The Nikon Coolpix P300 is not an enthusiast compact. It might look like one. And it does have a bright f1.8 ultrawide-angle lens and the manual and semimanual shooting modes that you'd find on an enthusiast compact. But that's about where the similarities end. It doesn't have a large sensor and you won't find raw image capture or direct controls for ISO and white balance or an optical viewfinder. If you want those things, the P300 is not the camera you're looking for and you should prepare to spend about $100 more, at least.
What the P300 is, though, is an easy-to-use compact camera with a very nice lens and more control over results than the average point-and-shoot, and there's really nothing wrong with that.
|Key specs||Nikon Coolpix P300|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.1x2.3x1.3 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||6.7 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 921K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||4.2x, f1.8-4.9, 24-100mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 240 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||Yes; wall adapter or computer via USB|
|Bundled software||Nikon ViewNX 2 (Windows, Mac)|
The P300 turns out very good photos for a point-and-shoot that will stand up nicely to 10x13 prints or smaller and Web use. However, even at its lowest ISOs, subjects look a little overprocessed when viewed at full size. In fact, if you are looking for photos good enough to heavily crop and then use at large sizes, this camera isn't for you. Though its sensitivity settings run from ISO 160 to ISO 3200, the P300 produces the best results below ISO 400 and even then you're still dealing with the same photo quality you'd get from a high-end, small-sensor compact camera.
The two highest ISOs--1600 and 3200--should be used sparingly, mainly because there's noticeable color shifting and the noise reduction makes subjects appear smeary. This is really no different from results with most compact cameras, though. There are Fixed Range Auto options that will limit you to ISO 160-400 or ISO 160-800, which is convenient for those who want to be in auto but not worry about the overly soft and smeary results above ISO 800.
This is also where the benefit of having a bright f1.8 aperture available at the wide end comes into play. That big aperture allows you to use a faster shutter speed and lower ISOs when you have less light. That, in turn, will get you better low-light photos than cameras with smaller maximum apertures.
Colors produced by the P300 are good up to ISO 800: pleasing and vibrant. Exposure is consistently good, too, and if you need some help, Nikon's D-Lighting feature can be used in Playback mode, helping bring out shadow detail. White balance is overall good, though you should use the manual option when available. Also, as with most compact cameras, highlights can blow out easily. Nikon's Backlight HDR (high dynamic range) mode can help even things out.
The camera's 1080p movie capture is a main selling point, but video quality is merely on par with a good HD pocket video camera: good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. If you typically do a lot of panning from side to side or shooting fast-moving subjects, you'll likely see judder and ghosting. On the upside, the P300 starts shooting at the press of a button; it takes a second to start, but at least you don't have to enter a movie mode first. Plus, you get several resolutions and frame rates to pick from for regular and slow-motion clips. The zoom does work while recording, though you'll want to keep the autofocus set to full time. Unfortunately, you will hear the lens moving as it focuses in quieter scenes, but the noise is fairly minor.
|General shooting options||Nikon Coolpix P300|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 160, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash, Manual|
|Recording modes||Auto, Scene, Scene auto selector, Program, Manual, Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority, Night landscape, Backlighting HDR|
|Focus modes||9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF, Subject tracking AF, Face priority AF, Macro|
|Macro||1.2 inches (Wide)|
|Metering modes||Matrix, Center-weighted|
|Color effects||Brightness, Vividness, Hue controls|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Seven shots|
Along with the lens, a big reason to consider the P300 is control over shutter speed and aperture with full manual, aperture-priority, and shutter-speed-priority shooting modes. Apertures go from f1.8 to f8.0 at the wide end and f4.9 to f7.8 at the telephoto end. Shutter speeds go from 1/2,000 second to 8 seconds, though at f1.8 it stops at 1/1,600 second. That's about the end of the manual controls. For example, there's no manual focus. And it would've been nice to have at least one spot for a set of custom settings. But for those who just want to learn how to use shutter speed and aperture or just like having more say in the final results, it's enough.
If that's more control than you need, Program mode lets you change ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation as well as light metering, and autofocus area and mode, but handles shutter speed and aperture. There is a Flexible Program option, should you want to select different combinations of aperture and shutter speed without changing exposure. Nikon also adds some extra control over hue (color tone) and vividness (saturation), with adjustable sliders. They're not revolutionary, but if you like to experiment, they'll be welcome. That said, it would be nice to have sliders for sharpness and noise reduction, too. (By the way, the slider settings get stored in the camera's memory, so they stay even if you power the camera off.)
There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Nikon's Scene Auto Selector, located under the Scene modes. It adjusts settings appropriately based on six common scene types. If the scene doesn't match any of those, it defaults to a general-use Auto. Then there is a regular Auto mode, which locks all settings except resolution for an easy point-and-shoot experience.
There are 16 other scene modes like Landscape and Portrait as well as a Pet Portrait mode, five film effects like high-contrast monochrome and sepia, and two panorama modes: Easy and Panorama Assist. The latter uses a ghost image on the screen to help you line up your successive photos. The former just requires you to press the shutter and pan the camera horizontally or vertically to create a panorama in camera. These modes generally don't handle movement well, so they're best used on scenery without movement.
Like most cameras with BSI CMOS sensors, the P300 has multishot modes for improving low-light photos of landscapes and portraits. At a single press of the shutter release, the camera takes several photos and then combines them to reduce blur from hand shake and reduce noise and correct exposure. However, because of the nature of how these images are produced, these modes cannot be used with moving subjects. There is a Backlight HDR (high dynamic range) mode, too, that combines photos taken at different exposures to help bring out highlight and shadow detail or for artistic effect.
If you're after a shallow depth of field, you only really get it when shooting close-ups. The P300 can focus as close as 1.2 inches from a subject and the results are some of the best you'll get from this camera as long as you have plenty of light. If you like to do a lot of macro photography, the P300 can be a lot of fun.
The P300's shooting performance is a bit mixed. From off to first shot takes just 1 second. Shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is 0.5 second in bright lighting and 0.7 second in low lighting. While that doesn't sound like much, it's noticeable if you're trying to do street photography or shooting active kids or pets. Shot-to-shot times averaged 1.6 seconds without flash and 1.7 seconds with flash; the latter is great, the former is merely good, but typical of a point-and-shoot. The camera does have a full-resolution continuous shooting option, which captures up to seven shots at 8 frames per second; it averaged 6.6fps in our lab tests. The P300 also has 60fps and 120fps bursts; both capture up to 60 1-megapixel frames at a press of the shutter release. There's a substantial wait while the camera stores all those photos, but if you're trying to capture a specific moment in time, this is your best bet with this camera. Also, with all of these burst options, the focus, exposure, and white balance are set with the first photo. If you have a fast-moving subject, like someone running, there's a good chance only the first photo will be in focus.
Possibly part of the reason the P300 gets labeled an enthusiast compact is its design and that it's a P-series model, which are Nikon's advanced Coolpix cameras. It is a very buttoned-down-looking camera, boxy and black with nothing more than a small grip on front and the Nikon name in silver. Its metal body gives it a sturdy feel as does its weight; it's a bit heavier than a typical point-and-shoot of its size. That's likely due to the large lens and the bright and high-contrast, ultrahigh-resolution 3-inch LCD.
The P300's menus and controls are no different from those of a majority of Nikon's other Coolpix cameras--uncomplicated and easy to pick up quickly. There are no direct controls for things like ISO and white balance; even a single customizable button would be a welcome addition. Shutter speeds are controlled with a horizontal thumb dial on top, and apertures are changed with the "Rotary Multi Selector" on back, which can be used for menu and playback navigation and has an underlying control pad for controlling flash, exposure compensation (as well as hue and vividness), macro, and self-timer.
The P300 is powered by a lithium ion rechargeable pack that is rated for 240 shots. This was supported in our testing, but keep in mind that using the zoom a lot, keeping the LCD on its brightest setting, or using the movie and burst-shooting modes will drain the battery faster. The battery is charged in the camera by connecting via USB to a computer or the included wall adapter. The battery and card compartment are on the bottom behind a locking door. Next to it is a Mini-USB/AV port. A covered Mini-HDMI port is on the right side of the camera for connecting to an HDTV or monitor; you'll need to buy a cable, though.
Nikon fans looking for an advanced enthusiast compact to compete directly with Canon's PowerShot S95 might feel a little let down by the Coolpix P300. It actually has more in common with Canon's PowerShot Elph 500 HS. That Canon has a slight edge in photo quality, but the P300 beats that camera in every other way. If you're after a point-and-shoot with some creative control and a fast lens, definitely check out the P300.
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