Nikon Coolpix S500 Review

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Steve's Conclusion

Nikon's Coolpix S500 is the big brother to the S200, and includes many of the same features like 7-megapixels of resolution, a Nikkor 3x optical zoo lens, Nikon's VR (Vibration Reduction) technology, and 640x480 30fps movie mode, all packed in a compact and durable stainless steal body. While they both feature VR, the S500's system uses Nikon's Optical lens shift technology which produces better results with less noise than the Electronic VR found on its sibling. The S500 is simple to use, with a total of 16 pre-programmed Scene modes hat help you achieve optimum results in various common shooting situations as well as an Auto exposure mode with limited exposure option for white balance, ISO, AF area mode, etc.

I was pleased with the S500's ergonomics, while being what I consider an "ultra-compact" model, it still fits comfortably in you hands, and the Stainless steal body seems very durable. Controls are well place and easily accessed, and I especially liked the versatility of the 4-wayselector/jog dial. It allows you to quickly scroll through the menus, and is used to select the desired camera mode via the virtual mode dial. The S500's 2.5-inch LCD offers a bit more resolution than the S200's, at 230,000 pixels (compared to 153,000.) This is a high-quality display that uses an anti-reflection coating to help with shot composition outdoors in bright sunlight conditions. Overall the display works great outdoors, and was also very effective in marginal lighting, intensifying the live image in dim lighting to help aid in framing the subject.

The S500 was a good performer. Power up to first image captured measured 2.5 seconds. Shutter lag measured 1/10 second when pre-focused and but slowed to as long as 8/10 second including autofocus time. The shot to shot delay averaged about 2.4 seconds between frames without the use of the flash and 2.6 - 3.5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. When using red eye reduction flash mode, the LCD blanks during the pre-flash, a critical period of about one second.

There are three Sequential shooting modes to choose from; Continuous, Multi-shot 16, and Interval Timer. Continuous mode was responsive, capturing 3 images in 1.1 seconds, which then filled the buffer. Luckily it clears the buffers in less than a second. Multi-shot mode captures 16 frames in 7.7 seconds and combines them into a single 7M/Normal image. Interval Timer mode allows you to choose the interval between shots (30 sec. - 60 min.) and once started, will continue to record until the sequence is stopped by pressing the shutter release or the memory is filled. The LCD viewfinder briefly displays the last image captured in all Continuous modes, making it somewhat difficult to follow moving subjects. All tests were done using a Sandisk Extreme III 1GB SD card, 7M/Fine size/quality, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

Our image quality results were similar to the S200's. Both the 7M normal and 7M* (Fine) modes produced sharp images with pleasing color saturation. The exposure and white balance systems also did well, however as you can see from our "ambient light" M&M man photo, it tends to produced images that are a bit warm in mixed lighting. The Nikkor 3x optical zoom covers a typical 35mm equivalent range of 35 - 105mm. This is sufficient for most shot composition needs, with the 35mm wide angle offering a field of view that will allow you to capture nice landscape or group portraits, however don't expect to bring your distant subjects up close with the 105mm telephoto end. It's best used for close-up portrait or macro shots. You can also opt to use the digital zoom function, however we recommend only using it out of necessity as image quality is degraded.

Our indoor portrait photo also turned out well. The flash has an above average range for a consumer model of up to 24 feet at wide angle (ISO Auto.) Using the dedicated "One-touch" portrait mode, which features Face Priority AF technology to detect human faces in the frame, I was able to capture images that showed good flash coverage and sharp facial details. While the flash does boast such a powerful range, don't expect it to illuminate large open rooms. In these cases, Nikon's D-lighting feature helps out tremendously. While it worked well to produce sharp facial detail and pleasing skin tones, I found it to be a bit slow at times. There were several instances where I would have to wait as long as 2 seconds for the AF "square" to comes up and lock on to m subjects face, which as you can imagine was quite frustrating.

The S500 includes several unique features that help you overcome common causes of poor images, like:

  1. Optical lens shift Vibration Reduction (VR) helps reduce the effects of camera shake, allowing you to capture sharper handheld photos in marginal lighting conditions. It compensates for camera shake ensuring sharp images at shutter speeds up to three times slower than would normally be possible.

  2. D-lighting solves a different problem, one of underexposure due to back lighting or insufficient flash coverage. D- lighting operates in image playback mode; if you find an underexposed subject, simply select the option in the playback menu and the image will be brightened and displayed on the LCD monitor. If you like the result, confirm that you want it saved; it will be recorded with a different file name.

Movies can be recorded at resolutions of 640x480, 320x240 or 160x120 as well as capture Time-lapse or Stop- motion video. The length of these clips is limited only by the amount of available memory. The S500 includes a microphone and movies are always recorded with sound; as a result, the optical zoom can be used to compose movies before recording starts, but not during recording. Our samples were good, however you can see the AE system adjusting the exposure (display gets lighter or darker) and like many of the Nikon models we have seen recently, the last second of our clips contain no audio.

Power is supplied by a tiny EN-EL10 3.7v 740mAh Lion battery that is charged in the included MH-63 battery charger. Nikon claims you can record up to 180 shots on a fully charged battery. We found battery life was good, capturing about 65 sample images, several movie clips and concluding our other testing with plenty of power to spare. As always, we suggest you purchase a spare and keep it charged and ready at all times.

Bottom line - Like the S200, I was pleased with the Coolpix S500. This is a durable ultra-compact model that will make a great choice for anyone who wants a point-n-shoot model that offers good image quality, performance, and easy to use exposure modes. With 7-megapixels of resolution, you'll be able to create beautiful 13x19-inch or larger prints. At about US$299 or less, I feel the Nikon Coolpix S500 has an Ok value for a camera in this category. Be sure to also check out our review of its sibling, the Coolpix S200, which includes many of the same features and can be had for about $50 less.

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Sample Photos

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