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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Nikon Coolpix S500


   

Nikon Coolpix S500 Review

Review Date: July 7, 2007

Category: Point-and-Shoot

Nikon Coolpix S500

IMAGE QUALITY

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
Wide-angle 35mm Telephoto 105mm
Wide-angle 5.7mm
(35mm, 35mm equivalent)
Telephoto 17.1mm
(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 9 steps).

The 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.

Macro
Macro
Macro
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 successfully locked.

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.

Off-Center Focusing Off-Center Focusing

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.

Face-Priority AF
Face-Priority AF Face-Priority AF Face-Priority AF
Blinking smily face Face found 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. Once a 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.

White Balance Indoors
AWB Preset WB
AWB Preset WB

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.

ISO Comparisons
ISO 50
ISO 50
 
ISO 100 ISO 200  
ISO 100 ISO 200
 
ISO 400 ISO 800  
ISO 400 ISO 800
 
ISO 1600 ISO 2000  
ISO 1600 ISO 2000

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
ISO 2000 resized for Web display

Chromatic Aberrations
CA
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.

Long Shutter Speed
Long Exposure
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).

D-Lighting
D-Lighting

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 more noise.

VR OFF
VR Off
Without VR
17.1mm, Programmed Auto, Multi-Pattern
1/4.6sec., F4.7, ISO Auto, Handheld, 100% Crop

VR ON
VR On
With VR
17.1mm, Programmed Auto, Multi-Pattern
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 original version).

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 bandwidth. Thanks!

 

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