Nikon joins the fast-lens ultracompact club

Nikon's new member of its advanced P series, the Coolpix P300, offers a fast f1.8, wide-angle lens, broad set of manual controls, and a shooter-friendly but compact design.

Even after using a preproduction model for the past few days, I've really had a hard time classifying the new Nikon Coolpix P300. As part of its P series, geared to enthusiasts, you'd think Nikon was taking on models like the popular Canon PowerShot S95 and the new Olympus XZ-1. But while it has the basic black, no-nonsense design, fast lens and broad manual feature set of those models, it uses a relatively small but backside-illuminated (BSI) 1/2.3-inch sensor similar to mainstream consumer cameras like the PowerShot Elph 500 HS--it's priced lower than the former and higher than the latter.

Overall, I really like the camera's design. Though it lacks the lens-ring control of the Canon and the Olympus, the P300's pair of dials--one on the top right and one doubling as four-way switches for exposure compensation, macro, flash and self-timer--provide a nice feel for fast shooting adjustments. Despite being on the small side, it's still fairly comfortable to hold, with a grippy stripe in the front for extra security. And the popup flash's split design means that you still have a spot on the top left for your fingers while the flash is open. The LCD looks big, bright, and relatively high resolution as well. I also like the dedicated movie-record button, which doesn't require choosing a dedicated mode on the dial.

My one gripe with the design is the menu and delete buttons, which sit below the navigation dial, are too flat and difficult to feel.

As for features, here's a comparative summary:

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