Monthly Archives: April 2011

R2 Outlook

Predictability of the NBA Playoffs? Not quite. Almost two weeks gone into Round 1 of the NBA playoffs and we are only one more team away from getting the complete picture. Current playoff bracket stands as follows:

The East served up some upsets, most noticeably Atlanta knocking off early contenders Orlando in 6 games. The other surprising series was the Celtics sweeping the Knicks. I actually thought this series would go the distance. Anyway, both favourites Miami and Chicago kept their bargain and coasted rather comfortably past their first round opponents in five games.

For the next round’s match-ups, I would think Chicago would be much too strong for the Atlanta, unless the Hawks can maintained their newly discovered form again. Much of this series would also depend on the extent of Rose’s minor injury sustained in Chicago’s R1 series. I’m predicting an easy run-out for the Bulls.

The other series is the more highly anticipated one with Miami taking on the Boston. I believe Boston’s chance to beat Miami was gone the moment they surrendered the No. 2 seed to Miami late on in the East. By doing so, they have lost home advantage, which should be pivotal in this series. The Heat co-shares the league’s best away record (with Dallas) so that should give them the confidence to steal one in Boston too. A very tight series which might go the distance.

Over in the West, Dallas finally got a big monkey of their back when they battled past Portland to survive R1 – something they have failed to do in a long, long time. Their reward, a classic match up with defending champs LA Lakers, who also struggled past the pesky Hornets 4-2. My gut (and bias) feel is that the R1 win has brought back the much needed confidence for Dallas to really trouble the Lakers, who do not seem to be in max gear yet. Definitely a good time to play them. With an excellent road record in the league, I foresee the Mavericks being able to steal one or two games in LA. A tight series which should go down the wire.

While the other matchup has Oklahoma awaiting either Memphis or San Antonio to join them.

UPDATE: Memphis shocked San Antonio over the weekend to win the series 4-2 and move on to R2 to meet the Thunder. The Thunder are the more rested team and Durant has been admirably consistent in scoring in the playoffs. Both teams also lack playoff experience so it should boil down to who wants the series more. As I write this, the Grizzlies have created an upset by stealing Game 1, but I still think Oklahoma should prevail 4-2 in the end.

R2 Predictions:

East:

Chicago 4 Atlanta 1

Miami 4 Boston 3

West:

Dallas 4 LA 3

Oklahoma 4 Memphis 2

Playoff Prediction Stats for R1 (to-date): 5/8 (63%); Dead-on: 2/8 (25%)

 

 

Nikon P500: Sample Images

After covering the usability and features of the Nikon Coolpix P500 in my earlier review, it’s time to put it to the test and check out what type of images it is capable of producing. So, here we go! These are some sample images taken with my Nikon P500 in various settings…

I’ll start off with the key feature of the P500 – it’s 36X zoom….The first photo is taken at its widest 22.5mm, and take note of the black circle pointed by the blue arrow, which is actually the water tank gauge. The following photo shows the water gauge after the maximum 810mm telephoto zoom. Impressive eh?

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M; ISO 160; 1/30; f/3.5
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M; ISO 160; 1/20; f/8

Next, we look at some of the P500’s macro shots. Instead of the typical flower macro shots, I have chosen these raindrops on my papaya trees as my subject.

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M; ISO 160; 1/20; f/5.6
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Close-Up; ISO 400; 1/40; f/3.7

Next, some experimental shot В to capture the sprinkling of rain of the top of my car. The image below was cropped 100% off a zoomed shot. Notice there isn’t much reduction of image quality in the zoomed shot, which is quite good!

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M; ISO 160; 1/30; f/5.6

Moving on to shooting images in low-light, the following are some images taken at night….

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Night Landscape; ISO 560; 1/30; f/5.2
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P; ISO 160; 1/500; f/5.7
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Night Landscape; ISO 500; 1/15; f/4.6

We now shift focus to outdoor shooting in good light conditions. The following photo was taken from my hotel room of Genting Highland’s Outdoor Theme Park. The subsequent photos will be various zooms of the first imageВ on actions happening a couple of hundred yards away .

DSCN0630P; ISO 160; 1/1000; f/4.5

Superzoom in action…

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P; ISO 160; 1/1500; f/8
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P; ISO 160; 1/800; f/5.7
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P; ISO 160; 1/800; f/5.7

And finally, some fun images taken with the image filtering stuff like miniature and fish-eye effects. The first image shows theВ Miniature effect of a night scene of the outdoor theme park.

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Night Landscape; ISO 560; 1/25; f/5.1

…and this is an example of the Fish-Eye effect on an object taken.

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P; ISO 400; 1/30; f/5.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playoff Predictions: Round One

Whew….after theВ gruelingВ marathonic 82 regular season games, the NBA Playoffs is finally ready to begin! More often than usual, this season’s NBA provided some nice surprises like the Bulls getting the overall best record, the Spurs possibly being one of the more consistent teams even with their old guards, the struggles of the Heat and Lakers, etc.

Anyhoo, here is how the playoff bracket stacks up and my bold (and biased) predictions..

Image Credits

Eastern Conference

Bulls (1) vs Pacers (8): Chicago’s form has been sparkling (9-0) heading into the playoffs. They even managed to steal the overall top-seed ranking from San Antonio on the very last day of the regular season. Not since the Jordan era has Chicago been this excited. I expect no surprises here with Derrick Rose (leading candidate for regular season MVP) guiding his club to an easy 4-1 victory.

Heat (2) vs 76ers (7): Miami has been tuning up well for the playoffs too. They have seem to have settled down after a mid-season turmoil and I don’t forsee Le Bron and co. having any difficulties with Philly, with only their bench being the strong point. Miami to sweep the series 4-0.

Celtics (3) vs Knicks (6): Arguably the marquee matchup of the first round. Boston’s failure to hand on to the 2nd seed may cost them dear as they have been thrown into a battle with the new-look Knicks, who can get hot on any given day. if the Amare-Carmelo tandem starts clicking, it could be a shock of Boston, who have been beset with recent injuries. On formbook, I will predict a Knicks upset in Game 7.

Magic (4) vs Hawks (5): After some mid-season trades, Orlando seems to have gathered enough momentum to make a strong charge in the playoffs. With Howard complemented with reliable wingmen, their potent 3-point arsenal could prove crucial as they take on the dangerous Hawks, who hopes to discover their early season form. May be a battle but Orlando should prevail 4-2

Western Conference

Spurs (1) vs. Grizzlies (8): The top seeded Spurs were limping into the playoffs with Ginobli injuring himself in the final game. Duncan has only just recovered, so I guess they would really need their deep deep bench to step it up. Luckily for them, they are paired with Memphis, which I think do not have the playoff pedigree to trouble San Antonio. Spurs to coast through this one 4-1

Lakers (2) vs Hornets (7): LA were the other team that was limping into the playoffs, after a sensational winning streak after the All-Star weekend. In their second last game, they just barely beat a makeshift San Antonio team and in the final game, they needed Kobe to knock in a late 3-pointer to force OT and eventually winning to snatch the 2nd seed from Dallas. Luckily for them, they will face up with a New Orleans team that has dramatically slumped over the final weeks. Both very tired looking teams but I do not expect any upsets here. Lakers to win this one comfortably 4-1

Mavericks (3) vs. Trailblazers (6): This could turn out to be the toughest first round draw in the West. As in previous WC playoffs, the seedings are a bit deceiving with all 8 teams almost equally strong on every other night. Just compare East’s 8th seed, Indiana (37-45) and its West counterpart, Memphis (46-36). Anyway, Dallas have always known to choke in the playoffs and Portland presents a very possible banana skin. Tied 2-2 during the regular season, Dallas’ veteran players may find it difficult to cope with the speedy youth from Portland. However, i would believe the inclusion of Tyson Chandler this season has made Dallas more formidable, and with the league’s best road-team (together with Miami), they should be able to cope with this first round threat. Dallas to win В a grueling test 4-2.

Thunder (4) vs. Nuggets (5):В Oklahoma has been pretty consistent throughout the season and with on-form Kevin Durant on its side, they can be pretty confident of going far and posing a threat to the rest of the Conference. Although the Nuggets earned the 5th seed, I do not see them going far after Melo left, but Oklahoma’s playoff inexperience will result in a close contest. Thunder to steal this one 4-3.

 

Exposed! The Nikon Coolpix P500 Review

In a lingo that most people can understand, the Nikon P500 is like a rebellious teenager- having broken free from the controlled and caged world of toddler-hood. it is now filled with many wild and fun characteristics, able to think rationally sometimes, but most of all, a deep desire to grow up into adulthood. However, it falls just short of that. Fortunately, it seems content with the phase of life it is in. 😀

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Having played with Point & Shoot (P&S) compacts for most of my life, handling this semi-pro gadget was certainly a whole new experience for me. In addition, the brand was also something new to me, with my fingers having pressed the buttons of an Olympus, Canon, Kodak and a Pentax before. I have heard much about Nikon’s DSLR lenses before so my expectations were quite high in that area.

For a RRP price tag of about RM 1,400, the P500 sure packs in quite a lot of goodies from the specifications point of view. A comprehensive summary of what’s under its hood can be found HERE.

Appearance

Physically, the P500 is a true beauty indeed. It is not as heavy or large as professional DSLRs, yet its appearance commands a second look, especially for the all-black version. (It also comes in red/black colour). I especially liked the diamond cut rubber-like material on the camera grip. It ensures a confident grip and handling of the camera. Another feature that is instantly head-turning is the gorgeous 921K LCD viewscreen that can be folded and tilted to allow better shots from a wide variety of angles. Although it also comes with an Electronic Viewfinder, the image quality in the EVF just cannot compare or comes close to the beautiful LCD screen.

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That aside, the P500 also comes with an innovative zoom button on its side barrel, which can be quite useful when video-zooming (less noise compared to normal zoom trigger). Another usefulness of it is that it can also be assigned as a manual-zoom for greater control when you use the manual focus mode.

 

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Superzoom

But of course, the single feature that has gotten most people salivating over the P500 has got to be its insane 36X optical zoom, which starts out wide at 22.5mm and extends to 810mm. Though it may not be the longest zoom in its class, this telephoto-like ability will ensure hours of fun. Seriously. I read somewhere that a typical DLSR would need to be affixed with 3 or 4 lenses to achieve the sort of focal range offered in the P500. And since it is all packed within its compact shell, this zooming feature is most certainly a plus point whenever the need arises to zoom in to capture those details from a distance.

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Unfortunately, the law of photography states that ‘with great zooming, comes great distortions’. Heh. So, although the P500 tries to packed in various features like 5-way Vibration Reduction, Hybrid VR, etc. I still found it quite a challenge to get a focus lock with the camera on full telephoto zoom, especially for moving subjects. There are some reviews that have slammed the P500 for the image quality in its max zoom, but I think through practice and patience, the image produced can be pretty darn good. And for all photographers, there is always that incredible sense of achievement when the desired shot is taken. Of course, there is always the tripod to lend a helping leg too. 😛

I also noticed there can be quite a bit of noise when the camera machinery launches its long zoom barrel, and the whirring sound is very apparent during the focusing period when it tries hard to fix a lock on the subject. Apparently, the noise has already been much reduced from its previous P100 model, so I guess it is something Nikon may want to work on in future models. :-)

Video Quality

Moving on, there is another feature sets the p500 apart from its other competitors of the same class – its impressive video capabilities. The P500 is capable of shooting full HD movies in 1080p – the best quality available to-date. Too bad, the maximum duration for a full HD movie is capped at 30 mins, regardless of the size of the storage card. The video mode also has a dedicated button on the back panel, which skips the unnecessary steps of going into the mode settings. Apart from HD, the P500 can also shoot videos in HS (High Speed) mode. This allows more creativity as videos can be shot in slo-mo or hi-speed. Haha. :-p

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Image Quality & Handling

So, since it is a camera (in essence!), does the P500 deliver on image quality and focus handling? The P500 offers a max res of 12MP for its images which are stored in JPG format. For the more experienced photographers who prefer the raw format for better editing and control, this must really be a setback. Nevertheless, for a basic user like myself, JPG format is good enough already.

Based on my couple of weeks playing with it, I can say that the P500 is quite a speedy fella, with the full boot-up to focus taking below 2 secs. Sadly, it is not able to detect if the lens cover is on or not, so you’d just need to make sure you take off the cover before powering up – to avoid all sorts of unwanted whirring noises and warning messages. :-p In bright conditions, the P500 was able to focus and capture pretty good images. It also comes the standard P, S, A, M modes, as well as a U mode for the user to save settings used frequently. It is unfortunate that it doesn’t have brighter lens with its apertures starting at f/3.4 at wide-angle and f/5.6 for telephoto. The aperture setting can be changed to В f/8. Heck, my mobile phone even gives me a f2.8! Anyway, whilst this does not help in producing those sharp images with blurred backgrounds that is so popular, I know that through proper manual focusing and shutter speeds, those kind of images can be produced at apertures above f/5 too!

The other grouse is the ISO value offered by the P500. It starts at an ‘absurd’ 160 and can be changed to 3200. I would have expected a sub-100 rating, at least. But surprisingly, most shots I have taken seems pretty OK with the ISO set from 160-200 range. The shutter speed goes up to 1/1500, which is pretty decent already. It also helps that the P500 came with a command dial on the right side, which allows quick changes to the settings as required – just like all DLSRs. 😀 Although, some reviews made a big deal out of P500 leaving out the shortcut to change ISO or White Balance, it didn’t bother me much as the settings I found myself changing most were the aperture, shutter speed and manual focus.

In short, image stabilisation can be quite an issue with the P500. But through practice and knowledge of how best to keep images locked in focus, pretty good images can be captured.

Fun Stuff

Apart from that, the P500 also offers fun (but necessary) features of burst modes, with capabilities to shoot five full 12MP res shots at 8fps. At lower res, you can even shoot some 100+ photos in burst mode! There’s also a nifty BSS (Best Shot Selector) that will intelligently take 10 shots and choose the sharpest image to be saved. In backlighting mode, there is another fun feature called the High Dynamic Range (HDR) which will shoot three shots simultaneously and then combine them all to produce the better looking shot. Cool. В Panoramic freaks would like the feature offered by the P500. Its Panaroma Assist enables the user to manually pan across the shooting area, like a video recording, before automatically stitching it together to get the full picture. Really fun and easy. There’s also the inclusion of popular image filters like fisheye and miniature effects.

Check out this video of swimming ducks shot at 120 fps….pretty fun eh?

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXi_uaRVUYY

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Shooting in Low Light

The P500 runs into a little trouble in low light conditions and the built in flash doesn’t seem to be as powerful as desired at times. Too bad there isn’t an option to add on external flash on the P500. But generally, the Night Modes were able to deliver somewhat satisfactory shots. The image-combining thingy does help too. :-)

Manual Focus

I especially liked the little bits of DSLR features thrown in like the full manual exposure controls and also the ability to perform manual focusing. This worked remarkably well in macro shots, where the lens was able to focus as close as 4mm from the subject, and also some of those telephoto shots where the subject becomes just too difficult for the autofocus to function!. Of course, this requires a lot a lot of patience and practice though.

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Power

Finally, the P500 is powered by a Li-On battery pack which upon full charge, can shoot about 220 shots. I felt this was a weak point because most battery packs can easily shoot 300+ shots on a single charge. In addition, another boo-boo by Nikon was not providing the external battery charger. I had to charge the battery directly into my camera! Certainly a shocking a revelation but the good side on the charging is the availability of USB charging, so I could charge the camera + battery directly from my laptop. Problem is, how many people would actually do that in reality? Hah! :-p

In a nutshell…

The Good

Compact; Value for money; Insane superzoom; HD 1080p video; Manual focus; Manual exposure controls; CMOS sensor; 5 shot drive mode at 12MP high-res; Speedy boot-up and shooting; Can charge from PC; Cool Panorama assist; Tilting screen; Nice 921K 3.0″ viewscreen; Excellent macro capabilities; BSS; HDR; Extreme wide angle at 22.5mm; Good set of night scene modes; Fun features;Supports iFrame format;

The Bad

No external charger; Cannot detect lens cover; Max aperture at f/3.4; Min ISO of 160; Noisy whirring of focusing in action; Low number of shots of battery; No RAW format; No shortcut to ISO or White Balance; Image stabilisation issue; No support for external flash; Capped HD video length; No remote control; Poor EVF

Conclusion

A near-superb offering by Nikon into the superzoom compact pie. Although hampered by some obviousВ stabilizationВ issues during telephoto length focusing which could take some time, practice and patience to get used to, the P500 is guaranteed to provide loads and loads of fun thanks to its various fun features, semi-pro settings and the incredible zoom, of course. Definitely a value-for-money gadget for those who want a fun camera but not that ready to dive into the DSLR world.

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Do check out my upcoming blogs for sample images

Postulations of Pia

I have to admit I have not been really following the latest season of American Idol. Yup, I don’t think I even sat through an entire popular ‘audition’ episodes. And the fact that Simon has left the show didn’t help either.

But every now and then, my channel surfing would point me towards the top-whatever performing and if chance would have it, I would always be blown away by this pretty lass by the name of Pia Toscano. So far, I have seen and heard her comfortably handling ‘challenging’ songs by Whitney, Celine and the likes. Although she does have some problems with ‘working the stage’ and performance-ship, American Idol is a singing competition at the end of the day, and boy can she really sing!

Unfortunately, she was sent home last week to the shock and surprise of many people. Many would have expected her to go further than this but it looked like it really wasn’t meant to be her day. On her final performance, she took on Tina Turner’s classic ‘River Deep, Mountain High’. Now personally I never did like the song but Pia’s rendition totally slayed it! I have to admit the song actually sounded pretty good that night! :-p Anyway, if you missed it, here’s the video recap of her performance:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZXQZvJ0lvg

Here are my personal theories as to how an incredible talent like Pia had to go home so early in the competition:

1. Soft Judges – I have noticed throughout this new season that all three judges do not seem to have it in them to harshly criticize any poor performance. Almost every singer has had a “You are here to win it!” praise every now and then, and the harshest comments were probably only applicable during audition rounds. All these niceties heaped on all the performers have made the votings much harder for the people. Previously, some of the votes may have been correctly and indirectly influenced by Simon’s judgment. Amidst all the boos, this has really helped filter out the really bad ones so we would only have more of the quality ones towards the end.

2. Bad Save – I was shocked to see the judges use up their one and only ‘save’ so early in the competition, and it was used on a performer whom I thought hadn’t shown much to deserve to stay on. By using a save this early on, the judges have unintentionally (or not) told the world that (a) they are really SOFT and can’t seem to accept the decision of any contestants going home; and (b) the performer they are saving is really THAT good so for all fence sitters, please continue to vote him on for the remainder of the competition. See the wrong message that was sent out. Seriously a very bad save.

3. More Female Voters? – Not sure if this can be verified but trends of more recent American Idol seasons seem to indicate more votes swinging for the guys compared with the ladies. I can’t seem to remember the last time I saw a female performer in the final 2.

4. Ratings Conspiracy – A most unlikely reason but certainly not out of the equation. With Idol ratings hitting an all-time low this year, what better way to give it a boost than a shock elimination result?

The scariest thing after Pia’s elimination is that if Sample Voters A was responsible for voting her out, would this invariably mean that this same Sample Voters A would be eventually responsible for crowning the next American Idol?! Shudder…

To Pia…all the best in your future paths. I’m personally confident she will make a better future than most (if not all) of the other singers that is still remaining in the competition. 😀

 

Earth Hour 4800+

It started with a flicker.

We didn’t think much of it lest the thought of some appliance overload. Then the next day, on a Sunday morning, the whole house was in pitch black. Not sure what time it started but the time was around 6am. I quickly checked if there was a power trip, but everything looked fine. Even some of our neighbours had their outside lights on, so the problem is probably an isolated one. Thank God it happened in the morning when the sun was about to rise and give us light….and sadly, heat too…:-P

Upon calling TNB’s 24hour careline, I was asked to check for the power trip (again?!), which I did so and told the TNB officer that there was no trip. The officer then informed us that a technician will come to our house in about 2 hours time. Surprisingly (or NOT), I had to call and find out what happened to the technician after 3 hours of no visibility. Sigh. Almost immediately, some technician from TNB called up and asked me to check the LCD meter box outside the house. He said if the LED is showing, then there is current coming into the house and hence, it wouldn’t be TNB’s problem. Talk about service efficiency.

Anyway, true enough, there was a meter reading in the box, so the technician suggested that I look for a wireman to check the wires in the house. He referred me to a wireman staying quite close to our house, so we called and scheduled an appointment after lunch.

By the time the wireman arrived, we were already somewhat drenched in sweat – microwaved in our own home! 😛 The fuse box was uncovered and it was discovered that the test fuse switch (or whatever he calls it) has been burned pretty bad. Kinda scary to think how this could haveВ occurred. Do we know if and when we are overloading our homes with more appliances that it can handle?

Anyway, these are the pictures of the cause of our very own Earth Hour 4800+…

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The Hot Seat!

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At first glance, it may not look strange….after all, it sure looks like just another ordinary park bench.

However, this park bench was actually located right out in the open air, under the intense microwaving of the sun! All the other benches were correctly placed under the shaded areas or walkways.

Makes me wonder who in their right mind would want to voluntarily fry their brains out by sitting on this bench? 😛

Bridging the P&S and the DLSR

After several weeks of homework, I decided to stick to getting a compact P&S with some DLSR features and the new trendy super-zooms fitted right into my ideal category. The shortlisted cams finally came down to the Canon SX30IS and the Nikon Coolpix P500. A rather comprehensive comparison between both super-zooms is summarised nicely by Snapsort.com HERE.

Although it would seem that the Canon model would produce sharper images with better apertures and image stabilizers, it is an older model compared to the Nikon and is much bigger and heavier too, price-wise as well.

Over the weekend, we took the family out to Mid-Valley where Nikon was having their 10th Anniversary carnival, so I thought it would be a great place to go and test out the P500 first hand.

The first contact experience was really so-so. It’s focus speed was pretty good at wide-angled range but the challenge came during tele-photo zooming when it required some practice and skill to focus and lock onto the object, especially moving ones. At 36X zoom, it was quite evident that this was a pretty fun camera to lug around to point and shoot. During the fair, the P500 was offered at a sub RM1.3K price with two 8GB cards, case and the (what else is new) mini tripod thrown in. Methinks the tripod may come in real handy for those long-range zoom shots. Hmmmm. В When compared with the RRP of RM1.7K for the Canon model, it was definitely an offer a temptation I found hard to refuse…

My wife was all the more supporting too and made the decision easier by making the purchase as a present for me. So no need to think anymore…Hehe…thanks darling wifey! I love you!

So, it’s official…..I’m now excitedly fiddling around with my new semi-pro super-zoom…the Nikon Coolpix P500. Here are some of the product images taken from the Nikon USA website:

And here it is how it looks like with the insanely 36X barrel fully extended..

Image Credits

 

I shallВ endeavorВ to test it out thoroughly and provide my user’s review within the next few weeks. For now, it’s addictively fun to play with and explore. Heh.