Nikon Coolpix P520 Review

Introduction

Initially released in the spring of 2013, Nikon’s Coolpix P520 is the replacement to the previously released P510. It sits in their mid tier COOLPIX lineup of compact superzoom bridge cameras. At the time of its release, it was the company’s top most flagship mega zoom camera.
And a camera that they aim at beginning photographers looking for an upgrade in image quality over other point & shoots or a smartphone. Nikon aims this camera to compete with Sony’s HX300 and Canon’s SX50. In today’s post, we assess its strengths, weaknesses, and answer whether this camera should be a consideration in your next purchase.

Nikon-Coolpix-P520-specs

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Nikon Coolpix P520?

Pros:

Image Quality

It features a 1/2.3-inch 18.1MP CMOS sensor. The camera also includes a 42x optical zoom lens, which delivers a 35mm equivalent focal length of 24-1000mm, and offers a variable aperture from f/3-5.9. Nikon’s also equipped this lens with Lens-shift Vibration Reduction (VR), to smooth out any shake when zooming. Plus, the camera provides a 2x digital zoom, doubling the zoom range to a whopping 2000mm. Overall, images match the quality of most smartphones in today’s market. And in good light, the camera provides excellent photos and videos, with the benefit of a superior zoom range over a smartphone. Images are reasonably sharp, well saturated, and have good color reproduction.

The camera also provides continuous shooting speeds of up to 7 frames per second, and a 7 shot buffer, reasonable figures for the class.

Video Quality

For video, it shoots 1080p full HD video up to 30 fps. And it also supplies the lower quality interlaced format at 60 fps, for moments, slow-motion capture are necessities. Overall, video quality, while not the sharpest, is good for this price point and this class of camera.

Low Light Performance

Low light performance is suitable for this class. It features a native ISO from ISO 80 to 3,200, which is further expandable to 12,800. And it can provide usable photos up to ISO 1,600.

Focusing Performance

For focus, it uses a contrast-detect AF system with 99 selectable areas, Face Priority and Subject tracking. Overall, autofocusing performance is good, though not the fastest.

Display & Viewfinder

It features a fully articulating 3.2-inch TFT LCD with a resolution of 921K dots and 100% coverage of the imaging area. Having an articulating screen is the ideal choice for the versatility it offers for both high and low angle shooting. It’s also the perfect choice for self-composed shots and selfies. The quality of the screen is good for this price. And it’s fairly sharp, colors are accurate, and it’s bright enough for composing outdoors.

It offers an electronic viewfinder.

User Interface

The camera provides full manual control over exposure. And the user menus and the interface of the camera are both straightforward. Nikon has made them quite clear and intuitive for beginners. And they’ll quickly master the interface of the camera.

The camera also provides a customizable function button, called FN, allowing users to program the button for a variety of functions it offers. And it also has a single user-defined shooting preset on the mode dial, called U. This mode position allows users to recall a preset shooting setup, saving time.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Physically, it’s quite a beefy camera, almost matching the size of an entry-level DSLR in many respects. Coming in at 549g, it has some heft to it. However, the size does allow the camera to feature quite a deep and pronounced grip for a comfortable grasp during use.

It offers dual zoom rockers. One surrounds the shutter, and the other is one the lens for added versatility for controlling zoom. The zoom rocker by the lens also acts as a customizable button, providing added functionality.

It offers dual control dials for quick changes to shutter speed or aperture, depending on the mode.

Niche Features/Extras

It has a built-in pop-up flash.

It has built-in panorama.

It has built-in HDR.

It offers built-in GPS, and the camera automatically geotags images.

It offers a robust in-camera editing suite, which allows users to add filters, retouch images, or add effects.

Cons:

Image Performance

The camera cannot capture images in the RAW format. Instead, Nikon’s limited it only to JPEG, which reduces the flexibility users have when post-processing images.

The zoom on the lens is also rather slow and sluggish, which makes it not particularly well suited for quickly grabbing sports or action shots. The caveat, however, is that it does mean video recording offers a more smooth and steady dolly-styled zoom. So there’s a trade-off here.

Video Capabilities

The camera lacks 4K UHD video. And it doesn’t offer 60 fps in the higher-quality progressive format.

Low Light Capabilities

Low light performance isn’t great, as the camera has a smaller sensor and a slower variable aperture lens. Images quickly lose details and quality following ISO 1,600. With that, when shooting in low light, try to add external light or avoid these situations whenever possible.

Autofocus Performance

The autofocusing system is also a bit slow, particularly when zoomed in at 1000mm. In this configuration, the camera struggles to acquire focus and often fails to do so. It’s best to stay in medium focal lengths or wider, to maintain adequate focusing speeds.

Battery Life

Unfortunately, battery life is quite poor. It uses the EN-EL5 battery, which Nikon rates for only 200 shots per charge. You will need extra batteries with this camera.

Display

While it offers an electronic viewfinder, the viewfinder comes with a few problems. Firstly, it doesn’t have a built-in proximity sensor to disengage the rear screen. Instead, if you want to compose using the viewfinder, you must first fully close the rear LCD into its protected position to do so. In practice, this becomes quite tedious and also slows workflow, strange. Secondly, the viewfinder is both small and offers a meager resolution of only 201K dots. Both of these combine to make it quite challenging to gauge proper focus and hard to compose images over long periods.

The rear screen lacks any touch functionality.

Lacking Features

Like many cameras in this class, it lacks a built-in hot shoe to attach external flashes and other accessories.

It also lacks a microphone input. And since it doesn’t offer a hot shoe, you’ll have to employ an external recorder for better audio capture.

It lacks a headphone input.

And the camera also lacks built-in Wi-Fi. Instead, you’ll have to purchase the WU-1a adapter to acquire this feature. Once attached, the camera can then wirelessly transfer images to a paired smartphone or tablet.

Is this a good beginner camera?

Yes.

It’s an excellent beginner’s camera, but it does have a few limitations. Most notably, the lack of a touchscreen, wireless connectivity, and RAW capabilities. Nevertheless, if this is what your budget allows, and you’re okay doing without these features. It remains a capable option for the price.

What are the best lenses & bundles for the Nikon Coolpix P520?

Wireless Adapter:

Nikon WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter

Extra Batteries:

Nikon Coolpix Battery

SD Cards:

SanDisk Extreme PRO 32GB
SanDisk Extreme PRO 64GB 
SanDisk Extreme PRO 128GB

Tripod:

Manfrotto Compact Action Aluminum 5-Section Tripod

Is this a good camera for you?

Yes possibly.

It’s an excellent choice for those looking for a reasonably powerful superzoom bridge camera. And for users who don’t mind its minor flaws and inconveniences, it remains a strong starting camera. It delivers the necessary shooting options and functionality, along with good photo and video quality. While it’s not a replacement to an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera, it’s a good choice for those looking for a more point and shoot experience in a DSLR styled body.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
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Summary

Nikon’s Coolpix P520 is a reasonably powerful superzoom bridge camera with minor flaws and inconveniences. But, despite its age, it remains a strong starting point for those who don’t mind its drawbacks. It’s not a replacement for a fully-featured DSLR or mirrorless camera. But, it’s a good choice for those wanting a point & shoot experience in a DSLR style body.