots but I had Jamie help with actually pressing the shutter while I posed. How the shots were composed did not matter as much as getting the couch in the frame. Once we got the shots of myself I posed the dog and stood behind him while holding his leash. The next step was post-production where all the magic happens.


The first step was to mask just the subject out of the photo so it could be placed in the background shot. I started this in Photoshop CS4 trial and during the process the trial ran out. I purchased Photoshop CS5 Extended and downloaded the trial to get me through the time between when I ordered it and when it arrived. This was actually good because the “quick selection” tool and “refine edge” dialog box became even better in CS5.

Something you can see in the photo is the new “Mini Bridge” which lets you browse as you would in Bridge except within Photoshop. One note is that if Bridge is not already running then it will need to start in order to show “Mini Bridge”.

Step 1: Open Image

I used the quick selection tool to select the subject. There are a few tricks to using this tool successfully. The first is to understand the two means of controlling how much it selects. These means are: 1) reduce or enlarge the brush size and 2) zoom in and move the tool more slowly. Another tip is to remember that it is called “Quick Selection” for a reason. There are times when you need to fix things with the lasso tool or other times when the magic wand works better. You should remember though that by default the quick select tool adds to your selection but you can just as easily use it to remove from your selection.

Step 2: Quick Selection

The next step I took was “Refine Edge”. You can access this by going to Select–> Refine edge or by clicking the “Refine Edge” button which is visible when using the quick selection tool. You can use this tool to expand the area of edge detection, smooth the edges of a selection, feather the transition of the selection edge, or adjust the contrast of the selection edge. The most useful part of this tool for me is the ability to expand the radius of edge detection as it is a really easy way to get a good selection of hair, fur or other uneven edges.

Step 3: Refine Edge

There are a few new options in this dialog box in the CS5 version. These include the “Smart Radius” check box, the ability to paint to expand the refine edge radius in certain areas, and the “Decontaminate Color” check box and slider. The “Smart Radius” check box will contract the maximum radius of the edge detection in areas where it does not need to be so large. If you need more control, you can now paint in to add to or remove areas of edge refinement. Lastly, “Decontaminate Color” will actually change the color of pixels to get rid of background color seeping through or light from a nearby object which reflected onto the edge of your selection. If you use this option then you are forced to output to a new layer as some of the original image information is destroyed/changed.

Step 4: Placement in Layer

Once I completed masking out the subject (myself and the couch) I simply copied the image information and pasted it into the background of the new image as a new layer. This results in the object in the new layer being much too large in this context. In order to re-size the subject you can go to edit–> Transform–> Scale. Then hold shift as you change the size of the object. Holding shift maintains the aspect ratio as your re-size. You can also drag the object around while in this mode.

Step 5: Scale

For this image this completed everything I did. Now the success of the image at this point depends on the quality of your selection as well as the way the lighting on each image matches or contrasts with each other. For instance this is how my image would look if I flipped the subject horizontally. You can do that from Edit–>Transform–>Flip Horizontally. Now the shadows are heading in the same direction, however I didn’t like this as much compositionally so I left it.

Step 6: Flip

Depth of Field, Lighting, Shadows, and other challenges:

Some things which I needed to take into account in the project included lighting, shadows and depth of field. In this image I applied a blur to the subject because if it was completely sharp it would not make sense. This landscape shot had a focus point approximately at the hyper focal distance. This means things in the foreground have various levels of being out of focus. Still even with this applied this image appears just slightly unbelievable. To add to the realism I made a selection of just the foreground and pasted it in place on a new layer on top of the subject layer. Then I moved the subject so that it was sitting behind the foreground.

Step 7: Foreground depth of field

I realize that in order to fix all my shots I should have shot it in such a way as to eliminate shadows completely. Then the images where there was a shadow could be manipulated to reduce the contrast and exposure of the subject to match the background. Oh well, next time.

The final step that I could have taken to blend my images more convincingly would be to apply adjustments to the whole image. Here is what it would look like converted to Black and White with noise added.

Step 8: Black & White with Noise

What does it mean?

You might ask what does my project mean or what is it trying to convey. I guess it’s trying to convey that games transport you places. It could also be said to convey that people get sucked into gaming so deeply that they forget what is going on around them.

Jamie did the same project with a little bit different approach. She took multiple shots from the same angle and merged them together and then used layer masks to bring out the different locations of the subject. She also combined multiple images of the background at different exposures to create HDR (High Dynamic Range).  Below is my completed project followed by hers.

Jamie’s Project

Picture of the Week 12-29-09

December 29, 2009

Today I took our dog Pearl out for a hike in nearby Peters Canyon. Here in California we are having beautifully clear days even though it’s supposed to be winter outside. I got this weeks picture as I was walking back to the car. There’s something about wooden fences that I love. I also love HDR, especially fake HDR, which is what this image is. To clarify, fake HDR, is when you make an HDR image out of one single photograph instead of three different images. It may be cheating but at least I don’t have to use a tripod to make sure the three images align correctly.


Photo Info: Shot with the 5D Mark II. ISO 400 at F4 at 1/4000 of a second and the made into an HDR with Photomatix.

Picture of the Week 12-17-09

December 17, 2009

As I was walking my dog around the Tustin Sports Park I noticed a few of the trees which inspired this week’s photo. Although fall is almost over there were still a few trees that still retained their brilliant autumn colors. I chose to shoot in the late afternoon which provided me with very warm light. I also tried to do auto exposure bracketing on all my shots but it was actually very windy when I was photographing. The photo below is an HDR image and as you can see the trees in the background didn’t line up perfectly when I put the images through Photomatix. I still love how the oranges, yellows and reds blend together and it reminds me that my favorite season of the year is coming to a close.

For more non-HDR shots of the fall foliage check out the GALLERY.

Photo Info: Shot with the 5D Mark II and made up of three images. Image 1– ISO 800 at F8 and 1/500 of a second. Image 2– ISO 800 at F8 and 1/1000 of a second. Image 3– ISO 800 at F8 and 1/250 of a second.

Picture of the Week 10-26-2009

October 26, 2009

This week’s picture is yet another HDR image done in Photomatix. I shot this with a rented Canon 50D in Mission Hills during the Trail of Torment. While I was waiting at the finish line for the runners I noticed the beautiful foliage around me and the perfect golden lighting that the early morning sunrise was providing. I thought  it would make for a perfect HDR image. The great thing about the 50D is it’s ability to shoot in high speed continious mode. Because I almost never use a tripod my HDR shots usually don’t line up right when I put them into Photomatix because I always shoot hand held. With the 50D in high speed continious this was not a problem, the burst was so fast it was like the wind didn’t have any time to rustle through the leaves.


Photo Info: This photo was made up of three images and shot with the Canon 50D. Image #1– ISO 400, F7.1 at 1/640 of a second. Image #2– ISO 400, F7.1 at 1/1250 of a second. Image #3– ISO 400, F7.1 at 1/320 of a second.







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