Nikon Coolpix P520 review

Ben Pitt
5 Oct 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT

A massive zoom at a competitive price, but it comes with too many compromises



1/2.3in 18.0-megapixel sensor, 42.0x zoom (24-1000mm equivalent), 548g

The P520 is Nikon's top-of-the-range ultra-zoom (or bridge) camera, with a 42x zoom, articulated 3in, 921,000-dot screen, electronic viewfinder (EVF) and GPS. It's quite a bit cheaper than its rivals, though.

Nikon Coolpix P520

It doesn't take much digging to reveal how Nikon has been able, or perhaps felt obliged, to charge less for this camera: the slim battery lasts for just 200 shots, less than half that of most of its competitors; there's no accessory shoe for external flashguns; it can't capture in RAW format; and the 201,000-dot EVF is small and coarse compared to the 920,000-dot and higher resolutions offered elsewhere. There's not even an orientation sensor for rotating portrait-shaped photos automatically.

It's not a whole lot of fun to use, either. Autofocus was lethargic, taking at least half a second, and up to three seconds in low light or at the long end of the zoom. Even in favourable conditions with a bright, nearby subject, it only managed to capture a photo every 2.9 seconds. After zooming right in, we measured an average of 3.7 seconds. Anything above a second is disappointing, especially for a bridge camera that's likely to be pointed at fleeting subjects.

Nikon Coolpix P520

The controls are slow to access, too. There's a Fn button that can be assigned to various roles, and we appreciate how quick it is to reassign it to a different task. However, it doesn't make up for the scarcity of labelled, single-function buttons and lack of a quick-access menu system. It took us a long time to figure out why we couldn't select ISO speeds higher than 800; it eventually transpired that it's only possible when the Active D-Lighting function for boosting shadows is disabled.

Manual exposure is well catered for, though, with shutter speed assigned to the command dial and aperture on the rear wheel. It's easy to move the autofocus point using the navigation pad. We also appreciate being able to trigger autofocus momentarily in manual focus mode – useful for focusing once and then avoiding unnecessary refocus between shots.

Nikon Coolpix P520

The EVF doesn't switch on automatically when the camera is raised to the eye. In fact, it doesn't even switch on when the neighbouring DISP button is pressed. The only way to enable it is to flip the articulated screen out, over and back to close it against the camera. This makes it cumbersome to switch between the two screens. Then again, the EVF's poor quality meant we didn't have much of an urge to use it at all.


The P520 made a much better impression in our video quality tests. It captured bitingly sharp details and a bright, clean picture in low light. It also excelled for picture quality at the long end of the zoom, although the optical stabilisation wasn't powerful enough to keep these handheld shots steady. Autofocus was sometimes very slow to update, and noises from the various lens motors crept into the soundtrack. We also noticed some compression artefacts in fast-moving scenes, due to the relatively low-bit-rate 16Mbit/s AVC compression. Still, despite these various niggles, this is one of the better video modes we've seen from a bridge camera.

Our photo tests revealed a similar mixture of strengths and weaknesses. The lens performed well at the long end of the zoom, and although focus didn't quite live up to the ambitious 18-megapixel sensor resolution, the levels of detail compared well with rivals. However, it wasn't so competitive when shady conditions forced the ISO speed up. The resulting noise reduction made details look smudged and scruffy.

Nikon Coolpix P520 sample shot

We can't fault this brightly lit shot of a static subject

Nikon Coolpix P520 sample shot

Focus holds together well at the full zoom extension - not bad considering the 42x zoom range

Nikon Coolpix P520 sample shot

Details suffer when shooting faraway subjects in shady conditions, though

Meanwhile, the camera made some very strange decisions about the shutter and ISO speeds, picking shutter speeds as slow as one second rather than raise the ISO speed beyond 800. There's an option to limit the minimum shutter speed in Auto ISO mode, but using it to avoid excessively slow shutter speeds in low light paradoxically made the camera use excessively slow shutter speeds for telephoto shots. There's a complex relationship between shutter speed, ISO speed and focal length, but this camera makes it even more complex and problematic.


We could forgive the so-so image quality considering the competitive price, but there are a lot of other issues to forgive too, from the poor battery life and performance to the inaccessible controls and lack of RAW capture. If your budget can't stretch beyond £300, you're better off picking up an end-of-line deal on something like the Panasonic FZ62.

Basic Specifications

CCD effective megapixels18.0 megapixels
CCD size1/2.3in
Viewfinderelectronic (201,000 pixels)
Viewfinder magnification, coverage100%
LCD screen size3.0in
LCD screen resolution921,000 pixels
Articulated screenYes
Live viewYes
Optical zoom42.0x
Zoom 35mm equivalent24-1000mm
Image stabilisationoptical, lens based
Maximum image resolution4,896x3,672
File formatsJPEG; QuickTime (AVC)


Memory slotSDXC
Mermory supplied15MB internal
Battery typeLi-ion
Battery Life (tested)200 shots
ConnectivityUSB, AV, mini HDMI
Body materialplastic
Lens mountN/A
Focal length multiplierN/A
Kit lens model nameN/A
AccessoriesUSB and AV cables

Buying Information

Warrantyone year RTB

Camera Controls

Exposure modesprogram, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
Shutter speed8 to 1/4,000 seconds
Aperture rangef/3-8.3 (wide), f/5.9-8.3 (tele)
ISO range (at full resolution)80 to 6400
Exposure compensation+/-2 EV
White balanceauto, auto (warm lighting), 5 presets with fine tuning, manual
Additional image controlscontrast, saturation, sharpness, Active D-Lighting
Manual focusYes
Closest macro focus1cm
Auto-focus modesmulti, centre, flexible spot, face detect, tracking, target finding
Metering modesmulti, centre-weighted, centre, face detect
Flashauto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, red-eye reduction
Drive modessingle, continuous, self-timer, panorama, 3D

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