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.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|
(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.