The Nikon Coolpix P500 is the company's latest super zoom for those who require the broadest possible focal length range in the most compact chassis. Replacing the P100 which offered a mere 26x zoom, it just nudges ahead of its chief competitor, the PowerShot SX30 IS, by virtue of offering a gargantuan 36x optical reach (to the Canon's 'paltry' 35x). Accompanying this mammoth zoom is a 12.1 megapixel back illuminated CMOS sensor, which should theoretically provide greater low light effectiveness. Other competitors include the Fujifilm HS10 and newly introduced FinePix HS20 plus the existing Olympus SP800 UZ, all of which offer 30x zoom.
Not to be confused with the co-announced P300 compact, in trying to be all things to all men, the focal range on the P500 provides a 35mm equivalent of an ultra wide angle 22.5mm to 810mm at the telephoto end with f/3.4 maximum aperture. Conversely, also useful is the ability to shoot as close as 1cm for macro photography. Unusually, there's not only a zoom lever encircling the main shutter release button on the top plate, but we also get a second zoom control set into the side of the lens barrel at the front, the action of which is slightly slower and steadier when needed. Of course, the big advantage of this is that it doesn't disturb video recording, for which a thumb-operated record button is provided at the back. This is encircled by a lever for instantly swapping between standard def slow motion clips - very smooth and effective as it happens - and Full HD 1080p footage at 30fps.
Of course shooting at the telephoto end of such an extensive focal range is bound to make camera shake an issue. Here Nikon proposes to have dealt with it via a combination of sensor shift image stabilisation plus the electronic ISO and shutter speed boosting variety. That said, light sensitivity maxes out at a fairly typical ISO3200. Further blur avoiding techniques include motion detection technology, a Best Shot Selector, and Night Portrait and Night Landscape modes.
It would be criminal if the optical zoom was limited to just shooting photos, and happily that's not the case here. Even though there is a bit of an operational buzz, it can be utilised when recording Full HD 1080p video, which boasts stereo sound and HDMI output as standard, the camera's AF automatically adjusting as the user zooms. A feature increasingly offered by rival manufacturers is included here too; namely the ability to shoot slow motion video clips, here at speeds of up to 240 fps - which combined with that class leading lens range makes this a great camera for recording amateur sporting events. Continuous/burst shooting (up to 8fps at full resolution) also gets its own top plate button for rapid-switching convenience, and the creative quartet of program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual shooting settings are located around a usefully chunky top plate dial.
Available in studious looking black only, with a manufacturer's suggested price of £399.99, at the time of writing P500 prices were £50 cheaper, bringing it almost exactly into line give a penny or two with the street price of Canon's SX30 IS. At this price, it's stepping firmly on the toes of entry level DSLRs with their standard kit lenses, such as Nikon's own D3100, and those cameras will certainly provide better image quality. But, of course, where a standard kit lens has around 4x zoom, the P500 slightly out does that (and any sort of DSLR lens that comes close to that range of zoom will set you back over £500 alone). Not to mention, the P500 is also considerably more compact.