Nikon Coolpix P310 Review
Usability - How easy is it to use?
The Nikon Coolpix P310 has a simple and elegant design where almost every button does exactly one action. It is one of the smallest compact digital cameras and is minimalistically shaped like a box with a protruding lens barrel and a number of external controls. Notably absent from this design is an actual hand-grip, only a slightly protruding strip of rubber takes its place at the front of the camera. The camera is easy to hold but does not feel very secure without using a wrist-strap.
The top of the camera is quite busy. From left to right, there is the built-in flash, the stereo microphone, the mode-dial, the power-button, the shutter-release which is surrounded by the zoom-controller and the top control-wheel. The mode-dial protrudes the most and is easy to turn with good detents to avoid accidental changes. The tiny power button is flush with the surface and must be held down for the camera to power-up, making turning on the camera unintentionally nearly impossible. The shutter-release is a little small with a short amount of travel and distinct half-way point. The top control-wheel has clear detents and is comfortably accessible from the rear.
The mode-dial has 8 positions, 4 of them occupied by the usual PASM modes. There is one User mode too. There is also an Auto mode, marked by a green icon, which hides all menu items except Image Resolution and Image Quality. ISO, WB and Drive modes are all locked in Auto mode. Additionally, Manual Focus is unavailable in Auto mode. There is a position for Night Landscape which either uses a long exposure or multi-frame noise-reduction. The last position groups all other Scene-Modes. To choose a specific Scene-Mode, the camera menu must be used.
Easy Panorama modes automatically show grid lines to help keep the camera level. This helps but does not show when you are straying. To give some necessary leeway, the P310 reduces the vertical field-of-view of the lens. This makes sense in landscape orientation but not in portrait. Unlike in Panorama Assist mode, the user does not choose a direction first, so it has no way of knowing which way to reduce the field-of-view.
The sides of the camera are almost bare. On the flash-side, there is a spring-loaded lever to release the popup flash. Pushing the flash down locks it back in place. The grip-side of the P310 has a mini HDMI plug and a loop to attach a wrist strap. The HDMI connector can output a 1080i, 720p or 640p signal. The strap eyelet is slightly bothersome if you hold the camera tightly.
The rear of the Nikon Coolpix P310 is dominated by an excellent 3" LCD with 920k pixels. The image is crisp and bright with good but slightly over-saturated colors. Outdoor visibility is better than most digital cameras. White-balance is accurately shown on the display but the camera makes no attempt at providing an exposure-priority view and does not take into account the exposure-range of the camera.
To the right of the LCD is the Movie-Record button, marked by the universal red dot. Pressing it starts video recording, pressing it again stops it. There is no video mode on this camera and no HD framing guides. So, as usual, there is no way to accurately setup framing for video. This also causes a 2 second delay before video-recording starts, making video recording rather frustrating.
Directly below is the Playback button. It works in the most obvious way, entering and exiting Playback mode. It can also turn on the camera into Playback mode without extending the lens. The camera is shooting-priority at all times, so a quick tap of the shutter-release returns it to Capture mode.
A rotating 4-way controller below the Playback button combines a control-wheel, quick access to functions and menu navigation in a single control. Each direction is assigned to a function:
- Up brings up a 6-item menu of flash-modes: Auto, Redeye, Off, Fill, Slow-Sync and Rear-Sync.
- Right brings the Exposure-Compensation scale and a innacurate Live-Histogram.
- Down selects between Auto, Macro, Manual and Infinity focus.
- Left brings up a 4-item menu for the self-timer: 10s, 2s, Smile and Off.
To activate anything, one must press the correct direction, rotate the dial and then press OK to confirm. Otherwise, the item-menu disappears without any effect after about 5 seconds of inactivity. One can say that this reduces chances of inadvertently changing something but it makes the each change less efficient. This is particularly annoying with the self-timer which resets itself after each use. When repeatedly shooting from a tripod it therefore takes 4 unnecessary stepsLeft, Turn (or Up), Turn (or Up), OK. between each shot and increases the risk of moving the camera.
Exposure-Compensation, has a ±2 range in 1/3 EV increments. Either dials can be used to change EC and there is no need to confirm with OK. A live-histogram appears when EC is activated. While it changes along, it is only accurate within the camera's exposure range. You cannot therefore rely on the histogram to warn of exposure problems. Since EC does not apply to manual-exposure (M) mode, there is no way to see a live-histogram in that mode.
The outer ring of the 4-way controller rotates and is the rear control-dial. It turns easily with gentle clicks. Being low on the back of the camera makes this one less comfortable than the top one. At least there are two! Inline with Nikon's one-function-per-control general philosophy, the top dial only controls aperture or shutter-speed and the rear one only controls the remaining parameter. For all modes but M, this means that one dial remains unused.
There are several ways this could be improved. One is to give the unused dial the task of changing ISO and another is to simply make both dials change the single parameter. The former would be preferable as it would provide access to ISO without entering the menu system. Since the top command-dial is more comfortable to use, it would be an improvement if the exposure parameter be controlled by that dial. In manual mode, both dials are busy and so ISO would still not have a direct control.
The central OK button is normally used to confirm menu selection. In Capture mode, it is unassigned except if the focus area mode is either Manual or Subject Tracking. In Manual focus-area mode, the OK button toggles the 4-way controller's behavior between activating directional functions and moving the focus-point. In Subject Tracking focus-area mode, the OK button starts and stops tracking. In Playback mode, the OK button switches between normal and detailed image views. The detailed view displays exposure parameters and a luminance histogram.
Two more buttons are found below the 4-way controller: Menu and Delete. Menu obviously invokes the menu system. Delete prompts for deleting the image shown in Playback mode or the last taken image in Capture mode. The menu system itself is easy to navigate and well organized into 3 tabs: Still, Movie and Setup. There is not much in the way of customization and that keeps the interface simple and relatively compact. Images are always numbered sequentially and do not reset when changing memory cards. To reset file numbering, the appropriate menu item must be used in the Setup menu.
The last remaining button is new to the P310 and found next to the lens barrel at the front of the camera. This is a customizable Function button which can control one of 7 options: Image Size, Picture Control, White-Balance, Metering, Continuous, ISO or AF Area. The most useful option is probably ISO but it is not well implemented. The problem is that pressing the button brings up a two-level menu with ISO values being one-level down. The top-level selects between the Sensitivity menu and the Minimum Shutter-Speed menu. It would be much better if the shutter-speed options were below Auto ISO options.
The construction of the P310 feels solid for the most part and is relatively light. The battery compartment door is thin and flexible. Next to it is a tiny and flimsy flap covering the combined USB and A/V connector. Unfortunately, this is the only way to charge the camera battery, so it is may get a lot more use than it can handle. If it breaks off though, this should not affect the functioning of the camera. Normally, charging via USB allows the camera to be A/C powered but this Coolpix does not support it. A metal tripod is next to the little flap and is neither inline with the lens nor with the camera's center of weight.
Nikon P310 Facts
Compact digital camera
|16 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 100-6400|
|4.2X Ultra-Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/2000-4s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls|
|7 FPS Drive, 5 Images||Custom white-balance|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|3" LCD 920K Pixels||Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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