Nikon recently introduced two updated cameras that replace (respectively) the Coolpix P300 and the Coolpix P500. These two new ultrazooms (P310 & P510), although they show no resemblance whatsoever to each other, are remarkably similar. Both cameras share identical GPS systems, EXPEED C2 image processing engines, COOLPIX Picture Control functions, 1080p HD video recording with stereo audio and the ability to utilize zoom during video capture, identical 16 megapixel backlit CMOS sensors, the same lens-shift vibration reduction (VR) system which provides camera shake compensation equivalent to a four-step increase in shutter speed and identical 3.0 inch 921k-dot flip-out LCD monitors.
The most significant differences between the two cameras are in their physical sizes and their zoom lenses. The P310 is a pocketable little camera with a superfast f/1.8-4.9, 24-100mm (35mm equivalent) zoom (currently the fastest maximum aperture available on any P&S digicam), while the P510 is a compact DSLR-sized digicam with an f/3.0-5.9 24-1000mm (35mm equivalent) zoom – currently the longest focal length zoom ratio available on any point-and-shoot digital camera. Either camera would function nicely as an excellent general-use camera.
As a veteran photographer I would love to carry both cameras simultaneously, since together they would be able to adequately cover essentially every photographic genre except studio photography – and both could be adapted to studio shooting. The pocketable and unobtrusive little P310, with its super fast f/1.8 zoom, would work beautifully for street shooting, available light photography, environmental portraits, documentary photography, and classic travel photography. The P510, with its monster zoom, could easily handle landscape/scenic photography, wildlife photography, event photography (festivals, concerts, family gatherings), and sports/action photography. Since the two cameras utilize the same sensor, processor, and imaging software and share identical 921k LCDs ?€? composition/framing, shooting modes, basic controls, menu layout, color interpolation, resolution, white balance, contrast, and noise levels would be essentially identical.
Unfortunately, I usually only get one camera at a time to test, so from this point on we’ll focus (no pun intended) on the Coolpix P510. I can’t comment on the ergonomics of the P310, but the P510 was clearly designed for photography enthusiasts by photography enthusiasts. Camera makers have been trying since 1839 to develop a single all-in-one camera that will satisfy the needs of every single photographer. In my opinion, the Coolpix P510 comes remarkably comes to filling that order. I’ve only had the P510 for a bit more than a week, but so far I’m quite impressed with just how easy this camera makes it to capture the images you?€™ve visualized before you press the shutter button – and with more than forty years experience as a photographer (and demanding camera user) I am not easily impressed.
For example, most point-and-shoots permit only limited user input into the exposure process. Enter COOLPIX Picture Control, a comprehensive new feature available only on the P310 and P510 used to adjust color saturation and sharpening applied to images prior to shooting based on the type of subject or scene, shooting conditions, or the creative intent of the shooter. CPC can be used in all exposure modes, including full manual, and provides four preset Picture Controls and six options for additional fine tuning. Shooters can save two frequently used settings as custom CPC scenarios.
The P510 is a rather chunky and somewhat plain looking point-and-shoot, more practical than stylish in its design. Its user interface is uncomplicated and dependably logical and the control layout is traditional and basic – sufficiently similar to every other Nikon P&S digicam ever manufactured to provide anyone who has ever used a Coolpix with a comforting sense of deja vu. Buttons are logically placed and come easily to hand for right-handed shooters, but they are all rather small, in fact the on/off button is very small (and a bit too flush with the top deck) so it often necessitates a couple of pushes to turn the camera on or off. The mode dial and shutter button are larger and both provide excellent tactile response.
There really is no free lunch, so photographers who purchase the P510 will need to have realistic expectations. Any camera with a 42x zoom is bound to be the result of innumerable engineering, optical, and operational compromises and every one of those compromises is going to affect image quality, however the P510 does a remarkably good job of making those compromises palatable. Some of my early handheld test shots at maximum telephoto are impressively sharp.
I’ll go into more detail regarding image quality and usability in my full review of the P510, but based on the sample photos included with this brief first impressions review and my experiences with the camera over the past week (I’ve shot well over 100 images to date) I’m favorably impressed with the Nikon Coolpix P510 so far.