Performance and Image Quality
The P510 is a reasonably responsive camera, without being outstanding. Importantly, start-up only takes a moment and autofocus acquisition is very fast at the wide end of the camera's zoom, dropping in poor light and (understandably) becoming less snappy as you zoom in. Assuming there's enough contrast in the scene though, AF remains very accurate, even at 1000mm equivalent.
The P510's maximum framerate of 7 frames per second is unlikely to get much use, but it's nice to have, although the maximum 5 frames per burst greatly limits its usefulness. A 'Low' burst option is on hand, which offers a more pedestrian 1 frame per second at full resolution, but with a burst depth of 30 frames.
Other 'high-speed' options include lower resolution capture at 60 and 120 frames per second, as well as a pre-shoot cache and Nikon's Best Shot Selector (where multiple images are captured and the camera saves the best one). An interval timer - standard on most Nikon models - can be used to capture images for a stop motion video.
Overall, we're very pleased with the P510's image quality. Although it doesn't offer the same sort of output that has impressed us in competitors like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, at low ISO settings in daylight (the environment in which we suspect it will be used most) the P510 gives reliably well-exposed, detailed images across its span of focal lengths.
Our biggest criticism of daylight shots from the P510 is highlight clipping, which can be an issue in scenes with a wide tonal range. Landscapes on dull days - where the sky is very bright compared to the foreground - are particularly prone, but this is far from unusual.
Given the 1000mm maximum focal length of this lens, Nikon's Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilization works extremely well. Unlike its predecessor, which used a combination of sensor-shift and electronic VR, the P510's lens is optically stabilized. During our shooting we've been pleasantly surprised to be able to get away with shutter speeds of around 1/200sec at the P510's maximum telephoto setting of 1000mm, without camera shake impacting noticeably on sharpness.
Earlier P-series cameras (the original P100 springs queasily to mind) could be very unpleasant to use at long focal lengths, due to vibration reduction that caused the live view image to 'snake' around, constantly. The P510, by comparison, is far more solid. Naturally though there is some movement at the long end of the zoom, caused by the VR system compensating for camera shake, which can make accurate composition tricky.
ISO sensitivty ranges from ISO 100-3200, with a Hi 1 equivalent to 6400. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, selecting the higher ISOs results in softer, noisier images. Between ISO 100-400 image quality is perfectly acceptable but even at ISO 200, a subtle but noticeable crunchiness starts to be visible on close examination of low-contrast areas. Noise reduction is a little aggressive at its defauly 'normal' setting but selecting 'low' helps preserve a fraction mode detail (at the expense more grittiness at 100%).
Being limited to JPEG capture probably won't bother the target market, but we do find ourselves wishing for the sort of control over sharpness and noise-reduction that would be possible with Raw files.
Photographers who like really vibrant images may want to use the Vibrant Picture Control setting but we found that the Standard setting produced the most natural looking colors. As we'd expect, the P510's metering system is very accurate much of the time, but exposure compensation is available if needed, close at hand via the rear four-way controller.