The Imaging Resource
Nikon Coolpix 4300 Digital Camera
As I've said so often before in my introductions to reviews of Nikon cameras, Nikon is one of the few companies that you can say truly needs no introduction in the world of photography. Their name has been identified with professional and high-end amateur photography for a good 5 decades now, and they've been highly successful in translating that long history of expertise into the digital arena. Their 2.1 megapixel Coolpix 950 and 3.3 megapixel Coolpix 990 and 995 digicams led the popularity charts at the high end of the "prosumer" market segment since their respective introductions, and their various models announced earlier this year (2002) seem poised to continue that tradition. The key has been the combination of excellent picture quality with an amazing range of features, all calculated to give the photographer the maximum control over the picture-taking process.
In the last year or so, Nikon has been moving to address the digital picture-taking needs of "ordinary people," rather than just focusing on the "enthusiast" crowd. Cameras like the Coolpix 885 and 775 incorporated "Scene" modes that set up the camera for specific picture-taking situations (such as "party," "beach," "fireworks," etc.). These special modes make it easy for novice users to get usable photos in tricky situations, without having to take an advanced course in photography first. Earlier this year, they extended that line with the introduction of the Coolpix 2500, "The one that swivels," with an unusual internally swiveling lens assembly. Most recently, they've announced the Coolpix 2000 as an affordable entry-level model. Based on the popularity of these latest Coolpix models, it looks like Nikon is on the right track in meeting the needs of the masses.
The subject of this current review is the new Coolpix 4300, positioned as a higher-end "easy" Coolpix, moving their "consumer-friendly" line upscale to four megapixels of resolution. Besides the increased resolution, this latest Coolpix adds a manual exposure mode and manual focus to a camera that is otherwise positioned more as a point & shoot. To my mind, this makes sense: There's no reason why users shouldn't have access to full camera control in entry-level models, as long as you don't overly clutter the user interface with it. (And as we'll see, the manual option is somewhat "hidden" on the 4300, helping with ease of use for novice photographers.)
A note on the format of this review: Given the wide range of features the 4300 offers, I debated whether to write a "short form" or "full length" review of it. I ended up deciding on a short form review, because it think it will be more approachable for the more "consumer" level audience I think the camera is intended for. (As opposed to the "enthusiast" audience that Nikon's 4500 and 5700 models appeal to.) I'll nonetheless try to include enough discussion of the 4300's features to satisfy the more advanced photographers who may be considering the 4300 as a second, or possibly a "family" camera.
Featuring a smoothly sculpted all-plastic body with a modern, matte-silver finish, the Coolpix 4300 is fairly compact, appealing to the tastes of consumers looking for a portable digicam with plenty of features. The Coolpix 4300 is small enough for travel just about anywhere, although the thickness of its body will keep it out of shirt pockets. Instead, the Coolpix 4300 should be quite at home in larger coat pockets and purses, and comes with a small wrist strap for easy transportation. The Coolpix 4300 offers a 3x (28-114mm equivalent), Nikkor optical zoom lens and a high-resolution 4.0-megapixel CCD for capturing quality images, suitable for printing at 8x10 inches or larger, even with some cropping. Since the camera operates primarily under automatic control (though there is an almost hidden Manual control mode), its control layout and menu display are user friendly and straightforward, with a host of wide range of features controlled externally, via the top-mounted mode dial, and the rear-panel buttons and rocker control.
The Coolpix 4300 features both an optical viewfinder and 1.5-inch color LCD monitor for composing images. Although the LCD monitor does provide more accurate framing than the optical viewfinder, it noticeably decreases battery life when in constant use. In Record mode, the LCD monitor offers a fairly detailed information display, complete with shutter speed and aperture information, even in full Automatic mode. In Playback mode, the Coolpix 4300 features a five-page image information display, including a histogram that graphs the tonal distribution of the displayed image. (There's even an option under the Setup menu to save this extensive exposure information as a text file.)
The camera's 3x, 8-24mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera) offers maximum apertures from f/2.8 to f/4.9, depending on the zoom setting. The camera uses contrast-detection autofocus or manual focus control, and focuses in normal mode from 1.0 feet (30 centimeters) to infinity. In Macro mode, the camera focuses as close as 1.6 inches (4.0 centimeters). (The Coolpix line has always performed very well in the macro category, and the Coolpix 4300's minimum focusing distance of 1.6 inches is outstanding.) An Infinity focus mode is also available for quick shots of distant subjects. The Coolpix 4300 offers a variety of focusing options, including Continuous and Single autofocus modes, and an AF Area selection mode which lets you choose the desired focus area from a set of five available. Alternatively you can let the camera choose which focus point to use on its own. (It will pick the focus area that has subject detail closest to the lens). In addition to 3x optical zoom, the Coolpix 4300 offers a maximum 4x digital zoom, to "zoom" in even closer. As always though, so-called "digital zoom" only enlarges the center pixels of the CCD's image, and so directly reduces image quality. The 4.0-megapixel CCD produces high-resolution images, good enough for printing to 8x10 inches or larger with good detail (even with some cropping), as well as multiple options for lower-resolution images to be used for email or for printing as 4x6-inch snapshots.
Keeping with the tradition of the Coolpix line, the Coolpix 4300's exposure control is fairly straightforward (though it took me a few minutes to discover the full Manual exposure mode, buried in the shooting menu). Operating under either automatic or manual control, the Coolpix 4300's user interface is quick to learn. Most of the exposure options are controlled through the multi-page LCD menu system, though a handful of external controls access basic features such as Exposure Compensation, flash mode, focus mode, and zoom. A Mode dial on top of the camera selects the primary operating mode, with options of full Auto, Manual, Scene, Movie, Setup, and Playback modes. Full Auto mode keeps the camera in charge of everything except flash, focus, and exposure compensation, while the Manual Mode dial setting lets you choose between Program AE and Manual exposure modes, with a range of exposure options available. In Scene mode, the Coolpix 4300 offers no less than 12 preset shooting modes, with options ranging from night scenes to indoor settings to a variety of outdoor options.
The camera's Exposure Compensation adjustment brightens or darkens the image from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. A White Balance adjustment offers five preset modes, an Auto setting, and a Custom setting for determining the color balance based on a white reference card or piece of paper. (You can also capture a three-shot White Balance Bracketing series, through the Auto Exposure Bracketing menu option.) The Coolpix 4300 has four metering modes, which include 256-Segment Matrix, Center-Weighted, Spot, and Spot AF Area (which links the AE spot to the AF Area selected). The camera's Auto Exposure Bracketing mode captures a series of either three or five images at different exposure settings, beneficial when you're not exactly sure of the best exposure. ISO offers an Auto setting, or you can specify sensitivity settings equivalent to 100, 200, or 400 ISO. You can also adjust the overall sharpness of an image, and access Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode, which automatically chooses the least blurry image in a series. An Image Adjustment menu lets you capture black-and-white images, adjust overall brightness, or alter the image contrast. The Coolpix 4300's built-in flash is effective to approximately 12.1 feet (3.7 meters), and operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Anytime Flash, Flash Cancel, and Slow Sync modes.
Exposure times on the Coolpix 4300 range from 1/1,000 to eight seconds in normal shooting mode, with a Bulb setting available in Manual exposure mode that extends the shooting range to 60 seconds. An optional Noise Reduction feature reduces image noise from longer exposures, and can be enabled through the shooting menu. Other camera features include a Self-Timer mode, which provides a three- or 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the time the image is actually captured. A Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of images in rapid sequence while the Shutter button is held down, with the maximum number of shots in each burst dependent on the image size and quality settings, as well as the amount of memory card space available. There's also a Multi-Shot 16 mode, which captures 16 thumbnail images in sequence, arranged in rows of four in the final image, as well as VGA Sequence and Ultra High Speed modes. (This would be a great camera for analyzing golf swings.) Movie mode captures moving images, without sound, at approximately 15 frames per second for a maximum of 40 seconds. The actual recording time may be limited the amount of available CompactFlash card space, and the maximum available time appears in the LCD monitor display when in movie mode.
The Coolpix 4300 stores images on CompactFlash (type I) memory cards, and comes with a 16MB Lexar "starter" card. Given the Coolpix 4300's 2,272 x 1,704-pixel resolution size, I strongly recommend picking up a larger memory card so you don't miss any important shots. (Memory cards are cheap enough these days that really suggest you purchase at least a 64MB card along with your camera.) Images are saved in either JPEG format, with three compression levels available, or uncompressed TIFF. A CD-ROM loaded with Nikon View 5 accompanies the camera, compatible with both Windows and Macintosh platforms (including Windows XP and Mac OS X). Nikon View provides minor image editing and organization tools, for downloading, cataloging, and enhancing images. The camera comes with a single lithium-ion rechargeable battery and charger, but can also use the optional AC adapter. As always, I strongly recommend picking up an extra battery and keeping it freshly charged at all times. Also included with the Coolpix 4300 is an NTSC video cable (US and Japanese models) for connecting to a television set, and a USB cable for downloading images to a computer. The Coolpix 4300 features instant image downloading (once connected to a computer) via the Transfer button on the back panel. (Download speed is a good bit faster than average, at 564 KBytes/second.)
- 4.0-megapixel CCD delivering image resolutions as high as 2,272 x 1,704 pixels.
- 1.5-inch color LCD display.
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- 3x, 8-24mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera).
- Two available lens apertures: f/2.8-4.9 or f/7.6-13.4 (depending on zoom position).
- 4x Digital zoom.
- Full Auto, Program AE, and Manual exposure modes, with 12 preset Scene modes available as well.
- Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to eight seconds, with Bulb setting (maximum of 60 seconds).
- Built-in flash with five operating modes.
- CompactFlash memory storage.
- Power supplied by lithium-ion battery pack (included with charger) or optional AC adapter.
- Nikon View 5 software for both Macintosh and Windows platforms.
- QuickTime movies (without sound).
- Continuous Shooting, VGA Sequence, Ultra High Speed, and Multi-Shot 16 capture modes.
- Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
- Best Shot Selector, Auto Exposure Bracketing, and White Balance Bracketing modes.
- Noise Reduction mode for long exposures.
- Sharpness, Contrast, Image Brightness, and Black and White adjustments.
- Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
- White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes, including a manual setting.
- Four metering modes.
- Manual and automatic focus control, with adjustable AF area.
- Automatic ISO or 100, 200, or 400 equivalent settings.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
- Transfer button for quick image downloading.
- USB cable for quick connection to a computer.
- NTSC video cable for connection to a television set.
At first glance, the Coolpix 4300 seems to be aimed at novice consumers, with its compact size and almost entirely automatic operation. A closer look reveals a hidden full-manual exposure mode though, which will appeal to more experienced shooters. (And which also offers a nice growth path for novices, as their skills expand.) The 4300's compact body size is great for travel, and its 3x Nikkor zoom optics, 4.0-megapixel CCD, and wide range of automatic exposure modes and presets mean it'll bring back sharp, colorful, well-exposed photos from a wide variety of shooting conditions. In particular, the Coolpix 4300's twelve preset scene modes anticipate common but tricky shooting conditions, eliminating a lot of the guesswork for novice users. The 2,272 x 1,704-pixel maximum resolution is high enough to make tack-sharp 8x10-inch photographic prints, even with extensive cropping, while its lower resolution settings are perfect for sending email attachments over the Internet. A straightforward user interface shortens learning time, assisted by an array of external controls that ease common settings changes. With its combination of ease of use and advanced capabilities, the Coolpix 4300 should make both an ideal "novice" camera, as well as an excellent second camera for advanced amateurs and pros. (That balance should make it a shoe-in for families with one "enthusiast" and several tyros. The 4300 is easy enough for the beginners to use, while the full-manual mode will let the expert user control depth of field and work with long shutter speeds when needed.)
Small and tightly packed, the Nikon Coolpix 4300 looks a lot like a tiny 35mm film camera, complete with an ample handgrip and protruding lens barrel. The all-plastic camera body is fairly lightweight, at just 9.9 ounces (282 grams), including the battery and memory card, but the camera feels solid and well-built nonetheless. Smooth curves and flowing lines define the Coolpix 4300's exterior, and the matte-finish silver body and aqua accent on the handgrip lends a degree of chic appeal. (It's long been the case that women buy the majority of film cameras. Nikon's recent designs perhaps reflect the increasing role of women as digital camera purchasers as well. Who says a camera has to be big, black, and ugly?) While the camera is a little too thick to fit into an average shirt pocket, the Coolpix 4300's dimensions of 3.7 x 2.7 x 2.0 inches (95 x 69 x 52 millimeters) make it a comfortable size for a larger coat pocket or purse. A small strap lets you lasso the camera to your wrist, keeping it securely attached while shooting (though I'd still recommend a small carrying case for better protection when traveling).
The front of the Coolpix 4300 is simple and clean, holding the 3x lens, flash, self-timer / red-eye reduction lamp, and optical viewfinder window. When powered up, the lens telescopes out a bit under three-quarters of an inch into its operating position. A plastic lens cap protects the lens when not in use, and comes with a small strap to tether it to the camera body. Just inside the lip of the silver lens barrel is a set of filter threads, which accommodates Nikon's optional accessory lenses, via one of two adapters. (UR-E4 step-down adapter, UR-E7 step-up adapter). A wide variety of accessory lenses are available, including two wide angle lenses, a "fisheye" wide angle, both 2x and 3x telephoto converters, and a slide copying adapter. The chunky handgrip provides a firm hold on the camera, sized to accommodate a range of hand sizes.
On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) is the inside edge of the CompactFlash memory card compartment, barely visible in the photo above as the seam up the left (rear) edge of the side panel. (The memory compartment opens from the back panel.) Also visible on this side are the eyelet for attaching the wrist strap, and the connector compartment. Protected by a flexible, rubbery plastic flap, the connector compartment houses the Digital and DC In input jacks.
The opposite side of the camera holds only the uncovered Video Out jack. (I doubt any 4300 owners are going to be splashing around in the surf or crawling through mud with the camera, but it always makes me nervous seeing exposed connector jacks like this. - I really would have preferred seeing the Video Out jack included in the connector compartment, protected by the rubber flap.)
The Shutter button, Mode dial, and Power switch are the only features on the Coolpix 4300's top panel.
The remaining external controls are all located on the camera's rear panel, along with the 1.5-inch, TFT color LCD monitor, and real-image optical viewfinder. Across the bottom of the LCD panel are several buttons with multiple functions, which access various Record and Playback controls and mode settings. Two other buttons appear on the right side of the monitor, with a four-way rocker pad in the center of the back panel. The zoom rocker button sits at the top of the panel. Two LED lamps next to the optical viewfinder blink or light continuously to indicate camera status, such as when the flash is charging or focus is set. You can also see the CompactFlash compartment door from this view, which slides outward to the right before opening. A set of ridges near the top right corner provides a small (but surprisingly effective) thumb grip when holding the camera in shooting position.
The Coolpix 4300 has a flat bottom panel, with rounded edges that curve up toward the rest of the camera. The battery compartment door and threaded plastic tripod mount are in close proximity to each other, making quick battery changes while mounted to a tripod impossible. This won't likely be a problem for most Coolpix 4300 users, however, given that few point-and-shoot users are likely to leave their cameras on tripods for very long. The tripod socket is located almost exactly under the camera's center of gravity, but off-center from the lens. This makes for less stress on the tripod threads, but could introduce some parallax error if you're shooting sequences of images for assembly into panoramas. (Again, this latter probably won't be a strong consideration for typical 4300 owners.) A hinged, plastic door covers the battery compartment, with a lock release button to open it.
capture mode, the LCD optionally shows just the viewfinder image itself, or
an overlay that includes exposure information. Alternatively, the LCD can be
disabled entirely, to save battery power. The screenshot at right cycles through
several capture-mode screens, showing just the subject, as well as the information
overlay that appears in normal shooting mode, and with exposure compensation
and an ISO boost (to 400) selected, and the display when the AF Area mode is
In playback mode, the LCD can show a thumbnail view of 4 or 9 images at a time, just the image, the image with a basic information overlay, or four separate screens of highly detailed exposure information. You can also zoom in or out on the displayed image with the zoom toggle. Magnifications up to 6x are available.
In playback mode, the LCD can show a thumbnail view of 4 or 9 images at a time, just the image, the image with a basic information overlay, or four separate screens of highly detailed exposure information. You can also zoom in or out on the displayed image with the zoom toggle. Magnifications up to 6x are available.
A small collection of multi-functional external control buttons make the Coolpix 4300's features and operating modes easy to navigate. (Although I do have a couple of minor gripes, which I'll discuss below.) Exposure compensation, flash mode, focus mode, zoom, record mode, and a quick review function are all accessible via external controls, with most buttons serving dual functions for Playback and Record modes. The Mode dial on top of the camera accesses the main operating modes, and a multidirectional Arrow pad on the back panel navigates through on-screen menus (and also controls shutter speed and aperture settings in the full-manual exposure mode). The LCD menu system is fairly short, with no more than two pages of settings in each menu. Many of the options on those menus have two or more levels of choices to them though, making some of the more advanced features a bit more difficult to get to. (For what it's worth though, I think it makes sense to "bury" advanced features more deeply on a camera's menu system, keeping the top-level menus less cluttered for novice users.) Basic camera operation is so straightforward, you'll likely figure out the rudiments in a matter of minutes.
As noted, I do have a few criticisms of the Coolpix 4300's user interface design, although none of them should constitute show stoppers for potential purchasers. My first complaint is that the Auto setting as selected via the mode dial is just a little too "Auto." In an effort to make the camera totally "point & shoot" in this mode, Nikon went so far as to completely do away with the settings menu. I applaud the intent, but the inability to make any camera adjustment in this mode (including image size and quality) somewhat defeats the intended purpose. Image size and quality remain set at whatever they were when the camera was last in "manual" mode, and there's no way to change them without reverting to manual mode again. This is bound to be confusing the first time a novice decides they want to select a different image size.
I also disagree with Nikon's arrangement of the menus in Manual mode, particularly in light of the preceding. Image size and quality is one or the most basic camera operating parameters (at least, one of the easiest for novices to understand), yet it's buried on the second page of the shooting menu (as is the ISO setting), while other, much less frequently used settings like contrast and sharpness adjustments fill the first menu screen. If the intent is to make the camera novice-friendly, I think the more novice-oriented functions should be on the first menu screen. (True, image size/quality is on the first page of the setup menu, which somewhat mitigates this. I also understand that Nikon wants to maintain a consistent menu structure across their various models, so the arrangement of the 4300's menus match those of their higher-end cameras. - But those cameras generally have external controls for setting size/quality, while the 4300 does not. Overall, I think the needs of the novice users that the 4300 is so obviously intended to cater to should dominate the design of the menu system. At the very least, novices shouldn't be forced out of the menu system when the camera is in auto mode.)
My final gripe is a pretty minor one, and I actually agree with the philosophy that led to it: The full-manual exposure mode and manual focus options are both rather "hidden" in the user interface, the former by virtue of being buried two levels deep in the shooting menu, the latter by requiring the simultaneous operation of two buttons on the rear panel that aren't otherwise labeled. While this means you'll probably have to read the manual (perish the thought ;-) to find them, it also means that labels and menu options are simpler for their absence, making the camera less intimidating to new users.
All that said, the Coolpix 4300's user interface is overall pretty straightforward and easy to navigate. I really don't think it will take even a novice user more than 20 minutes to become familiar enough with the camera to handle pretty much any normal shooting condition.
Here's an enumeration of the various controls and buttons on the 4300:
Shutter Button: Perfectly round with a shiny chrome finish, the Shutter button sits on the right edge of the top panel, angling down toward the front of the camera. Surrounded by the Power switch, this button sets the camera's exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.
Power Switch: Encircling the Shutter button, this switch turns the camera on and off.
Mode Dial: Directly behind the Power switch and Shutter button, this ribbed dial selects the camera's main operating mode. Choices are Auto, Scene, Manual, Movie, Setup, and Playback modes.
Zoom (W and T) Rocker Button: At the top of the camera's rear panel, this two-way rocker button controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode. In Playback mode, the "T" button lets you magnify captured images up to 6x, to examine fine detail. In Manual record mode, pressing this button at the same time as the Exposure Compensation / Erase button enables manual focus mode, whereupon the W and T buttons switch to controlling the focus distance. (This is less awkward than it sounds, as the W/T buttons immediately revert to controlling the zoom lens as soon as you release the Exposure Compensation/Erase button. There's thus no multiple button-presses needed to switch between separate zoom or focus modes.)
Transfer Button: Diagonal from the top right corner of the LCD menu, this button initiates image downloading whenever the camera is connected to a computer. In playback mode, it also marks or unmarks individual images for subsequent download when the camera is connected to a computer running Nikon View.
Multi-Directional Arrow Pad: Located in the center of the rear panel, the four arrows on this rocker button point up, down, left and right. This control is the heart of the 4300's user interface, serving various functions depending on the camera's current operating mode. Within any mode menu, the arrow keys navigate through menu options. In either capture or playback modes, the up arrow controls the information overlay display and LCD monitor, turning both the information displays and the LCD monitor itself off or on. In record mode, the up and down arrow keys adjust the exposure compensation when the Exposure Compensation / Erase button is held down. When full-manual exposure control is enabled, pressing the left and right arrow keys while holding down the Exposure Compensation button adjusts the aperture setting, while the up and down arrows control shutter speed.
In Playback mode, the left and right arrows scroll through captured images. When an image has been enlarged, all four arrows navigate the zoomed view within the image as a whole. In normal display mode, the down arrow key enables the "Small Pic" menu, which lets you save a smaller resolution copy of the displayed image. (This latter is very handy for emailing your photos, without having to deal with huge, high-resolution files on the computer or in your email program.)
Quick Review Button: Just below the Multi-Direction Arrow pad, this button activates a quick review display of the most recently captured image. This is handy when you want to check the photo you just took, to make sure you got the shot you wanted. The first press calls up the most recently captured image in a small "picture in picture" window in the upper left hand corner of the LCD screen. A second press expands the image to full-screen, with essentially all of the 4300's playback-mode menu options available. A third press returns the camera to record mode.
Exposure Compensation / Erase Button: Directly below the lower left corner of the LCD monitor, this button controls the camera's exposure compensation feature, allowing you to increase or decrease the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. To change the exposure, press and hold this button, and the press the up or down arrow keys on the multi-controller until the exposure compensation readout in the LCD shows the desired correction. When manual exposure control is enabled, pressing the left and right arrow keys while holding down this button adjusts the aperture setting, while the up and down arrows control shutter speed. In Manual record mode, pressing this button together with the Zoom Rocker button adjusts the ISO setting.
In Playback mode, this button activates the single-image erase function, which lets you delete the currently displayed image. (There's an option to cancel, if you happen to hit the button accidentally.)
Focus Mode / Information Button: To the left of the Exposure Compensation / Erase button, this button cycles between normal AF, Infinity, Self-Timer, and Macro focus modes in any record mode. In Manual record mode, pressing this button turns the Zoom Rocker button into a manual focus adjustment.
In Playback mode, pressing this button repeatedly cycles through five information screens, including a histogram display. (Note that the histogram display is only available for still images, not movie files.)
Flash / Index Display Button: Adjacent to the Focus Mode / Information button on the left, this button controls the camera's flash mode. Available flash modes are Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Anytime Flash, Flash Cancel, and Slow Sync.
In Playback mode, this button triggers a nine-image thumbnail display.
Menu Button: Just beneath the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button displays the settings menu in any camera mode. Pressing it a second time switches to the second menu screen, in all modes except Scene mode. Pressing it a third time (a second time in Scene mode) dismisses the menu and returns the camera to normal operation.
Batt Open Latch: In the center of the battery compartment door, on the bottom of the camera, this button unlocks the compartment door so that it can slide forward and open.
Camera Modes and Menus
Auto Record Mode: Activated by turning the Mode dial to the Auto position (green camera icon with an "A"), this mode gives the camera complete control of both aperture and shutter speed. The user only has control over the exposure compensation, flash mode, focus mode (landscape, macro, self-timer/macro), and zoom. No menu is available in this mode.
Scene Mode: Indicated by the word "Scene" on the Mode dial, this mode offers camera presets for 12 different common shooting conditions: Portrait, Party / Indoor, Night Portrait, Beach / Snow, Landscape, Sunset, Night Landscape, Museum, Fireworks Show, Close Up, Copy, and Back Light. Each of these scene options sets the camera up for the corresponding shooting condition, changing exposure, white balance, ISO and metering options to produce the best results. This is a handy feature for novices who want to venture beyond the most basic "point and shoot" operation, but don't want to learn all the intricacies of exposure, white balance, etc. In this mode, the menu system only offers scene selection choices, but the user maintains control over exposure compensation, flash mode, focus mode, and zoom, depending on the scene mode selected.
Manual Mode: Following Scene mode, Manual mode (black camera icon with a "M") gives the user control over all exposure settings, with a choice between Manual and Program AE exposure modes (accessed through the Shooting menu). (Note that "Manual" mode here means that you have control over multiple camera functions, although shutter speed and aperture remain under camera control by default. The "full manual" mode I've referred to above is accessed via a menu choice from within this mode (see below) and lets the user control shutter speed and aperture directly.) The Shooting Menu offers the following options:
- White Balance: Controls the overall color balance of images. Modes include Auto, Preset (manual adjustment, using a white card for reference), Fine, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, and Speedlight (for flash images).
- Metering: Determines how the camera reads the exposure from the scene. Choices are 256-segment Matrix, Spot, Center-Weighted, and Spot AF Area (ties the metering area to the AF area). The 256-Segment Matrix option compares light readings from 256 different areas throughout the frame to determine the best overall exposure. Center-Weighted measures a large area in the center of the frame, while the Spot option reads only the very center of the frame (or selected AF area).
- Continuous: Activates the Coolpix 4300's Continuous, Single, VGA Sequence, Multi-Shot 16, or Ultra HS modes. Continuous mode snaps shots continuously, as long as the Shutter button is held down, with the total number of images depending on the amount of available CompactFlash space. (There's a buffer memory that holds up to 5 large/fine shots, which means the first five shots will be snapped pretty quickly (an average of a bit under a second apiece), after which you'll have to wait 20-30 seconds for the data to be written to the memory card before the camera will capture the next image.) Multi-Shot 16 mode captures 16 thumbnail-sized images, which are recorded in a four-by-four array as a single large image. Single shot mode is the default one shot per shutter-button-press mode. VGA Sequence mode captures a series of 640 x 480-pixel images at approximately two frames per second, for as long as the Shutter button is held down. (Up to 100 or so images in rapid sequence, before you have to wait for the buffer memory to empty.) Finally, Ultra HS mode captures as many as 70 Normal quality images at 320 x 240-pixel resolution, at approximately 30 frames per second.
- Best Shot Selector: Turns the Best Shot Selector mode on or off. When enabled, the camera snaps up to five shots in rapid succession, and then picks the sharpest image from the series. This is tremendously helpful when you have to handhold the camera at slower shutter speeds: The net result is that you can capture sharp images at shutter speeds way slower than you'd normally be able to handhold for. (Not good though, for situations where you care about the exact instant of the exposure, since any one of several exposures may actually be recorded.)
- Image Adjustment: Offers a range of image adjustment tools. Options are Auto, Normal, More Contrast, Less Contrast, Lighten Image, Darken Image, and Black and White.
- Image Sharpening: Controls the amount of in-camera sharpening applied to images. Choices are Auto, High, Normal, Low, and Off.
- Lens: Sets up the camera to work with Nikon's extensive line of accessory lenses. Options are Normal (built-in lens), Wide Adapter, Telephoto 1 (a 2x adapter), Telephoto 2 (a 3x adapter), Fisheye 1, and Slide Copy Adapter options to accommodate the specified accessory lens. The various options adjust various exposure and zoom setting options to best accommodate the chosen lens.
- Image Size and Quality: Sets the JPEG compression to Fine, Normal, or Basic, or saves files as uncompressed TIFFs if the Hi option is selected. Image size options include 2,270 x 1,704; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels.
- ISO: Puts the camera's sensitivity under Auto control, or sets it to 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
- Exposure Options: Displays a sub-menu of exposure control choices:
- Exposure Mode: Sets the exposure mode to Program or Manual. Program keeps the camera in charge of shutter speed and aperture settings, while Manual gives the user complete control over both shutter and aperture. (Advanced users note though, that the 4300 has only two aperture settings, one small, the other large. The actual aperture ranges from f/2.8-4.9 or f/7.6-13.4, depending on lens zoom position.) In manual mode, an exposure readout across the bottom of the LCD screen shows the amount of over- or underexposure the camera thinks your selected settings will result in.
- AE Lock: Turns AE Lock feature on or off. If on, the camera uses the same exposure for all captured images, based on the first image taken after the setting is made. The Reset option clears the exposure settings, so that you can start a new series. (Handy when shooting a series of photos to be stitched together to make a larger panorama. Using the same exposure for all photos in the series avoids visible seams between the individual frames.)
- Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. (This setting is disabled when Manual is selected above.)
- Focus Options: Displays a sub-menu of focus choices:
- AF Area Mode: Selects between AF Area Modes (Auto, Manual, or Off), letting you decide how the AF area is selected.
- Autofocus Mode: Sets the focus mode to Continuous or Single AF. Continuous adjusts the focus constantly, while Single AF adjusts focus only when the Shutter button is half-pressed.
- Focus Confirmation: Turns focus confirmation on or off. An MF option highlights the focused areas on the LCD screen in manual focus mode.
- Auto Bracketing: Enables the Auto Bracketing or White Balance Bracketing functions. In normal Auto Exposure Bracketing, you can set the exposure variable to +/- 0.3, 0.7, or 1.0, with a series of three or five shots. White Balance bracketing captures three shots, at varying color balance settings.
- Noise Reduction : Activates the Noise Reduction feature for shooting in low-light situations.
- CF Card Format: Formats the CompactFlash memory card, erasing all files, even protected ones.
Movie Mode: Marked by a movie camera icon, this is the final record option on the Mode dial. Movie mode captures moving images (without sound) for up to forty seconds per clip (assuming there's sufficient space on the memory card). No menu options are available in this mode.
Setup Mode: Labeled "Setup" on the Mode dial, this mode automatically displays the following menu options:
- Image Quality: Sets JPEG compression to Fine, Normal, or Basic. (Oddly, the "HI" option is missing here, it's only available in the capture-mode menu.)
- Image Size: Sets image resolution to 2,270 x 1,704; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; or 640 x 480 pixels.
- Folders: Lets you create new "folders," on the memory card, rename folders, or delete existing folders. You can also specify which folder to review or save images to.
- Monitor Options: Displays a sub-menu to adjust the brightness of the LCD monitor display, or the display mode (options are Monitor On, Review Only, Preview Only, Monitor Off).
- Auto Off: Turns on the Auto Off feature, which automatically shuts down the camera after a period of inactivity. Available times are 30 seconds, or 1, 5, or 30 minutes.
- Seq. Numbers: Turns the file numbering sequence option on or off, with an option to reset the current sequence.
- CF Card Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
- Controls: Determines which settings are preserved when the camera is turned off. If not selected with a check mark, the indicated setting will be reset to the default condition whenever the camera is shut down. Settings which can be saved include flash mode, landscape/macro/self timer, exposure compensation, and digital zoom enable.
- Shot Confirmation Lamp: Determines whether or not the Self-Timer lamp blinks to confirm shutter release.
- Pic Data / Transfer: Optionally saves detailed information about each photo in a text file on the memory card and turns the auto transfer marking on or off. (If the latter is enabled, every photo shot is marked by default for automatic transfer when the camera is connected to a computer running Nikon View software. Automatically-marked photos may still be manually un-marked if you so desire though.))
- Date: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
- Interface: Sets the USB protocol to Mass Storage or PTP. The PTP option is best for Windows XP and Mac OS X systems, while Mass Storage is best for older operating systems. Also lets you set the Video mode to NTSC or PAL.
- Language: Changes the menu language.
- Reset All: Resets all the camera options to their default settings.
Playback Mode: The traditional "arrow" playback symbol marks this mode on the Mode dial. Playback mode lets you review captured images and movies, as well as erase, enlarge, copy, and protect images, and set them up for printing.
- Delete: Erases either selected images or all images from the memory card. (Doesn't erase write-protected ones though.) Also optionally deletes all DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) print settings.
- Folders: Allows the user to create, delete, or rename folders as well as select the active playback folder from a list.
- Slide Show: Initiates a slide show of still images on the memory card. You can choose to include either All Images or only Selected Images, and adjust the frame interval from two to 10 seconds.
- Protect: Write-protects individual images to protect them from accidental erasure or manipulation. An index display of the images on the card appears, letting you scroll through and select images to be "locked." Protected images may only be deleted through card formatting.
- Hide Image: Hide selected images from the playback view.
- Print Set: Sets the DPOF ("Digital Print Order Format) settings for captured images, for printing on a DPOF-compatible output device. An index display appears, letting you mark individual images for printing. Once images are marked, you can choose the number of copies to print, as well as whether any text is overlaid on the image (such as a caption or the date and time). You can also cancel print settings here.
- Auto Transfer: Marks all images for auto transfer, which instantly transfers images to a computer running the Nikon View software when connected.
- Small Pic: Sets the resolution for the Small Pic copy function to 640 x 480; 320 x 240; 160 x 120; or 96 x 72 pixels.
- Auto Off: Controls the Auto Off time for playback mode, which automatically shuts down the camera after a period of inactivity. Available times are 30 seconds, or 1, 5, or 30 minutes. (Oddly, the 4300 has separate auto-off times for record and playback modes. - This appears to be a "feature" on other Nikon cameras as well, I just never realized until now that the record and playback auto-off times are in fact separate.)
See the Coolpix 4300's sample pictures page for all my test images and detailed analysis. The thumbnails below show a subset of our test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.
See camera specifications here.
Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.
- Nikon Coolpix 4300 user reviews on PriceGrabber.com
- Nikon Coolpix 4300 user reviews on PC PhotoREVIEW
For full details, see all my test images and detailed analysis on the Coolpix 4300's pictures page. Here's a summary though:
- Color: The Coolpix 4300 showed excellent color. Colors were hue-accurate,
and saturation was excellent across the board. (Neither too much nor too
little.) I was very impressed with the 4300's white balance system, it seems
that manufacturers are starting to get a better handle on white balance
than they've had previously. Outdoor shots looked great, and indoors, even
the Auto setting produced decent results under incandescent lighting, with
the Manual option doing very well indeed. Better yet, there's a range of
"tweak" adjustments on the various white balance presets that
let you push the color toward reds or blues as needed. Applying a blue boost
to the Incandescent setting let the 4300 handle household incandescent lighting
pretty well. (Household incandescent lighting, so common here in the US,
has been a real bugaboo for digicam white balance systems. I'd like to see
the 4300's incandescent setting handle it better without adjustment, but
it does OK with a full blue tweak applied.)
- Exposure: The 4300 generally did pretty well in the exposure department.
It tended to be a little contrasty, losing highlight and shadow detail under
harsh, full-sun lighting, but under most other light sources, produced very
nice, full-toned images. It required quite a bit of exposure compensation
on the indoor portrait tests, both with and without flash, something that
many cameras fall prey to, but a trait I'd still prefer not to see. In typical
daylight shooting conditions though, its metering was very accurate.
- Resolution/Sharpness: The Coolpix 4300's 4.0-megapixel CCD and
Nikkor lens produced very sharp images, and good results with the resolution
test chart. I noticed artifacts in the target at around 800 lines per picture
height both vertically and horizontally, though detail remained strong out
to 1,100 lines. Extinction occurred around 1,300 lines.
- Closeups: The Coolpix 4300 does very well in the macro category,
capturing a really tiny minimum area of 0.85 x 0.64 inches (22 x 16 millimeters).
I have always been impressed with Nikon's macro shooting, and the Coolpix
4300 is no exception. Color and exposure were both good, and detail was
very nice on the dollar bill. (Details were blurred on the brooch and coins,
due to a limited depth of field and the very close shooting range.) The
flash can't throttle down enough for shooting at the minimum focusing distance
though, so you'll need to plan on external lighting for super-macro shots.
- Viewfinder Accuracy: The Coolpix 4300's optical viewfinder is very
tight, showing only about 81 percent of the frame at wide angle, and about
79 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor is much more accurate, showing
approximately 98 percent accuracy at wide angle and telephoto. Given that
I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible,
the Coolpix 4300's LCD monitor performs well here, but the optical viewfinder
leaves a good bit to be desired. - This is particularly unfortunate, given
the exceptional battery life of the 4300 in capture mode with the LCD turned
off. (See below.) The poor accuracy of the optical viewfinder will prompt
users to rely on the LCD more than they would otherwise, shortening battery
- Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the Coolpix 4300 was
average (which means higher than I'd like to see) at the wide angle lens
setting, where I measured an approximate 0.8 percent barrel distortion.
The telephoto setting fared better, where I measured a 0.2 percent barrel
distortion. Chromatic aberration was very good, showing only about three
pixels of color around the edges of the resolution target lines, and the
common "purple fringing" around bright objects in the corners
of the image appears to be very well controlled.
- Battery Life: With the LCD on in capture mode (the worst-case power drain mode), the 4300 will run a bit over 90 minutes on a freshly-charged battery. With the LCD off though, power consumption drops to a trickle, and the camera will remain powered up for over 60 hours. - If the optical viewfinder were just a bit more accurate, you could literally shoot all day on a single battery charge. (Although as always, I strongly recommend purchasing a second battery along with the camera, so you'll always have a spare.)
In the Box
The Coolpix 4300 ships with the following items in the box:
- Coolpix 4300 digital camera.
- Wrist strap.
- Lens cap with strap.
- 16MB "Starter" Lexar CompactFlash card. (This is a fully functional 16MB memory card, the "starter" designation is just Nikon's attempt to call attention to the fact that you're almost certainly going to want a larger card to use for routine shooting.)
- Video cable.
- USB cable.
- Lithium-ion battery pack and battery charger.
- CD-ROM loaded with Nikon View 5 software and drivers, Nikon View 5 software manual CD-ROM.
- Instruction manual and registration kit.
- Larger capacity CompactFlash card (at least 64MB).
- Additional lithium-ion battery pack.
- AC Adapter.
- Small camera case for outdoor protection.
- Accessory lenses.
Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
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. I 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 surprising number 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 digicam 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...
The Coolpix 4300 looks like a very nicely designed camera for the high end "point & shoot" market. It's extensive set of scene modes will let even novices snap good photos in what would otherwise be challenging situations. At the same time, the partially hidden full-manual exposure mode and manual focus option provide added flexibility for more advanced users, without overly cluttering the user interface. Now that I've had a chance to test a full production model, I can confidently recommend the 4300 to anyone looking for a compact, full-featured four megapixel camera: Its resolution and color rendering are both excellent. Highly recommended, I think this is going to prove to be a very popular model for Nikon!