Summary

Highly Recommended awardNikon's COOLPIX P530 is a mid-range super-zoom camera with a 42x optical range - taking you from 24mm all the way to 1000mm. It has a 16 Megapixel CMOS sensor, 3in screen, electronic viewfinder, PASM shooting modes and 1080p video at a keen price. It's up against models like Canon's PowerShot SX520 HS and Sony's Cyber-shot H400, so it's those two models we've compared it to in our Nikon P530 review!

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Nikon COOLPIX P530 review

Intro

The Nikon COOLPIX P530 is a super-zoom camera with a 42x range extending from a 24mm wide-angle to 1000mm super-telephoto. It has a 16 Megapixel CMOS sensor and offers full PASM exposure control in addition to full auto. As well as a high resolution 921k dot LCD screen it has a 0.2in 201k dot electronic viewfinder.

The COOLPIX P530 is an update to the popular P520 launched just over a year earlier. It’s now the third generation to use the 4.3-180mm f3-5.9 lens although interestingly Nikon has reduced the sensor resolution by 2 Megapixels, down from the 18.1 Megapixels of the P520. The screen is also no longer articulated and the older model’s built-in GPS has been dropped.

Here, I’ve compared the COOLPIX P530 with the Canon PowerShot SX520 HS, which shares the same 42x zoom range, 16 Megapixel resolution and a lot of other features besides. I’ve also tested it alongside Sony’s Cyber-shot H400 which has a massive 63.3x zoom in a slightly larger, heavier body. Read on to discover which is the best buy for those looking for a long zoom with an affordable price tag.

 

Nikon P530 review

 

Nikon COOLPIX P530 design and controls

The Nikon COOLPIX P530 looks every bit like the P520 it replaces. It’s pretty compact for a 42x super-zoom and in fact is slightly smaller than its predecessor and around 50g lighter. The design, right down to the number and placement of the controls is more or less identical though.

Although on paper the COOLPIX P530 is bigger all round and a little heavier than the Canon SX520 HS it’s not a difference that you’re likely to notice nor care about enough to warrant choosing one over the other. Bear in mind though that the P530 manages to pack an electronic viewfinder into that space and you have a difference worth taking note of. The Sony H400 is comparatively big and bulky, but then it has a whacking 63.3x zoom.

The P530’s design could be described as squarish, it lacks the organic curviness of the H400 and SX520 HS, all the same, it’s a very comfortable fit in the hand. It has a rubber-like coating on the grip but the thumb pad is dimpled plastic which feels a bit cheap; both the H400 and SX520 HS use the same material on the thumb pad as the grip.

Like the SX520 HS, the P530 has a second control wheel, but it’s more sensibly positioned for thumb operation so you can make exposure adjustments without taking your finger off the shutter button – as you have to do with the SX520 HS’s top-mounted dial.

The on/off switch is located on the top panel and has a green LED surround to tell you when the power is on. The only other button on the top is a programmable fn button which is assigned to drive modes by default. By contrast the drive mode button on the Canon SX520 HS can’t be re-assigned even though, given the SX520’s lamentable 1.7fps continuous shooting performance, there’s every reason it should be.

Round the back the button layout is unchanged from the P520 with a control wheel flanked by playback, menu and delete buttons. The movie record button is at the top of the rear panel right next to the thumb dial. The only really significant design difference between the COOLPIX P530 and its predecessor is that the earlier model’s 3.2 inch side-hinged flip-out screen has been replaced with a slightly smaller 3 inch panel that no longer articulates. That’s a shame, but it does allow for a lighter more compact body. If you want a COOLPIX super-zoom with a flip-out screen you’ll have to move up to the flagship 60x P600, alternatively the budget 34x L830 has a flip-up screen, or of course seek out the older P520.

I should also point out that both the Sony H400 and Canon SX520 HS have fixed 3 inch screens with 460k dot resolution. The COOLPIX P530’s screen is a higher resolution 921k dot panel which produces a more detailed stable image. It also has a wider angle of view than either of the other two models. The view angle on the Sony H400 isn’t great either horizontally or vertically, the SX520 HS has a wide horizontal angle of view, but only the COOLPIX P520 screen remains visible at acute horizontal and vertical angles of view, so it’s great for overhead shots though, of course not as versatile as an articulated screen..

The SX520 HS screen was the best for viewing in bright light outdoors, but it doesn’t have the advantage of an electronic viewfinder like the COOLPIX P530. The 0.2in 201k dot panel is, by today’s standards, a very basic EVF but it provides a decent enough view and is the best option for shooting outdoors and for when you’re zoomed in to the longer focal lengths. It can get a bit tiring on the eyes after a while, but it’s definitely more than just a fall-back option. The specifications for the Sony H400’s EVF are the same, but when I compared them, the COOLPIX P530’s EVF was significantly bigger and also a little brighter.

The COOLPIX P530’s built-in flash is popped up by pressing a button on the left side of the body just below the flash head. Once raised you can choose from standard, red-eye reduction and rear curtain sync modes. The range is 8 metres at the wide angle setting. Like the Canon SX520 HS and Sony H400, the COOLPIX P530 lacks a hot shoe; the SX520 HS is the only one of the three that offers an external flash unit accessory.

A flap on the right of the P530’s body provides access to the combined USB / A/V out port and a mini HDMI port. The combined battery and card compartment is in the base of the grip. Like the H400, the COOLPIX P530 battery is charged in the camera using either the supplied USB charger or you can plug it into a laptop or other suitable charger using a standard USB cable. All in all, it’s much more convenient than having to carry around a proprietary charger.

Nikon COOLPIX P530 lens and stabilisation

The Nikon COOLPIX P530’s 4.3-180mm f3-5.9 zoom is the same lens used in two previous generations of COOLPIX P models back to the P510, when it was a market leader. Though it’s no longer the longest zoom lens in this price bracket it still covers an awful lot of ground from a super-wide angle to a telephoto that’ll get you close in to distant action.

The PowerShot SX520 HS has a similar range, in practice there’s no significant difference between the 1008mm maximum zoom on the SX520 HS and the 1000mm of the P530. The Sony H400 is a different matter though, as while its 24.5mm wide angle is all but the same as 24mm, at the other end of the range the H400’s 1550mm telephoto will get you that much closer to the action. To give you an idea how much closer, in addition to the usual wide angle and telephoto coverage samples in the table below I’ve also shown how the the maximum 1000mm telephoto of the COOLPIX P530 compares with 1550mm on the Sony H400.

COOLPIX P530 coverage wide
COOLPIX P530 coverage tele
4.3-180mm at 4.3mm (24mm equiv) 4.3-180mm at 180mm (1000mm equiv)
COOLPIX P530 coverage tele

Sony H400 coverage tele

4.3-180mm at 180mm (1000mm equiv) 4.4-277mm at 277mm (1550mm equiv)

With zoom ranges becoming ever longer, stabilization takes on a more and more important role. The COOLPIX P530 employs optical stabilization, shifting the lens elements to compensate for camera movement; Nikon calls it Vibration reduction. There are three settings available from the P530’s menu, Off, Normal and Active. Active mode irons out excessive wobbling, examples of the kinds of conditions it might be useful in, according to the manual, are ‘when shooting from a car or under poor foothold conditions’.

Ordinarily, this kind of additional stabilisation is reserved for movie shooting and it’s a little odd to provide two levels of stabilisation for stills shooting, if there’s a more effective option, why not just include that and forget about the less effective one? One possible reason is that Active mode consumes significantly more power or employs some additional digital compensation that could slightly degrade the quality. In my tests with the earlier P520 I didn’t gain any advantage over Normal mode when shooting the test scene in Active mode, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t yield better result in situations like those mentioned in the manual. Take a look at my Nikon COOLPIX P520 review if you want to find out more.

To test the Normal mode stabilization on the new COOLPIX P530, I zoomed it to its maximum 1000mm telephoto focal length and set it to Shutter priority mode. I then took a sequence of shots with the stabilisation turned off at progressively slower shutter speeds. I repeated the sequence with the stabilisation in Normal mode and the crops below show the results. In Normal mode the COOLPIX P530 can shoot hand-held at an impressive five stops slower that the photographer’s rule of thumb says is advisable.

In addition to Vibration reduction the COOLPIX P530 also includes the Motion detection feature common on most Nikon compacts which raises the shutter speed and/or ISO sensitivity in Auto and some scene modes to avoid shutter speeds that are likely to result in camera shake.

 Nikon P530 Vibration Reduction

100% crop, 4.3-180mm at 180mm, 100 ISO, 1/30th, VR off.

100% crop 4.3-180mm at 180mm, 100 ISO, 1/30th, VR Normal.

Nikon COOLPIX P530 shooting modes

The COOLPIX P530 can be used as a point and shoot in Auto mode. This is an old school auto mode with no scene detection to detect backlit or moving subjects, for that you need Scene Auto selector mode, which uses Scene detection to automatically choose the most appropriate scene mode for the subject from one of ten scene options.

Switch to the PASM modes and both the Command dial thumb wheel and multi-selector wheel are used to change the appropriate exposure control; the command dial engages program shift in Program auto (Canon take note – the SX520 HS doesn’t do this) and the shutter speed in Shutter priority and Manual modes. The multi selector wheel is allocated to the aperture in Aperture priority and Manual modes.

 

The COOLPIX P530 has 16 manually-selected scene modes including all the usual suspects from Portrait to Party via Landscape, Sports, Beach, Fireworks, Backlighting and Sunset. There are two panorama modes for shooting 180 and 360 views. Both work along the same lines as Sweep Panorama on the Sony H400 – you press the shutter once and pan the camera as smoothly a you can. You can pan with the camera in portrait or landscape orientation – the P530 works out which, you don’t need to tell it beforehand like you do on the H400. Portrait mode produces the largest images which are 1536 x 4800 pixels for 180 panoramas and the 360 ones measure 1536 x 9600.

While it isn’t one of the best HDR modes around, the COOLPIX P530 retains its Backlighting scene mode. It’s no longer included on the mode dial, though, you have to select it from the Scene mode menu. HDR mode fires a fast burst of bracketed shots and produces a composite HDR image from them. Three levels are available and I’ve shown examples in the table below. HDR mode sets the sensitivity automatically, in this case to 800 ISO so I’ve also added my 800 ISO noise test shot for a comparison.

Even Level one overdoes the shadow tone mapping a bit, resulting in a flat looking image, but it’s good to see Nikon providing HDR on the COOLPIX P530, particularly as it’s something that’s not an option on the SX520 HS or H400. There’s one other stacking mode, Night Landscape which combines a burst of five shots taken at a high ISO sensitivity to produce a low noise composite.

COOLPIX P530 Aperture priority 800 ISO

COOLPIX P530 Backlighting HDR Level 1 800 ISO

COOLPIX P530 Backlighting HDR Level 2 800 ISO

COOLPIX P530 Backlighting HDR Level 3 800 ISO

Finally, the effects position on the mode dial provides a range of filters which you can apply in-camera to reproduce traditional darkroom techniques. The P530 offers a good range of filters including Nostalgic sepia (is there any other kind?), High-contrast monochrome, Painting and Cross process. The most notable absence here is Miniature, which is also missing from the Sony H400, only the Canon SX520 HS offers it.

Nikon COOLPIX P530 movie modes

The COOLPIX P530 has a best quality HD movie mode of 1080p25 which is encoded at an average bit rate of around 17Mbps. All of the video modes are available in PAL and NTSC compatible frame rates (i.e. 25/30 and 50/60fps) depending on the Video mode setting in the Setup menu, from here on I’ll use the PAL specifications. Next on the menu is an interlaced 1080i50 mode, followed by 720p25. That’s followed by a another 720p mode saved in Apple’s edit-friendly iFrame format, and lastly a VGA mode that records 640×480 resolution video at 25fps (or 30fps for NTSC video mode).

That’s just the normal speed modes; the COOLPIX P520 also has several HS options for playback at speeds other than real time. HS480/4x shoots 640×480 video at 4x normal speed (100 or 120fps depending on whether you have PAL or NTSC video mode selected) which plays back at quarter speed. HS720/2x records 1280×720 at double the normal frame rate for half speed playback, and finally 1080/0.5x records full HD video at half the normal frame rate for double-speed playback.

Audio isn’t recorded with the HS video modes but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that you can use the effects filters. The only limitation on this is that the Soft and Nostalgic sepia effects are only available with the HS720/2x mode. I should also mention that you can’t use the use zoom or Full-time AF with the HS modes. Regardless of that, this is an impressive range of high speed recording modes and one of the COOLPIX P530’s big advantages over the H400 and SX520 HS neither of which offers anything like it.

The COOLPIX P530 doesn’t have a movie position on the mode dial, so recording is started by pressing the dedicated record button whatever mode you’re in. One of the drawbacks of this approach is that you can’t frame up your shot very easily as the screen switches from 4:3 proportions to 16:9 (assuming you’re shooting in one of the HD modes). But there is a least a display mode that superimposes the 16:9 area on the 4:3 screen for you.

The COOLPIX P530 provides two autofocus modes for movie shooting, Single AF (AF-S), which sets the focus at the beginning of your clip and Full time AF (AF-F) which continually adjusts it. AF-S is the default, but if you want to record anything that’s moving, or if you’re panning the camera from near to far subjects, you need to switch to Full-time AF. The Full-time AF mode is a little erratic, and sometimes flits in and out for no apparent reason and it didn’t perform particularly well in my coffee cup test (see below) when I panned from a close up of a coffee cup to a more distant bar and back again.

The COOLPIX P530 doesn’t support any of the PASM exposure modes for movie shooting, regardless of the position of the mode dial and ISO, the sensitivity and exposure are set automatically. In that respect it’s the same as the SX520 HS and H400, neither of which offers manual exposure control for movies.

Nikon COOLPIX P530sample video 1: outdoors, sunny, handheld pan
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This clip, like the others below was shot using the COOLPIX P530 set to its 1080p25 best quality video mode. The video quality is good with nice colour but the full-time AF is a constant irritation with it’s stacatto back and forth motion. It also takes a while to refocus at the end of the pan.
Nikon COOLPIX P530sample video 2: outdoors, sunny, tripod pan
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For this tripod mounted pan I turned off stabilisation. The exposure here is spot on and the COOLPIX P530 handles the water reflections nicely. The Full-time AF behaves a little better here, but it’s still far from perfect. You could select single AF, but that’s not an option for a shot like this that involves a long zoom.
Nikon COOLPIX P530sample video 3: indoors, low-light, handheld pan
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The video quality is good with little evidence of noise and nicely saturated colours, but it’s underexposed and the metering wildly over-reacts to the window light in the middle of the pan.
Nikon COOLPIX P530 sample video 4: indoors, low-light, Continuous AF
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To test the COOLPIX P530’s full-time auto focus, I zoomed the lens in a little and panned from the flower on the table up to the bar, then back down to my coffee cup. Ironically, when it has a job to do the COOLPIX P530 fails to perform failing to adjust focus to the bar on both circuits.

Nikon COOLPIX P530 handling

The COOLPIX P530 starts up fairly swiftly and is ready to take a shot in a little under two seconds. That’s average in the sense that it’s faster than the Sony H400 but slower than the SX520 HS. For shooting in manual and semi-auto modes it has the best control layout of all three models tested. The SX520 HS also has a second dial in addition to the four-way controller, but its position makes it necessary to move your finger off the shutter release. It’s also responsible for both aperture and shutter speed so in manual you have to press the exposure compensation button to toggle between them. The COOLPIX P530 uses both its command dial and the multi-selector wheel to much better effect.

The P530 also offers comparatively good customisation options with a programmable Fn button thet can be assigned to any one of a number of functions including ISO sensitivity, white balance, image size and quality, Picture control, metering, AF area mode and continuous shooting. Speaking of which, the COOLPIX P530 has a respectable 7fps full resolution 7-frame burst mode as well as a wealth of reduced resolution options. There are 1920×1080 60fps and 640×480 120fps modes as well as Best Shot Selector, which picks the best shot from a 10 frame burst, and Multi-shot 16 which shoots 16 frames and combines them into a single image measuring 2560×1920 pixels.

 

Like the SX520 HS the P530 provides basic 3-frame auto exposure bracketing with up to +/- 1EV in 1/3EV intervals. It also has a basic interval timer which can be set at 30 second intervals from 30 seconds to 60 minutes. There’s no limit on the number of shots, the P520 keeps going until you press the shutter release, the battery runs out, or the card is full. It’s a shame Nikon couldn’t provide a shorter interval between shots than 30 seconds, but it’s a great extra mode to have all the same.

The P530 is quick to focus in good light and at wide angle focal lengths, but when fully zoomed in it can become somewhat leisurely. There are four AF area modes, Face priority, Manual (spot, normal and wide), Subject tracking and Target finding AF. In the manual modes the single area can be moved around the central screen area to one of 99 positions.

Nikon COOLPIX P530 Sensor

The COOLPIX P530 has a 16.1 Megapixel sensor that produces images with a maximum size of 4608×3456 pixels. Photos are saved at one of two JPEG quality settings and Large Fine JPEGs are on average 5.5 to 6.5MB in size. The ISO sensitivity range is 100 to 6400 ISO and the shutter speed range is 1/4000 to 15s.

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