Press the P500's on/off button, attractively illuminated in green when active and continuing to 'pulse' when the camera is in sleep mode, and the Nikon powers up in just over a second, rear LCD blinking almost instantly into life. In tandem the lens barrel nudges forward slightly from its protective housing to arrive at the maximum wideangle setting.
Squeeze the shutter release button down halfway and the autofocuss completes its job after the briefest of pauses. Depress the button fully to take the shot and a full 12 megapixel highest quality JPEG is committed to memory in just under two seconds, which is fast by compact camera standards. There's no raw option here, which could be a deal breaker for some. Generally we found the P500's focus and exposure to be spot on, if anything erring towards a slight underexposure in order to preserve highlight detail. Images are surprisingly sharp as well, being a match for some premium end compacts, if the P500 doesn't quite possess the same extensive feature set in terms of creativity.
Using the top plate zoom lever the Nikon whirrs through its extensive optical range in around four seconds. Alternatively use the side lever on the lens barrel to perform the same function and you can add a second and a half onto that but there's less obvious operational noise, which is obviously a boon for video clips.
The P500 boasts a light sensitivity range starting out at a manually selectable ISO160 and topping out at ISO3200. We also get both Auto ISO and separate auto high ISO sensitivity and fixed range auto ISO settings, the latter allowing the ISO range to be limited to a modest ISO160-200 or ISO160-400, so there's absolutely no chance of noise degrading the shot. As it transpired during our test period the P500 keeps noise/grain well under control, detail softening and the image beginning to fall apart not until the very top ISO3200 setting, which is fairly impressive stuff as long as you don't mind a bit of softening to disguise the gritty look at higher ISOs.
When it comes to general shooting the usual bugbears raise their heads. Which is to say there is some softening of detail towards the edges of frame - not totally surprising, given the ultra wide wideangle setting here - and also some purple pixel fringing noticeable between areas of high contrast. The latter, along with the fact that it took us sometimes two or three attempts to get us anything other than a soft shot handheld at maximum telephoto, is probably the biggest issue with the camera, but as we say it's far from uncommon. Take a look at our test shots to see whether the above are 'issues' you can live with if you're thinking of buying a P500.
If you're after a truly super, superzoom then you can't get much better than the Nikon P500. It's 36x zoom is quite simply one better than the competition, spanning as it does a range of 22.5 - 810mm (in 35mm terms). With Full HD video, including stereo audio, and a full set of manual exposure controls, it's also a versatile tool. Add in a reasonably competitive price and you've got a near perfect site seeing/travel companion. For build quality and its manually adjustable lens we're still more keen on the Fuji HS10, but that is an even bulkier camera and doesn't have quite the zoom range.