Nikon Coolpix P300
Even after using a preproduction model for the past few days, I've really had a hard time classifying the new Nikon Coolpix P300. As part of its P series, geared to enthusiasts, you'd think Nikon was taking on models like the popular Canon PowerShot S95 and the new Olympus XZ-1. But while it has the basic black, no-nonsense design, fast lens and broad manual feature set of those models, it uses a relatively small but backside-illuminated (BSI) 1/2.3-inch sensor similar to mainstream consumer cameras like the PowerShot Elph 500 HS--it's priced lower than the former and higher than the latter.
Overall, I really like the camera's design. Though it lacks the lens-ring control of the Canon and the Olympus, the P300's pair of dials--one on the top right and one doubling as four-way switches for exposure compensation, macro, flash and self-timer--provide a nice feel for fast shooting adjustments. Despite being on the small side, it's still fairly comfortable to hold, with a grippy stripe in the front for extra security. And the popup flash's split design means that you still have a spot on the top left for your fingers while the flash is open. The LCD looks big, bright, and relatively high resolution as well. I also like the dedicated movie-record button, which doesn't require choosing a dedicated mode on the dial.
My one gripe with the design is the menu and delete buttons, which sit below the navigation dial, are too flat and difficult to feel.
As for features, here's a comparative summary:
|Canon PowerShot Elph 500 HS||Canon PowerShot S95||Nikon Coolpix P300||Olympus XZ-1|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||12-megapixel BSI CMOS||10-megapixel CCD||12-megapixel BSI CMOS||10-megapixel CCD|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100 - ISO 3,200||ISO 80 - ISO 3,200||ISO 160 - ISO 3,200||ISO 100 - ISO 6,400|
|Closest focus (inches)||1.2||2.0||1.2||0.4|
(8.2fps in special mode)
23 JPEG/8 raw
|Shutter||15-1/1,600 sec||15-1/1,600 sec||4-1/2,000 sec (est)||60-1/2,000 sec; bulb to 16 min|
|LCD||3.2-inch fixed touch screen
|3-inch fixed OLED
|Image stabilization||Optical||Optical||Optical||Sensor shift|
|Video (best quality)||1080/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV
H.264 QuickTime MOV
|1080/30p H.264 QuickTime MOV
|720/30p Motion JPEG AVI|
|Manual iris and shutter in video||No||No||No||No|
|Optical zoom while recording||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||180 shots||220 shots||240 shots||320 shots|
|Dimensions (WHD, inches)||4.0 x 2.2 x 1.0||3.9 x 2.3 x 1.2||4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3||4.4 x 2.6 x 1.7|
|Weight (ounces)||6.5 (est)||7 (est)||6.7 (est)||9.6|
|Availability||March 2011||August 2010||March 2011||January 2011|
Like a lot of cameras with BSI sensors, it has several multishot modes for improved low-light quality.
I have to admit; as part of the P series, I really expected that this would be Nikon's answer to the S95--an ultracompact with the P7000's sensor--rather than the Elph 500 HS, though no doubt Nikon sensibly enough considers the manual controls sufficient reason to position it this way.
As for its potential, a lot will be riding on image quality and performance (we can't comment on those based on the preproduction unit); ultimately, it's not worth paying more for a nice set of manual controls if it doesn't deliver on the photo quality. We look forward to putting it to the test.