Used Nikon Coolpix P510 camera review - Andrew Noakes - Motoring Writer

Nikon's 'Performance' bridge cameras introduced in 2012 aimed to offer the performance and handling of a DSLR in a more compact, easier-to-use package. Top of the range was the Coolpix P510, a 16 megapixel camera with a unique selling point: a monster 42x optical zoom lens.

With a small 1/2.3" (6.17 x 4.55mm) sensor the P510 has a crop factor of 5.6, giving that zoom lens the 35mm equivalent of a 24-1000mm range. Nikon was so proud of its megazoom it fitted two zoom controls, a push-pull ring around the shutter button and a rocker switch for the fingers of your left hand in the side of the lens housing. 

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In theory it should be the ultimate do-anything lens, with a usefully wide field of view at the short end and a telephoto that can shoot the birds in the trees at the other. It doesn't quite achieve that thanks to a relatively slow f/5.9 maximum aperture at the telephoto end, which results in either slow shutter speeds or an unwelcome, noise-creating rise in ISO unless the light is bright. Maximum ISO is only 3200, limiting the P510's ability to shoot in anything less than good light. In practice - built-in VR not withstanding - you really need a tripod to get sharp telephoto images, so it doesn't give you the point-and-shoot-anything convenience the spec might promise.

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There are other compromises, too. There's no support for RAW files so post-shoot image tweaking is limited, though it's doubtful that many people interested in the P510 would want to shoot RAW. The electronic viewfinder is cramped, low-res and in dynamic shooting it lags perceptably behind the real action. Fortunately the big tiltable rear screen makes composing using live view easy.

On the plus side the P510 feels good in the hand, with a well-shaped right-hand grip and lower weight than any DSLR/lens combo. The shape makes it less convenient to carry than most compacts, but easier to grip when shooting (though snappers with big hands might struggle to get a firm hold). The main mode dial is on the right. There is no top LCD and only a single control wheel for the right thumb, which provides access to a series of programme modes and also aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual for greater control. To the left of it is a red-spot button to shoot video (up to 1080p with stereo sound). There's built-in GPS for geolocating shots and a pop-up flash which does a fine job at short range. I accidently fired off a shot while examining the P510 and was rewarded with a beautifully exposed flash-lit shot of the underside of my desk. In more normal conditions exposure is reliable and images are consistently sharp and detailed, without being outstanding.

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Two shots taken from the same spot demonstrating the P510's zoom range, equivalent to 24-1000mm on a 35mm camera.

The P510 lasted only a year, replaced in 2013 by the P520 with 18 megapixels (though the sensor was no bigger), a slightly larger rear screen and a f/3 maximum aperture. They have a curious, and limited appeal: there are plenty of true compacts which can match them in all but telephoto range, and are also much easier to carry, and they don't have the versatility or image quality potential of a DSLR. The P510 is for those few photographers who need a long-range zoom to use in good light, and don't want to move up to a DSLR. With P510s fetching up to £140 on the used market (regardless of colour - it was available in black, red and anthracite) there are plenty of good alternative and for most people either a pocketable compact like Canon's accomplished S90/100/110/120 family or a detachable lens compact like the good value Nikon One series will be a better bet.

Nikon Coolpix P510

Nikon P510

Type: 16MP bridge camera
In production: 2012
New price: £399 (2012)
Values now (2020): £75-£140

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