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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


Friday, June 22, 2007 - Here's what I receive in the box:

  • Coolpix S500
  • No Memory Card included [Nikon sent me a SanDisk 256MB SD memory card for the review]
  • Wrist Strap
  • Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL10 3.7V 740mAh and Battery Charger MH-63 with Power Cable
  • Interface Cables: A/V; USB
  • English and French Instruction Manuals: Quick Start Guide; Nikon Guide to Digital Photography
  • Software CDs: PictureProject 1.7

The Nikon Coolpix S500 is an attractive digital camera with a stainless steel body and clean design. I like the sweep of the lines on top of the camera and the engraved "Coolpix" on the front. The "Nikon" logo, on the other hand, is printed small to the point of being unobstrusive. There is a large and bright 2.5-in. LCD on the back and the Rotary multi selector (à-la-iPod) is just way cool and fun to use.

The Nikon S500 starts up fast, with lens extending and LCD displaying the image in about 1 sec. There is no practical shutter lag. The controls are on the small side and, though I have not had any problem using them, those of you with large hands and fingers would do well to try the camera hands-on first at your friendly neighbourhood camera store before purchasing.

The Nikon 3x optical zoom has the Nikon's famed VR technology that it uses in its professional SLR lenses. VR stands for Vibration Reduction and is Nikon-speak for optical image stabilization. It's not "electronic" or "digital" VR, but simply VR -- which means it is the true optical image stabilization that moves a lens element in response to tiny camera movements to counteract the effects of camera shake and effectively reduce blur.

The Nikon S500 may be a point-and-shoot model but it has lots of practical features "under the hood" that you just won't find in competitors' comparable models. I mentioned VR already. It also has manual WB, allowing you to obtain correct colours in artificial light settings. Area AF allows you to move the AF frame to one of (11 x 9 = ) 99 points on screen. BSS (Best Shot Selector) allows you to take up to 10 pictures (as long as you keep the shutter depressed) and then the camera selects and keeps the one that is the sharpest.

Making sure the focus is on the eyes
Manual AF Area: Making sure the focus is on the eyes

One feature I really like and which is appearing in more and more digital cameras is Manual AF Area which allows you to specify where the camera focuses out of 99 focus areas. This allows you to put the camera on a tripod, compose the scene and then move the AF frame to the focus area you want. This greatly facilitates obtaining sharp pictures in macro photography where prefocusing with a half-press of the shutter release button and then recomposing can often result in blurred pictures (since even a few cm movement toward or away from the subject can lose the focus).

Time-lapse movie allows you to take pictures at set intervals of 30s, 1m, 5m, 10m, 30m, or 60m and join them into a silent movie of up to 1 hour.. Some cool effects to try for are: clouds rushing by, day-turning-to-night, morning glory flower opening up -- all in the space of only a few seconds.

Here is an example (though uninspiring) of Time-lapse movie shot at 30 sec. interval, with the camera placed on a small table top tripod. The clip is filmed at 640x480 @ 30fps and is approx. 3 sec. in length (file size is 2.78MB). Believe it or not, it took approximately 20 long min. to record just this 3 sec. of movie. So, make sure your battery is charged up max before attempting a time-lapse movie. If you plan to select longer intervals such as 1hr, then it might be wise to purchase the optional EH-62D AC Adapter.

Time-lapse movie sample
Time-lapse Movie [2.78MB]

At "wide-angle," the macro function on the Coolpix S500 allows you to move in only as close as 15cm (5.9 in.) away from your subect. At first, this seems to be a long way off from a small flower and you might think this does not allow real close-ups. But hold on, the macro mode on the S500 does not work as you quite expect it to. You must first press the macro button (DOWN arrow) and set macro ON. Then, you need to do one more thing before the camera is really in macro mode: zoom in and out until the macro indicator on the LCD turns green (more like grey blue). In what really amounts to a tele macro setting, the area covered is small enough to now qualify as close-up and the camera is able to lock focus.

If you like to take macros, it can be hard to know how much 15cm (5.9 in.) is. Try this simple trick: measure 15cm distance from the tip of your pointing finger to wrist (left hand) and mark that distance with a marker. Then it's a simple matter of pointing at the subject and making sure the camera's lens does not extend past the mark on your wrist.

The One-Touch Portrait button automatically turns on Face-Priority AF, D-Lighting and In-Camera Red-Eye Fix. This ensures that the camera focuses on the face, brightens it if necessary and removes any red-eye.

The Anti-Shake button activates Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization and Best Shot Selector to help you capture the most sharp pictures.

These two buttons are so convenient that they will surely be used often -- much more than if we had to go into Scene Modes menu to select them.

As is becoming more and more common now with digital cameras, the Nikon S500 includes approx. 26MB of internal memory, and so a SD memory card is not included in the box. At the 7M* image mode, 26MB can store about 7 images. A 256MB SD card will hold about 70 7M* images, and a 2GB SD Card will hold about 563 7M* images. At 640x480 30fps, you'll be able to store approx. 23 sec. of movie in the 26MB Internal Memory, approx. 3 min 39 sec. on a 256MB SD Card, or 29 min 27 sec. on a 2GB SD Card. A memory card is a one time buy, and I would recommend a 2GB SD Card or as large a memory card as you can afford. The S500 also accepts the High Capacity 4GB SD card.

The Nikon S500 allows the date, date and time, or a day counter to print permanently on each picture as in old film days. If you like to have the date printed on your prints, this date imprint function is available. However, remember that with digital cameras, each picture always has a corresponding EXIF info recorded with it. The EXIF info records the date the picture is taken, together with other pertinent exposure information. My recommendation is to simply specify in the DPOF that you want the date printed out on your prints only; the original image will not be marred by a permanent date imprinted onto it.

Included in the box is a rather thin Li-ion battery EN-EL10 that can take approx. 180 pictures (CIPA Standard). That's not a lot of pictures, so we recommend a fully recharged spare battery if you are going on an extended photo shoot session, such as a wedding and reception. Included is the battery charger MH-63 with a power cord. A word about charging the battery: when you insert the battery into the charger, the orange light on the charger will blink to indicate the battery is charging. However, the light does not so much blink as "pulsates." In fact, a rapid blinking light indicates the battery has not been fully and/or correctly inserted into the charger -- as I found out to my chagrin upon waking up the next morning (having plugged in the battery for recharging overnight). So make sure you insert the battery and push it down firmly into the charger -- and that the orange light pulsates (blinks at the rate of about 1 sec). The battery charger will recharge a new or fully exhausted battery in about 100 min.

A framing grid can be displayed on screen, and this is quickly becoming a norm in many digital cameras. I find this grid of horizontal and vertical lines very helpful in framing and composition but wish the lines were not that thick and intrusive [it's bold thick yellow]. When the grid lines are displayed, no other info displays except when you half-press the shutter release button.

Nikon PictureProject 1.7

Nikon PictureProject 1.7

The Nikon PictureProject software is now version 1.7. PictureProject is quite good, allowing the usual basic image editing: you can remove red-eye and edit the photo as to brightness, color booster (for people or nature), sharpness, straighten, photo effects (B&W, Sepia) and D-Lighting.

I really enjoyed using the Nikon Coolpix S500. It's compact enough to carry in my trousers pocket, always available for a quick shot. The controls are very intuitive and I personally find the Rotary multi selector to be fun to use. Though it is a point-and-shoot digital camera, I find the manual options (preset WB, Area AF, ISO, exposure compensation) enough to allow me to adjust the exposure to obtain correctly exposed pictures.

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