Nikon Coolpix P3 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 10/17/2006
Aimed at photographers who want more control than is offered by many digital cameras, the Nikon Coolpix P3 offers a sensor resolution of eight megapixels, coupled to a 3.5x optical zoom lens with Nikon's Vibration Reduction -- a useful addition that helps to steady shots in low light situations.
There's also a sizeable 2.5-inch LCD display on the Nikon P3, an aperture priority auto mode to help unleash your creative side, and continuous shooting at 1.8 frames per second.
With the P3's 802.11g (and, therefore, 802.11b compatible) wireless LAN connectivity new opportunities open up for displaying your photos as you shoot them, which can be fun at parties.
Nikon is also known for a few special features, including D-Lighting, which enhances darker images to improve shadow detail. BestShot mode takes a series of shots in low light and the camera automatically picks the sharpest shot and saves only that one. And their relatively new Red-eye Fix not only reduces red-eye, it eliminates it. Finally, Face-Priority AF will keep you and your friends dancing around in front of the camera to watch the camera put a focus box around your faces. And when the novelty wears off, you'll still be happy knowing that your loved one's faces are indeed in focus before you take the shot.
Movies can be recorded at broadcast quality of 640x480 pixels and 30 fps. And sound notes in WAV format can be attached to images.
The Nikon Coolpix P3 is great for those who want a feature-rich camera that has the added benefit of WiFi connectivity, yet remains pocketable. If you don't need WiFi, consider the Coolpix P4.
Nikon Coolpix P3 User Report
Intro. The Nikon Coolpix P3 arrived for review just after I'd had fun playing with two very stylish, celebrity digicams, the Coolpix S6 and the Sony T10. I took one look at it and scratched my head.
No, it isn't a fashion accessory like the T10 or a celebrity digicam like S6. But it wasn't made to be looked at. I picked the Coolpix P3 up and it fit my hand like a well-designed tool.
Nikon's stratification of the Coolpix line into three series -- the Life series L models, the Style series S models and the Performance series P models -- targets different kinds of photographers. The P series is designed to appeal to photo enthusiasts who want "advanced functionality and great versatility in a compact design." It promises them more control "in pursuit of their photographic vision." In other words, a P model is a tool, not jewelry.
And at $449.95, it's a power tool, providing WiFi like its predecessors the P1 and P2; but like the Coolpix P4, it adds Nikon's Vibration Reduction technology to its utility. The two new Coolpix P models also sport 8.1 megapixel sensors, a 3.5x zoom and Nikon's Feature System.
The Nikon P3 is as smart as any other Coolpix, but it's less confining. It knows it's just a tool in your capable hands. So what can you do with it?
Design. Departing from the familiar sculpted look of the P1 and P2, the P3 and P4 have a slightly curved boxy shape with rounded edges. It looked to me like a bar of silver soap, with no obvious protrusions and fitting comfortably in my palm.
The Nikon Coolpix P3's 3.5x zoom lens extends from the body when you turn it on with the small Power button that stays out of your way. Fully extended, the lens rattled loosely, but our images were sharp, so there's no reason to be alarmed. The camera was smart enough to complain if I inadvertently left the Mode dial pointed between modes, but the detents are loose enough that it's occasionally a problem.
There are separate modes for Setup, WiFi, and the various Record options (Movie, Scene, Aperture Priority, Program, Auto). But there are also two modes for quickly changing the White Balance and the ISO Sensitivity. Playback mode is accessed by a small button under the navigator.
The Nikon Coolpix P3's navigator does much of the work, setting Flash options, Macro mode, the Self-timer, and Exposure Compensation. But it also handles aperture adjustments (Left and Right arrows) in Aperture Priority mode, while still offering EV settings with the Up and Down arrows. The same trick is used in Program mode to select different combinations of aperture and shutter speed. You just can't set them independently, as you might in a Manual mode.
The VR function is easily accessed. A small button on the left side of the Coolpix P3's top panel toggles it through its options. It couldn't be simpler.
The Nikon Coolpix P3's 2.5-inch LCD is bright enough to see in full sun and cleans easily, too. At 150K pixels it has just enough resolution to show detail, but I found it hard to tell the difference between images shot with a wide open aperture and a closed down aperture until I got them on the computer.
At 7.1 oz. (201g) with battery and memory card, you'll know the Coolpix P3 is in your pocket. But I liked the slight heft. You need a little weight to stabilize slow shutter shots and the P3 has just the right amount.
Shooting. To use this tool the way it was designed to be used, you have to decide how much control over the situation you want. The Nikon Coolpix P3 can certainly take over, using its green Auto mode to lock out any adjustments but VR and Flash.
If you want to set the Nikon Coolpix P3's aperture for either maximum depth of field or the shallowest depth of field, click the Mode dial to Aperture Priority and use the Left and Right buttons to set the aperture. The Up and Down buttons let you adjust the EV value and a handy, live histogram gives you a little more feedback on the exposure settings.
Interestingly, digicams don't offer quite the array of f-stops you might expect. The Coolpix P3 at wide angle offers f2.7, 3.0, 3.4, 3.8, 4.3, 4.8,, 5.4, 6.1, 6.9 and 7.6. At telephoto that narrows for f5.3, 5.8, 6.5 ad 7.3. But that's still more than many digicams.
If there's a particular shutter speed you want to use, select Program mode. Again, a simple click of the Nikon Coolpix P3's Right button displays the settings and adjustments, except this time Left and Right go through the possible f-stop/aperture combinations. You can further adjust exposure using the Up and Down buttons to change the EV value, again with a live histogram.
The choices of shutter speeds on the Coolpix P3 also are not as extensive as you might think, but more than many digicams. Handheld speeds in Program mode range from 1/4 through 1/500 second, regardless of the VR setting.
But, wait, you're not done yet. Press the Nikon Coolpix P3's Menu button to change the contrast, saturation, sharpening or noise reduction.
But VR is the big story. Nikon claims VR lets you shoot at shutter speeds as much as three stops slower than normal. The optical shift on the Nikon Coolpix P3 system is like that used on Nikon's SLR lenses with VR. Normal mode compensates for camera shake and Active mode compensates for "more pronounced movements, such as those produced when shooting from a moving vehicle or other unstable platform."
Unfortunately, you only appreciate VR when it doesn't work. The big problem was the Coolpix P3's stiff shutter. But that only blurred shots with the shutter held open for a full second. I got sharp images with the shutter held open as long as 1/5 second, which is impressive.
Performance. The Nikon Coolpix P3 powers on quickly, taking 1.2 seconds. Zoom is smooth and easily controlled. You won't have to toggle the zoom back and forth to frame your shot.
Like most digicams, the Coolpix P3 offers an array of capture modes to address shot-to-shot capability. Besides Single mode, Continuous mode runs about 1.8 frames per second (fps), while Multi-shot 16 captures 8 megapixel images at 1.7 fps; and the five shot buffer, which saves the last five images captured, manages 1.8 fps. And you can shoot up to 30 fps at 640x480 in Ultra HS mode for 100 shots. The P3 also offers interval timer shooting.
Informit, a site devoted to information technology, recently published "Wireless Gadget Vulnerabilities: The Nikon Coolpix P1," a report detailing the wireless vulnerabilities of the Nikon Coolpix P1 when communicating with a host computer. But all currently shipping WiFi digicams (including those from Canon and Kodak) suffer from the same issue. While the threat is real, it exists for just the few moments you are transmitting from the camera to your computer. Transmissions to your local network would be an issue, but in that situation the culprit would be within range of a baseball bat. In public places, however, you aren't likely to be aware of anyone snooping the brief connection between your Nikon Coolpix P3 and computer. Worse, if your camera is stolen, be sure to change the password to your WiFi hosts.
I set the Coolpix P3 to connect to my router and look for PictureProject on my laptop. I could have set it to look for the laptop if I had turned on the laptop's wireless card. I like going through the router because it's secure.
I select Easy Transfer and the Nikon Coolpix P3 looks for PictureProject. Once connected (you'll have to wake your laptop from sleep), it transfers at about 12 seconds a shot via Wireless G. If you have Wireless B devices on your network, it will slow down considerably.
WiFi takes a lot of juice, so it was nice to see the connection automatically shut down after the transfer completed. Nikon says the battery can power the camera for 200 shots, but that doesn't account for WiFi.
Appraisal. In the Coolpix line, the P3 is the power tool, providing Vibration Reduction, WiFi and an assortment of adjustments to the camera's exposure modes so you can control the capture.
- 8.1-megapixel sensor
- 3.5x Nikkor Glass zoom with seven elements in six groups
- 4x digital zoom
- 2.5-inch, bright LCD
- Aluminum alloy body
- PictBridge compatible
- 23-MB internal memory, SD card compatible
- Built-in Wireless G (B compatible) for wireless transfer and printing
- Vibration Reduction to minimize camera shake
- Nikon Feature System (In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, Face-Priority AF, D-Lighting)
- 16 Scene Modes with user adjustable options
- Best Shot Selector
- Excellent Macro Mode
In the Box
The P3 ships with the following items in the box:
- The Coolpix P3 digicam
- En-EL5 rechargeable Li-ion battery
- Battery charger
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Wrist strap
- Software CDs with Nikon PictureProject and WiFi Setup
- User manuals
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. These days, 256 to 512MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
- PD-10 Wireless Print Adapter to print wirelessly to PictBridge printers
While it's easy enough for a beginner to capture great images, the real attraction of the Nikon Coolpix P3 is you can go a bit beyond its automatic control; creating rather than merely capturing images. Nikon's Feature System helps the novice use the Coolpix P3, but tools like Vibration Reduction and fast shot-to-shot options make more choices available to anyone who turns them on. And with Wireless G transfers and printing, the Nikon Coolpix P3 is convenient and fun, too. Not a bad feature set to pack in your pocket or purse, and certainly a Dave's Pick for its image quality, solid styling and enough options to make the Nikon Coolpix P3 a serious power photo tool.