The Nikon Coolpix P510 is an ultrazoom if you’ve ever seen one: The big-barreled, 42x optical zoom lens camera has a bulky-bodied but turns out to feel surprisingly small and lightweight. The camera packs in plenty of features and pairs it all with a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor that can push ISO with low-noise shots, but falls short in some shooting conditions. Overall, the camera exudes high quality, although you’ll have to make some compromises along the way. But since it’s now retailing for $400, that might not be such a bad thing.
What’s in the box
The standard package for the Nikon Coolpix P510 includes a li-ion battery, battery charger, USB cable, CD-ROM with NikonView NX2 for managing images, wrist strap, and a lens tether.
Look and feel
The Coolpix P510 has the traditional ultrazoom look: a nice, large right-hand grip, pop-up flash, and protruding lens barrel. But compared to most cameras in this segment, the P510 is surprisingly lightweight at just 19.6 ounces. The grip is really well textured and makes the camera incredibly easy to hold with one hand — and that’s quite a feat for an ultrazoom with a 42x optical zoom.
It’s hard to talk about any ultrazoom winning an award in the looks department; there’s no “sleek” or “slim” factor to speak of. The P510 is no exception. You can’t streamline these things with their zoom lenses, big grips, and wide screens — and that’s okay, because they make up for it with impressive hardware features.
The most eye-catching of them is the vari-angle display. The big 3-inch LCD screen flips out smoothly so you can capture or view photos no matter the environment or lighting condition. Sometimes there’s some stick with these vari-angle displays, but the P510’s snaps in and out of the chassis easily. Because of the camera’s size, the large screen doesn’t mean that the controls are small and crammed off to the side. The back of the P510’s body houses the playback, trash, menu, and dedicated flash and video capture buttons, as well as a mode dial from which you’ll navigate the in-camera settings. It’s a very familiar setup, save for two side toggles for other in-camera adjustments.
On top of the camera is a second mode dial for determining settings. It’s fairly large, perhaps larger than it needs to be, but doesn’t protrude above the rest of the P510’s body. There’s a big more stick here, but it’s better than accidentally changing your shooting mode mid-capture. It’s not winning any style awards, but you get used to it pretty easily.
The zoom toggle is easy to get to, sitting on the edge of the grip and housing the shutter.
Perhaps the only physical hitch is the ultra-recessed power button. The button to toggle between the LCD display and the electronic viewfinder isn’t the most obvious either, hidden off to left-hand side of the EVF.
UI and navigation
At first glance, the P510 looks complicated. There are lots of bells and whistles and buttons and switches, but the hardware paired with the in-camera navigation is nice and simple. The top model dial determines your settings, and then you use the lower dial as well as the side toggle for in-camera settings.
When turning the top mode dial, a really eye-pleasing UI pops up describing your settings. Unfortunately it doesn’t stick around for your entire in-camera experience. It’s a super visual intro to the selected setting, and while it doesn’t pop up throughout the in-camera navigation, it’s not as if operating the P510 is terribly complicated. You won’t find your face buried in the screen trying to determine settings. Advanced users will experiment with fine tuning shots, and beginners can rely on auto settings and slowly branch out into aperture- and shutter-priority modes, and then full manual. It presents a really nice learning curve. Canon probably still lays claim to the most dead-simple, human-friendly language in its interface, but Nikon comes in at a close second — and no one interested in buying an ultrazoom of this caliber likely needs to be babied quite that much.
One look at this thing should tell you that features are where it really shines. Before going into its strengths and weaknesses in this area, let’s list its most eye-catching features:
This camera has GPS capability, 3D shooting mode, panorama shooting, an EVF, and of course its 42x telephoto lens.
Let’s start with the good and get to the bad. The P510’s 24-1000mm equivalent lens is impressive and yields great results — as long as your lighting is decent. Otherwise, it’s not going to hold up well. But in most situations, you’ll be pretty happy with the zoomed-in on images, and the slower zoom toggle on the barrel is a great accessory for video capture. Also, kudos to Nikon for upping the ante with the vibration-reduction technology in the lens. When you have this thing entirely zoomed in on something, that’s a large barrel to handle, and it really steps up to the plate and keeps images clean, despite your shaky hands.
Nikon uses sweep panorama for the P510, an increasingly popular feature in digital cameras of all shapes and sizes and a great addition for an ultrazoom camera, which is likely to be a travel cam of sorts. It’s simple to find and use this feature and seemingly produces great photos every time.
The EVF is a nice touch, but most shooters probably won’t find themselves relying on it much. There’s no sensor in the camera that automatically switches between the LCD display and EVF depending on where your eyes are at, and thus you’re stuck using the easy-to-miss button on the left-hand side of the EVF. Still, who are we to say no to options?
Now we get into some of the less impressive pieces of the P510, starting with GPS. We’ll be the first to admit we’re hard to impress in this area: If you’re looking at a picture, how can you not know where it was taken? Still, if that’s a technology you’re interested in, we can’t begrudge you that — but we can tell you that the Coolpix P510 misses the GPS mark. In our hands-on time with unit, the camera was rarely able to location tag photos and the metadata is technical-looking and boring. There’s no significant value-add here, especially considering how quickly GPS will help devour your battery.
And 3D shooting is exactly what it sounds like and the photos will only appear that way on a 3D screen.
One disappointing feature — or lack thereof — is any built-in filters. Manufacturers are really starting to get creative here, and Nikon chose to throw options like high-key and sepia, which sort of feels like it’s just covering the bases. Toy camera and tilt shift are popping up in even lower-tier models, and while there are undoubtedly more important specs to spend on, it’s becoming something users look for in their cameras more and more.
Performance and use
In general, using the Coolpix P510 was fun, easy, and rewarding. It’s solid but lightweight, easy to grip and simple to manage, and images were satisfactory to great. All that said, it’s not a perfect camera — but let’s start off with the best parts of using the P510.
Like we said, it feels great. Holding the P510 is like holding a real camera. It has that DSLR, semi-professional look and feel. Whether it’s mental or not, you get better framing and balance from that.
In well-lit, outdoor settings, you’re guaranteed great pictures that you won’t spend time muddling through the interface to set up. The dual-mode dial setup guarantees quick switching between auto settings as well as manual. Its 16-megapixel CMOS sensor means you can push ISO up to 6,400 in well-lit settings and get really nice images with minimal noise. So most of the time, you’re in luck.
In more complicated environments, getting great stills becomes tricky. In low light, the P510 doesn’t stand up to much of its ultrazoom competition. It doesn’t have a great max slow-shutter speed for tripod use, and you’ll be hard-pressed to get better than silhouette shots during dusk and sunset. The P510 gets a passing grade in low light, but just barely. It’s not stealing the show here, but you can push ISO more than you might think; just don’t expect any long-exposure night shots.
Video capture is adequate: The visual quality is high, and the slow-zoom function a really nice feature, but autofocus was slow and in general, just bad. We will say, however, that for zooming during video capture with a 42x optical lens, stabilization was impressive. You can also shoot in a large variety of resolutions all the way up to 1080p, for what it’s worth. There are no manual controls in video, however, so it’s definitely not going to double as your camcorder.
Conclusion: Should you buy it?
The Nikon Coolpix P510 balances many tradeoffs: Lots of hardware features, but sub-par video. Easy-to-use controls, but poor low-light performance. What you need to keep in mind when considering the P510 is that this won’t best a DSLR — it just won’t. You might look at it and think that’s within the realm of possibility, but it’s not.
But of course, it costs $400 (originally retailing for $430), and that’s much less than you’ll pay for a DSLR, so you’ll have to make your peace with that. In general, the Nikon P510 makes is a really nice all-around camera for those ready to move on from the point-and-shoot arena. Some of its features are lackluster or worth ignoring (I think our feelings on the GPS mode are clear) but it has quite a few that more than make up for it. Take into consideration its nice feel in your hands and you’ve got yourself a great multi-use camera.
Best for: Families, travelers, non-professional photo buffs, learners.
- Nice and easy to hold – lightweight but sizeable, with a good grip
- Zoom lens stays steady for crisp shots
- In-camera UI is incredibly easy to manipulate
- Very versatile: Shoots macro, high-zoom, portrait, and landscape well – provided the lighting is decent
- Video capabilities are limited
- Low light without flash isn’t impressive
- Some features just don’t pull their weight: GPS and built-in effects