With the Coolpix P510, Nikon breaks a new record for zoom lenses with a magnification factor of 42x and a maximum focal length of 1000 mm! With an extraordinary zoom range, a 16-Megapixel BSI CMOS sensor, a GPS, a tilt screen and a decent video mode, the P510 looks like a promising bridge camera.
Weighing in at just over 500 g, the Coolpix P510 isn't exactly a light camera, but packing a 24-1000 mm zoom lens into a digital camera this shape and size is no mean feat. Given the incredible versatility of the zoom lens (1 cm macro mode, wide angle, powerful telephoto settings) Nikon has actually done a very good job of keeping the P510's size and weight under control. This bridge is pleasant to hold and use with a nice deep grip handle and a non-slip rubbery finish. There's a big chunky dial for choosing the exposure mode and a selection of big buttons on the back of the camera for adjusting settings. On the grip handle there's a handy button for direct access to certain customisable options, as well as a settings thumb-wheel (although this unfortunately isn't clickable) that's particularly useful in A, S and M modes. Note that the P510 also has a fully customisable U mode. Finally, the four-way arrows integrate a handy control wheel for a quick and easy way to navigate around the graphic user interface.
The zoom lens can be controlled using two levers—one of which is located on the lens barrel while the other is around the shutter-release button. The zoom has two speeds (and a slow mode for video) and can be controlled accurately. The screen has a vertical tilt function and can be tilted upwards or downwards to help you line up shots at ground level (macro) or over the top of a crowd, for example. However, a full swivel screen would still offer greater flexibility. Onscreen images flow smoothly in good light, but things tend to get a bit more glitchy when lining up shots indoors. The onscreen image remains sharp, but with a lower level of brightness. Colour fidelity is decent, with a Delta E 94 under 5, but bright, light areas are soon overexposed when viewing images onscreen.
The electronic viewfinder is unfortunately a little disappointing for a high-end bridge. The resolution is just 200,000 dots while other competitors (the Fujifilm HS30 EXR, for example) have sharper, more comfortable EVFs with good magnification and higher-res screens (920,000 dots). Plus, the P510 viewfinder is very small and there's no presence detector to automatically switch display between the LCD and the EVF. Another small detail we found particularly annoying in this camera is that the memory card compartment is on the underside of the camera body.
The GPS offers all the usual functions, and geotagging can be synced with the built-in clock. Note, however, that the P510 doesn't have a compass, integrated maps or landmarks.
On the whole, the menus are clear and can be easily accessed via the settings wheel. It's just a shame there's no 'Quick Menu' for easy access to the main settings (WB, ISO, metering, drive mode, etc.) as seen in Canon's SLRs, for example. There's no in-context help function either to explain all the settings and options.
Shooting just over 250 photos on a full battery charge (GPS off), the P510 doesn't have an amazing battery life, even if a bigger battery could no doubt have been squeezed into that chunky grip handle.
The Nikon P510 isn't a lightning fast camera, but it's still relatively nice to use. It starts up in under two seconds, and in good light it focuses in 0.5 seconds. What's a little more frustrating is that the autofocus can be rather hesitant at maximum telephoto settings (f/5.9) in lower-light conditions.
Considering its enormous focal range, the 24-10000 mm zoom lens is actually quite fast, with aperture from f/3 to f/5.9. At wide-angle settings, this record-breaking zoom lens is on par with competitors, giving soft, but detailed and relatively consistent quality across the frame—although you may find you need to boost the contrast in post-editing software to give the images a little more oomph. At 200 mm, the frame gets a little sharper, and although it's no match for the excellent Canon SX40, it's still better than direct rival the Sony HX100V. At the maximum telephoto setting (which is 1000 mm, let's not forget!) the image is still nice and sharp with even levels of quality over the frame. Making a decent 24-1000 mm bridge camera lens was never going to be easy, but Nikon has actually done a pretty good job of things. Chromatic aberration and distortion are effectively corrected on the fly by the internal software and the 1 cm macro mode is OK too, although distortion is inevitably quite strong.
The 1/2.3" 16-Megapixel sensor behaves in a pretty typical way, with a visible speckling of noise that starts at the lowest ISO settings, but which doesn't impact image quality too much at 400/800 ISO. In fact, you can still push up to 1600 or 3200 ISO and get decent enough 8" x 12" prints (20 x 30 cm).
Unfortunately, and in spite being marketed as a camera for advanced users, the Coolpix P510 doesn't shoot in RAW format.
The video mode records 1080p HD footage at 30 fps with a decent 20 Mbps bitrate. Video images are quite contrasted and could be a bit more precise, but, on the whole, they're still above average. That said, models like Sony's HX100V do better, with a more neutral and richly detailed image. The stereo sound is decent, and the zoom lens works nice and slowly, although the noise of the motor is picked up by the mics. There aren't many customisable settings in video mode, but the exposure can be locked (AE Lock) if need be. Note that a 60 fps 720p video mode (or a 120 fps VGA mode) can be used to create nice slow-motion effects.