Canon PowerShot SX500 IS vs Nikon Coolpix L820

May 10, 2013

Lions lying down in grass zoom in

In this article we’ll take a closer look and compare two very popular superzoom cameras, the Canon PowerShot SX500 IS and Nikon Coolpix L820.  I am a fan of superzoom cameras and I know that its not easy to make a decision with so many great superzoom cameras out there. If you are reading this article it means that you already did a smart background check and came to a conclusion that those two cameras worth your attention and the money that you intend to spend on them. In this article I will give you all the important details that you need to know about those two cameras, to make it easier for you to decide.

I will start with a short introduction to each camera for those who are not familiar with its features and continue to the comparison itself. This is a good place to learn about the key features and who knows, maybe after reading only this section you will know which one is best for your needs.

Nikon Coolpix L820

The Nikon Coolpix L820 is an affordable superzoom digital camera that sits below the Nikon P520, Nikon’s superzoom flagship camera that of course costs more than the L820. If you are searching to buy an affordable superzoom camera with big zoom, you are in the right place.

Nikon Coolpix L820 superzoom camera, front

Nikon Coolpix L820 superzoom camera with 30x optical zoom lens

The Nikon L820 was introduces on January 29, 2013 and it’s one of the newest Nikon Coolpix cameras as for the time of writing this article. This entry-level superzoom camera is equipped with a 16MP 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor to give you plenty of resolution to make large beautiful prints and having more room for cropping and editing in photo editing software if that’s what you want. Of course the most interesting thing about this camera is its 30x optical Zoom-Nikkor image-stabilized lens (22.5-675mm f/3-5.8) and Electronically-controlled ND dilter (-2 AV). A 30x optical zoom will allow you to get very close to your subject without moving an inch. There are indeed cameras with higher optical zoom, but 30x zoom is more than adequate for most people. Sometimes we are looking to have the biggest zoom just to know that we have the biggest zoom,  and we are willing to pay a lot just to have it.

I am shooting for year with a DSLR and superzooms and I can tell you from my own experience that having a 675mm focal length at the tele-end is more than enough for most of your needs.  Furthermore, the more zoom you have, the more complex the lens is and harder to get a good optical quality across the focal length range. Some people, including me, prefer having a camera with less zoom but better optical qualities.  Most of the superzoom cameras are a bit soft at the tele end and sharper when you zoom out a bit.

Nevertheless, if you are reading this article it means that the higher-end models might be a bit out of your budget and you are searching for a cheaper superzoom anyway, so I wouldn’t bother you with other technical details. Just know that those 30x superzoom lenses will give you plenty of zoom to enjoy and will be useful for many type of shooting scenes so don’t bother yourself with the thought that you don’t have camera with the biggest zoom.

At the back of the camera you’ll find a large 3-inch 921K-dots high resolution LCD display. This is a fixed display, not articulating one nor a touch-sensitive display. Still, for a budget superzoom camera this is a very good screen nevertheless.

The camera is aimed towards the beginner photographers and have a few buttons, including a shutter button and zoom lever at the top, on/off button, side zoom control on the lens, movie recording button, delete button, playback and menu button.  The Nikon COOLPIX L820 is a point-and-shoot camera that was designed to be easy to use aimed for those who prefer to shoot with  a  fully automatic camera. It does also offer you some degree of control over the exposure and let set some settings manually, including   ND filter selection, exposure compensation,ISO sensitivity and also manually change the white balance settings, but that’s about it. The camera offers a lot of scene modes (19 to be exact), so it’s easy to just select the scene and let the camera to all the hard work and match the camera settings to deliver perfect shot every time. The shutter speed is adjusted automatically based on the selected scene modes or when choosing to shoot in burst mode (8 frames per second). For example, if the camera is set to ‘Fireworks’ scene mode, the shutter speed will be 4 seconds. If you shoot in burst mode, the shutter speed will be set to 1/4000 sec and so on.

The camera also offers plenty of in-camera image editing options so you won’t have to do it on your computer. Many people don’t know how to use image editing software nor they want to start learning. With the L820 you have many editing options, including: Crop, Filter effects, Paint, Quick retouch, rotate image, skin softening, print order, D-Lighting and slide show.

The L820 can shoot 3D photos in MPO file format and also record beautiful Full HD 1080p videos with stereo sound which will look amazing on your Full HD HDTV display at hope or on your home computer.

The Nikon Coolpix L820 is one of those cameras that were designed from the ground up to be very simple to use for non-experienced photographers and allows them to get vivid, sharp and beautiful JPEG images without an effort. Some cameras are less processed and sometimes need to be edited in image editing software to be at their best, but with the L820 the camera does all the work an optimized to deliver exceptional image quality out-of-the-box without extra work involved from your side. Some people love it, other prefer having more control over the image output.

Does the L820 a halfway shutter release button?
Yes, when you press the shutter release button half-way, the camera set the focus and lock the exposure, press the button all the way to take the shot.

Does the L820 have a manual video focus?
No it does not.

The L820 offers a shooting mode called “Easy Auto” mode. In this mode the camera is fully automatic and automatically selected the appropriate scene based on internal smart algorithms.

The L820 does have a built-in pop-up flash, comes with HDMI output (up to 1080i)m has digital I/O UDB connector, Audio/video (A/V) output and 10 seconds self-timer.

Overall, a great point-and-shoot superzoom camera that was designed to appeal to beginners and people with or completely without any experience.

Nikon L820 review video by TwoMobile, Enjoy!

Also note that the Nikon Coolpix L820 doesn’t have a viewfinder. You will be composing your shots via the back LCD, and luckily this is a gorgeous LCD so it’s not an issue 🙂 — if you want a viewfinder, you should probably check out the Nikon Coolpix P520, great camera with 42x optical zoom!

Canon PowerShot SX500 IS

Canon is the leader in the superzoom category and you did smart at least consider comparing it against the L820.  The SX500 IS is the second most popular  digital camera on Amazon as for the time of writing this article.  The PowerShot SX500 IS is also an entry-level SuperZoom camera and sits below the PowerShot SX50 HS, which is Canon’s superzoom flagship model. There are many reasons why so many people love this camera as soon find out.

Canon PowerShot SX500 HS

Canon PowerShot SX500 HS Superzoom camera

The Canon PowerShot SX500 IS was designed to be compact in size, offer a big zoom lens, great image quality and at the same time be more affordable toe the contn.  The camera features a 16MP CCD, not a BSI-CMOS sensor and therefore we can expect a less impressive high ISO performance, but let’s not judge it before we compare the image quality (later on this article). The camera features a 30x 24-720mm Canon optical zoom lens with image stabilization mechanism. At the back you can find a 3-inch 461K-dots LCD fixed LCD display.

The camera has an elegant yet simplistic design (which I personally really like) and nice curved hand grip. Canon also worked to make this camera very snappy and considerably improved and optimized its High Speed AF module. The SX500 IS has 0.26 sec. AF time, a 32% improvement over the very popular SX40 HS and a very short shooting lag time of 0.26 sec. which is 33% improvement over the SX40 HS (0.38 sec).

What is a shutter lag? – A shutter lag measures the time that passes since the time your press the shutter button until the camera start capturing the image. The fastest this time is the better. This allows you the camera to react faster and helps photographers capture the moment without missing great moments.

What great about the Canon SX500 IS is that it can operate in full automatic mode but allows the photographer to have full manual control over the exposure. If you look at the top you’ll found a dial button which allows you to choose between various shooting modes, allowing to go full manual (“M”) and set the shutter speed, ISO and aperture settings yourself. This is  an intermediate feature, and it’s nice to have that ability nevertheless. You might ask what a manual exposure is good for? – well, to keep things short, sometimes you want to have control over the exposure to have more control on how the image is turned up to be. Sometimes you want to create  a unique effect by reducing the shutter speed even when the light metering will set it higher.

For example, using a slow shutter speed can closing the aperture allows you to take a shot with smooth view of a water stream. If you shot the water stream in auto mode, you most probably have gotten a very sharp capture of the water flowing and not the smooth effect that you get with a slower shutter speed. The creative possibilities are endless, and advanced photographers can really come up with very creative shots by taking advantage of the manual exposure mode.

Another cool feature on the Sx500 is called “Intelligent IS”. This is a very smart functionality that allows the camera to choose between six different modes of image stabilization settings to perfectly match the scene your are shooting.  This includes: Panning, Macro (Hybrid), Normal, Dynamic (compensate camera shake for wide-angle focal lengths), Powered (when shooting video with the thelephoto end) and Tripod IS. So the camera will pick up the most effective image stabilization method to make sure that you get the sharpest image possible and better compensate for handshake movement for both stills and video.

As with the L820, the SX500 also features a fully automatic mode called “Smart AUTO”. In this mode the camera does all the choices by itself without any intervention from the user. It chooses the right camera settings based on 32 predefined shooting situations and result in high quality stills and video captures.

The Sx500 IS also features an innovative feature called “Framing Assist Seek” with a corresponding button on the lens. The features allows you to resume to the original zoom position in times when you lose the subject when shooting at high zoom and you are backing out to find the subject again.  So when you miss your subject,  just press and hold the “Framing Assist Seek” button, the lens will back out to show your a wide view of the scene, now release the button and the camera will automatically zoom in back to the same focal length that you were using before you pressed the button – pretty useful feature in a superzoom camera!

This video demonstrated how the Framing Assist Seek features works, take a look..

This is a great camera for intermediate photographers, but offers a full auto mode to, so don’t be afraid of buying this camera for having more advanced feature – just put it on Smart Auto and use it as point-and-shoot if that’s what you want. It’s always a good think to have manual control because more people of the family can take advantage of it and if you decide to be more creative, you always have this option available at your disposal.  I also really love the size of this camera, it’s so tiny. It’s hard to see from photos but you can see in the video above how compact it is!

The Canon PowerShot SX500 IS is a fantastic budget-friendly superzoom camera. The camera only offers HD video recording, not Full HD.  think that most people will prefer shooting in HD because it takes less space and faster to upload to YouTube for sharing.  All in all, impressive budget camera with big zoom and very cool features.


OK, now that you’ve got a good understanding of the key features of the two cameras, let’s take a closer look at the differences between the SX500 IS and the L820.

Nikon Coolpix L820 vs Canon PowerShot SX500 IS – Differences

In this section I will present the differences in a side by side comparison table and add some side note to placed that I think worth more explanation.

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Another thing that I want to talk about is the lens optical zoom.

The Canon SX500 IS has a 24-720 mm focal length range (35mm equivalent), the Nikon L820 has a 22.5-675mm focal length range lens (35mm equivalent).  This means that the Nikon can take a wider angle shots (22.5mm is wider than 24mm), but the Canon has a longer focal length, which means that you see the subject a bit larger in the image.  The difference is very small, but it’s always better to have a wider angle lens. 22.5mm is quite an impressive wide angle, not all cameras give you that, some start at 24mm or 25mm. This means that you can take wider angle shots, better for landscape, interiors, group shots, etc.

The confusion starts with the basic understanding that both lenses have 30x optical zoom lens. To if the optical zoom is the same, how can it be that the lenses shoot with different angle of view in the tele end and wide end? – The reason for that is that the optical zoom tells us the different between the largest focal length and the smallest focal legnth.

In the Canon SX500 IS (24-720 mm), the 24mm signifies the smallest focal length, also referred to as wide-angle, the 720mm signifies the largest focal length, also referred to as telephoto-end. If you device the largest focal length with the smallest focal length you get 30 (720 / 24 = 30) — and that’s the optical zoom. That works the same for the Nikon L820 lens (22.5-675mm), just devide 675 with 22.5 and you get 30 (optical zoom). Now that the confusion is solved we can continue to the next sections.


What 30x Optical Zoom Looks like?

Before we continue talking about the image quality and high ISO performance I want to show you a video that demonstrated how 30x looks like and how big is the optical magnification, let’s take a look..

The next video was taken using Canon PowerShot SX500 IS and test its 30x optical zoom (by CNET Australia)

That’s a BIG zoom, very useful as you can see. You can get very close to your subject without moving and inch- Super useful for both still and videos and great for travelers who need a versatile camera to carry for their next trip.

Image Quality Analysis

Image quality is a very important factor when comparing two cameras one versus the other. Superzoom cameras, and actually most cameras that have a small sensor don’t do well in high ISO.  With latest cameras like the SX50 HS we’ve seen that latest sensor technologies, especially BSI-CMOS sensor technology allows photographers to shoot at high-ISO and get very usable results too. The SX500 IS is using a CCD and the Nikon L820 is using a BSI-CMOS, so it’s interesting to see how the two compare, considering the fact that both have the same resolution and sensor size.

  • ISO 100 (Canon) / ISO125 (Nikon) – Note that Nikon start at ISO125. Both cameras produce clean images with very little noise and very good sharpness out of the box  Purple fringing is evident in both  but more prominent on the SX500 HS, but nothing tow worry about whatsoever – Tie
  • ISO 200 – at ISO 200 we start to see some changed. The Canon shows chroma noise which is evident mostly in dark area, the L820 looks very good with much less chroma noise, still both images are very sharp – Advantage: L820
  • ISO 400 – same  results but with more noise. The Nikon L820 really impressed me, I was expecting lesser performance and at ISO 400 the image looks amazingly well and relatively very clean – SUPERB!
    The Canon  on the other hand shows its CCD weakness and the image is more noisy, but if scaled down you can still get some very usable shots, so it’s not bad. Remember that I am looking and analyzing images at 100% scale, where you can spot any tiny issue, something that might be almost invisible when looking at a scaled down image – Advantage: L820
  • ISO 800 – Same thing here as ISO 400, The Canon get worse and I think that I wouldn’t shoot at above ISO800 with the Canon, this is the roof if you care about image quality at want to do some large prints. At small scale image will still look very good tough.  So if you are posting a small scale image on facebook, twitter or viewing it on a 1920×1080 screen, it will still look pretty good. The  Nikon just WOW me, still relatively very clean mid-tones, although noise is certainly visible in the dark areas. Very small amount of chroma noise and image is very sharp – IMPRESSIVE! – Advantage: L820
  • ISO 1600 – The SX500 look just ugly, lots of chroma noise, we are losing a lot of small details but I expected this. The L820 on the other hands copes with ISO 1600 incredibly well.  Image is noisy, but for small prints it’s very good. – Advantage: L820

I am very impressed with the Nikon L820 high ISO performance. Nikon stated in their website that the camera does an amazing job in low light and I’ve seen that it’s indeed true. I  was analyzing sample images from  The Canon SX500 IS has less impressive high ISO performance, and it’s about two stops behind the L820.

When I compare to image quality above I’ve checked how the two compare when we climb up the ISO sensitivity scale, and although the L820 did better, it doesn’t mean that the Canon SX500 image quality is not good. The Sx500 IS image quality is low ISO is EXCELLENT! – sharp, has high contrast, very vivid and alive, really impressive image quality. The Nikon L820 produces images that are more subtle, not as vivid but looks amazingly sharp. I am viewing the images of the  L820 at 100% scale and I can read even the smallest text on the film box object – the L820 is tack sharp!

I think that most people will love the more vivid color reproduction of the SX500, and it also looks that it has a wider dynamic range after inspecting the gray scale #14 sheet. I am not sure if that’s because of the CCD, but the Canon Sx500 IS seems to produce images with a wider color gamut (not scientifically test, by just observing the images).

It might be confusing, but the picture is pretty clear here. The Nikon Coolpix L820 does have a better high ISO performance and a sharper image, but it looks like the Canon PowerShot SX500 IS has the better colors and higher dynamic range and brings some of the details out in the shadows. The Canon SX500 HS images look more vivid out of the box, the L820 has more subtle colors, but not dull.

Let’s finish our comparison with two sample video taken with each camera.

First is the Canon Sx500 IS sample videos

Second is the Nikon Coolpix L820 sample video

Looking good!



This was a long ride but I think that now you learned to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each camera. The Canon SX500 IS is an impressive little camera, and not only because of its size. I like the design and look of this camera, but also like the image quality, fast autfocus speed, full manual control over exposure, Frame assist feature and the excellent image stabilization that is important for such camera. On the other hand, I will be missing a higher 921K-dots resolution, higher ISO performance is not impressive, it has slow burst, only HD and battery life is less than the L820.

The Nikon Coolpix L820 is a very impressive superzoom. It is aimed for beginners, not for advanced photographers because it doesn’t offer full manual control, but rather semi-automatic mode. It has a very impressive low-light performance, and therefore the recommend camera for those who shoot many photos in low light.  It has a wider angler lens which is great, high resolution LCD, many scene modes and image editing functions, fast burst, Full HD video recording and very good battery life. On the other hand, it’s image is not as vivid as the Canon out of the box, It doesn’t have the mode control dial at the top like the Canon not it offers the advanced manual control options that serious photographers might be interested to have.

Both cameras are really impressive and now that you know the strengths and weaknesses of each camera you can make a better and smarter buying decision. If you want to know my opinion, I felt in love with the L820 high ISO performance, but as an advanced photographer, I prefer having the Canon PowerShot SX500 IS for its more advanced features for the advanced photographer. It will help me be more creative and I really liked its image quality in low ISO.

Now it’s your turn to make a decision. I hope that you find this comparison useful – if you do, please don’t forget to LIKE and share it with your friends. Thanks for reading.

Check the latest prices and buy from:

Canon PowerShot SX500 IS: B&H, Adorama, Amazon

Nikon Coolpix L820: B&H, Adorama, Amazon


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