Nikon Coolpix P500: Performance

April 21, 2011 by Jim Keenan Reads (37,422)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 7
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Total Score:
    • 8.00
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

When the P100 succeeded the P90, it showed improvement in most performance parameters over the older camera. Let’s see if Nikon has stuck to that script with the P500.

Shooting Performance
The P500 starts quickly, presenting a focus icon in about 1.25 seconds after powering up. I could get off a first shot in a bit over 2 seconds, better than the P100, and single shot-to-shot times ran about 2.75 seconds, same as the old camera. Continuous high speed shooting is 8 fps according to Nikon, but we clocked the P500 at 10 fps, but only for 5 shots – and write times for that 5 shot burst will approach 7 seconds, even with a class 10 SDHC memory card.

Continuous low speed produced 10 shots in about 9 seconds, and the P500 could take 13 full resolution shots at that pace until things slowed. Continuous low speed has about a 1 second blackout period before displaying the first shot of a low speed sequence, and there’s a briefer blackout between each successive shot, so tracking moving subjects can be difficult, particularly if you’re zoomed in fairly tight on the main subject.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix P500 0.01
Canon PowerShot SX30 0.01
Pentax X90 0.01
Olympus SP800-UZ 0.03

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix P500 0.30
Canon PowerShot SX30 0.35
Pentax X90 0.43
Olympus SP800-UZ 0.45

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Nikon Coolpix P500 5 10.0 fps
Canon PowerShot SX30 1.4 fps
Pentax X90 5 1.4 fps
Olympus SP800-UZ 10 1.2 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera’s fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). “Frames” notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Shutter lag and AF acquisition times were good at 0.01 and 0.3 seconds, respectively. The P500 does a fairly decent job of acquiring focus on still subjects at telephoto in good light, and with the AF assist lamp does pretty well in dimmer conditions as well. It’s a contrast-detection system, pretty much the compact digital standard, so there needs to be some contrast for it to identify, but the P500 seems to do a bit better than average in this regard.

The P500 features the same 5-way stabilization system as the P100, so I’ll excerpt portions of that discussion from the P100 review:

  • Optical: Sensor shift stabilization
  • Hybrid: Sensor shift and electronic VR (eVR).
  • Motion detection: Detects moving subjects and adjusts shutter speed and ISO to compensate for camera shake and subject movement.
  • High ISO: Sensitivity levels to ISO 3200 allow faster shutter speeds.
  • Best Shot Selector (BSS): Takes up to 10 shots while the shutter is pressed and saves the sharpest one.

Let’s look a bit closer at these options. Optical is good, one of the classic means to stabilize images. Hybrid is OK too, as Nikon’s eVR system “…. applies specific movement data to image processing algorithms during processing to turn blurred images into beautifully clear results” per Nikon – basically, it’s using a gyro (like a traditional mechanical system) to get motion data, and then applying a sharpening algorithm to compensate.

Motion detection is not on the list of methods I’d like to use – anytime the camera is free to ramp up ISO, noise levels can come into play in a fashion I’m not willing to accept. High ISO sensitivity is largely the same issue due to noise concerns, but there are ways around this.

BSS is another positive since it functions in the P, A, S, M modes where the user can control most aspects of image capture. The downside with BSS is it saves one shot, and that shot may not have been the one you’d have picked on your own.

The best part of the whole stabilization system in the P500 is that Nikon has given the user the means to enable some, all or none of the features. Optical, hybrid or neither can be selected for still image capture, and eVR can be enabled or disabled for movies. Motion detection may be enabled or disabled, the user can set any ISO when shooting in P, A, S or M and BSS is another option where the user retains input over ISO sensitivity. Nikon recommends turning off stabilization when the camera is mounted on a tripod.

The P500 flash range can extend to about 26 feet at wide angle and 14 feet at telephoto, with ISO set to “auto.” Recycle times are in the 3 to 6 second range depending on the nature of the shot, and like the P100 the flash indicator only shows its status with a half push of the shutter button. You can’t just hold at half push in order to fire as soon as the flash recharges – you have to release the half push and initiate another to update the flash status until the unit recharges.

Battery life is rated for 220 shots using a CIPA standard, so carry spares for all-day shooting sessions. Charging time for a completely depleted battery using the supplied AC adapter is about 4 hours and 50 minutes, and the camera cannot be operated while charging. The optional MH-61 external charger does the job in 2 hours, so getting one of those is the best $20 a P500 owner can spend.

Lens Performance
The P500 offers a much broader focal range than the P100, but with slower maximum apertures at each end of the zoom – f/3.4 and f/5.7 at wide and telephoto, respectively. Gone too is the “distortion control” setting that helped correct lens distortion at the peripheries of the frame. The P500 lens seems to do quite well on its own, however – there’s a bit of pincushion distortion at the wide end, but as you zoom toward telephoto that goes away and the lens looks fairly distortion free at telephoto.

Nikon Coolpix P500

At the wide angle end the lens is a bit soft on the edges and corners, but fairly sharp in the center. There was a fair amount of chromic aberration (purple fringing) present in some high contrast boundary areas of shots that are admittedly worst case scenario for this type of defect – visible at 100% enlargement with a cursory inspection. Telephoto looks to be soft on the edges and corners also, and not as sharp as wide in the center. Chromic aberration seemed pretty well controlled, with fairly benign amounts that became noticeable only at 200-300% enlargements.

Overall, the bigger lens seems to have acquired some chromic aberration at the wide end, held the line at telephoto, and looks to be a bit softer overall than the smaller zoom of the P100, particularly toward the long end of the zoom.

One bit of good news is the P500 lens retains the 0.4 inch close focus distance of the P100 when set for “close up” in the scene menu, so the camera has good macro capability. One bit of bad news is the lens closes down past the f/5.7 maximum aperture setting for telephoto as you zoom from wide angle to telephoto. If you set the aperture to the wide angle maximum of f/3.4 and then zoom the lens toward telephoto from wide angle, it’s normal for the aperture to change as the various focal lengths are reached, but instead of stopping at f/5.7 the P500 continues to close down to f/7.1 as you approach the telephoto limit.

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