Easy operation, comfortable ergonomics, and excellent photo quality make the 4-megapixel Nikon Coolpix 4300 an appealing buy for snapshot photographers. But there's more to this camera than simple point-and-shoot functionality, as its long list of features attests. If you like to rely on your camera to take care of the basics but want the flexibility of fine-tuning your photos, this versatile and very reasonably priced model should be on your short list. Retaining the solid build and the comfortable ergonomics of its predecessor, the Coolpix 885, the Coolpix 4300 has really only changed colors. Its silver-plastic body sports turquoise detailing on the grip, and the camera weighs in at a moderate 10.1 ounces with battery and media installed. It's compact enough to let you shoot one-handed, although it's not intended for shirt-pocket portability.
Easily accessible buttons and dials are labeled with understandable icons and logically arranged. The infrequently used shooting-mode dial sits at the top of the camera, while dedicated buttons for quickly adjusting flash, focus mode, and exposure are placed near the 1.5-inch LCD on the camera's back. But don't let the simple layout fool you--the Coolpix 4300 offers many more settings that are tucked away in well-structured menus.
Like most other models in the Coolpix family, the 4300 offers light-metering options such as Matrix, Center-weighted, Spot, and Spot AF Area to help you get the best possible exposure. And if you're picky about white balance, you can choose from a selection of fluorescent-bulb presets, meter your own specific situation, or fine-tune any of the white-balance presets. You can tweak contrast, midtone brightness, and sharpness, too, and there's a Best Shot Selector mode that quickly shoots a series of frames, then saves the sharpest one. There's also exposure and white-balance bracketing, as well as several continuous-shooting modes. The useful Focus Confirmation feature displays bright outlines around areas of sharp focus on the LCD, and a histogram display is available in playback mode to help you check your exposure.
Whatever your creative inclinations, the Coolpix 4300 lets you record your photos in TIFF or three levels of JPEG compression. And for those who appreciate versatility, this model is compatible with Nikon's wide range of lens converters, as well as a ring-flash unit. The versatile Nikon Coolpix 4300 performs quite well. Turn it on, and the camera is ready to shoot in a moderately fast 4 seconds; its shot-to-shot time for JPEGs is about 3 seconds. Saving a TIFF took about 25 seconds, which is unfortunate but not unusual for this uncompressed file type. If you'd like something speedier, there's a continuous-shooting mode that captures 3 frames every 2 seconds. You can also experiment with other fun, low-resolution, multiframe-capture settings, such as Ultra HS, which can record about 30 frames per second.
The camera's tiny viewfinder shows only about 80 percent of the image frame, but the LCD compensates by displaying nearly the full frame and providing a picture that's viewable even in bright daylight. When you're shooting in automatic mode, the autofocus is in perpetual motion, which shortens both shutter delays and battery life. In manual mode, you have the choice of activating the continuous autofocus. The Coolpix 4300's autofocus performed well overall, adjusting quickly and capturing images clearly, even in low light.
We got good battery life out of the Coolpix 4300, even though the LCD indicator showed a deceptive half-power icon for most of our shooting time. The included rechargeable lithium-ion battery held out for about 200 shots with heavy LCD use and continuous autofocus engaged. This Coolpix can also be powered by a disposable 2CR5 lithium battery--a boon to travelers. Nikon maintains its reputation for producing high-quality photos with the Coolpix 4300. Its photos showed realistically rendered colors and balanced exposures, and although they're not the sharpest or most detailed we've seen from a 4-megapixel camera, they're certainly among the best in their class. Noise in low-light situations is kept to a minimum, even without the additional help of the camera's selectable noise-reduction feature.
Digital trouble spots such as purple fringing and other edge effects are minimized, even in the most extreme circumstances. This camera also retains the excellent macro capabilities of its predecessor, the Coolpix 885, letting you get as close as 1.6 inches with the lens at its widest angle to shoot close-ups with crystal clarity. Overall, we were very pleased with the photos we captured with this Coolpix.