Nikon Coolpix P510: Performance

July 12, 2012 by Howard Creech Reads (15,530)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 9
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 9
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Expandability
    • 0
    • Total Score:
    • 7.00
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10


The Nikon Coolpix P510 features Nikon’s standard point-and-shoot auto exposure system, one of the best I have ever used, but most P510 users will probably put the camera in Aperture Priority mode and leave it there. Auto ISO (ISO 100-3200 range), auto WB mode, and the default 256-segment matrix metering system combine nicely with the full selection of shooting modes to virtually guarantee very good to excellent images in a broad range of shooting scenarios.

Shooting Performance
The P510 comes in near the bottom of its sample group in terms of AF Acquisition times, but in real world use I found it to be faster to lock AF than many cameras I’ve used recently. Simply put, the P510 is quick enough for just about anything its target audience is likely to try – quick enough to capture the decisive moment in everything except the most extreme shooting scenarios.

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot HX200V 0.13
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 0.16
Nikon Coolpix P510 0.39
Canon PowerShot SX40 0.46

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Sony Cyber-shot HX200V 10 10.0 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 10 9.2 fps
Nikon Coolpix P510 5 6.7 fps
Canon PowerShot SX40 8 2.3 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.

What’s more important than numbers is that the P510 consistently produces properly exposed images even in lighting that would challenge many compact cameras. Outdoors, the P510 does a great job – producing images that feature reliably accurate (though visibly oversaturated) colors and acceptable contrast, and impressive sharpness.

Image sharpness is dependably very good to excellent, noticeably better than average for cameras in this class, except at the long end of that incredible zoom – and even at the “fuzzy” end images were sharper than expected. The P510 not only has the longest zoom lens in the world, it also consistently produces the sharpest images I’ve ever seen from an ultrazoom.
The P510’s 9 AF point Auto Focus system is identical to that of its predecessor including AF, Manual focus, and Macro focus modes with face detection AF, automatic (multi-point) AF, Single point AF, Center AF, Tracking AF, and Targeting AF.

The P510 features Nikon’s new GPS system with built-in electronic compass to record position information when shooting still photos or recording video. The P510 also features a log function for geo-tracking position (even when the camera is off) and provides access to point-of-interest data for (according to Nikon) about 1,700,000 locations worldwide.

The P510’s multi-mode (Auto, off, Auto with red-eye reduction, Fill flash, Slow synch, and Rear curtain synch) pop-up flash sits directly above the zoom – in the classic maximum red-eye configuration. The flash is very small and a bit on the weak side, but it provides an adequate selection of artificial lighting options.

Consistently capturing sharply focused pictures with a point-and-shoot camera that sports an incredibly long zoom offers some unique optical engineering challenges. Nikon claims the P510 can counter involuntary camera shake in seven ways. Using Hybrid VR, optical lens-shift Vibration Reduction and electronic IS combine to reduce the effects of camera shake), High Sensitivity (up to ISO 3200) reduces the risk of blurred images with faster shutter speeds, Motion detection compensates for subject movement, Night Landscape mode, and backlight mode also decrease image blur by improving low light performance.

The P510 draws its power from a 3.7V, 1100mAh Nikon EN-EL5 lithium-ion battery. Nikon claims the P510 (with a fully charged battery) is good for about 200 exposures. I do a lot of shoot, review, delete, and re-shoot so I don’t usually keep track of exposures, but I only charged the battery twice while I had the camera and I shot a lots of stills and about a dozen video clips – plus the P510 suffers a slight, but continuous power drain from the GPS receiver – so I’d have to guess that Nikon’s power duration claims are fairly accurate. The EN-EL5 lithium-ion battery is charged in-camera and requires about two hours for a full charge from standard house current. The P510 can also be charged via USB, but I didn’t try this option so I can’t comment. The P510 saves images and video to SD, SDHC or SDXC memory media.

Lens Performance
In the final analysis everything comes down to the P510’s astonishing 42x zoom, since that monster optic is this camera’s real claim to fame. When the P510 is powered up, the lens automatically telescopes out of the lens housing. When the camera is powered down, the lens is fully retracted back into the lens housing and a built-in iris style lens cover closes to protect the front element. Not so long ago 10x was considered a long zoom (most P&S digicams in those days sported 3x to 5x zooms) so the P510’s f/3.3-5.9 24-1000mm (equivalent) 42x zoom is the star of the show here – allowing P510 users to Nikon Coolpix P510stand in one spot and cover everything from real wide-angle landscapes and large group-shots to wildlife shots and distant subjects.

The f/3.3 maximum aperture is a bit slow for shooting indoors, but should be more than fast enough for most outdoor shooting in decent light. Center sharpness is pretty good overall, but at the wide-angle end of the zoom corners are slightly soft. I didn’t notice any vignetting (dark corners) and both barrel and pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center) are visible, but seem reasonably well corrected. Contrast is balanced (but a little flat) and colors are hue accurate, though visibly oversaturated. Chromatic aberration is remarkably well-controlled, but some very minor color fringing is present, especially in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds. Zooming is smooth, but fairly slow when compared to cameras with shorter zooms. Interestingly, there is much less motor noise than I expected.

With most ultrazooms the maximum telephoto setting can often be more of a curse than a blessing since long zoom digicams produce images that are notoriously soft at the maximum telephoto setting. Nikon’s optical and mechanical engineers did a remarkably impressive job on the P510’s monster zoom. The lens is reasonably compact, quiet and much sharper (at the long end of the zoom) than expected. P510 users can consistently handhold the camera for shots at maximum telephoto and many of their pictures will be sharp enough for 4 x 6 prints or VGA web shots, however (and this is surprising) some of their handheld telephoto shots will be sharp enough for 9 x 12 enlargements.

Video Quality
The P510 captures HD video at 1920x1080p at 30 fps with stereo audio and the 42x super zoom can be used during filming. This camera also provides an HDMI out so that users can watch their HD video clips on their wide screen HD TVs.

The P510’s video mode may be this digicam’s greatest shortcoming. When users press the start/stop control to start recording – the P510’s LCD/EVF goes dark for a full second before video capture begins, which rather defeats the benefit of having a start/stop button. Since video capture doesn’t start until a full second after you push the button, it will be necessary to anticipate the beginning of your video and press the start/stop button at least a full second before the action commences. The P510 is an impressive camera, but if video capture is an important consideration – I’d give the P510 a pass.

Image Quality
The Nikon Coolpix P510 utilizes a new 16 megapixel 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor to capture images. Like most compact P&S digicams, image files produced by the P510 are optimized for the bold, bright colors and slightly flat contrast that many veteran shooters refer to as “consumer” color. Recorded hues are accurate but noticeably more intense than in real life – reds are warm, blues are bright, and greens/yellows/oranges are very vibrant. The bottom line is that the P510’s color interpolation, while a bit more intense than neutral, is consistently and dependably hue accurate. The colors I saw on my monitor when I reviewed the images I shot with this camera were the colors I saw when I shot the pictures.

Outdoors, in good light, the P510 dependably captures very good to excellent images in all shooting modes. Indoors, the camera performs with a little less aplomb than most the competition due to the slow maximum aperture and the complexity of the optical design – the farther you zoom indoors, the worse the image will become.

The P510’s Auto White Balance mode is dependably accurate over a wide range of lighting conditions. In fact, Nikon’s latest point-and-shoot white balance system is probably the best I’ve seen to date. The P510 provides several WB options including Auto 1 (normal lighting), Auto 2 (warm lighting), Preset Manual WB, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, and Flash settings.

Nikon P510 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

The P510 provides an adequate range of sensitivity options, including auto (ISO 100-800) and user-set options for ISO 100-3200. ISO 100 images are very sharp with intense colors, very low noise levels, and balanced but slightly flat contrast. ISO 200 images were also very good, but with a bit less snap. At the ISO 400 setting, noise levels are beginning to rise and there’s a very minor, but perceptible loss of fine detail.

Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 100
Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 200
Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 400
Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 800
Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Nikon P510 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

Indoor image quality is acceptable at lower ISO settings, but as sensitivity rises to overcome lower levels of ambient lighting, noise levels rise noticeably and color intensity suffers a bit. Noise levels are quite reasonable up to ISO 400, but they increase noticeably after that.

Nikon P510 Sample Image Nikon P510 Sample Image
Nikon P510 Sample Image Nikon P510 Sample Image
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