Bringing distant subjects into sharp focus has just received a COOLPIX boost with the announcement of the P500 from Nikon. The 12.1 megapixel camera features a whopping 36x zoom lens, hybrid vibration reduction technology and a vari-angle high resolution display. It can shoot full high definition movies and sports a number of useful scene modes to help users capture the best panoramic, tone rich or low light images possible.

Nikon's new COOLPIX P500 features the longest zoom ever to be integrated into a COOLPIX camera, a 36x wide-angle, optical zoom-NIKKOR ED Glass Lens. This gives a zoom range from wide-angle 22.5 mm to 810 mm ultra-telephoto (35 mm equivalent). At the ultra-telephoto end, you need something to help reduce the effects of camera shake and Nikon says that its 5-way hybrid vibration reduction image stabilization technology that employs both sensor shift and electronic methods meets that need. The company has also added a zoom control to the side of the lens to further help keep shake to a minimum.

Another first for the COOLPIX range is the EXPEED C2 dual digital image processing engine which helps to reduce noise and correct distortion in both still and movie modes. The P500 is capable of recording full 1080p, high definition movies with stereo sound and can snap images while recording. It can also adjust the recording speed to produce slow motion or sped up special effects.

The camera has a 12.1 megapixel backside illuminated CMOS sensor, benefits from a sensitivity range of ISO160 to ISO3200 and can capture up to five full resolution images per second. Images and movies are stored to SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards and the Li-ion battery should be good for around 220 shots. All closed up the camera has 4.6 x 3.3 x 4.1-inch (115.5 x 83.7 x 102.5mm) dimensions and weighs just over a pound (454g), including the card and battery.

There are numerous helpful scene modes to help users get the best from the new camera, including a backlighting scene mode with in-camera high dynamic range functionality, which merges multiple same scene images taken at different exposures to offer improved image tones.

More image merging takes place in low lighting conditions if the Night Landscape mode is activated, with improved noise levels being the benefit this time, and the Night Portrait mode combines this method with the use of a single flash shot to brighten up the main subject. An Easy Panorama mode offers a choice of directions and angles for user-friendly scene sweeping.

To the rear there's a 3-inch, 920,000 dot tilting LCD display with anti-reflective coating and the P500 also features a 0.24-inch LCD viewfinder with 230,000 dot resolution and diopter adjustment. Frequently used functions can be accessed via the manual mode dial and the A/V-out port is joined by a USB 2.0 interface and mini-HDMI.

The COOLPIX P500 will come in either red or black and has been penciled in for March availability at a suggested retail price of US$399.95.