Friday, 31 August 2012

Nikon P510 for Birding: Update

Since buying my Nikon P510, I have bought two more — as presents for sons. They are delighted with this model for use as a general birding and wildlife camera. For birds and butterflies, we have found it is best to set the focus point to the centre of the field. This can be done in any of the PSAM modes on the top (mode) dial. P (Program) is convenient.  Then, Shooting Menu — AF Area Mode — Center. We then use the camera like a rifle sight with the spot focus at the centre. In P mode, the exposure value is fixed (although compensation is available using the multi selector) but the speed and aperture can be changed inversely in parallel (i.e. shorter shutter speed with larger aperture) by turning the Command Dial.
The AF Area Mode setting in P is remembered, so that the Mode Dial can be turned to Auto for, say, taking a group of people. A one-point turn of the mode dial to P sees the camera back ready for a bird. Butterfly photography is easy while the swing screen makes life on the ground easy for photographing plants, amphibians and reptiles.

The black version of the camera has a far more robust feel than the gun-metal.

Those camera spotting at the Olympics on television will have seen two coaches using P510s to photograph their athletes in action. Ideal I suppose for capturing detail of technique and performance in field events at a distance.

Amateur Photographer in its 'Group Test' of bridge cameras completely missed the point of the Nikon P510 in the issue of 9 June as well as making some silly comments on handling. The whole point why wildlife watchers are buying it is because of the 1000 mm equivalent lens with vibration reduction. Nothing else can do that. The Canon SXH40 HS can get to 840 mm but 840 is not 1000.

I shall only use this camera for video at long focal lengths (600-1000mm equivalent) on a tripod or Trekpod. For relatively static subjects the autofocus seems fine (if not as fast as a £1000 Sony camcorder). There seems to be no quick and easy way to turn vibration reduction off. The Fn button cannot be used for this change, which is unfortunate since getting the camera onto a tripod and then having the delve in the  menu to turn VR off could mean the loss of good footage.

The Nikon P510 is not perfect but it is the best available for the purpose. Birds in flight are difficult but then it is not and does not pretend to be an SLR. If Nikon want a real winner in the very large travel/wildlife camera market and to build on the success of the P510, then they should add raw, enable direct access to the ISO setting and improve the electronic viewfinder  (i.e. add more pixels). The additional cost woud be small beer to bird watchers who spend thousands of pounds, dollars and euros on optical kit.

It will be the camera with us — plus the Sony camcorder and carbon fibre Trekpod — in a long trip through south-east Asia later in the year. The D700 and lenses will stay at home.