Nikon P3 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Nikon Coolpix P3
Resolution: 8.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/1.8"
Lens: 3.50x zoom
(36-126mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 50-400
Shutter: 8-1/2000
Max Aperture: 2.7
Dimensions: 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.2 in.
(92 x 61 x 31 mm)
Weight: 6.0 oz (170 g)
MSRP: $450
Availability: 03/2006
Manufacturer: Nikon
8.10
Megapixels
3.50x zoom
1/1.8"
size sensor
image of Nikon Coolpix P3
Front side of Nikon Coolpix P3 digital camera Back side of Nikon Coolpix P3 digital camera Top side of Nikon Coolpix P3 digital camera Left side of Nikon Coolpix P3 digital camera Right side of Nikon Coolpix P3 digital camera

Imaging Resource rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

Nikon Coolpix P3 Overview

by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 10/17/2006

With their Spring 2006 lineup, Nikon split their Coolpix cameras into categories. The new P-series focuses on "Performance" features. They are not the smallest in the line, but they are still small, and do have the most high-end features. The Nikon Coolpix P3 is the top of the line, with everything its P4 sister has, plus the addition of WiFi (802.11b and g).

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

Ready for Action. The P3 is a well-designed tool.

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.

Click to see YDSCN0522.JPG

Coolpix Macro. Macro mode on a Coolpix is always a delight. It's like seeing angels on the head of a pin.

There is no Manual mode on the Nikon Coolpix P3, but there is an Aperture Priority mode, with up to 10 possible aperture settings. And the 11 Scene modes let you fiddle with contrast, color mode and noise reduction, too. Finally, the new Ps offer a new high-speed, high-precision 11 wide-area AF system, improving low light performance, and nicely complimenting the VR technology.

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.

p3-vr.jpg

Mode Dial. And that bulge on the left is the WiFi antenna with the VR button right on top.

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.

p3-controls.jpg

Controls. Simple enough you don't have to remember anything.

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.

p3-batt.jpg

Battery/Card Compartment. On the bottom panel with an orange tab to keep the battery from falling out.

I used the Coolpix P3 with a wrist strap to protect it from any mishaps. It's thick but otherwise small enough to slip out of your hand accidentally. But the thickness made it easy to grip in more than one way. I used a shooting grip and a navigator grip, both easily managed with one hand. But if I tired of my shooting grip, a slight adjustment did just as well. That's a luxury with compact digicams.
p3-grip1.jpg

Shooting Grip. The thick body made it easy to grab.

p3-grip2.jpg

Menu Grip. And just as easy to navigate the LCD menus with one hand.

Picking it up at a store to play with, you might not immediately appreciate what the Coolpix P3 has to offer. It seems to be just another automatic digicam, but with WiFi. But press the Right arrow key in Aperture Priority or Program mode and the fun begins.

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.

Click to see YDSCN0539.JPG

Natural Color. The oversaturated color and high contrast of most digicams is not an issue on the P3.

Click to see YDSCN0563.JPG

VR On. This is a 1/4 second hand-held shot (and, yes, that's the right white balance).

If you don't trust yourself to handle a tricky situation, slip the Coolpix P3 into Scene mode. You have your choice of nine advanced Scene modes (Portrait with Face Auto Focus, Portrait, Night Portrait, Landscape, Night Landscape, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Fireworks and Close up), seven Scene modes (Party/Indoor, Panorama Assist, Beach/Snow, Backlight, Museum, Copy, Sports) and the well-regarded Best Shot Selector mode, which saves only the sharpest of several shots.

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.

Click to see YDSCN0621.JPG Click to see YDSCN0622.JPG Click to see YDSCN0623.JPG

Zoom Range. A hazy day's view shot at wide angle (7.5mm), 3.5x zoom (26.3mm) and 4x digital zoom (105.2).

And if that isn't enough to do the job, Nikon's Feature System offers Face Priority Auto Focus that finds the face in the frame and locks focus on it, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix that finds and fixes red-eye before the image is written to your memory card, and D-Lighting that brightens dark areas in the image caused by backlighting or weak flash without blowing out the brighter areas.

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.

p3-wifi.jpg

Connected!. The blue LCD indicates that we're connected to our router.

WiFi. To configure the Nikon Coolpix P3 for WiFi, you have to connect it to your computer with a USB cable and run the WiFi setup utility. The software on the computer creates and uploads profiles to the Coolpix P3 that tell it the name of the device or network it can connect to and the password.
p3-1profile.jpg

Selecting a Profile. Profiles are created on the computer and stored in the camera. Here we're selecting our router.

p3-2network.jpg

Finding the Router. Connecting to the network makes the router connection.

p3-3connect.jpg

Connecting. Next, we have to find a computer with PictureProject on it.

p3-4transfer.jpg

Transfer. Then we can transfer images.

p3-5closed.jpg

Closing the Connection. WiFi drains battery power quickly, so the P3 disconnects as soon as the transfer is done.

The setup utility asks you about either the computer or network you want to use before writing profiles back to the camera. You need to know the Network ID (or SSI) before selecting the mode. Camera to Computer mode requires you to tell the camera the wireless channel, whether authentication is open or shared, the security employed (None, WEP 64 bits or WEP 128 bits), the security key format, the key index, IP address configuration, manual IP address if configured for manual. Access Point requires you to tell the Nikon Coolpix P3 the authentication, security, security key format, security key, key index, IP configuration and IP address, omitting only the channel. If your router uses hardware address filtering, you'll also need to know the camera MAC address, reported only in the Setup menu's Firmware Version option. Fun stuff.

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.

p3-s&t.jpg

Shoot & Transfer. When connected, you can shoot in Auto mode and immediately transfer the image.

So when I flip the Mode dial to WiFi, the Nikon Coolpix P3 asks me which profile to use. I have two: the laptop and a printer the laptop knows about. I select the laptop and the P3 connects to the network. Then the P3 asks me what I want to do. Easy Transfer sends the unsent pictures to PictureProject. There are other selections (by date, for example) or you can select Shoot & Transfer, which lets you send whatever you shoot as soon as you take the picture.

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.

p3-pproject.jpg

PictureProject. These images were transmitted wirelessly.

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.

 

Basic Features

  • 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
  • $449.95

 

Special Features

  • 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

 

Recommended Accessories

  • 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

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Well built, attractive design
  • WiFi image transfer and printing, including Shoot & Transfer option
  • Vibration Reduction
  • Quality lens
  • Programmed Auto and Aperture Priority modes
  • Excellent Macro mode
  • Scene modes with effects
  • Face Priority Auto Focus
  • In-Camera Red-Eye Fix
  • D-Lighting
  • Best Shot Selector mode
  • No optical viewfinder
  • No Manual or Shutter Priority exposure mode
  • Short battery life with WiFi
  • WiFi configuration takes some expertise
  • Limited flash range

 

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.

 

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