While Nikon has made a lot of progress on overall performance on its premium models such as the new CoolPix S700, the P50 is still lagging some way behind. It takes nearly 3.5 seconds to start up, and in single shot mode its shot-to-shot cycle time is around 2.5 seconds. It fares rather better in continuous shooting mode, averaging around 1.2 seconds per shot, using a high-speed SanDisk Ultra II SD card, however the lack of any audio cue when a picture is taken is a little offputting. The AF system is reasonably quick in good light, but it does slow down noticeably as light levels fall, and like a lot of Nikon AF systems it tends to hunt around at telephoto zoom settings, which slows it down a lot. In low light it is helped by an AF assist lamp, but it is a bit weedy and only has an effective range of a couple of metres at best. The flash performs reasonably well, but it falls some way short of Nikon’s claimed 5.9 metre range except at the highest ISO setting. At more usable speeds it has a range of around three metres with good exposure metering although the frame coverage could be better; the corners of some flash shots were noticeably dark.
To really qualify as a performance camera, image quality is obviously of crucial importance, but again the P50 shows its true colours. Image quality isn’t bad, but it’s no better than most other decent 8MP compacts, not surprising since it has exactly the same 1/2.5-inch sensor. The lens produces significant barrel distortion at wide angle, and although corner sharpness is quite good it does also suffer from some chromatic aberration. Centre sharpness is good, but the default image sharpening setting is quite severe, and detailed images end up looking rather over-processed. The overall level of detail is not bad, but no better than most other 8MP compacts. Noise control is also about average for the sensor type and size, with good image quality up to 400 ISO, usable results at 800 ISO, but severe noise problems at higher settings. Oddly turning the noise control on or off appeared to make little difference to this.
Although the Nikon CoolPix P50 isn’t a bad camera by any means, it is really just a simple compact dressed up to look like an enthusiast’s hobby camera. It handles well enough, but it has a limited range of features, less-than-stellar build quality, average performance and the image quality is nothing special either. It’s not bad value at £130, but if you’re looking for superior performance you’ll need to look elsewhere.