Wi-Fi is the word for the 8-megapixel Nikon Coolpix P3. Like its predecessors, the Coolpix P1 and the P2, as well as its compact contemporary, the Coolpix S6, this compact point-and-shoot incorporates an internal transmitter for uploading pictures to a nearby computer or printer. While it sounds exciting, Nikon's wireless implementation falls a little short of true usefulness. Indeed, it's the P3's excellent image quality that impresses us far more than its wireless abilities. With optical vibration reduction (VR), the P3 is a great snapshooter that should please discriminating users. The Nikon Coolpix P3 is an attractive, well-built camera with thoughtful control placement and menu design. The P3's rounded, soft aluminum body is a bit chunkier than most compact cameras but still quite pocketable. It's not as sleek as models such as Sony's Cyber Shot DSC-T30, but its 7.1-ounce body feels very sturdy and inspires confidence that the camera can handle the occasional bump and scratch. A 2.5-inch LCD dominates the back of the camera.
A dedicated button on the top of the camera activates Nikon's Vibration Reduction feature. The top-mounted mode dial is designed more for advanced photographers than for casual snapshooters, burying the scene modes in a menu and saving precious dial space for quick access to white-balance, ISO, and image-quality settings. The four-way controller on the back gives direct access to flash, self-timer, exposure compensation, and focus-range settings. The Nikon Coolpix P3's wireless abilities do exactly what they claim to do, nothing more and nothing less. Images can be sent directly to a printer or a computer for printing or storage via the P3's 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connection, at as much as 54Mbps. User input is required before each transfer, making the process a lot less automatic than it could have been. Even images captured in the camera's Shoot and Transfer mode must be approved for transfer after each shot, slowing the entire process to a crawl.
Setting up the P3's wireless connection to a computer is easy enough if you know enough about your computer's wireless abilities to get it to work. First, you must decide whether you want to connect in Ad-hoc (directly to a wireless-capable computer) or Infrastructure mode (over a local wireless network, via a wireless router). You must then enter the SSID for your network or computer and, if you have encryption enabled, specify the protocol you're using and the security key. Typically, you'll want to run the camera in ad-hoc mode, which lets you transfer directly to a nearby Wi-Fi-enabled computer. Infrastructure mode is usually reserved for more complex wireless network setups and isn't always necessary.
Two other major manufacturers make compact cameras with Wi-Fi capability, and they both offer unique capabilities that Nikon's lacks. Canon's Wi-Fi system integrates with its remote capture software, allowing full wireless control of its PowerShot SD430. Kodak's Wi-Fi system doesn't allow remote control but does allow you to use an Internet-connected Wi-Fi network to e-mail and Web-post pictures directly from its EasyShare One camera. If you don't have a wireless-enabled computer or printer--or simply don't want to deal with the hassle--have no fear; images can be transferred through a standard USB cable. Unfortunately, the camera uses the slower USB 1.1 standard, so don't expect quick uploads.
Nikon's optical-stabilization technique, dubbed Vibration Reduction, reduces shake in photos through tiny movements of the camera's lens. Nikon claims that this feature lets users shoot three stops slower than usual, but we saw it work only up to two stops at most. Given the 3.5X (36mm-to-126mm equivalent) optical zoom lens's relatively slow speed of f/2.7 to f/5.2, this is a welcome feature that should come in handy in low-light situations.