Nikon Coolpix P3 - digital camera review: Nikon Coolpix P3 - digital camera

Nikon Coolpix P3 - digital camera

Shams Tarek

See full bio
5 min read

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.


Nikon Coolpix P3 - digital camera

The Good

Wi-Fi file transfer and printing; excellent image quality; many photo options.

The Bad

No Wi-Fi e-mail or Web posting; no remote camera operation using Wi-Fi; no manual exposure control.

The Bottom Line

Like its older siblings, the P1 and P2, the Nikon Coolpix P3 has a limited Wi-Fi capability and excellent image quality. Better value and quicker performance can be found in the company's nonwireless offerings.
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.

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.

Rounding out the Nikon Coolpix P3's features are a whopping 8 drive modes, including one that captures 16 frames in less than a second and arranges them in a four-by-four grid, and another that captures 30fps at 640x480-pixel resolution; essentially a movie clip divided into individual frames. The P3 also has 23MB of internal memory--you'll still want an SD card if you plan on taking more than a handful of photos at time--as well as 16 scene-assist modes, 4 exposure-metering modes, and contrast/sharpness/saturation controls. The Nikon Coolpix P3's performance is disappointing, with some infuriating delays between shots. The camera takes slightly more than 4 seconds to turn on and shoot, and performance goes downhill from there. Shutter lag in bright light was an irritating 0.9 second, with dim light bumping that time up to 1.4 seconds. After taking a shot, it was a full 3 seconds before we could snap off another one. Burst mode was acceptable, with a rate of 1.5fps in five-shot bursts. The screen refreshes quickly but has a narrow viewing angle. Unfortunately, users are stuck with the LCD; the P3 lacks an optical viewfinder.

Shooting speed in seconds
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Time to first shot  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Casio Exilim EX-Z850
Canon PowerShot SD630
Canon PowerShot A530
Fujifilm FinePix V10
Nikon Coolpix P3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3

Typical continuous-shooting speed in frames per second
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Typical continuous-shooting speed  

Image quality is where the Nikon Coolpix P3 really shines, overshadowing any shortcomings in its Wi-Fi implementation and almost overcoming its flawed performance. Colors are neutral but rich and pleasing, from the bright greens and blues in landscapes to the subtle tones of human skin. Reds, usually difficult to capture with digital cameras, are reproduced with fine gradations and detail; one macro shot of an apple revealed the texture of the fruit's skin with detail intact.

Sharpness and resolution are high at all subject distances. There is slight vignetting, or darkening of corners, and other image distortions at large lens apertures, but those problems are hardly ruin the picture and disappear at more moderate settings. Bokeh, or out-of-focus highlights, looks pleasing with a soft and round quality to it.

The P3 keeps flare and blooming well under control, even when shooting at the sun. Chromatic aberration, the purple fringing that appears on high-contrast edges, is also in check, appearing only slightly even in extreme backlighting.

Noise levels are below average in the Nikon Coolpix P3, with images appearing very clean at ISO 50 and ISO 100, usable at ISO 200, and tolerable at ISO 400. Unfortunately, at ISO 400, the noise softens the detail significantly. That said, the noise wasn't overpowering and produced some decent, albeit speckled, shots that you could use at small sizes.


Nikon Coolpix P3 - digital camera

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6Image quality 8
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping