are here: Home
Digital Camera Reviews > Nikon Coolpix
Nikon Coolpix S500 Review
Date: July 7, 2007
The Nikon Coolpix S500 is a digital camera
targeted to point-and-shoot photographers. It
has 7.1 megapixel resolution on a 1/2.5 in. CCD
image sensor, and a 5.7-17.1mm (35-105mm, 35 mm
equivalent) 3.0x optical Zoom-Nikkor lens, with
a maximum aperture of F2.8(W)-F4.7(T). The lens is image stabilized using Nikon's excellent Vibration Reduction (VR) technology.
We find the overall image quality of the Nikon
S500 to be good to very good at ISO 50 with good detail and low noise.
|3.0x Optical Zoom
(35mm, 35mm equivalent)
(105mm, 35mm equivalent)
The Nikon S500 has a 3.0x optical Zoom-Nikkor
lens. In the above pictures, we show the coverage
for 35mm (equiv) and then 105mm (equiv). It takes about 1 sec.
to zoom from wide-angle to telephoto (I counted
Nikon S500 has Programmed Auto mode which allows you to choose some of the most
important exposure settings, such as ISO, exposure
compensation and white balance. There are also 15 easy-to-use Scene Modes to help obtain the best exposure in common challenging situations.
17.1mm, Programmed Auto, Multi-Pattern
1/1.2 sec., F4.7, ISO 50, AWB
Date Imprint ON
Macro can be as close as 15 cm (5.9 in.). You engage macro by pressing the DOWN Arrow, select Macro ON, and then play with the zoom lever until the Zoom indicator on the LCD turns green. The last step is important because otherwise you will not be able to ever lock focus. The
AF indicator dot and AF frame both turn green to indicate
successful focus; a blinking red AF indicator
dot and blinking AF frame indicate focus has not
In the macro picture above, we have also enabled Date Imprint which will permanently record the date on your picture.
AF is fast and works very well even in low-light.
In extreme low-light, the AF Illuminator automatically
(if you've set it on in the Menu) kicks in to
help achieve focus when you half-press the shutter release button. The AF Illuminator is situated
close enough to the lens such that it is able
to light up a subject even at close macro range.
Best Shot Selector (Menu - BSS - ON) works by
taking 10 shots in a row (as long as you keep
your finger pressed on the shutter release button)
and then discarding all except the one that comes
out the sharpest. It's one of Nikon's most practical feature to use when
the camera indicates it will be using a slow shutter speed. You can either turn BSS ON in the menu or press the Anti-shake Mode button on top of the camera. Anti-shake Mode enables both BSS and VR.
The Nikon S500 provides three AF modes: Auto
AF mode selects the subject with the most contrast out
of 9 AF areas; Manual AF Area mode allows you to
select from 99 focus areas; and Center-focus area mode focuses at the center of the screen.
Manual AF area helps tremendously for off-center
subjects, especially in macro photography. Once
you set this option in the menu, it stays out
of the way until you call for it. Nikon has implemented
a very intuitive way to do that: anytime you wish
to invoke manual AF area mode, simply press the
OK button and use the arrow keys to move the AF
area around the screen to one of 99 possible positions.
When you're done, press OK to set it at its new
position. Some cameras make you go thru hoops
to do what the Nikon S500 does so intuitively.
As you can notice in the picture above right,
the 4 angle brackets denote the extent of the
selectable area and so these (11 across x 9 down
=) 99 focus areas unfortunately do not go all the
way to the edges of the screen.
There is only one metering mode: 256-Segment
Matrix, i.e. Multi-Pattern. There is no histogram.
|Blinking smily face
||AF locks and tracks face
In addition to Auto AF and Manual area AF, Face-Priority
AF is also available at a push of the One-Touch Portrait Mode button. You use the blinking
smiley face displayed on screen as a guide. When
the subject's face becomes the same size as the
smiley face, the camera recognizes it and frames
with a double yellow border. If the camera detects
multiple faces, the closest face will be framed
with a double border, the rest by a single border.
face is locked on, the camera will even track
it as you move (very slowly) to recompose.
This face recognition capacity is, of course,
limited depending on the shooting condition. Bottom
line: it works but it's not perfect: the subject
must be facing the camera; also, the camera will
not be able to detect faces that look away from
the camera, are partially hidden by sunglasses
or other obstructions, or faces that take too
much or too little of the frame. Great for taking
portraits and ensuring the subject's face is in
sharp focus. If you enable the One-Touch Portrait Mode by pressing the appropriate button on top of the camera, Red-Eye Reduction is also turned ON.
As the above two pictures show, the auto white
balance (AWB) indoors under artificial tungsten
light is very good. It does not quite show it on the LCD but once you take the picture and review it, it looks very good. The Nikon S500 allows WB to
be set manually via the Menu: Preset WB allows
us to correct the colours to real white. AWB works
well in natural light.
You can set the ISO on the Nikon S500 from 50
to 2000. The 100%
crops above (area delimited by the white square)
demonstrate that noise at ISO 50 and 100 are under
control. (Note that the picture at ISO 50 is slightly underexposed because the camera can only go as low as 1 sec. in P mode.) Noise starts to be slightly visible at
ISO 200 (especially in the shadows) but is usable, even up to ISO 400. At ISO 800 and up,
the presence of noise quickly becomes apparent.
Like most other consumer digital cameras, the Nikon S500 is therefore a great outdoors camera but will find it challenging indoors for non-flash photos, unless you intend only to print the regular small 4x6 in. size or for Web display only. Images from ISO 1600 to 2000 exhibit too much noise for clean large prints, but can be acceptable for Web display. Here is the above picture which was taken at ISO 2000 resized to 450x338 pixels (i.e. for Web display):
ISO 2000 resized for Web display
|5.7mm, P, Multi-Pattern
1/110 sec., F2.8, ISO 50
CA is minimal in everyday shots. In the high
contrast shot above, the corner delimited by the
red square at top right, and reproduced at 100%
crop at bottom right, shows minimal purple fringing,
not enough to be concerned with.
|15.3mm, Programmed Auto, Multi-Pattern, 1
sec., F4.4, ISO 800
Preset (manual) WB, Macro, Self-timer 3 sec.,
Tripod Used, 100% Crop
The Nikon S500's slowest shutter speed goes
down to 1 sec. in P mode, and 4 sec. in Night Landscape and Fireworks modes. This allows
some night photography, though we would have preferred
longer shutter speeds. Generally, with CCD image
sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent
at slow shutter speeds.
I take an extreme low-light indoors shot. Light
is from two regular household tungsten bulbs on
the ceiling. To obtain a long exposure, I place
Bamm-Bamm under my desk in the shadows. I obtain
focus lock easily since the Nikon S500 has an
effective AF-assist Illuminator. However, I am unable to obtain correct exposure because 1 sec. is just not long enough at ISO 50. Some experimenting
and I find that I need to up the ISO all the way to ISO 800 to obtain a correct exposure.
To ensure sharp focus, I place the AF area
frame on Bamm-Bamm's eyes.
The noise reduction works well giving dark blacks (though the presence of noise at this high ISO is also quite visible).
Another practical feature of the Nikon digital cameras,
D-Lighting, allows you to "rescue" images
that come out too dark. You can do that in camera
(a copy of the picture is made) or later in PictureProject.
There are three levels of brightness that you
can apply in PictureProject (in camera, the camera
makes that decision for you): Low, Normal and
High. Note that you should make a copy of your original picture first since it seems that by default PictureProject simply rewrites on the original picture.
Above is another example of D-Lighting coming
to the rescue. This is not without price: depending
on your subject matter, rescued images can exhibit
17.1mm, Programmed Auto,
1/4.6sec., F4.7, ISO Auto, Handheld, 100% Crop
17.1mm, Programmed Auto,
1/4.5sec., F4.7, ISO Auto, Handheld, 100% Crop
Nikon has now included its lens shift Vibration
Reduction (VR) technology -- originally developed
for its professional digital SLR lenses -- into
the S500 lens. VR is Nikon's image stabilization,
the true kind, where a lens element shifts to
counteract tiny camera movements that can cause
blurred images. When tuned on, VR allows you to
handhold the camera at slower shutter speeds than
you would normally be able to without suffering
from camera shake and resultant blurred images.
As the two above handheld images show, the VR
technology in the S500 is quite effective.
The Nikon Coolpix S500 delivers very
good image quality at low ISOs. However, taking pictures indoors can be quite challenging. Fortunately VR helps to reduce blur. Using a high ISO 2000 means you might be able to take low-light pictures but the noise issue will limit pictures taken at high ISOs to small prints and for Web display only. Though it is a Point-and-shoot camera, it has a number of practical
features that both beginners and advanced photographers can enjoy.
The pictures in the Nikon Coolpix S500 Photo
Gallery page provide a good sample of what
the camera is capable of. I have provided samples
at 800x600 pixels (compressed to Quality 60/100
in Photoshop Elements) as well as the 3072x2304
pixels original size (click on the image for the
No camera is perfect or always capture only sharp images with no defects. We have included images that we believe are representative of what you will get in actual use. If we expect a picture to come out sharp and it does not, we include it. If the camera's manufacturer makes a claim and we find the opposite, we include it. Do not single out one picture to form a judgment of the camera's image quality; take all the pictures in the set as a whole and we believe you'll get a pretty accurate impression of the kind of images you can expect with this camera. Take our style of photography also into consideration: we shoot mainly in P mode, dial in an exposure compensation when we deem it necessary, use program shift if available and necessary, avoid the use of a tripod unless absolutely necessary and we have the time to set it up. Your style of photography may [will] differ (e.g. you may favour the use of a tripod and have the the time and luxury to adjust exposure settings carefully) and so may obtain markedly different results.
You can safely assume that most macro shots
and slow shutter speed shots required the use
of a tripod. Any image that is adjusted for levels
in Photoshop has "_adjusted" appended
to the file name (though the original sized image
is, of course, not adjusted).
I have defaulted the image size to 800x600 pixels.
For those who have their monitor resolution set
to 1024x728 pixels, everything should snugly fit
and you should not have to scroll to see the whole
image. If your monitor is set to 800x600 pixels
resolution, start the slide show and then scroll
to the right to position the image within your
screen width. Then, press F11 (if you are using
Internet Explorer) to switch to full screen mode,
and the image should fill your screen nicely.
Press F11 again at any time to switch your monitor
display back to normal mode.
To return to this page from the Photo Gallery,
click on the animated graphics of the camera.
Please open and download the original size version
only if you need to and only once
to your hard drive -- and save me some precious