Nikon COOLPIX P50
- Has a decent manual mode for such a small camera, crisp and clear shots, no obvious chromatic aberration, no obvious lens distortion
- Vibration reduction made our shots look too soft, it sometimes mishandled very bright and cloudy conditions
Small and powerful -- thanks to an 8.1-megapixel sensor -- the P50 is suitable for almost all situations and it even has a decent manual mode to tinker with.
Price$ 399.00 (AUD)
The P50 is small camera that'll capture big pictures. Flaunting an 8-megapixel sensor, a 3.6x optical zoom lens and electronic vibration reduction to counter shaky hands, it's a handy 'happy snap' camera for almost all occasions.
It weighs in at 200g with two AA batteries, and the battery compartment doubles as a hand grip. However, the camera is so tiny (only 9cm long), it could be a little uncomfortable to use. The chassis itself is very strong, while the menu buttons and shutter are all responsive. The only unnecessary feature is the optical viewfinder, which is a little hard to see through due to its size, and it doesn't show the results of a focusing operation.
When left in 'auto' mode, the P50 will take vibrant and crisp-looking images, which are virtually devoid of any chromatic aberration. High contrast areas looked well defined and free of any purple fringing, and noise wasn't much of an issue in our test shots either. Blacks were rich, while colours were vibrant in bright sunlight conditions, but too much sun caused oversaturated bright colours. Also, cloud cover tended to confuse the camera a little, resulting in overly dark shots.
We found the vibration reduction feature to be a cause for soft images, as our test shots looked crisper with it switched off. Unless you are shooting in very low light without the flash, it's probably best to keep the vibration reduction disabled. Night shots with the flash look well defined and have accurate colour tones, but depending on the situation, say you're at a concert, for example, the camera will compensate with a high ISO, which will make photos look unintentionally grainy.
The camera did sometimes miss the focal point, which has a lot to do with user error when viewing the scene through the LCD viewfinder. In bright light conditions, especially, it might be hard to ascertain if what you're shooting is exactly in focus. However, we did manage to take some decent close-ups of flowers, and the lens can render the background with a slight 'bokeh' effect. It takes less than one second for the lens to focus when there is adequate light, but it does make a disturbing mechanical sound while doing so (it's a combination of ticking and buzzing -- or, tizzing , as we like to call it).
For creative types, the P50 offers a decent manual mode, in which you can change the shutter speed from eight seconds, all the way down to 1/1000th of a second, and the aperture from f2.8 to f5.6 (or down to f11 when the lens is at full zoom). The ISO can be changed from 64 all the way to 2000, and the dial even has a 'high ISO' mode, which will take good-looking artistic shots that are heavy with graininess.
Quick scene selections can also be invoked via the dial, and these include 'portrait', 'scenery' and 'night time' modes. You can also attach a tripod to the base of the camera if you want to set-up night shots for best results. Meanwhile, videos can also be shot by the P50 and will record up to 30min on a 2GB SD card when the highest quality setting is selected; whether your batteries last that long in video mode is another story.
A set of disposable AA batteries allowed us to shoot close to 120 shots -- over a quarter of them with the flash enabled -- as well as 5min worth of video.
Overall, this is a fun camera with a lot to offer. It's small and it takes relatively crisp, clean and vibrant images. It did sometimes struggle with very bright light or heavily overcast conditions when in 'auto' mode, but it still does a better job than most point-and-shoots, and you can always park it in manual mode to setup shots yourself.
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