Nikon Coolpix P500: Video and Image Quality

by Jim Keenan Reads (2,427)
Editor's Rating
8.00

TG Ratings Breakdown

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

Video Quality
Video quality wasn’t too bad at full HD, particularly if you didn’t need to use all of the zoom the P500 lens gives you. Tracking moving subjects with the lens near the telephoto end is a chore hand-held, and nearly as difficult on a tripod, so the best video results come with the lens anywhere from wide angle to maybe mid-telephoto unless you’re on a tripod.

Because the P500 uses a CMOS sensor, it is prone to demonstrate a bit of rolling shutter effect, but this came only with extremely fast panning and overall was well controlled. That big lens makes it tempting to shoot subjects at extreme distances, both still and video, and atmospheric conditions can sometimes play havoc with image quality in both instances due in large part to the range at which you’re shooting.

Download Sample Video

The full range of zoom is available during video capture but the camera’s stereo microphone will record zooming sounds. Wind noise can also be a concern and the P500 has a wind cut feature, but Nikon warns it can impact other sounds as well.

Image Quality
Default images out of the P500 represented a mixed bag – shots made toward the wide end of the lens and fairly close up looked pretty good, while shots made at telephoto tended to look a bit soft.

Nikon P500 Sample Image Nikon P500 Sample Image
Nikon P500 Sample Image Nikon P500 Sample Image

Most shots looked pretty good if viewed at less than 100% enlargement, but once the pixel peeping started the difference became easier to see. I’ve already mentioned that the telephoto end of the lens looks to me to be a bit softer overall than at wide angle, and this may have something to do with it. I’m also not sure Nikon did the P500 any favors by upping the resolution on the sensor – shots seem to show more artifacts than the P100, and this becomes most apparent at 100%.

It would have been interesting to see how the big lens and dual processors worked with the lower resolution sensor – I think the lens is partly to blame, but the sensor resolution might have a role as well. I also shot the P500 at 8 megapixel reduced resolution in both automatic and aperture priority modes, and thought the image quality wasn’t as good as the full resolution captures, however.

While you can dial in some additional sharpness, contrast and saturation in the P, A, S and M shooting modes, in practice I found little difference between default and sharpened images shot in aperture priority. Here’s two aperture priority shots – one at default settings, the other with sharpening maxed out.

Nikon P500 Sample Image
Default
Nikon P500 Sample Image
Maximum sharpness

“Normal” is the default color setting for the P500, but the manual modes allow you to choose options such as softer, vivid, more vivid and black and white. “More vivid” maxes out contrast, sharpening and saturation, but proved too much for my standard color palette shots of the 101 Diner.

Nikon P500 Sample Image
Normal
Nikon P500 Sample Image
Softer
Nikon P500 Sample Image
Vivid
Nikon P500 Sample Image
More Vivid
Nikon P500 Sample Image
Black & White

Suffice it to say if the P500 default images don’t meet your criteria, particularly with regard to sharpness, post processing software may be your best bet.

The P500 uses Nikon’s D-Lighting feature to expand the apparent dynamic range of the camera. The option is off by default but may be enabled at low, normal or high levels for application while shooting. The feature is also available to post process images in the camera. Here are the default, normal and high settings:

Nikon P500 Sample Image
D-Lighting Off
Nikon P500 Sample Image
D-Lighting Normal
Nikon P500 Sample Image
D-Lighting High

The P500 also retains the backlight shooting mode that allows you to enable HDR (high dynamic range) for shooting images with very light and dark areas. With HDR enabled the P500 shoots images at high speed then saves two versions: a D-Lighting image taken at the time of capture, and an HDR composite image, which takes a bit of time to save. Here’s Yoda shot with backlight in auto mode, and then the DL and HDR images produced by the backlight/HDR setting.

Nikon P500 Sample Image
Auto Backlight
Nikon P500 Sample Image
D-Lighting Image
Nikon P500 Sample Image
HDR Image

Auto white balance was used for the majority of shots in this review, and did a pretty good job overall, but shot a bit warm with incandescent (3200K) light. There are custom, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy and flash presets available.

Nikon P500 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

Matrix metering is the default setting and works well in most normal lighting conditions. The P500 can lose highlights in high contrast situations, which is not unusual in compact digitals. There are center-weighted, spot and spot AF options available.

ISO performance on the P500 reminded me strongly of the P100 – the 160 and 200 ISO sensitivities are basically indistinguishable from one another, and 400, while a bit noisier, is still quite good and suffering minimal loss of fine details. ISO 800 is clearly noisier than 400 but again the drop off is not major and loss of fine details is still minimal compared to 400.

Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 160
Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 160, 100% crop
Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 200
Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 400
Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 800
Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Nikon P500 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

ISO 1600 is the most significant fall-off (at least until we get to 3200) so far, and fine details are becoming more muddied, but even at this point the setting is usable for small images if need be. Quality at 3200 takes a fairly dramatic nose dive, with both coarse and fine details showing definite signs of deterioration – as it was with the P100, still a setting of last resort.

Overall my impression of the P500 is that ISO performance is on a par with the P100, perhaps just a bit better. Given the net resolution increase it would seem that dual processor may be living up to its billing.

Additional Sample Images

Nikon P500 Sample Image Nikon P500 Sample Image
Nikon P500 Sample Image Nikon P500 Sample Image


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