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Nikon Coolpix P50

Classic design, updated performance, great price
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

In Nikon's performance-oriented "P-Series", the new Coolpix P50 represents the lower end, but fits in with a balanced combination of versatility, advanced functions, great picture quality, and ease of use. According to Nikon, the P50 "combines classic design with contemporary performance." We'd just say it's a fine looking camera designed for enthusiast photographers when they want to go shooting without taking along a big and heavy digital SLRs.

Introduced as part of Nikon's massive Fall 2007 lineup, the Nikon Coolpix P50 brings almost full manual and creative control in a small and handy camera with 8.1 megapixel resolution. The resolution is no longer leading edge, but still more than enough to edit and crop without ever coming up short in pixels. Rare these days, the P50 offers an optical viewfinder to go alongside its 2.4-inch LCD screen. The camera also offers fairly high sensitivity (up to ISO 2000), offers what Nikon calls "electronic vibration reduction" and it can be powered by a set of simple AA batteries.

What you get with the Coolpix P50

While the Coolpix P50 is part of the performance-oriented P-Series, it really is somewhere inbetween a performance camera with full manual control and a point & shooter. You do get some very good features and an extra degree of control, but given the fairly low list price of US$229, it's clear that Nikon had to compromise.

The lens, as is the case with any Nikon camera, is beyond reproach and the P50 is no different. It comes with a slightly wide 29-102 millimeter equivalent 3.6X optical Zoom-Nikkor lens, consisting of seven elements in six groups. The optical zoom can be digitally magnified for a total magnification of 14.4X.

Unlike most inexpensive point & shooters, the Coolpix P50 offers some manual control. A round dial on top of the camera provides access to no ten different modes and menus.

We appreciate the optical viewfinder. Those have all but disappeared from digital cameras as of late. As far as we are concerned, they are necessary until LCDs are outdoor-viewable all the time. Speaking of LCDs, the P50's has an anti-reflective coating to increase outdoor performance, but it is relatively small (2.4 inches diagonal) and has low 115k pixel resolution.

Electronic Vibration Reduction

Unlike the also new (and considerably more expensive) Coolpix P5100, the P50 offers electronic vibration reduction but not optical vibration reduction. It is not entirely clear how this works. An interesting aspect of electronic vibration reduction is that it can be applied even after a picture has been shot. Note that this only works with pictures that the camera has determined are suitable for correction. When electronic VR is applied, the compensated image is stored as a separate file. Finally, electronic VR can also be used while shooting movies.

There is a High-Sensitivity mode on the dial. If selected, it uses digital anti-shake, i.e. it increases sensitivity to a maximum of ISO 1600 and uses faster shutter speeds. Digital anti-shake can lead to lower quality pictures with more noise, and so Nikon applies its EXPEED image processing system that performs noise reduction and improves the signal-to-noise ratio in an effort to preserve image quality even when shooting at higher ISO settings.

Manual operation and scene modes

The manual modes consist of just a Programmed auto and full Manual -- there are no Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority modes. In Programmed Auto the camera sets aperture and shutter speed. You cannot select different combinations of shutter speed and aperture for different effects as you can with the costlier P5100.

If you're not in the mood to use manual settings there are 16 "scene modes." Three popular ones -- portrait, landscape and night portrait -- are accessible via the mode dial. The remaining 13 are selected via menu: they are sports, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, museum, fireworks, copy (to take clear pictures of text and print), backlight and panorama, and voice recording. These modes are pretty much standardized throughout much of the Coolpix lineup, but not all models have the P500 voice recording mode. If you're so inclined, you can use the P5100 as a dictaphone until space runs out.

Movies

In movie mode you can record at full 640 x 480 resolution and at a lifelike 30 frames per second, with sound. Recording time is only limited by storage capacity. Unfortunately, the P50 won't let you use the optical zoom while shooting movies; digital zoom is available but only up to 2X. That was an unwelcome surprise. On the plus side, you can do time-lapse movies with intervals between shots from 30 seconds to 60 minutes.

Face recognition and other goodies

Like virtually all consumer camera introduced in 2007 the P50 offers a "Face Priority" mode that makes sure the camera exposes faces properly. What that means is that the camera has the ability too find a face in a picture and then make sure that it is in focus and properly exposed. With the P50, you know face priority works when a double border around the face glows green. In fact, the P50 has an enhanced face recognition function that can recognize up to a dozen separate faces quickly and efficiently.

Nikon has incorporated a number of user-friendly "In-Camera Innovations" into the P50. They include In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, D-Lighting, and the above described Face Priority AF. In-Camera Red-Eye Fix automatically detects and corrects red eye, the vexing condition that often happens when you use the flash. In playback mode, D-Lighting compensates for excessive back-light or insufficient flash in images.

The camera comes with a (for cameras) generous 52MB of internal memory, and uses SD cards for storage.

Operation

The Coolpix P50 is very easy to use, and you do not have to spend a lot of time learning buttons, controls and functions. On the back there is the ubiquitous four-way navigation ring with an OK button in the center. The ring doubles as a "multi-selector" so you can toggle through flash, focus, time delay, and exposure compensation settings. Three additional round buttons are for playback, menu access and deleting pictures. A monitor button sits next to the optical viewfinder, and the camera has a conventional zoom rocker on its backside.

On top of the camera is the 10-function mode dial, the shutter. and the power switch.

The onscreen monitor provides a great wealth of information. In shooting mode its 26 items, in playback mode 17. So there is a good number of icons to learn and memorize.

Overall

The Coolpix P50 is Nikon's latest effort to offer an entry-level model into its performance-oriented "P-Series." In reality, the small and handy P50 is somewhere inbetween a performance model and a point & shoot camera. We like the slightly wide 3.6X Nikkor zoom lens, the presence of an optical viewfinder, the generous onboard storage (52MB), and the wealth of features. Also, the P50 can be powered by standard AA batteries, always a plus as they can be found anywhere.

The price is certainly right (US$229 list), but we're not thrilled with the smallish, low-res LCD and the lack of shutter and aperture priority modes. On the other hand, face recognition mode, in-camera red-eye reduction, and D-Lighting are all there.

Nikon had to compromise to offer this much camera at a fairly low price. If the omissions do not bother you, you'll like the small and handy size and the many good features of this handsome little camera.

We like:

  • 8 megapixel resolution
  • Some manual operation in addition to 16 scene modes
  • Electronic image stabilization
  • Very small and handy for this much power
  • Face recognition mode
  • Voice recording
  • Full speed VGA movies with sound
  • Optical viewfinder
Not so much:
  • Smallish, low-res LCD
  • No full optical anti-shake
  • No optical zoom during movies
Specifications Nikon Coolpix L15
Status Added 09/2007
Camera Type Compact
Size 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.2
Weight (oz.) 4.4 without batteries
Effective Pixels 8.0 mp
CCD Type 1/2.5
Max pixel size 3264 x 2448
File formats JPEG, WAV, Quicktime
Compression fine, normal, basic
Movie recording (best) til full, with audio
Max movie pixels 640 x 480 with sound at 30fps til full (digital zoom only)
Voice recording none
Lens 5 elements, 5 groups
Focal length 5.7-17.1mm (35-105mm)
Zoom (optical/digital) 3X/4X
Image stabilization Optical lens-shift
Aperture f/2.8 - f/4.7
Focus modes Auto center or face-priority and AF-assist illuminator
Focus minimum/macro 1.8 feet, 6 inches
Shutter speed 1/1000 to 2 sec (4 sec in Fireworks scene mode)
Sensitivity (ISO) auto (ISO 64-1000)
Autofocus system Contrast-detect AF
Metering 256-segment matrix center-weighted or spot
Autofocus system contrast type: spot/multi
White-balance modes auto/6 presets (manual, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, flash)
Shooting modes auto, 16 scenes
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type none
LCD size 2.8" LCD (230k) 5-level brightness
LCD type outdoor viewable
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in
Flash range up to 13 feet
Flash modes 5
Camera internal memory 23MB
Storage Medium SD Card
I/O AV out, digital IO (USB)
Battery type Two alkaline/lithium AA or rechargeables
CIPA Battery life (LCD/off) 580 images with Lithium, 160 with alkaline
List Price US$179.99
Contact www.nikon.com

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