Nikon P3 Review
Nikon Coolpix P3 Exposure
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Pretty good overall color, with good saturation (though slightly pushed reds, yellows, and blues).
Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Nikon Coolpix P3 does oversaturate the strong blue tones slightly, but undersaturates bright yellows and yellow-greens. We found its color pleasing on a wide range of typical subjects though. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. Here, the CPP3 performed well, with only slight warmth.
The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. The Coolpix P3 showed small color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, but overall had more hue-accurate color than most consumer cameras we test.
The bottom line for the Nikon P3's color is that it's quite accurate, and slightly less saturated (and therefore more accurate in its overall rendition) than that of most consumer cameras we test. Some consumers may find its color slightly dull, but people who dislike the pumped saturation that's so common these days should find welcome relief in the Coolpix P3.
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm casts with both Auto and Incandescent white balance settings, nice results with Manual though. About average exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance +1.0 EV||Incandescent WB +1.0 EV|
|Manual WB +1.0 EV|
Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was just a bit warm and reddish in Auto white balance mode, while the Incandescent setting resulted in a more yellow color balance that actually looked more pleasing overall. The Manual white balance option provided very pleasing color though, not too neutral, with very nice gradation. The Nikon Coolpix P3 required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, about average for this shot. Even the manual white balance setting rendered the blue flowers very dark and purplish, but this is a very common outcome for this shot. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Good color balance overall, with fairly natural colors.
|Auto White Balance
|Auto White Balance
|Auto White Balance
Outdoor shots generally showed accurate exposure with slightly blown out highlights. The Nikon Coolpix P3's shadow detail was pretty good, if a little noisy, and though bright, the highlights frequently held onto a lot of detail. Exposure accuracy overall was better than average, the camera requiring slightly less exposure compensation than we're accustomed to seeing with consumer digicams with outdoor shots like flowers.
High resolution, 1,550 lines of strong detail.
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,550 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 1,700: a good performance from the Nikon Coolpix P3. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. The lines you see at 1,600 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.
|Strong detail to 1,550 lines horizontal||Strong detail to 1,550 lines vertical|
Sharpness & Detail
Slightly soft images, though still fairly good detail definition, especially in bright lighting.
|Good definition of high-contrast elements, slightly soft, but no oversharpening.||Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.
The Nikon Coolpix P3's images are just slightly soft straight from the camera, but there's only slight evidence of edge enhancement visible in high contrast areas like the crop above left. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)
Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop above right from the Nikon Coolpix P3 shows some noise suppression, as some of the darker areas of Marti's hair do show limited detail, but at low ISO settings, the effect is quite minimal: The Nikon P3 seems a bit more restrained in its noise suppression than many cameras, though, as its images show nice detail when printed out.
ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise at the normal sensitivity settings, higher noise and some loss of detail at the higher settings.
|ISO 50||ISO 100|
|ISO 200||ISO 400|
The Coolpix P3's lower ISO settings produced low noise, without noticeable blurring of shadow detail. At ISO 400, image noise is apparent but Nikon's anti-noise processing seems to do a better than average job of preserving an impression of sharpness. (As noted below, we think most consumers would be pleased with 8x10 inch prints from the P3's ISO 400 shots, something relatively few consumer digital cameras achieve.)
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, and better than average detail in the shadows. Slightly limited low-light abilities, but capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and slightly darker conditions at the higher ISO settings.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
The Nikon Coolpix P3 produced slightly high contrast in response to the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above. Detail was a bit limited in the strongest highlights, but better than average in the shadows. The best exposure was obtained with a +0.7 EV exposure compensation boost, a bit less than the amount typically required here. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)
At the Nikon Coolpix P3's lowest ISO setting, images were a bit dim at the one foot-candle light level, which is about equivalent to average city street lighting at night. Increasing the ISO to 200 and 400 extends the camera's capabilities somewhat, meaning that the camera can capture well-exposed images under light levels roughly half those of typical city street scenes at night. Overall color is a hint warm from the Auto white balance setting, but well within acceptable limits. The Nikon Coolpix P3's autofocus system worked well unassisted down to the 1/4 foot-candle light level, and to the darkest light level we test at with the AF assist lamp enabled. Keep in mind that the longer shutter times used by the camera in low lighting require the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.
Coverage and Range
A limited flash range, and slightly blue cast under incandescent lighting. Our standard shots required less exposure adjustment than average though.
|36mm equivalent||126mm equivalent|
|Normal Flash, +0.7 EV||Slow-Sync Flash, +0.7 EV|
Flash coverage was somewhat uneven at wide angle, more uniform but fairly dim at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the Nikon P3's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get reasonably bright results. This is quite typical for this shot though, and the +0.7 EV of correction the Nikon P3 required is less than average among the cameras we've tested. Combined with the background incandescent lighting, the Coolpix P3's flash produces a blue cast in areas illuminated only by the flash. (See the blue shadows beneath the flower bouquet in the slow-sync example above.) The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting, as well as fairly strong blue tints in the shadows. Here too, the camera required a +0.7 EV exposure boost.
With the Nikon Coolpix P3's lens set to full wide angle, results were fairly bright at ISO 100 at the 10 foot test distance, though intensity incrementally decreased from there. At the 16-foot test distance, intensity was a little low, though still usable.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We now also capture two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims. In the shots above, the Coolpix P3 seems to perform exactly as Nikon says it will, producing good exposures at the rated distances with its ISO set to Auto. While the range is rather limited, the good news here is that the camera doesn't seem to be significantly boosting its ISO. This would produce greater flash range, but at the cost of higher image noise, and the noise levels from the Nikon Coolpix P3 seem quite acceptable.
Good print quality, great color, crisp prints at 8x10 inches, usable ones at 11x14. ISO 400 images are a little soft and noisy at 8x10 inches, but notably better than those from many competing models.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)
The Nikon Coolpix P3 produced crisp prints at 8x10 inches, and somewhat softer but still acceptable ones at 11x14. As always though, the real test of print size came at the higher ISO settings. Here, the Nikon P3's ISO 400 images were a little soft and noisy when printed at 8x10 inches, but we think well within the range of what most consumers would be satisfied with. ISO 200 shots looked quite clean at 8x10.
Color-wise, the Nikon P3 did pretty well, with natural-looking color and good-looking skin tones. In our lab tests, it showed a more muted (but more accurate) color response than that of most consumer cameras, but prints on our Canon i9900 looked quite appealing.
Bottom line, low-ISO shots from the Nikon Coolpix P3 look very good and hold together well at large print sizes, and its high-ISO images made acceptable-looking 8x10 inch enlargements.
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon Coolpix P3 Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon Coolpix P3 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.