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Camera Review: Nikon COOLPIX P510

I enjoy hiking or an early morning nature walk through the wetlands or park, but carrying heavy photography gear sort of puts a damper on the fun. A simple problem needed to be solved.

Most of the time I carry my iPhone 4S or my go-to point-and-shoot Canon S95 in my pocket. Both are easy to carry and take great photos, but they lack one important feature: a substantial optical zoom. Optical zoom means using the glass of the lens to bring the subject close, not digitally zooming, which produces lower-quality photographs.

There are always great photos out there just waiting to be taken. When I’m out in nature, there’s always a new bird or critter who would make a great subject for a photograph, but they are elusive and don’t allow me to get too close.

I decided to try the Nikon COOLPIX P510 which I categorized as a point-and-shoot super-zoom camera. The most important stats here are weight, size and optical zoom. As I mentioned, optical zoom is important because you are using the glass or the lens to zoom in on your subject. This gives you much better results for cropping your photos later or using the camera’s digital zoom from an optimum distance so you don’t interfere with nature. The camera is light and easy to carry. It’s halfway between a super-small compact camera and a consumer DSLR.

The optical zoom with the Nikon COOLPIX P510 is 42X, which in a 35mm equivalent translates to 24mm to 1000mm. Think about easily carrying around a camera with a 1000 mm without having to carry a tripod because of the light weight and image stabilization.

The first question people always ask is: Is the quality as good as the typical DSLR camera? And the answer is simple: no. Also you don’t have a RAW option, but you do have HD 1080p video.

These types of cameras have a lot to do with when you press the shutter so there’s a slight shutter lag, plus I have some trouble focusing on fast-moving sports or birds in flight. The camera processes a lot of information including stabilization in a very lightweight design so it certainly doesn’t compare to the speed of an expensive DSLR. Of course, neither do the prices when you factor in the lenses, tripod and camera body. Remember, there is some give and take. The Nikon P510 has a list price of $429 and weighing in under 20 ounces. Keep in mind that price, weight and zoom are our critical factors for my test. I’m looking for a camera I’m willing to carry over an extended distance without back problems or fatigue.

I thought the results were great when I looked at all the factors. Also, the stabilization was amazing when I considered how far I racked out the zoom. When hand-holding a 1000mm lens, every movement is magnified, not to mention the wind is usually blowing, which can really be problematic. Even finding the subject with a lens zoomed to 42x was a tricky part of the equation.

The camera does feature a 3-inch 921,000 high-resolution “Vari-angle” LCD screen that pulls out and rotates, making it simple to shoot from a variety of angles especially working with video. Although I used the electronic LCD eye-level viewfinder, which gave the camera a DSLR through-the-lens feel and made it much easier to zoom and focus in on my subject. This secondary viewfinder, which is rare to find in most point-and-shoot style cameras, was one of my favorite features. I found it easiest to start at a more modest zoom and then zero in on my subject. Starting out at the full zoom made it almost impossible to locate my subject.

The toughest part was keeping my subject properly composed as I pressed the shutter. The camera took care of the stabilization and snapped sharp photos, but I still need to hold steady to keep my composition correct.

The Nikon COOLPIX P510 specs include:

  • 42x zoom
  • 16.1 MP CMOS sensor
  • Full 1080p HD Video
  • 3-inch “Vari-angle” LCD screen
  • ISO 100-3200
  • Exposure Bracketing
  • Rechargeable Li-on battery

When you consider the range from macro to about 1000mm, the Nikon COOLPIX P510 gives the photographer an amazing selection of focal lengths when it’s not possible to move in close or carry a heavy camera or lens. After using the camera for a month, I found it a breeze to carry it on walks or hikes. It just reaches out to bring your approachable subjects into the frame. One of my favorite features, which does get touted on the Nikon website, is the eye-level electronic viewfinder. I found this a must to focus in on birds, plus it’s a more natural way to to hold the camera steady. Using most compact camera gear with your only option is the 3-inch LCD on the back of the camera can be very tough to use in the bright sunlight.

I did some comparison image tests versus a higher-priced DSLR and there was a difference. The P510 just didn’t have quite the tonal range especially in the highlights, but I was comparing a $429 camera to a $1,500 camera.

The Nikon COOLPIX P510 is larger than today’s typical point-and-shoot compact cameras, which you can easily slip in a pocket. The camera definitely is an over-the-shoulder carry, similar to a smaller type DSLR. Again, if you’re looking for a camera to shoot your kid’s soccer games, indoor basketball or birds in flight, it might be wise to save up and go with a camera like the Nikon 3200 or other model DSLR. The camera has a hard time competing with sports action against even a modestly priced DSLR.

Using this style of camera, which I call a point-and-shoot super-zoom, really is a great option for those who need a versatile camera taking photographs at a birthday party, travel or hiking your favorite trail especially when price and weight are the important factors. And until those smartphones get a little smarter and add a super-length optical zoom, this style of camera is a great option.

Other cameras in this super-zoom category include:

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Read more reviews and photography tips by Robert Lachman


  1. July 28, 2012, 3:25 am

    i am currently using a sony cyber shot dsc-h2 6 mega pixel 12 x optical (my first camera) i am ready to upgrade, my concern what would i be getting 5 yrs. later with the nikon coolpix p510 at approx. $100 more than the sony. macro is my modus and flash is important but they are not mentioned, not everyone is like you can you give me more of a review because i am interested
    slayerwulfe cave

    By: slayerwulfe
  2. July 28, 2012, 9:51 am

    This critique is excellent. Everything you need to know and want to learn about is clarified. Thank you.

    By: D.R. Belknap
  3. July 28, 2012, 10:54 am

    Using this camera, check the pics at this link to see why I am called the bighorn whisperer.

    The blogpost title is: When in Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, walk softly and carry a big zoom lens!

    This camera is great for static objects, average to poor for moving subjects such as ducks that are feeding in water, you push the shutter and the duck's head is above the water, the actual photo taken by the camera is head under water, possibly due to slow processing inside the camera, etc- very annoying.

    But just for that awesome mega zoom, they will have to pry this little camera from my hands before I would give it up.

    The gps builtin is a nice plus as well.

    Bill McDonald

    By: morongobill
  4. July 29, 2012, 2:07 am

    spot on review of the superzoom category, but should have mentioned Sony hx100v/hx200v. I find the stabilization to be better than the Nikon's.

  5. July 31, 2012, 12:04 am

    […] Camera Review: Nikon COOLPIX P510 Camera Review: Nikon COOLPIX P510. Posted By: Robert Lachman; Posted On: 10:30 p.m. | July 27, 2012. I enjoy hiking or an early morning nature walk through the wetlands or park, but carrying heavy photography gear sort of puts a damper on the fun. Read more on Los Angeles Times […]

  6. November 19, 2012, 12:16 am

    I enjoy cycling a lot as well as taking photos or video of my adventure this is one of the reasons why I bought an action camera since they are handy to use for they can be mounted on the helmet or bicycle and capture photos or videos without hassles.

  7. January 3, 2013, 11:09 pm

    excellent review. Nikon is a beast.. an amateur photographer claims that 🙂

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