DigitalCameraReview.com
Nikon Coolpix S500 Review
by Jim Keenan -  5/22/2007

When Nikon introduced eight new Coolpix P&S cameras with a February 2007 press release, a quick perusal of the individual models showed an interesting mix of features spread amongst the various models. The P5000 was definitely the star of the show, with 10 megapixels and a full set of manual controls to complement its suite of auto and programmed functions.  But if all you need are great images, color and shutter response without the larger files and manual inputs, you might want to cast the S500 in your leading role.

nikon coolpix s500
(view large image)

 

This new addition to Nikon’s Coolpix “Style” series features a 7.1 megapixel sensor, 2.5 inch LCD monitor with 230,000 dot composition and a 3x Nikon optical zoom lens that provides a 35mm film equivalent focal length range of 35 to 105mm. The camera also features 15 scene options, optical Vibration Reduction, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, Face-Priority auto focus (AF) and Nikon’s excellent “D-Lighting” image correction function in addition to the standard “auto” mode. However, the power-on and shutter performance are what gives this camera its star status. Hit the power switch and the S500 is ready to shoot in 0.6 of a second. With focus acquired (and the S500 acquires focus pretty quickly in good lighting conditions) the shutter fires only 0.005 seconds after pressing the shutter button. This blazing performance is packaged into a sturdy and stylish stainless steel body that is easily pocket-portable, and build quality appears first class.

A CLOSER LOOK 

The S500 is clearly aimed at photographers who are content to let the camera do virtually all the work. There is the capability to set fixed ISO sensitivities and some camera inputs with regard to image quality, color, exposure, etc., but the major role of the S500 shooter is to compose and press the shutter button. Quite frankly, the S500 is so good on auto that minimizing photographer inputs is not a bad thing. The shots below are examples from the automatic shooting mode.

nikon coolpix s500 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)

Nikon provides a battery charger and EN-EL10 battery, USB and AV cables, a camera strap and Picture Project software with each camera.

There is approximately 26MB of internal memory and the camera accepts SD/SDHC memory cards.

Camera dimensions are approximately 3.5 x 2 x .9 inches with a shooting weight (battery and memory card installed) of about 4.625 ounces.

The S500 can capture JPEG still images at the following pixel sizes: 7M (high or normal quality), 5M, 3M, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480 or 3,072 x 1,728 (16:9).

Movies are captured in AVI format at 640 x 480 pixels and 30 frames per second (fps), 320 x 240 at 30 or 15 fps, and 160 x 120 at 15 fps. Time-lapse and stop-motion movie options are also available. There is a 2GBmaximum file size for movies – for example, if you have a 4GB memory card, you can record two 2GB movies.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT 

The front of the camera houses the 3x optical zoom lens, built-in microphone, flash and the self-timer lamp/AF assist illuminator.

nikon coolpix s500
(view large image)

The 2.5 inch LCD monitor takes up much of the camera back; also found here are the zoom, mode, shooting/playback, delete and menu buttons, indicator lamp/flash lamp, and the rotary multi selector.

nikon coolpix s500
(view large image)

On the top of the camera are found the anti-shake and one-touch portrait/D-Lighting buttons, a speaker, the power switch, power lamp and shutter release button.

nikon coolpix s500
(view large image)

A threaded tripod socket, power connector cover and the battery chamber/memory card slot with its cover make up the camera bottom.

nikon coolpix s500
(view large image)

The right side of the camera has a lug for the camera strap and the cable connector with its cover.

nikon coolpix s500
(view large image)

SHOOTING WITH THE S500 

Auto Mode 

The S500 “auto” mode, which Nikon describes as “an automatic point-and-shoot mode recommended for first time users of digital cameras” comes with default settings of auto ISO, normal color, 7M pixel/normal quality file size and Vibration Reduction (VR) enabled. There are a number of options available in “auto” mode, including but not limited to macro, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO sensitivity, color options and AF area. In this regard, “auto” is operating more like a “programmed auto” setting, where the camera handles all the exposure parameters, but the shooter can input settings if desired.

Except where noted, all images captured by the S500 to illustrate this review were done so at the 7M/high quality file size. As a practical matter, I noticed little difference in image quality and color between the normal and high quality settings.

nikon coolpix s500 sample image
Normal quality setting (view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
High quality setting (view medium image) (view large image)

Scene Assist Modes/Scene Modes 

The S500 offers 15 “scene” options where camera settings are automatically optimized for the selected subject type: portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close up, museum, fireworks show, copy, back light and panorama assist.

nikon coolpix s500 sample image
Landscape mode (view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
Sports mode (view medium image) (view large image)

Exposure Compensation 

+/- 2 EV of exposure compensation is available in 1/3 EV increments.

Light Metering 

The S500 uses Nikon’s 256 segment matrix metering system. 

Focus/Macro Focus 

The S500 will focus from 2 feet to infinity in normal mode, and as close as 5.9 inches in macro mode with the lens zoomed about 2/3 of the way toward telephoto. The S500 provides a visual mark on the zoom indicator in addition to a color change of the indicator when the lens is zoomed to maximize macro performance.

nikon coolpix s500 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)

Monitor 

The 2.5 inch LCD monitor is adjustable for 5 levels of brightness, but is typically difficult to use in bright sunlight with subjects of low contrast. Under good lighting conditions the monitor performs well. There is no optical viewfinder on the S500.

Flash 

Nikon credits the S500 flash with a range from about 20 inches out to 24.5 feet at wide angle settings, and 20 inches to just over 13 feet at telephoto. The flash performed as advertised in my experience. 

Color 

Color reproduction by the S500 was very accurate under both “normal” and “vivid” settings and I saw not much difference between either setting. The S500 can also capture still images in black & white, sepia, and cyanotype tones.

nikon coolpix s500 sample image
Normal color (view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
Vivid color (view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
B&W (view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
Cyanotype (view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
Sepia (view medium image) (view large image)

ISO 

ISO sensitivities of 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 2000 may be manually selected for shooting in “auto” mode. In real world images, ISOs 50 through 200 were largely indistinguishable from one another; 400 was somewhat noisier than 200, and 800 more than 400. The single greatest apparent change in noise level came from 800 to 1600, with 2000 being marginally worse than 1600.


ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 2000

White Balance 

The S500 has auto, pre-set (custom), daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy and flash settings available for white balance. Performance at the default “auto” setting was excellent for cloudy, daylight, flash and in one instance, fluorescent lighting when the flash did not fire.

Battery Performance 

Nikon rates the S500 for approximately 180 shots with a full battery charge but prudent shooters will carry a spare or two for all day outings. The S500 will not accept alternate batteries such as AA or AAA.

Shutter Performance 

Nothing short of superb for shots in good light! The camera powers up in 0.6 seconds, seems to acquire focus in good light in about 0.4 - 0.5 seconds, and once you press the shutter the response approaches instantaneous. Performance with flash is excellent also, with the exception of the red-eye reduction mode which fires a number of “pre-flashes” before the actual flash. The S500 shutter has a speed range from 4 seconds to 1/1500th of a second.

Nikon reports a 2.5 frame per second continuous shooting capacity at the 7M/normal quality setting, but only for 4 images. One caveat when shooting in continuous mode – the exposure and focus are calculated for the first image and used for all subsequent captures, so moving subjects may well change exposure and lose some sharpness of focus as their relative position to the camera changes.

Lens Performance 

To my eye the Nikon 3x optical zoom appeared quite uniformly sharp across the frame at the telephoto end, with some slight softening at the edges at wide angle. This softening is such that images are not likely to be impacted for virtually all viewers. There is some barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center of the image) at the wide end, but zooming to about the 1/3 mark pretty much corrects that fault. Some sharp-eyed viewers may notice “bent” lines in fully wide angle shots. There is chromic aberration (purple fringing) present in high contrast boundary areas, but it is readily visible only at extreme magnifications that would probably be beyond most typical uses of the image. Overall lens performance is very good. 

MISCELLANEOUS 

The S500 has a handy “one touch portrait mode” button on the camera top that allows you to transition instantly to the face-priority auto focus setting without need to use the internal camera menu.

The camera also features a “best shot selector” mode that is recommended for taking photos in dark conditions where camera shake may be a problem. “BSS” takes up to 10 photos while the shutter button id depressed then compares all images and saves the best one. The camera also has an “anti shake” mode to help with image sharpness, but this works in part by raising the ISO to permit fast shutter speeds with the attendant increase in noise. “Anti Shake” is best left a means of last resort.

In addition to the 3x optical zoom, the S500 has a 4x digital zoom. I usually disable digital zooms so that I don’t inadvertently zoom into the digital range and degrade images, but the S500 has no disable feature. However, Nikon has provided the next best thing – the S500 digital zoom pauses for about a second before allowing you to zoom into the digital range, and the zoom indicator changes color when in digital zoom. You’ll have to really not be paying attention to get into digital zoom accidentally with the S500.

The S500 is also PictBridge compliant, which allows the camera to connect directly to a PictBridge printer without need to connect to a computer.

The camera has a rotary multi selector that allows the shooter to scroll through menus or pictures under review rather than by pressing the selector. It takes a little getting used to, but the rotary scrolling feature is much quicker than the traditional means, particularly for reviewing large numbers of images in-camera.

nikon coolpix s500 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s500 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)

CONCLUSION 

The S500 provides very good image and color reproduction in a modern-looking digital compact. The camera’s high level of automation and useful features offers easy-to-achieve performance in a user-friendly point and shoot for those folks making their first foray into digital imaging, while its sparkling shutter lag time should appeal to more experienced shooters who prize a precise and responsive instrument.

PROS 

CONS