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When Nikon launched the CoolPix P5000 in February last year, it was the first time in nearly three years that the company had produced a compact camera aimed at more than the snapshot market. With a 10MP sensor, 3.5x zoom lens and manual exposure controls it wasn't exactly a semi-pro powerhouse, but it was definitely a step up from the point-and-shoot L series. Since then Nikon has launched several more cameras in the P series, of both higher and lower specification than the P5000. The base model of the series is currently this, the CoolPix P50.
The P50 is an 8.1-megapixel compact camera powered by two AA batteries. It features a 3.6x zoom lens with a focal length range equivalent to 28-102mm, a 2.4-inch 115k monitor, an optical viewfinder, electronic image stabilisation and optional manual exposure. The most obvious comparison is with something from Canon's A-series, and in particular the new A580, a camera with a virtually identical specification apart from a 4x zoom lens. The Nikon P50 has a list price of £149.99, and is currently available for under £130. The Canon A580 won't be in the shops until March, but it has a list price of £139, so it will probably quickly be available for around £110.
While the option of manual exposure sets the P50 apart from many other compact cameras, in most other respects it is little different from any other 8MP compact, and in fact in some respects it is rather inferior. Available in either silver or black, the body is made of plastic, and feels a little flimsy in places. The top panel especially flexes and creaks when squeezed. However at least the battery/card hatch has a latch, so it's not likely to fall open. The shape of the body is very square and functional, with a large rubberised handgrip and textured thumbgrip area on the back. It is physically quite large for a compact camera, measuring approximately 94.5 x 66 x 44 mm, and the relatively small 2.4-inch monitor and uncluttered control layout means that it is an easy camera to hold comfortably. It's also a bit heavy at 210g including alkaline batteries, and its bulk means that it will take up a lot of room in your pocket.