On Assignment for Nikon with the COOLPIX P500

In early December I got an email from the folks at Nikon asking if I was available to shoot with one of their new point and shoot cameras (which was just announced today), the Nikon COOLPIX P500. They had seen my surfing images from Hawaii and wanted me to shoot several adventure sports with this new point and shoot that has some very formidable features. It has a 36x zoom lens which zooms from 22.5mm up to an astounding 810mm! But that is just the tip of the iceberg, it also shoots 12.1 MP images at up to 5 fps and it will even shoot up to 120 fps at a much reduced resolution. If that isn’t enough it has a pretty amazing macro mode, panorama mode (as seen in the panorama image below) and it also shoots full HD (1080) video in a 16×9 format.

Nikon wanted images of action sports where the sport was obviously far away so they could show off the incredible zoom capabilities of this camera. Naturally surfing was a perfect fit. Hence, a few weeks after I got the call for this assignment I headed out to Hawaii and shot with two amazing surfers, Kalani Chapman and Jesse-Merle Jones, at Pipeline, Off the Wall and Rocky Point. The P500 was easily able to keep up with the surfers but I had to use the camera on a tripod just to keep them in the frame since the lens zooms out so far it was hard to keep things steady. Think of using an 800mm lens on a DSLR – it would be the same issue of trying to keep the subject in the viewfinder. The image below of Jesse Merle-Jones at Off the Wall was shot on the first day I arrived during the 2010 Pipeline Masters Competition. The competition was happening at Pipeline just up the beach and lot of surfers, Jesse included, were taking advantage of the swell. The waves were in the five to seven foot range that day, nothing enormous but still plenty big for the surfers to catch some serious air. You can see more images of the Pipeline Masters Competition on my blog here.

One of the amazing abilities of this camera and the software that came with it is the panorama feature. I have never seen an easier method for creating stunning panoramas. And even though many of you might be stunned by this comment I found that the Nikon “Panorama Maker 5” software that came with the camera was able to create amazing panoramas much faster and a billion times easier than Photoshop or anything else I have seen. The software seemed to figure out any tilt issues or inconsistencies from shot to shot so that each panorama looked like it should. I’ll be using that software from now on for all of my panorama work unless I need to do complex manipulations. The panorama below was stitched together from six vertical images using Panorama Maker 5. Of all the images I shot for this assignment, this image is my favorite. The Panorama really helps put the mountain biker, Ed Strang, into the context of the surrounding landscape. 

As you can see in the image below (shot from the same stance as the Panorama above) the zoom lens on this thing is incredible – and it is an optical zoom, not a digital zoom where the quality suffers greatly. You get the same image quality at 22.5mm as you do at 810mm. I don’t think there is any other point and shoot on the market that can do this. The inset picture was shot at the longest focal length and the main image was shot somewhere in the middle of the zoom range. One of the other nice features of the camera is that the shutter release is instant – there is no time lag like with many other point and shoots. Of course, since this camera is aimed at the action photographer and it shoots 5 fps you would assume this to be the case. And if 5 fps isn’t enough it shoots 2 MP images at 60fps! Of course those images are highly compressed but the fact that it can do it is amazing.

I shot three sports with the P500 as you can see in this blog post: surfing, mountain biking and BMX. You might recognize the BMX rider from my recently released motion reel, it is Matthew Gannon. For my shoot with Matthew we chose a BMX park in Albuquerque, NM and I let him do his thing. I really wanted to get images of a backflip and he was able to do backflips on command dozens of times for the shoot. In fact he was able to do just about anything I asked and multiple times even though the air temperature was barely above freezing. I have to say I was mightily impressed with Matthew and his skills. He was putting on a demo for everyone in the skate park and it was obvious since a lot of riders were stopping to watch him.

All in all the camera is an amazingly lightweight and powerful unit. And as always, working with Nikon was an enormous pleasure. They basically turned me loose and told me to shoot “those subjects that get me excited and that I normally shoot” and to be sure to use as many camera features as possible in the process. My thanks to Nikon and marketing crew there for this assignment. I had a lot of fun shooting with the Nikon COOLPIX P500. And also I have to say thank you to all of the talented athletes that worked with me on this assignment including Ed Strang, Matthew Gannon, Kalani Chapman and Jesse Merle-Jones. If you’d like to learn more about the mighty P500 visit the Nikon USA website.

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  • Martin Calle - How in the hell did you take these great shots with the Nikon Coolpix 500?!!! I’ve got to know. I’ve had this camera for about a year. Have experimented every which way and always have to wait for people to stand still to get a good crisp picture. I shoot a lot at my daughter’s volleyball games and with our first tournament tomorrow I’d love to know two things. 1) the settings you used to capture these shots and 2) can and how do you set the camera to say take 3 to 20 pictures in a row at the press of the button? Is it possible. MANY MANY THANKS. An answer would be a Godsend.

  • Michael Clark - Martin – I used the camera in manual mode most of the time so I could shoot with a high shutter speed to stop motion. And as I remember it shoots 10 frames per second so when I want to capture the action I would just mash the button and rip off a bunch of frames. I don’t remember much of a time lag from the time I pushed the button. I don’t remember the settings as I shot that assignment two years ago and I never owned the camera. I used the highest quality jpeg settings and made sure to have a high enough shutter speed to stop the motion. Also, all of those shots were set up so I could anticipate the action and the athletes would do the tricks over and over in some cases. I don’t remember how you set the camera to take the 10 fps. It is in the manual so I would suggest reading up on that. I don’t remember having to work too hard to get decent images with the camera. My apologies I do not have more info. I will say that I did work up the jpegs in Lightroom to perfect them a bit. I didn’t do too much work on them. Just some levels adjustments and contrast and saturation changes. Hope this helps.

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