BUILD AND DESIGN
As a virtual visual clone of the P100, the P500 features the same mini-DSLR configuration and composite construction. Materials, fit and finish seem appropriate for the price point.
Ergonomics and Controls
They may look the same, but it only takes an instant after picking up the P500 to feel that something’s changed. That something is the exaggerated handgrip, or rather the material and finish that now reside there: a checkered, rubberized stuff that promotes a really nice feel and grip.
My shooting finger fell naturally to the shutter button and traditional zoom lever, and the side zoom control on the lens barrel fell right under my left thumb when using a two-handed hold on the camera. The movie capture button lies under the right thumb, nicely positioned to facilitate quick, one-touch video recording. Controls seemed nicely spaced so as to avoid conflicts and unintended actuations. Overall a nice feeling, easy to hold camera.
Controls are mainstream for the superzoom compact class. The self-timer, flash, exposure compensation, focus mode and continuous shooting options can all be selected quickly via external controls; you can also switch quickly between HD and HS (high speed) movie capture. Most camera settings for the manual modes such as ISO, image size and quality, white balance, etc. require accessing internal menus.
The side zoom control may be assigned zoom (the default), manual focus or snap-back zoom functions. Snap-back works when the zoom is at some telephoto length, and each down push of the control approximately halves the focal length. You can also use snap-back to return to the original focal length with a single up push, but not for zooming beyond the original focal length when you first employed snap-back.
Menus and Modes
Menus, when you have to use them, are simple and intuitive. Shooting, movie and setup menus are available in any shooting mode except “scene,” where a scene menu of 16 specific modes (along with image size and quality options) replaces the shooting menu.
One of the scene modes is a nifty panorama that offers “easy” and “assist” options – and 180 or 360 degree vistas with the easy option. Nikon has mimicked the Sony sweep shooting mode we ran into with the A55 – the Sony system made producing nice panorama shots an easy affair and the P500 does the same. Nikon’s even improved on the Sony system a bit by overlaying a grid onto the screen that makes keeping the important portions of the image centered a bit easier. A tripod makes this mode a slam dunk, but it does very well hand holding as well. “Panorama” produces images at about 10.87 inches by 1.87 inches and 300 dots per inch at the 180 degree setting, and here’s a look at handheld and tripod versions:
Shooting menu choices are not surprisingly quite restricted in the automatic shooting modes, but add up to 14 various settings on 2 pages for manual modes. There are two main playback menus, one offering playback modes such as “favorite pictures,” “auto sort,” and “list by date” and the other providing a fairly wide suite of 16 post processing options such as “quick retouch,” “D-lighting,” “filter effects” and “voice memo.” Here’s a complete rundown on shooting modes in the P500:
- Auto: Fully auto mode with camera handling all settings with user having limited inputs such as flash setting, image size and quality, self-timer, focus mode and exposure compensation.
- Scene: Sixteen fully automatic modes optimized for specific shooting situations and offering limited inputs – some less than auto.
- Night Landscape, Night Portrait and Backlightign Auto: Auto modes with limited inputs.
- Smart Portrait: Auto mode featuring face and smile detection – camera fires shutter automatically when it detects a smile.
- User Setting Mode: A custom setting using P,A, S or M shooting modes and wide range of user inputs.
- Program Auto: Camera sets shutter and aperture but user has wide variety of inputs.
- Shutter priority: User sets shutter, camera sets aperture, wide variety of inputs.
- Aperture priority: User sets aperture, camera sets shutter, wide variety of inputs.
- Manual: User sets aperture and shutter, wide variety of inputs.
- Movie: Capture video at 1920 x 1080 HD resolution and 30 frames per second (fps) at either 14 or 12 megabyte per second (Mbps) bitrates; 1280 x 720 HD resolution at 30 fps and 9 Mbps; iFrame 540 (960 x 540) resolution at 24Mbps (supported by Apple); 640 x 480 at 30 fps and 3 Mbps. High speed (HS) capture at 320 x 240 resolution (4:3 aspect ratio) and 240 fps; 640 x 480 at 120 fps; 1280 x 720 at 60 fps and 1920 x 1080 at 15fps. Clip lengths for HD movies is 29 minutes or 4GB; HS movies vary from 10 second to 2 minute recording times with playback times of 1 minute except for the 320 x 240 resolution which is 1 minute 20 seconds. Audio is AAC stereo.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor on the P500 is articulating and features a 921,000 dot composition. It can be swung out and down from the rear of the camera, and rotated up/down through about 75 degrees of travel. The monitor registered a fairly low 305 nit peak brightness and fairly high 983:1 contrast ratio.
Since we started measuring these values, all the Nikons I’ve reviewed have followed a similar pattern – low brightness, high contrast, and fairly good performance outdoors. It appears that high contrast helps overcome low brightness when shooting outdoors in direct light. The P500 monitor can be overcome by bright conditions, but the articulating ability helps some. Frame coverage is about 97% for capture and 100% for playback and the monitor adjusts for 5 levels of brightness. The electronic viewfinder has a 230,000 dot composition and diopter eyesight adjustment. Coverage is about 97% for capture and 100% for playback.