The Nikon P500 is lighter than its Canon rival, being 494g with battery and optional SD/SDHC/SDXC card inserted, compared with 601g for the SX30 IS when also fully loaded. As we mentioned at the outset, the P500 is very much styled to look like a mini DSLR, the theory behind it being that, like all super zooms, the lens here is so versatile that you won’t mind the fact that unlike that of a DSLR proper it cannot be swapped. The bulk is such that this is a tool for your camera bag rather than a pocket, with a shoulder strap included in the box. You’ll also find therein a lens cap of the clip-on variety, which can also be attached to a vacant lug to avoid losing it. Like the vast majority of superzooms the overall build is a little plastic-y, but this is well disguised by the black finish and the construction feels surprisingly solid – enough to withstand the odd accidental knock – when held in the palm.
The chunkier proportions ensure that it’s possible to comfortably snake three fingers around the Coolpix’s substantial grip, with roughed surface to further prevent slippage, and not have your knuckles scrape against the adjacent lens barrel. For composition and review Nikon has also very usefully thrown in an angle adjustable 920k dot resolution, 3-inch LCD screen at the rear with electronic viewfinder (EVF) sitting directly above. This proved especially useful during our test period when attempting shots low to the ground, as the screen can be tilted up so you are looking directly down on it.
Said LCD cannot however be flipped outwards through 180° to one side, or rotated so the screen is facing body inwards like the Canon SX30 IS, so the flexibility has its limitations. The resolution is however far better than the Canon’s so-so 230k dots. A button is provided top left of the EVF for instantly switching between the two, although we really missed having an eye sensor to automatically perform the same function. For practicality’s sake and greater choice of framing we found ourselves heavily reliant on the back screen anyway, which didn’t particularly seem to suffer in the usual bugbear of bright sunlight.
The controls on the P500 are all well labelled, for the most part large enough and fall readily beneath finger tip or thumb. The backplate looks like a cross between a compact camera and an entry level DSLR – which is a fair way to sum up the P500 in general. It provides both a rear DSLR-like command dial for quickly scrolling through selectable shutter speeds plus four-way control pad with ‘OK’ button at its centre for implementing any changes to menu settings, for which a dedicated menu button is placed directly below. While we would have liked a button for direct access to ISO options, we also get dedicated delete, playback and display setting buttons – again pretty much what you’d expect to find on any compact camera. So those trading up from a point and shoot snapshot camera won’t find the P500 daunting when it comes to day to day operation.