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Nikon Coolpix P3 8.1MP Digital Camera

Date: July 20, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams

If you are looking to spend a little extra money for a camera that provides many features and great image quality, you will want to take a look at the P3. It’s capable of 8.1 megapixel images that are actually quite clear at full resolution. In the arsenal is also VGA video quality, vibration reduction and more.



Introduction

Nikon is known not only for their great cameras, but also their wide selection. This will be the third Nikon review here at Techgage, and it certainly will not be the last. In the past, I took the Coolpix L1 for a spin, but I was not impressed by the overall package. It took good quality pictures for a camera in it’s price-range, but it lacked in a few areas. Just a few weeks ago, I published our Coolpix S4 review, which I enjoyed far more than the L1 due to it’s nice zoom capabilities and macro functions.

Today I will be taking a thorough look at the P3, which is designated as a Performance model. In terms of their basic digital camera selection, the P series are the cream of the crop. L is for lifestyle, which are strictly for the casual user who wants a great point and shoot style camera. S is style, and as we seen in our S4 review, it’s easy to tell why they set that as a special category. So, without a doubt the P3 should prove to be the top Nikon camera we’ve taken a look at, as it should be for a camera in the ~$400 range.

While the P3 looks like a rather generic camera, there’s a lot behind it’s tiny frame. It’s capable of 8.1 megapixels, which results in huge 3624*2448 images. It also includes a rather sharp 3.5x Zoom-Nikkor lens (36mm – 126mm) with a max aperture of f/2.7-5.2. While it doesn’t have a large zoom, especially compared to the S4, the P3 promises to deliver high quality snapshots at equally high resolutions.

Here are some of the official features:

Now for the in-depth specifications:



Features

One thing you will notice is that this camera supports b/g WiFi, which is used to send photos to your PictBridge enabled printer. I do not have such a printer, so I am unable to delve deeper into this. You must separately purchase the PD-10 wireless adapter, which connects to the available USB port on the back of the printer. You then need to run the included software on your PC to get things rolling. In all, it actually appears to be a rather lengthy process, so it may be for the more experienced users out there.

The WiFi is not what I am interested in though, since I do not have the supported printer. Right off the bat, I was wondering if I would enjoy this camera as much as the S4, because it appears to be a ‘wimpier’ looking model, for the lack of a better word. I have to say though, I was immediately impressed with all this camera has to offer, especially the image quality. We will get to that shortly though.

One beef that I have with all of the Nikon cameras I have tested so far, is that they take a good long time to start up. You need to hold down on the power for a second before anything happens, and then after that it still takes three seconds before you can get to taking pictures. This doesn’t seem long, but it is when you are trying to snap a quick shot. By comparison, my Casio Exilim starts up in around 1.5 seconds and is ready to go at that point. That’s the kind of speed I like to see.


WiFi Adapter not included

At any rate, one thing I did enjoy right off the bat is the dial at the top of the unit. It functions differently than the other models, but for the better. Depending on what selection you are on, pushing the “Menu” button will have a different effect. In fact, some of the icons here -are- the options. The options on the dial itself are Snapshot, A [Auto], P [Programmed Auto], Scene, Movie, Set Up, ISO, White Balance and WiFi.

All in all, there are many, many options at your disposal. More than the two previously mentioned cameras by far. They call it Performance for a reason! What this camera also offers is Vibration Reduction, which is rather self-explanitory. What is essentially helps to do is cut down on blur, which can occur when you are walking and taking a picture for instance. Though most people will not walk and take pictures at the same time, I did find that it helped to a degree. If you are running and snapping, then obviously it’s not going to be able to handle that.



Video, Scene Modes

The P4 offers a variety of different video options, but the only one I toyed with was the 640*480 simply because it was the best offered. You have two options regarding macro in this setting, infinite or auto. I found with the Infinite setting, the video did not turn out that well at all, because it was rather blurry. With the auto, it was far better. However, if you move the camera around a lot during the video, you can noticeably see the camera trying to focus and re-focus. If you are taking a movie of an insect walking on the ground or a bee in the flower, you will probably notice this less since you are aimed at a somewhat static [or slow] object.

During a quick walk through the park, I found some ducks swimming across the lake. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to test out the video quality, especially because the water is constantly moving. Right-click the image, save link as to download.

Coming out of a digital camera, that’s some great quality. However, you will notice it does appear a little grainy in some areas, but that’s not evident in -all- videos. I am unsure why exactly. One thing to also note is the fact that it averages near 1.4MB per second of video. So, a one minute video would hog up about 84MB on your memory card. You better bring extra cards if you plan to use the video feature, that’s for sure. Unless of course you want to use a lower quality setting, but where is the fun in that?

Ok… the battery. This is one thing that rubbed me the wrong way immediately, but once again I came to actually prefer it in the end. The camera includes an EN-EL5 rechargeable Li-ion battery, which is rectangular in shape. I am assuming Nikon preferred this method instead of AA batteries because of the amount of power the camera would require. I didn’t do specific tests, but I was incredibly impressed by how long the battery lasted. From the moment I first received the camera, I took pictures right away. I got up to about 140 full resolution 8MP pictures and a few videos before I had to recharge. I didn’t consider this too bad at all, considering each one of these pictures weighs in at around 2.7MB and the videos themselves use a lot of power. This also includes the scrolling through menus and setting up for the perfect shot. I assume that on a perfect day, the camera should last up to 150 – 160 full resolution images before a recharge. The downside still, is that you will want to buy a spare battery in case you are going on a trip, long walk or what have you.

Scene Modes

I won’t get too in-depth with all of the available modes the camera has to offer, but I can say there are many. One that I found quite interesting was the Panoramic Assist feature under the Scene mode.

This is somewhat difficult to emulate in a picture, but my best try is above. Simply put though, this is to help you take perfect panoramic views. After you take a shot in this mode, it will take the last ~25% of that picture, and place it as an opaque overlay to the left of the screen. This is so that you can then move your camera to the right and try to line up what’s displayed in this area to the next shot. For instance, you will try to line up the leaves or the edge of the building. This way, when you get home you should have an easier time with stitching photos together. This is an awesome addition, especially if you are a novice or hopeful professional with a tripod. Sadly, I did not have a tripod with me.

If you are interested in seeing a few select menu shots that the camera has to offer, check out the next page. If you don’t care either way, jump straight into our image quality tests.



Menu shots

Here are some select shots from the menu of the P3. There are many more to be had, but these I used the most.

Now it’s time to take a look at the quality of the pictures!



Picture Quality

Whenever I receive a camera for review, I usually stick with it to take pictures for other reviews. The P3 was used to take photos in our OCZ VX2, Thermalright HR-01-K8 and OCZ GameXStream reviews if you want to see how I used it there.

All of the images taken with the P3 can be viewed in their full resolution of 3624*2448 simply by clicking on them. Warning though, some weigh up to 5MB.

First up is a shot of walking down the road using the VR (Vibration Reduction) mode. Now, I am a fast walker.. but the camera managed to take a picture without any blur. Good stuff.

Next up is a flower on the same road. The camera did a beautiful job of capturing the great color of the yellow flower. The picture also turned out to be very crisp and clean. At full resolution some dithering is obviously occurring, but I am very pleased with the overall quality here.

Though rocks can be rather boring, taking them with the P3 helped make them look great. The picture turned out bright and clear, and you can easily see the textures on each of the rocks. In the full resolution, some areas of the picture came out better than others, but overall it’s better than I originally expected.

Since we are on the nature theme [hey it is summer after all], here are a few more shots taken the same day.



Macros, Conclusion

Here are a couple select shots from previous reviews taken with the P3.

Conclusion

In the end, I am very pleased with the performance of the P3. Out of the three Nikons I have tested, this is by far the best due to the great image/video quality. It’s also more expensive than the previous ones though, so this is kind of expected. The P3 currently retails for around $375US, which is not too shabby for what you get. However, bare in mind that if you wish to use the WiFi capability, you will need to purchase also the PD-10 WiFi printer adapter, which can cost up to $50. Nikon also offers the P4, which is essentially the P3 but without this WiFi capability. It currently seems to retail for -more- than the P3, so you may as well just get the P3 and be done with it.

As evidenced in our pictures, the camera does a great job of retaining the quality even at higher resolutions. At full blown resolutions such as 3624*2448, you expect some dithering to occur, especially with sub $500 models. However, the P3 did a great job… I walked away impressed.

If you are the type of person who enjoys taking small video clips, you will not be disappointed here. The biggest downside would be the fact that at the highest setting, the video files turn out to be 1.4MB per second. That can add up fast, and can eat up the memory on your 256MB/512MB card very quickly. Of course the standard 320*240 video resolution is there also though, so it’s not like you are left without a choice.

I also enjoyed the intuitive menu system on the camera. Having the main menu as a separate icon on the dial worked out well. Throughout all of these menus, this camera really does give you a lot of control over your images, so we have a winner here.

The P3 is a great camera whether you are a beginner or intermediate photographer. There are many options at your disposal and the specs are sure to keep you happy. Such features as the vibration reduction, WiFi connectivity, 8MP images and great battery life make the $400 price tag easier to stomach. I am awarding the Coolpix P3 a well deserved 9 out of 10.

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