Nikon Coolpix P300 Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Performance starts with image quality, which is the criteria used as the foundation of our digital camera ratings. Ergonomic issues may get in the way, but in the end, image quality counts the most. The Nikon Coolpix P300 does quite well in this respect. Image noise appears at all sensitivities but does not considerably impact details until ISO 800. Sharpness is well maintained as ISO increases, indicating gentle noise-reduction is applied on the BSI-CMOS sensor's output.
In absolute terms, this is behind some top compact digital cameras. However, the P300's ultra-bright F/1.8 lens lets it use at least one ISO stop less than most cameras under the same circumstances. This compensates for the higher sensor-noise. ISO 160 to 400 images can be printed up to 16x12" with beautiful results. ISO 800 can make nice 9x12" prints. Maximum print sizes drop after that but small prints are possible until ISO 3200.
The dynamic range of this digital camera is similar to most cameras in its class, save for those equipped with Fuji's SuperCCD EXR sensor which have an edge for outdoor photography where sunlight can cause extremely contrast. The general solution for photography of outdoor scenery is to wait for the right time, around dusk and dawn, when light balances out and produces scenes of much lower contrast. Metering of the Coolpix P300 is rather good. As usual, dark subjects can occasionally cause over-exposure and low-contrast ones can cause under-exposure. Even so, it rarely missed by a stop or more.
The 4.2X optical zoom lens is extremely compact considering its bright maxim aperture. Even at its longest length, which is the widest focal-length, the lens protrudes by less than one inch from its barrel. This lens is very sharp in its center with strong corner softness wide open. At F/1.8 side edges are quite soft but, when stopping down beyond F/2.8, only the corners remain soft. One stop further, corner softness is very limited. A pleasant surprise is that the P300 does not show any vignetting, which is typically seen in bright wide-angle lenses. Distortion is not noticeable either.
The Coolpix P300 only has two controls over colors, one for hue and one for vividness, both adjustable in 11 steps. The hue adjustment cools or warms image colors, with the default being almost neutral. The steps are very fine. The vividness control adjusts color saturation. At its lowest value, images become monochrome. The default middle value provides the best color accuracy. The steps are quite coarse on this scale, so saturation cannot be controlled precisely.
Automatic White-Balance performance is impressive, handling outdoor and indoor lighting without trouble. Preset white-balance options are also good but rarely needed due to the performance of AWB. Under difficult lighting, custom white-balance must be used. The results are very slightly too warm but not noticeable unless measured.
The Nikon Coolpix P300 is more responsive than its larger more-expensive sibling, the P7000. While not class-leading, it performs reasonably. The interface reacts quickly to button presses and dial turns. Changing modes is one of the slowest operations but other dials and settings respond instantly.
Power-on takes about 2 second because the power button must be held down a short while. Power-off is a litle faster, starting instantly and taking 1s to retract the lens. Focusing speed is on the slow side, taking about 1s in good light and 1½s in low-light. The P300 locks focus much more consistently than the P7000, a very welcome improvement. The shutter lag is noticeable but short. There is a black-out time of about one second after each shot. Shot-to-shot speed hovers around 3 second, which is on the slow side. Battery-life is quoted at 240 shots-per-charge which is below average for a modern digital camera.
Performance - How well does it shoot video?
This Coolpix is one of the smallest cameras to shoot full 1080p videos with stereo sound. It is also one of the few to allow zooming and continuous autofocus during filming. There are 3 modes which offer the 1920x1080 widescreen resolution. The two fastest ones operate at 30 FPS with different compression ratios. There is also a 15 FPS slow capture video which plays back at twice the speed, which is useful when filming slow action.
The P300 shoots 720p video as well. It can do so at 30 FPS or 60 FPS. The 60 FPS one is played back at 30 FPS to slow action down by a factor of 2X. A 640x480 @ 120 FPS mode is also available to slow things down by a factor of 4X. A standard-definition VGA video mode rounds off video modes.
Video quality is excellent with sharp details, smooth motion and no easily noticeable artifacts. Color and white-balance are as good as in still mode. While video recording can be performed in any exposure-mode, it is always automatic. This occasionally causes visible jumps in brightness.
In the usability page, it was already noted that setting up framing for HD video is nearly impossible as no guides are present and the camera lacks a dedicated video mode. To make matters worse, there is a 2 second delay before filming starts after pressing the video-record button. The same button stops video instantly though.
The internal stereo microphone is sensitive, providing decent audio quality. Operating the optical zoom during video recording slows it down so that noise does not get picked up by the microphone.
The Nikon Coolpix P300 is a truly small compact digital camera with efficient photographic controls. It delivers excellent results thanks to an ultra-bright F/1.8 lens which lets it photograph the same scene at lower a ISO than most other cameras. The ultra-wide angle optical zoom lens starting at 24mm makes it a great compact for architecture and indoor photography. The BSI-CMOS sensor is put to good use and provides well-rounded video capabilities, including full 1080p HD video with stereo sound.
Image quality is good, even without counting the advantage provided by the lens. Color accuracy and white-balance are robust and metering is very reliable. Outside of some corner softness which gets pronounced at wide apertures, the lens delivers good sharpness with no visible vignetting and distortion. While camera controls are very responsive, operating speed is about average. Shutter-lag is quick but focus and shot-to-shot speeds are on the slow side.
The interface may have a number of imperfections but notable problems are limited to the lack of an exposure-priority display and accurate histogram as well as the lack of a dedicated video mode. This makes setting up HD video framing impossible and is also most likely the cause of the 2 second video-recording delay.
Nikon P300 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 6 x 5mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|12 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 160-3200|
|4.2X Ultra-Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/2000-8s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls|
|8 FPS Drive, 7 Images||Custom white-balance|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|3" LCD 920K Pixels||Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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