The Nikon Coolpix P300 is the company’s first dabble into the world of the pocket-sized advanced compact. Clearly looking to shake up the Canon S95’s grip on the market, can the P300 deliver the goods to succeed? The What Digital Camera Nikon P300 review finds out…
Nikon Coolpix P300 review – Features
To suit the more demanding user, the 12.2-megapixel Nikon P300’s higher-end specification includes a 4.2x optical zoom (24-100mm equivalent) lens with image stabilisation and an f/1.8-4.9 aperture equivalent. At the 24mm wideangle end this can produce bright, shallow depth of field of images that are out of reach for most compact cameras.
Add full manual controls, a 3in, 921k-dot LCD screen, an 8fps burst mode (up to seven frames max) and 1080p movie capture and there’s plenty here to get excited about.
However, unlike similar competitor high-end compacts, the P300’s 1/2.3in CCD sensor isn’t as large as the 1/1.7in size found in the likes of the Canon PowerShot S95, Olympus XZ-1 or Panasonic Lumix LX5. Indeed this is a significant difference, as the P300 is more realistically aligned with the likes of the Panasonic Lumix FX77 or Samsung WB2000 and, therefore, those looking for the very best in high-end specification may demand a larger sensor size than the P300 offers.
As well as manual controls, the Nikon Coolpix P300 also adds Auto for point-and-shoot ease; Easy Panorama for 360 or 180 degree real-time captured panoramas; Backlighting and Night Landscape modes plus a variety of Scene options.
Nikon Coolpix P300 review – Design
The Nikon Coolpix P300’s rectangular form is small and pocketable, yet unlike run-of-the-mill compacts there’s the addition of a mode dial atop the camera as well as top and rear rotational wheels for control.
The overall format is rather ‘angular’ however, and the ever-so subtly rounded edges don’t help soften the rather brutalist appearance.
Although there’s a one touch movie button on the camera’s rear and a main Menu button, the lack of a quick menu fails to offer quick on-screen adjustments. This is a fairly large misgiving for speed of adjusting some controls, though the dual rotational wheel formation is excellent for setting up exposures in manual mode.
The lack of a hotshoe means there’s no possibility to add external flash (a user-controlled, pop-up flash is already built into the body) or an additional viewfinder onto the camera in the future. While electronic viewfinders are often expensive, the very possibility of being able to add one on could have provided vast benefits for many users.
To charge up the camera’s li-ion battery there’s a USB-to-mains connection to charge the battery inside the camera itself.
Nikon Coolpix P300 review – Performance
In use and the P300 powers up promptly for shooting and is swift to focus. In any of the manual modes (when set to Manual AF area mode), a press of the ‘OK’ button will present the autofocus area where any of 99-selectable areas can pin-point the focus more accurately. The only drawback to this is the span of the AF-area – there are borders which limit the ability to focus at the edge of the frame. Autofocus speed is on par with similar models, such as the Canon S95, which puts the P300 in a good position (the S95 doesn’t so much as allow for autofocus point adjustment – it’s centre-only). However, despite a multitude of focus options – Face Priority, Auto, Manual, Centre, Subject Tracking and Face Priorirty – it’s not possible to manual focus.
Shots are captured in JPEG format only as there is no Raw capture capability built into this camera.
The movie mode has a variety of options, including Full HD 1080p at 30fps at its best. Other settings can downgrade capture to 720p, with an additional 60fps capture mode that plays back in half speed. In a similar fashion the 1080p15 option doubles the playback speed. Focusing can be pre-determined as a single-point of focus (AF-S) or to continually adjust during recording (AF-F). In the latter mode it’s possible to lock the focus by right-pressing the d-pad to toggle focus lock on or off. There are no additional manual controls available during capture.
Stills capture includes an exposure compensation option that also doubles up as a Hue and Vividness adjustment mode too. These two added extras control the red-blue tint and colour saturation from black and white through to saturated RGB.
For close-up work the P300’s Macro mode succeeds in getting right up to the subject when at the wideangle 24mm setting. The Macro option is available on the d-pad for quick on/off adjustment and focusing as close as 3cms from the lens.
One of the P300’s key features is its ability to capture seven consecutive frames at a rate of eight frames per second (8fps). This is ideal for fast action shooting, though acquiring the focus before hand will be an essential for speedy subjects.
Nikon Coolpix P300 review – Image Quality
The P300’s pictures are reasonable, but the standard-sized compact sensor doesn’t allow the camera to excel above and beyond a number of other compacts at the same price point. That f/1.8 aperture is a great feature to have, but pop the camera in Auto and it’ll opt to shoot with a wider aperture even in scenes that wouldn’t command such a shallow depth of field.
Nikon’s missed a trick here: To not put in a larger sensor was an immediate limitation to the camera that’s attempting to target the high-end market. The Canon S95 has a larger sensor and yet its body size in nigh-on identical to the Nikon.
The P300 can shoot from ISO 160-3200, where the 160-400 options provide relatively high levels of detail, but do still suffer from some over-processing that sees edges over-sharpened, thus resulting in processing artefacts. ISO 800 suffers resolving finer detail, where the texture of image noise becomes more apparent also. The top two tiers, ISO 1600-3200, don’t show up a great deal of colour or luminance noise, i.e. the processing is doing its job well, but this does come at the expense of sharpness and detail that are so diminished these higher end sensitivities won’t provide that pin-sharp, high quality result.
In real world photos the level of detail can lack, and that critical ‘bite’ will often be missing from focused areas.
Auto White Balance can be problematic too. Green fields in parkland may dominate and produce a washed-out look in the sky, for example, plus fluorescent lighting caused on off-white/green cast in our studio setup.
Two metering options – evaluative and centre-weighted – mean that there’s no spot exposure option to select. That aside and metering is generally accurate.
The Coolpix P300’s images are of a reasonable standing, but the fact that this camera targets itself as a high-end offering is where it comes up short: it’s the wider aperture setting that really sets the P300 apart rather than the sensor’s overall ability.
Value & Verdict
Nikon Coolpix P300 review – Value
Despite its £300 RRP, that price point is actually a quarter less than the recommended prices of the Canon PowerShot S95, Panasonic Lumix LX5 and Olympus XZ-1. Granted those three models’ prices have come down, but the Nikon price will also see a natural shift after a similar period of time.
The Coolpix P300’s got enough of features for the money, though the ‘standard-sized’ sensor may not excel it above any beyond some other compacts – that’s an advantage that the S95, LX5 and XZ-1 all have with 1/1.7in sized sensors (most likely a source of their increased asking prices).
The P300’s lack of Raw capture, manual focus, and no hotshoe may also cause more seasoned photographers to look elsewhere.
Nikon Coolpix P300 review – Verdict
The Nikon Coolpix P300 is a success for what it offers, but although it may look a lot like a Canon S95 on the outside, the differences on the inside see it as quite a different model. For a true high-end premium compact you’d be better to look elsewhere, as the P300 is more an advanced model for enthusiasts that want good but not absolute control.
At £300 the P300 is a more affordable high-end compact compared to the competition but, as such, there are a few bits and pieces lacking – the sensor isn’t the large size of its peers, there’s no Raw capture or manual focus, plus no hotshoe (as per the Olympus XZ-1 or Panasonic LX5) means no additional viewfinder or external flash options.
Considered in its own right, however, and the Coolpix P300 works well, focuses quickly and the pictures are, on the whole, good (though not of the ultra-high standard that may be expected). The dual thumbwheel control and quick mode-selection offered by the mode dial on top of the camera target it towards a higher-end market. For the considered £300 investment it’s among the best Coolpix cameras that Nikon has brought to market.