Nikon Coolpix P510

The Nikon Coolpix P510 is easy to recommend for its features, photos and performance, but the usefulness of a 42x zoom lens is debatable.

CNET Rating

Design and features

For those who are after the absolute longest lens on a compact camera, meet the Nikon Coolpix P510. At roughly the same size as Nikon's last full-size superzoom, the 36x 22.5-810mm P500, the P510 packs an "oh wow"-inducing 42x 24-1000mm lens.

The thing is, there are not a lot of things that you can do with a lens that long on what's essentially a point-and-shoot camera. With the lens fully extended, it's very difficult to hold the P510 still and keep your subject framed, and the autofocus is very slow, so fast-moving targets are a challenge to shoot. Plus, while the image stabilisation is very good, you're still going to want it on a tripod to avoid blur and when using its higher ISO settings.

That said, the zoom range does give you a lot of shooting flexibility, and the P510 has plenty of other positive attributes that make it worth recommending.

The P510 has a great mix of shooting modes, making it a good choice for both snapshooters or those who want more control. There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Nikon's Scene Auto Selector located in with the other Scene modes. It adjusts settings appropriately based on six common scene types. If the scene doesn't match any of those, it defaults to a general-use Auto. Then there is an Auto mode, which shuts off all photo settings from the user except for image quality and size.

The P510 has shooting modes from full auto to full manual.
(Credit: CNET)

Outside of the Scene Auto Selector, there are 16 other scene modes, such as Landscape and Portrait, as well as a Pet Portrait mode that will automatically shoot when it detects a cat or dog face. There are also two panorama modes: Easy and Panorama Assist. The latter uses a ghost image on the screen to help you line up your successive photos. The former just requires you to press the shutter and pan the camera left, right, up or down to create a panorama in camera. These modes never handle movement well, so they're best used on scenery without movement in it. Nikon also added a simple 3D photo mode. It works like the Panorama Assist mode; you take one shot, move the camera slightly to right and it fires off a second shot and combines them into one MPO file for viewing on a 3D display.

Though it's large and comfortable to use, it doesn't make steadying the 42x zoom lens any easier.
(Credit: CNET)

If you want to do more than just point and shoot, Nikon includes Program, Aperture priority, Shutter-speed priority and Manual modes on the P510. Shutter speeds are adjustable from eight seconds to 1/4000 of a second. Apertures at the wide end go from f/3.0 to f/8.3 with a total of 10 stops. The telephoto end has just four stops: f/5.9, f/6.6, f/7.4 and f/8.3. Beyond aperture and shutter speed, Nikon includes manual adjustments for noise reduction, sharpening, contrast and saturation, colour filters and toning for monochrome photos and things like exposure bracketing and flash-exposure compensation. And if you come up with a set you like, you can store them to the Custom mode for easy recall.

The body design barely changes from the P500. The camera is amazingly compact, considering the lens. And the lens is really the bulk of the weight, which makes the rest of the body feel lightweight and cheaply constructed. However, the right-hand grip is deep and comfortable, with a textured rubber piece on the front, and the large lens barrel gives you ample space to hold and steady the camera with your left hand. The controls are comfortably placed and responsive.

The P510's controls are well spaced and well laid out.
(Credit: CNET)

There's a small but decent electronic viewfinder (EVF), and a vari-angle LCD for framing up your shots. The LCD pulls out from the body, and can be tilted up or down, but it does not swing out horizontally from the body and rotate. Like all LCDs and EVFs, the screen blanks out for a second once you've taken a shot, but it's reasonably fast to recover. To the left of the EVF is a button for switching between the LCD and EVF, as well as a dioptre-adjustment dial. To its right is a Display button for changing what info is viewed on the displays, and a movie record button.

The P510's lens is the longest currently available on a point-and-shoot camera. It goes from an ultrawide-angle 24mm (top) to 1000mm (bottom). It's a bit like having a small telescope attached to a camera. The camera's image stabilisation worked well, but trying to keep a subject framed using the camera handheld is very difficult. I took the telephoto shot 10 times before I got the one I was after, and I was leaning against a post and using the viewfinder.
(Credit: Joshua Goldman/CNET)

The rest of the controls don't change from the P500 (ie, a pretty standard digital camera control layout). There is a rocker switch on the lens barrel for controlling the lens. It can be used to zoom in and out (handy when shooting movies); to snap the lens back a bit in telephoto, should your subject move out of frame; or for manual focus. The only other change is a programmable function button just behind the shutter release; its default is for changing continuous-shooting modes, but it can be set for ISO, white balance, metering, AF area mode, colour mode and image size.

The battery compartment and card slot are under a door on the bottom. The battery life is decent for this camera, but using the wall adapter takes more than four hours to fully charge the battery from zero. If a typical day of shooting will include the high-speed burst modes and movie capture, and using the 3-inch LCD and the zoom a lot, you'll want a backup battery.

Outputs are under a cover on the body's right side. There's a mini HDMI and a micro-USB or A/V port. There's no accessory shoe for an add-on flash, limiting you to the on-board pop-up one. It doesn't automatically rise when needed; it remains off until you push a button on the left side of the camera. It's adequately powerful, and there are flash-exposure compensation settings available.

Lastly, the P510 has built-in GPS. It's strictly there for geotagging photos, so no fancy maps or anything like that. But it was relatively fast to lock on to a signal, even in the middle of New York City surrounded by tall buildings. Nikon wisely gave it its own tab in the menu interface, making it easy to turn it on and off.


General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Start-up to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
    Nikon Coolpix P510
    Canon PowerShot SX40 HS
  • 21.50.3
    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V
  • 1.110.3
    Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (frames per second)

  • 12
    Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150
  • 11.1
    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V
  • 10
    Canon PowerShot SX40 HS
  • 6.4
    Nikon Coolpix P510

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The P510, in general, is a fast-shooting camera. From off to first shot is barely more than a second, and shot-to-shot times both with and without flash are about 1.7 seconds. If you need to shoot faster, the camera's high-speed burst will capture at 6.5 frames per second at full resolution for up to five frames. Other continuous shooting options include a low-speed, full-resolution burst capable of 1fps for up to 30 frames, and 120fps and 60fps bursts that capture up to 60 shots at VGA and 1-megapixel resolution, respectively.

Shutter lag — the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without pre-focusing — is 0.4 seconds in good lighting, and 0.7 in dimmer conditions. However, once you start extending the lens, the camera takes longer to focus. Once you get out the 1000mm position, it can be very slow to focus. On occasion, when using the burst mode, it would capture before it could focus. This isn't unusual; just something to be aware of if you're going to shoot fast-moving subjects at the telephoto end of the lens.

Image quality

The Nikon Coolpix P510's photo quality is very good to excellent, and significantly better than the P500. Now, that doesn't mean that it's as good as a digital SLR; pixel peepers might be disappointed by what its shots look like at 100 per cent. For the P510's price and features, though, most people should be more than happy with its results. See more images from the P510 in our photo gallery.

An example of the quality at 100 per cent with the lens fully extended. Take a closer look.
(Credit: Joshua Goldman/CNET)

At its two lowest ISOs, subjects look sharp with fine detail good enough for large prints of up to 29x38cm. Things look softer and noise reduction increases as you go up in sensitivity, but it isn't until you reach ISO 800 that subjects lose significant detail and look a little smeary at smaller sizes on screen or in prints.

ISO 1600 is OK for web use, but colours look muddy. The highest sensitivities — ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 — really aren't usable. That's unfortunate, because once this camera's lens is fully extended, they would be helpful.

(Credit: Joshua Goldman/CNET)

Video quality is pretty good; certainly good enough for web use and non-discriminating TV viewing. Panning the camera will create some judder, and I noticed trailing behind fast-moving subjects, but that's typical of the video from most compact cameras. The zoom lens does function while recording, but you will hear the motor in your clips as you use it. However, a bigger issue is the camera's slow autofocus. In fact, there were times when I extended the lens and it never focused.

The P510 takes sharp close-ups, too. (This is a 100 per cent crop of the inset photo.) At its widest position, the lens is able to focus as close as 10 centimetres from a subject. With some help from the zoom, it can get as close as 1cm. Take a closer look.
(Credit: Joshua Goldman/CNET)


I'm still not sure whether there's a good reason to have a 42x zoom lens on a compact camera. But regardless, the Nikon Coopix P510 is overall a very good full-sized superzoom, even if you never use the full zoom range. And, actually, it's probably better if you don't.


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AaronV posted a comment   

I am looking at upgrading my camera, currently have an old canon point and shoot that is almost worthless now, my iphone is better. I am primarily looking at the slr like super zooms and the new compact mirrorless slr like cameras. Have young kids so I need something fast and won't blur. so fast autofocus is a must, and obviously want great photo images. video is important but not as much as the actual photos. also want something cost effective. a little concerned about the mirrorless cameras that once you get one you need to keep buying several lens and that will double the price. was wondering what you would recommend overall and maybe a recommendation for each category. willing to spend $400-750 dollars. my skill level is low, so will probably use on auto a lot but am interested in learning more and having good manual options.


Pining posted a comment   

How would this compare to the comparable Fujifilm cameras?


Lexy Savvides posted a reply   

We have yet to see any of the 2012 Fujifilm superzooms, but, keep an eye on the site for comparisons.


JimH4 posted a reply   

In samples I've seen posted then if Image quality is a criterion then the p510 is a clear winner over the the HS30, with the more expensive XS-1 a bit further behind, for some reason Fuji seem to be mating their potentially superb sensor behind lenses that are letting them down.
However the P510 doesn't have RAW nor a hotshoe nor filter threads on the lens, nor is it known for brilliant video, and has difficulty fixing a focus in poor light (though there is an infinity setting that can help that issue), those things are important to many. Since I'm very naive what I want is good PQ rather than features I never bother with.

What the P510 does have going for it is a fantastic lens mated to a sensor that's seems a notable improvement over the previous generation, coupled with stabilisation that just works, resulting is consistent good shots hand held at full zoom, but bear in mind you have to be patient as framing a shot at that range isn't easy.

I bought mine to use as a long range shooter but was pleasantly surprised with just how good it was at macros, as well as everything in between, it's made me reassess the use of my cameras, if it could just fit in a pocket........


Nailbag posted a reply   

What would be your second choice Jim? I was disappointed to read no filter thread. We like to use polarising filters a bit for our beach shots


George Benson posted a reply   

take a look at the panasonic lumix series.....


George Benson posted a reply   

i bought the Panasonic Lumix FZ47 and have attached a nano uv filter and have also used a polarizing filter....why did i choose this camera over others? this was the only camera in its price range that offered a filter attachment on the lens and had good user reviews. the only problem i coud find was with the Autoi feature, it tends to over expose the shot so i use programme setting with adjustments. ie: EV set to .7 or 1 minus. this works ok in light shadow or bright sunlight. all in all its how you want to use the camera, auto or programme....the best thing is to experiment with the setting to get the type of outcome you like.

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User Reviews / Comments  Nikon Coolpix P510

  • AaronV


    "I am looking at upgrading my camera, currently have an old canon point and shoot that is almost worthless now, my iphone is better. I am primarily looking at the slr like super zooms and the new c..."

  • Pining


    "How would this compare to the comparable Fujifilm cameras?"

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