Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nikon Coolpix P300 Review

Nikon Coolpix P300 Review
December 2011, Carl Garrard
Nikon P300 Review: This being my first ever official Nikon review, I want readers to note this isn't the first Nikon camera I've used- far from it in fact. That being mentioned I'll get right on into it. Nikon's Coolpix P300 is a pocketable wide angle 24-100mm f/1.8-4.9 lens digital camera that sports manual modes, interesting scene modes, and some enthusiast styling and controls. Image reviewing and framing is made way a of 3" LCD screen with 920,000 dots- there is no optical viewfinder. Video wise it is capable of full 1080p HD video and even has 120fps VGA 120 and 720 60fps video modes.

Just about right for the family camera I say, one that will handle vacations and work at home equally well. Enthusiasts might be put off by the lack of a raw file option but the Jpeg image quality might please you enough. Currently the price is about $329.00 brand new, but refurbished models can also be found for much less at this link below. I suggest that if you are looking for a good deal and interested in the P300, to check prices regularly as they do vary.
Nikon Coolpix P300 Current Price Check

Nikon Coolpix P300 Review: Main Advertised Features 
Nikon Coolpix P300 Current Price Check



  • Wide 24mm wide angle to100mm f/1.8-f/4.9 zoom lens
  • 12.2mp CMOS 1 2/3" Backside Illuminated Sensor
  • Manual Controls 
  • Photographic Art Filters (Soft key, Nostalgic Sepia, Low Key, High Key, High Contrast B/W)
  • Image Stabilization (VR)
  • Full HD Movie Recording
  • 8 Frames Per Second Shooting
  • Easy Panorama Mode
  • ISO 160-3200 Range
  • 189 Grams

Nikon Coolpix P300 Review: Hands On Impressions
Nikon Coolpix P300 Current Price Check


The Coolpix P300 is a lightweight and small compact camera that easily fits into a pair of pants pockets. It's scant 189 gram weight means you can walk around with it all day in your pocket comfortably. In the hand it feels like a deck of cards with a small rubber front grip and rear thumb pad grip that works well to keep it from slipping. It has an all metal case with a mostly flat to semi-flat black exterior. It's not a bar of soap, but it's pushing it.

It's rather thin so one handed shooting while making adjustments isn't that easy to do, especially when trying to adjust the top plate control wheel located on the right hand side. There's a lot of two handed holding using this camera. Had it a bigger front and rear grip and the dials and buttons been located a bit differently, one handed shooting would have been more convenient.


Powering on the Coolpix P300 takes a bit of effort as I found I had to really push and hold down on the on/off switch in comparison to other compacts I've used. The good side to that though is there will be no accidental on/off switching when taking the camera in and out of a pocket.

The lens extends in an above average speed and the camera is ready pretty quick (just make sure you don't have a start up icon set in the menu, or you'll have to wait several seconds for it to clear and half pressing the shutter release doesn't cancel it). Toggling the zoom is easy to do, and the toggle lever is actually perfectly sprung. The lens doesn't have far to go, but the speed of zooming is pretty average. Popping up the flash is a manual procedure, but I like it. And it's a pretty slick implementation that doesn't leave it vulnerable to snagging on clothing either.

Lens comes out quick, flash is slick. Check out that grip!? Cool AF assist lamp though!

Powering down the P300 is just as snappy as turning it on. If you want to review your images you don't have to turn on the camera, just press and hold the playback button down and the image review process starts up with out the lens extracting. When you are done looking over images just press the on/off switch and the lens will not power down. Press again on the playback button though, and it turns the camera completely on. I think having the P300 programmed so that another press on the playback button to shut off the screen only would have been more logical.


If you think setting the camera to Green Auto will do the trick in low light, be warned. The camera cuts off at one full second long exposures and doesn't auto raise the flash. That means you'll need to think a bit when shooting in low light and be sure the P300 has appropriate settings to handle the low light. Not my idea of an easy green mode, but then I never use that setting anyways. The target market of this camera probably does want to use it though, so keep this in mind.

Running through the menu is quite a pleasure. I find it's 3 tabbed menu system easy to maneuver and one of the better qualities of the P300. It's set up to show the shooting menu, video menu, and set up menu in P,A,S,M modes and is simplified in every other mode. If you get lost in this menu system I suggest pulling out the manual and having a read, but you really shouldn't have too.

Love the menu, 3 tabs easy peasy. ISO and White Balance shouldn't be buried here though.

One of my greatest nit picks of the P300, in fact the greatest of them all, is the way Nikon configured the P300 to react when doing white balance adjustments. The first time you use the P300 I suggest you do not adjust the vividness or hue of your image until you understand one VERY important find I made. If you adjust either parameter by first entering the +/- compensation adjustment (quick menu), you will need to remember to go back into that menu and then hit reset. Otherwise the white balance adjustment is not available in the regular menu item at all, any longer. What? Yep it's true.

Warning, adjusting vividness or hue in this mode can cause brain damage!

To make matters worse, it's not even grayed out in the menu nor does the camera or manual give you any indication as to why this is. I sent an email to Nikon letting them know they have a bug on their hands and it needs to be addressed. Lets hope the fix this with a firmware update, it needs one.

I particularly liked using the Night Landscape mode. It auto stacks and auto aligns a series of images after a series of quick exposures is made (just takes one press on the shutter though). The payoff is the ability to use higher ISO values with less noise than a single exposure would show. This way you don't have to raise a flash in really low light, or put the camera on a tripod. I call it no-tripod mode. As long as you keep reasonably still while the P300 captures a series of quick images, you should have a blur free final image. I think this mode comes in handy for all still subject shooting. Overall I see about a 1-2 stop gain in lower noise.
Night Landscape Mode ISO 2500 Compare Below

Regular Jpeg ISO 1600 Compare with Above

Unfortunately you cannot choose the ISO value you'd like to use, or adjust white balance. You also cannot shoot with the macro mode on or adjust any color settings. Exposure value compensation is available, but that's about it. And lastly keep in mind this mode will crop some of your image (in hand held mode) but manages to keep that to a minimum.

If you set the P300 to tripod mode in the menu in this mode, the image is not cropped but it does not stack a series of images together either. Boggles the mind- that move.

Not to shabby here on the stitching and using the mode itself is quite easy. I adjusted the under exposure a bit using photoshop/curves.
Using the Panorama Mode is quite fun and it does a very decent job stitching the images. You won't be making any gargantuan prints from this mode because it only records a 3200 pixel wide (at 180 degree setting) image. But if you want a decent Panorama for web use or small prints, it does the job nicely.

Macro shooting (or lack thereof) is pretty average here. No matter what zoom setting you are at I find the P300 to be pretty disappointing in its minimum captured area. Macro works better than regular shooting mode but a macro camera this is not. I've seen many compacts perform much better than this, but it's still a usable mode.

Not what I'd call a macro minimum size area, but better than a punch in the arm.

Nikon Coolpix P300 Review: Image Quality
Nikon Coolpix P300 Current Price Check



Lets face it, compacts aren't the kind of camera you want to use if ultimate image quality is the desired (at least not usually)- it's about convenience. Most compacts with such a small sensor (backside illuminated or not) have very similar image quality. When compared to it's peers the P300 is just above average of the pack here, but most users looking at this level of camera will probably be quite pleased.

One of the first things I noticed with the P300's images was the grainy texture that all ISO sensitivities posess. It's a pleasing grain though, not odd shaped, rather sandpaper grain like- uniform and pleasant to the eye. I also noticed a lot of noise reduction being done at all ISO levels, even base ISO. Chroma noise though has been suppressed pretty good for a compact, Nikon did a good job here of keeping that under control. Since there is no menu option for noise reduction settings for the user, you are set with what Nikon does on the images- and there is no raw file option either. Here is a series of ISO images starting at base and going up to ISO 3200 (notice the color shift change using AWB).

ISO 160

ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 3200

For Jpegs coming out of the camera they aren't that bad though especially when compared to some of its peers. I've seen better Jpegs from cameras with a sensor this size but overall they aren't that bad for prints up to 11x14 at base ISO and usuable all the way up to ISO 1600 for 4x6" prints. With its fast aperture at wide angle, and its vibration reduction lens element kicking in, you might not have to go that high on the ISO scale indoors (or better yet in lower light situations) anyways since the lens lets in a lot of light at wide angle and stabilizes the image to boot. If you are shooting moving subjects though, you'll need to go higher on the ISO setting to increase your shutter speed to combat blur.


Nikon Coolpix P300 Review: Conclusion 
Nikon Coolpix P300 Current Price Check

If you want to know what I think of the P300, just read the review above. Yep, that's my conclusion! Or go ahead and try and cheat and read the pro and cons.

As always be safe and happy shooting!

-Carl Garrard


Nikon Coolpix P300 Current Price Check
Pros
  • Decent picture quality for a small sensor/Jpeg only output looks good up to ISO 800 usable 1600
  • Mini HDMI Port (common size) 
  • Scant 189 grams, easy to carry in the pocket all day
  • Nice wide angle to decent mid telephoto range
  • Bright Wide Angle Aperture (f/1.8)
  • Image Stabilized Lens (VR/Lens Shift Type)
  • Good LCD Screen
  • Small and pocketable
  • Slick Flash
  • Inclusion of some semblance of a grip on front and back 
  • Easy to adjust in M Mode
  • Night Landscape mode is more useful than it's advertised - a 1-2 stop gain in noise control
  • Panorama Mode Actually Works
  • Inclusion of AF Assist Lamp
  • Quick Start Up and Shut Down (See cons on/off switch though)
Nikon Coolpix P300 Current Price Check
Cons
  • *White Balance Lockout Issue*
  • No Raw Choice
  • No Noise Reduction Control
  • Jpegs have a lot of luminescence noise reduction
  • Average Battery Life (must charge via USB cable)
  • On/Off switch fiddly (must hold down hard)
  • Extra control wheel on top awkward to adjust one handed
  • *No Live Histogram (shown on playback only)*
  • No Auto Exposure Lock Option
  • Color fringing (wide angle especially)
  • AV/USB access port in odd location (bottom of the camera)
  • Odd cyan shift cast to outdoor images using AWB


Haha fooled you. I do actually have a final conclusion but I wanted to see if you were paying attention.

Overall I find the Coolpix P300 to be a camera that won't dazzle you, but it's very functional and does the majority of photo work pretty well. I find it's strengths lie in its versatile focal length, especially for indoors and for scenery. Long zoomers look beyond the P300- it's not that kind of camera. Also worth noting is that the P300 is very lightweight so put it in a pocket and forget it. The battery life is just average for a compact, but I've seen worse. I like that it has manual controls that are pretty easy to use and well implemented, but the lack of control on the Jpeg output whether we're talking noise reduction or other parameters leaves something to be desired. Raw would have been nice.

Nikon needs to fix the white balance flaw I pointed out in this review. I encountered it very early on in the review process and I think I put the P300 down for about 3 days before desiring to pick it up again. It peeved me something fierce, and I can't for the life of me figure out how this got passed the trial period of the design team. But that was my only major complaint about the P300. I have nitpicks but nothing is a deal breaker for a camera of this class and price range, nor for the audience it is intended to court.

After using the P300 for more time I found to start to actually like it's simplicity and fun modes. The button and dial layout could use some polish so that the P310 could handle better. Also, please include a live histogram Nikon, everybody but you includes one.

The lens has a great range and nice bright aperture on the wide end which also incorporates lens based vibration reduction which works pretty effectively.

Overall the P300 is a nice little pocket point and shoot that puts in some enthusiast styling and control, but it falls short of being what I'd call an enthusiast camera. Those who want a little more control over the photography process but don't want to pay the premium that enthusiast cameras such as the S100, G12, or P7100 ask, this is a good choice for Nikon shooters.

P300 Review: Full Specifications
Nikon Coolpix P300 Current Price Check

Effective pixels
   
12.2 million
Image sensor
   
1/2.3-in. type CMOS; total pixels: approx. 12.75 million
Lens
   

4.2x zoom NIKKOR; 4.3-17.9 mm (35 mm [135] format picture angle: 24-100 mm); f/1.8-4.9; Digital zoom: up to 2x (35 mm [135] format picture angle: Approx. 200 mm)
Focus range
(from lens)
   
30 cm (1 ft.) to infinity (8), Macro close-up mode: 3 cm (1.2 in.) to infinity (8)
Monitor
   
7.5cm(3-in.), approx. 921k-dot, wide-viewing angle TFT LCD with anti-reflection coating
Storage media
   
Internal memory (approx. 90 MB), SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards*1
Image size (pixels)
   
12M (High) [4000 X 3000?], 12M [4000 × 3000], 8M [3264 × 2448], 5M [2592 × 1944], 3M [2048 × 1536], PC [1024 × 768], VGA [640 × 480], 16:9 [3968 × 2232]
Vibration Reduction (VR)
   
Lens shift VR

ISO sensitivity
   
ISO 160, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, Auto (auto gain ISO 160-1600), Fixed range auto (ISO 160-400, 160-800)
Interface
   
Hi-Speed USB
Power sources
   
Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL12 (supplied), Charging AC Adapter EH-69P (supplied), AC Adapter EH-62F (optional), Battery Charger MH-65 (optional)
Battery life*2
   
Approx. 240 shots with EN-EL12 battery
Dimensions
(W x H x D)
   
Approx. 103.0 x 58.3 x 32.0 mm (4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in.) excluding projections*3
Weight
   
Approx. 189 g (6.7 oz.) with battery and SD memory card*3
Supplied accessories*4
   
Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL12, Charging AC Adapter EH-69P, USB Cable UC-E6, Audio Video Cable EG-CP16, Strap, ViewNX 2 (CD-ROM)
Optional accessories
   
AC Adapter EH-62F, Battery Charger MH-65

    * *1Not compatible with Multi Media Cards (MMC).
    * *2Based on CIPA industry standard for measuring life of camera batteries. Measured at 23°C (73°F); zoom adjusted with each shot, built-in flash fired with every other shot, image mode set to Normal.
    * *3Method of noting dimensions and weight is in accordance with CIPA DCG-005-2009 guideline.
    * *4Supplied accessories may differ by country or area.

Specifications are subject to change without any notice or obligation on the part of the manufacturer. February 2011.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review!

December 19, 2011 at 4:05 AM  
Anonymous akula said...

Thanks for reviewing a low cost, interesting P&S. I am an amateur looking to become an advanced amateur. For $245 I received a camera with 1.8 at the wide end, good image stabilization and good screen and small size (how many cameras meet this criteria). I usually shoot without flash. I find it great as an all-arounder (except for macro) and "the best camera is the one you have with you." :-) (The 24mm is nice but the audio/video is just OK in my opinion.)

My other camera right now is a G12. Really nice, especially outdoors. So, this is my outdoor/macro camera (and, maybe, someday RAW camera) while the P300 is my indoor camera (at 1.8 or so). (I'm not sure which will be my night camera but the P300 is smaller.)

Next will be a long zoom camera (SX40?) or a basic DSLR (T3i?).

Very nice review.

April 10, 2012 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Akula, thank you for the comments, much appreciated and I'm glad you liked the review. Like you I'm a G12 owner and love that camera.

I haven't reviewed a superzoom yet, and a DSLR is on the table to be reviewed soon. Both of those cameras you are looking at I hear are very good (especially the T3i).

Thanks again,

Carl

April 10, 2012 at 7:16 PM  

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