Coming into the market clearly positioned as an alternative to Canon's range of ultra compact IXUS cameras, Nikon's COOLPIX S500 is a slim 7.1 megapixel unit which offers a few nifty features such as Optical Image Stabilisation. Unfortunately, it suffers from some focus and speed issues which really hamper its overall performance.
- Small design, Low chromatic aberration, Speedy burst mode
- Very slow focus, Some blurry pictures captured in low light
While the COOLPIX S500 is a decent camera when operating in perfect circumstances, the aversion to low light coupled with slow focusing make for a less than satisfactory unit.
Price$ 549.00 (AUD)
Our big problem with this model is its focusing. First, the process is extremely slow, with the camera sometimes taking in excess of .9 of a second to focus. While in practice the unit's shutter speed is only about .08 of a second, the massive delay added every time it has to focus greatly slows down the photography experience, and this will be irritating for those who enjoy taking spontaneous snap shots. In our other speed tests this was also noticeable, with its 2.4 second power up time and 2.5 second shot-to-shot time both being slightly disappointing.
The other issue with the S500's focus is its accuracy in less than bright conditions. Our test lab is a dark room lit with tungsten lights aimed directly at the target. We never have problems shooting under these conditions ordinarily, but the S500 repeatedly refused to focus properly on our high contrast chart, leading to soft edges and a lack of detail. This wasn't an issue all the time as every so often we captured a crisp shot, and all of our outdoors shots in bright sunlight were sharp and detailed, but anything taken in dim lighting suffered.
In the rest of our image tests the unit performed reasonably well. Our combination of subjective test shots and Imatest analysis found the S500 to be a solid but not outstanding unit. It exhibited very little in the way of chromatic aberration, with a score of 0.55%, an excellent result. There was no sign of the haloing in high contrast areas that typically plagues compact cameras, and the edges of our shots were crisp and clean.
In our colour test, the S500 scored a moderate 9.45 which is a little behind the competition, but not noticeably so. Most of the primary colours were quite accurate, with yellows being the only exception. The balance, while not exceptional, will be more than adequate for the target market of this camera, and will be fine for small and medium sized prints.
In our final test for image noise, the S500 again performed about average, with a score of .88% at ISO 100. As long as the score is below 1.0% we don't tend to worry too much and although the shots were slightly grainy in parts, as with the colour issues, this is minor and won't be evident in regular sized prints. The S500 did suffer quite badly as we ramped up the sensitivity though, so we wouldn't recommend shooting at anything above ISO 200. Even at ISO 400 the pictures were covered in a fuzzy haze, and anything above this was even worse.
In some instances, new users may inadvertently wind up using the highest sensitivity of ISO 2000, thanks to a very strange design decision by Nikon. As well as activating the optical image stabilisation (which is a funky inclusion on a unit so small), the anti-shake button (represented by a shaking hand) also locks the sensitivity to the highest setting. We can see why they did this in theory, as higher sensitivities tend to help reduce blur, however the shots this model captures at ISO 2000 are just too terrible for even the most ambivalent photographer to use. Thankfully you can turn the stabilisation on separately using the menu.
Aside from the stabilisation, the feature set is what you'd expect from an entry level unit. There are white balance presets, a variety of scene modes and ISO sensitivities ranging up to ISO 2000. Nikons Best Shot Selector is also back, which is basically a bracketing feature that captures pictures at a variety of exposures so you can chose the best one. The burst mode is somewhat impressive, operating at three frames per second, but it only snaps off three shots before pausing.
The S500 has a similar design to previous Nikon ultra compacts. Rather than using a directional pad, they have once again put in a scroll wheel system for navigating the menu, which we don't really like. The interface is clean and easy to navigate, although it isn't as quick or seamless as those on some Canon or Olympus products. The S500 is constructed of thin metal and feels quite durable. It should survive most of the knocks and trauma typically required of a point and shoot camera.
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