Nikon Coolpix P50 Digital Camera review

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, February 2008
Manufactured by: Nikon Canada, Nikon USA
Requires: An interest in photography
MSRP: US$199.95, CAN$249.95

I think Nikon is getting fed up with all the great press Canon receives in the point & shoot camera market. I also think Nikon is really getting feisty about battling all of the product reviews out there which carefully examine 100% crops of really large photos in an effort to see which small lens and sensor performs better in conditions no typical (or even more advanced) point & shoot camera user could ever possibly care about. Nikon has also wisely recognized an important gap in its point & shoot lineup: the heretofore empty entry-level spot in its prosumer P-series. The Nikon P50 is almost identical in size to the top-of-the-line P5000/5100 models, and comes with what Nikon hopes is a perfect set of features for both consumers and somewhat more advanced photographers looking for a small, durable, lightweight, versatile camera at a price point which is clearly affordable.

The Nikon Coolpix P50 is an 8.1 megapixel, 3.6x zoom, f2.8-5.6 camera featuring a 4.7-17.0mm zoom lens (which in normal terms functions as a 28-102mm standard zoom when you take into account the crop factor introduced by the small image sensor). The P50 contains Nikon's patented Vibration Reduction (VR) lens stabilization system, and a large 2.4" 115,000 pixel LCD. The top of the camera sports an optical viewfinder, mode selector dial, shutter button and on/off button. The Nikon P50 is almost identical in size to and somewhat lighter than its P5100 top-of-the-line sibling. The back of the camera keeps all other external controls clustered vertically on the right side: a zoom rocker control, playback button, command wheel (for timer, macro, flash control, EV exposure compensation), menu button and delete button. The bottom of the camera offers a plastic-thread tripod mount, and a trap door behind which you'll find the battery compartment and the SD memory card slot. Nikon has positioned a dock connector at the back of the bottom plate. The mini-USB connector is located behind a rubber snap-in door on the upper right end of the body. The flash indicator and auto-focus lock indicator LEDs are located in a column next to the viewfinder bulge. The Nikon P50 has a prominent grip bulge on the right side which is covered with a good quality piece of textured, molded rubber providing excellent feel and control. The upper right end also has a protruding metal tab for use with a neck or wrist strap.


If the Nikon P5000 and P5100 are prosumer cameras (aimed necessarily at serious point & shoot photographers and also at amateurs and semi-pros who need a point & shoot backup camera), then the P50 is an enthusiast's camera. The differences between the entry level P50 and the masterful P5100 are obvious. The P5100 has a hot shoe for Nikon external flashguns, the P50 does not. The P5100 has selectable Auto, Aperture, Shutter, Program, Manual, Scene and VR modes and controls, while the P50 offers Auto, Program, Manual and Scene modes and controls. The P5100 has a finely stepped rotary zoom control; the P50 has a more coarsely stepped rocker switch zoom control. The P5100 is built around a cast magnesium body shell; the P50 is built around a sturdy polycarbonate shell. The P5100 offers a slightly better lens and a 12.1 megapixel image sensor; the P50 lens provides a more useful zoom range and an 8.1 megapixel image sensor. The P50 costs $150 less than the P5100. Hmmm. Tough decision.

Let it be stated above all else that more megapixels don't automatically mean better photographs. I'll take the clean, relatively noise-free 8.1 megapixels of the Nikon P50 over the slightly noisier, but greater number of megapixels often found in more expensive cameras. The reason is simply that a large number of megapixels doesn't necessarily mean greater resolution. It just means physically larger images and somewhat better detail when you zoom in or crop. But since I rarely print larger than 8"x10" who cares? I do serious shooting with my digital SLR cameras, not a point & shoot, and it's on such SLRs that you'll find extremely high resolution lenses capable of capturing clean, noise free detail at really large image sizes suitable for printing many times larger than 8"x10". Forget about megapixels. It's sufficient to state here—and please believe me—that the 8.1 megapixel P50 will capture photos suitable for beautiful printing at all normal sizes including 8"x10" (and even 13"x19" depending on subject matter).

The real test is in the shooting. Winter days with fresh white snow sitting on dark wood, the sad looking, snow-capped, black metal BBQ sitting on my backyard deck and many other similar subjects provide high-contrast, wide dynamic range challenges for all digital cameras, and represent a particularly distressing challenge for little point & shoot models with their smaller image sensors and comparatively limited processing power. The P50 does quite well outdoors in winter, so color me surprised. The exposure compensation (EV) adjustments come in handy for dialing things back slightly to help get blown out snow highlights back under control, but the basic dynamic range of the sensor and the way in which Nikon's wonderful new EXPEED processor handle the high contrast data is exemplary for a camera in this class. Here's a sample photo.




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