The Nikon Coolpix P300 is not an enthusiast compact. It might look like one. And it does have a bright f1.8 ultrawide-angle lens and the manual and semimanual shooting modes that you'd find on an enthusiast compact. But that's about where the similarities end. It doesn't have a large sensor and you won't find raw image capture or direct controls for ISO and white balance or an optical viewfinder. If you want those things, the P300 is not the camera you're looking for and you should prepare to spend about $100 more, at least.
What the P300 is, though, is an easy-to-use compact camera with a very nice lens and more control over results than the average point-and-shoot, and there's really nothing wrong with that.
|Key specs||Nikon Coolpix P300|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.1x2.3x1.3 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||6.7 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 921K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||4.2x, f1.8-4.9, 24-100mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 240 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||Yes; wall adapter or computer via USB|
|Bundled software||Nikon ViewNX 2 (Windows, Mac)|
The P300 turns out very good photos for a point-and-shoot that will stand up nicely to 10x13 prints or smaller and Web use. However, even at its lowest ISOs, subjects look a little overprocessed when viewed at full size. In fact, if you are looking for photos good enough to heavily crop and then use at large sizes, this camera isn't for you. Though its sensitivity settings run from ISO 160 to ISO 3200, the P300 produces the best results below ISO 400 and even then you're still dealing with the same photo quality you'd get from a high-end, small-sensor compact camera.
The two highest ISOs--1600 and 3200--should be used sparingly, mainly because there's noticeable color shifting and the noise reduction makes subjects appear smeary. This is really no different from results with most compact cameras, though. There are Fixed Range Auto options that will limit you to ISO 160-400 or ISO 160-800, which is convenient for those who want to be in auto but not worry about the overly soft and smeary results above ISO 800.
This is also where the benefit of having a bright f1.8 aperture available at the wide end comes into play. That big aperture allows you to use a faster shutter speed and lower ISOs when you have less light. That, in turn, will get you better low-light photos than cameras with smaller maximum apertures.
Colors produced by the P300 are good up to ISO 800: pleasing and vibrant. Exposure is consistently good, too, and if you need some help, Nikon's D-Lighting feature can be used in Playback mode, helping bring out shadow detail. White balance is overall good, though you should use the manual option when available. Also, as with most compact cameras, highlights can blow out easily. Nikon's Backlight HDR (high dynamic range) mode can help even things out.
The camera's 1080p movie capture is a main selling point, but video quality is merely on par with a good HD pocket video camera: good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. If you typically do a lot of panning from side to side or shooting fast-moving subjects, you'll likely see judder and ghosting. On the upside, the P300 starts shooting at the press of a button; it takes a second to start, but at least you don't have to enter a movie mode first. Plus, you get several resolutions and frame rates to pick from for regular and slow-motion clips. The zoom does work while recording, though you'll want to keep the autofocus set to full time. Unfortunately, you will hear the lens moving as it focuses in quieter scenes, but the noise is fairly minor.
|General shooting options||Nikon Coolpix P300|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 160, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash, Manual|
|Recording modes||Auto, Scene, Scene auto selector, Program, Manual, Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority, Night landscape, Backlighting HDR|
|Focus modes||9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF, Subject tracking AF, Face priority AF, Macro|
|Macro||1.2 inches (Wide)|
|Metering modes||Matrix, Center-weighted|
|Color effects||Brightness, Vividness, Hue controls|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Seven shots|
Along with the lens, a big reason to consider the P300 is control over shutter speed and aperture with full manual, aperture-priority, and shutter-speed-priority shooting modes. Apertures go from f1.8 to f8.0 at the wide end and f4.9 to f7.8 at the telephoto end. Shutter speeds go from 1/2,000 second to 8 seconds, though at f1.8 it stops at 1/1,600 second. That's about the end of the manual controls. For example, there's no manual focus. And it would've been nice to have at least one spot for a set of custom settings. But for those who just want to learn how to use shutter speed and aperture or just like having more say in the final results, it's enough.
If that's more control than you need, Program mode lets you change ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation as well as light metering, and autofocus area and mode, but handles shutter speed and aperture. There is a Flexible Program option, should you want to select different combinations of aperture and shutter speed without changing exposure. Nikon also adds some extra control over hue (color tone) and vividness (saturation), with adjustable sliders. They're not revolutionary, but if you like to experiment, they'll be welcome. That said, it would be nice to have sliders for sharpness and noise reduction, too. (By the way, the slider settings get stored in the camera's memory, so they stay even if you power the camera off.)