DPInterface Nikon Coolpix P3 Review
Brad Soo - June 18th, 2006

Sharing the features of the Coolpix P4; 8 megapixels, a 3.5X stabilized zoom lens, a 2.5 inch LCD and aperture control, the Nikon Coolpix P3 also adds built-in WiFi. I didn't recommend the P4 because of a few reasons but the Coolpix P3 is around the same price AND has WiFi. Will the Nikon Coolpix P3 cut it? Let's find out.

Size and Weight

Check out the Coolpix P3's size and weight:

(175.1)  99.0 x 54.4 x 21.7 mm (145 g) - Canon PowerShot SD430 Wireless Digital ELPH`
(173.3)  90.4 x 56.5 x 26.4 mm (165 g) - Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH*
(171.2)  89.0 x 58.5 x 23.7 mm (130 g) - Casio Exilim Z850
(177.2)  92.7 x 56.7 x 27.8 mm (155 g) - Fujifilm FinePix F30
(196.1)  104.7 x 60.6 x 30.8 mm (170 g) - Fujifilm FinePix F650
(183.6)  96.0 x 62.0 x 25.6 mm (170 g) - HP Photosmart R927
(192.0)  103.0 x 63.0 x 26.0 mm (125 g) - Kodak EasyShare One 6MP`
(184.0)  92.0 x 61.0 x 31.0 mm (170 g) - Nikon Coolpix P3/P4*` (WiFi for P3 only)
(181.5)  100.5 x 60.0 x 21.0 mm (140 g) - Nikon Coolpix S6`
(170.2)  94.0 x 50.8 x 25.4 mm (132 g) - Panasonic Lumix FX01*
(166.0)  88.5 x 54.5 x 23.0 mm (125 g) - Pentax Optio A10*
(174.8)  95.0 x 56.5 x 23.3 mm (139 g) - Sony Cyber-shot T30*
(179.6)  94.2 x 60.6 x 24.8 mm (161 g) - Sony Cyber-shot W100

* Optical image stabilization
` WiFi

The Nikon Coolpix P3 is a mid-sized camera and one of the largest in its class. It's smaller than Kodak's WiFi camera but Canon's Wireless ELPH is even smaller.

Open up the Box

The Nikon Coolpix P3 has your average digital camera bundle:

  • Rechargeable EN-EL5 lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM
  • User's manual

Storage and Power

My recommendation for a good memory card to start out with would be a 1 GB SD card. The Nikon P3 includes 23 MB of internal memory which is useful to store your favorite photos. A high speed SD does not make much of a difference in performance.

150 shots - Canon PowerShot SD430 Wireless Digital ELPH
240 shots - Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH
440 shots - Casio Exilim Z850
580 shots - Fujifilm FinePix F30
150 shots - Fujifilm FinePix F650
200 shots - HP Photosmart R927
135 shots - Kodak EasyShare One 6MP
200 shots - Nikon Coolpix P3/P4
200 shots - Nikon Coolpix S6
320 shots - Panasonic Lumix FX01
150 shots - Pentax Optio A10
420 shots - Sony Cyber-shot T30
360 shots - Sony Cyber-shot W100

Nikon Coolpix P3 has below average battery life and can take 200 shots per charge (CIPA Standard). Throw in optical image stabilization, a big LCD and WiFi and the P3 can really slurp batteries up. The workaround to this is getting an extra battery which costs around $30.

 

Extras

There's nothing for the P3 except an AC adapter. There's also a wireless print adapter which will set you back about $40. The name says it - it allows you to print photos without connecting the camera to a WiFi enabled printer. Canon's SD430 Digital ELPH is currently the only WiFi camera to bundle this into the box.

Camera Tour

The Nikon Coolpix P3 has a 36 - 126 mm 3.5X zoom lens. It has an optical image stabilizer; what Nikon labels as Vibration Reduction (VR). Optical image stabilizers like the one here help reduce blur caused by slight hand shake - it doesn't freeze subject movement neither does it help if you're swinging your hands around! The aperture range here is f2.7 - f5.3 which is what you'll find on typically all cameras like this.

Below the lens is a microphone for audio clips and sound while recording movies. Going up and there's an AF-assist/self-timer lamp and a flash. The flash range is average with a rating of 40 cm to 4 m at wide-angle and 40 cm to 2 m at telephoto.

The Nikon Coolpix P3 has a 2.5 inch LCD with only 150,000 pixels. The LCD has the same good low-light visibility and average outdoor visibility as the P4.

The top right of the Coolpix P3's back has a zoom controller. Hitting the "T"elephoto button in the menus brings up a help screen. Go down a little and there's a MENU button and flash charge indicator. I'll have some fancy screenshots later on in the review so hang on there.

The 5-way controller does menu navigation and quick access to these functions:

  • Up - Flash setting (Auto, auto with red-eye reduction, flash on, slow-sync, off)
  • Down - Focus setting (Auto, infinity, macro, 2 m)
  • Left - Self-timer (Off, 3 seconds, 10 seconds)
  • Right - Exposure compensation (2 in 1/3-step increments)
  • Center - OK/Auto transfer (via USB)/Toggle LCD info

The 2 m focus attempts to increase AF speed by focusing on things past that distance. The last two buttons are for entering playback and deleting photos (in playback). It seems like a waste that the "delete" button has no purpose while shooting.

Over here, things are spread out across the top of the P3. On the left, there's a Vibration Reduction (VR) button which toggles the optical image stabilization system around a few modes - I'll have more on this later. Skipping past the mode dial, we have a shutter button and power button on the right. A little LED lights up when the camera is on.

Now, back to the mode dial:

  • Auto
  • Program
  • Aperture priority (10 steps from f2.8 - f7.3)
  • Scene mode position
  • Movie mode
  • Setup
  • Image quality
  • ISO sensitivity
  • White balance
  • WiFi

The extra mode which is only available on the P3 is the WiFi mode. WiFi mode allows for transferring and printing wireless. You can shoot and have the photos immediately transferred to your computer too. The final neat WiFi feature is viewing photos from your computer on the camera's LCD. Two things missing that are available on the Canon SD430 Wireless include remote shooting and camera-to-camera transfer.

Hitting the exposure compensation button in program mode lets you select a different shutter speed + aperture combination based on the latter.

On the sides, there's a speaker and A/V Out + USB port. Over here on the P3, there's also a WiFi unit.

At the bottom, there's an off-center tripod mount and battery/SD compartment. The door here is plastic and very flimsy.

Shooting

The Nikon Coolpix P3's shooting screen shows all the essential bits of information, including full exposure info. There's no live histogram unless you're tweaking exposure settings.

You can select one of the Nikon Coolpix P3's many image resolutions which include 8 megapixels (with a 3:2 option), 5 megapixels, 3 megapixels, 1 megapixel and VGA plus three compression options - Fine, Basic and Normal. I'd recommend using the 8 megapixel setting with Basic compression for everyday shooting.

While the Nikon Coolpix P3 has displays the menu in a list, you can also view them by icons as well. In the menu, the P3 has more manual options for you to change:

  • White balance (Auto, custom, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent 1 & 2, cloudy, shade, flash)
  • Metering method (Matrix, center-weighted, spot, spot AF); spot AF follows the AF point around
  • Drive (Single-shot, continuous, multi-shot 16, ultra high-speed, 5-shot buffer, time lapse shooting)
  • Best Shot Selector BSS - Shoots up to 10 photos and selects the best one
  • Bracketing (Off, exposure, white balance)
  • Contrast (Auto, normal, high, low)
  • Sharpening (Auto, normal, high, low, off)
  • Saturation (2 in 1-step increments)
  • ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Image quality
  • Image resolution
  • AF point (Auto, manual, center)
  • AF mode (Single, continuous)
  • Fixed aperture - Attempts to get the closest value to the aperture selected when you zoom [ie. f2.7 becomes f5.3 after zooming to telephoto due to the lens]
  • Noise reduction - When using long exposures

The exposure bracketing feature takes 3 shots - one with your settings and the other two over and underexposed by 1/2 step. White balance bracketing does the same thing except one shot will be "cooler" and the other "warmer".

Manual AF point is not manual focus; instead, you get to move the AF point around the frame which is useful when your camera is on a fixed place like a tripod.

The Nikon Coolpix P3 has 2 optical image stabilization modes - VR Normal and VR Active. Normal mode is for your everyday handheld photos while Active is for very shaky conditions, such as telephoto or very low-light shooting. Wanna see how well the image stabilization system works? Take a look:

 

Both shots were taken handheld at 1/100 second with full (including digital) zoom. The left shot was taken with image stabilization off and the other with it on, set to VR Active.

The Nikon Coolpix P3 has a 4 cm macro mode along with lots of scene modes. The scene modes here include portrait (optional Face AF), night portrait, landscape, night landscape, sunset, dusk/dawn, fireworks, close-up, party/indoor, panorama, beach/snow, backlight, museum, copy and sports.

Recording

The Nikon Coolpix P3 can take VGA movies with sound at 30 FPS till the memory card fills up. You can select other movie sizes (VGA, QVGA, QQVGA) which record at 30 FPS as well. Using the time-lapse movie feature, you can take up to 1800 frames (between 30 seconds to 1 hour) and make a silent 30 FPS movie. A 2 GB Secure Digital card holds about 26 minutes of video with sound at the highest resolution.

You can make optical image stabilization active and choose the autofocus mode used to record movies: single (fixed) and continuous (always focusing). I would recommend using single autofocus as the microphone records the tiny autofocus buzzing sounds. There is also digital zoom while recording.

Video quality was good while audio quality was okay.

Performance

The Nikon Coolpix P3 starts up in an okay 2 seconds with the welcome screen turned off; the not-instant power on time is caused mostly be the rather "slow-moving" lens. The P3 normally takes about 1/3 second to focus at wide-angle and 1/2 at telephoto. Low-light focusing can take a lengthy one second or more.

Shutter lag is not very noticeable at both wide-angle and telephoto as well as outdoors and low-light. Shot-to-shot speed was a below average 1 shot every 2.5 seconds, longer if the flash is used. I was disappointed that the camera was unusable when clearing its buffer as the usual "busy... wait for buffer to clear" screen appears every time I want to do something after a shot. Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery took 15 seconds. The camera zooms from wide-angle to telephoto in 2 seconds.

The Nikon Coolpix P3 has several continuous shooting modes - all of which are quite disappointing. The standard mode does 4 shots at 1.8 FPS, Multi-shot 16 takes 16 tiny photos (204 x 153) and puts them into one 8 megapixel collage, Ultra High-speed does 100 VGA shots at 30 FPS while the 5-shot buffer mode keeps taking photos at 1 FPS (apparently always focusing) and saves the last 5 shots taken.

The Nikon Coolpix P3 powers off in 1.6 seconds after hitting the power button.

Image Quality

It's time to see how the Coolpix P3 does in image quality:


ISO 50 (f7.6, 0.6 sec)


ISO 100 (f7.6, 1/3 sec)


ISO 200 (f7.6, 1/6 sec)


ISO 400 (f7.6, 1/13 sec)

ISO 50 is fairly clean while noise goes up a bit at ISO 100. ISO 200 noise is still acceptable. The final ISO 400 shot is also clean as well. No chromatic aberration (color fringing) to be seen either.

Barrel distortion is not very noticeable while pincushion distortion is not. Colors accuracy was on par and there was some red-eye. Default settings used by the camera should be enough to satisfy most, with saturation and sharpening turned up.

The Nikon Coolpix P3 produces very good photos whose quality are the same as the P4. I still see room for an ISO 800 option here though.

Photo gallery

Visit the Nikon Coolpix P3 photo gallery.

Playback

In playback, the Nikon Coolpix P3 can playback stills and movies (With sound) as well as do all this: Protect image, print marking, sound memo, slideshow, crop and resize. The Nikon Coolpix P3 does not have the fancy slideshow feature that the S6 has. You can also magnify still photos by 10x and take a look around using the 4 arrow buttons.

The Nikon Coolpix P3 also allows post-processing using D-Lighting (brighten). A copy function allows for transferring between the memory card and internal memory.

The Nikon Coolpix P3 shows complete information, including aperture and shutter speed values as well as a histogram.

Appeal to the crowds

Who's the $449 Nikon Coolpix P3 for? Check out the target audience rating:

Penny pinchers - If you're choosing between the Nikon Coolpix P3 and P4, then you should obviously choose the P3. It retails for the same price as the P4 and also has WiFi at your disposal.

Digital camera newbies/beginners - The Nikon P3 has some advanced features as well as a simple auto mode. Despite the simple camera operation, the Coolpix P3's WiFi still requires some computer knowledge to setup.

Everyday shooters - The Nikon Coolpix P3 has lots of scene modes and aperture control as well as WiFi transfer. The Nikon P3 cannot do remote capture though, even with WiFi. No high sensitivity, slow performance and battery life may be a bother as well.

Advanced amateurs/enthusiasts - While the Nikon Coolpix P3 has aperture control and WiFi, it has no other settings to tweak. The camera is slow as well.

Professional photographers - The Nikon Coolpix P3 is a mid-sized camera with aperture control and WiFi but even smaller cameras such as Casio Z850 might be their pick and it has close to full manual controls too.

Upgraders - The Nikon Coolpix P3 is a cool upgrade to the Nikon XX00 (ie 5600, 7900, etc) series but then again, those people could be going for the D50 digital SLR.

Users jumping ship - Those who are using other camera brands should have no trouble upgrading though Fujifilm, Olympus and Sony camera owners who are jumping ship need to get SD cards.

 

Conclusion

The Nikon Coolpix P3 has 8 megapixels, a 3.5X optically image stabilized lens, a 2.5 inch LCD, aperture control and WiFi as well.

If you've seen the P4, then you've seen the P3 - these twin cameras have everything except WiFi in common. The Nikon Coolpix P3 has good build quality save for the two weak plastic spots. The P3 has good image quality as well - noise at ISO 400 was well controlled for an 8 megapixel camera which makes me wonder why Nikon didn't include an ISO 800 option.

Sadly, the P3 also has the same weaknesses as the P4 - namely poor battery life, no high sensitivity options and slow performance. Despite the limited manual controls, over aperture that is (among other things), there's still no full manual mode or shutter speed control here. There's no live histogram either. Thankfully for the new user, a wagon full of scene modes and built-in camera help are available.

The Nikon Coolpix P3 is a great value, selling for the same as the P4 and adding WiFi. The Coolpix P3 is a great value when compared to other cameras as well - currently, you're paying a $20 premium for the WiFi. I'd recommend the Nikon Coolpix P3 though you might want to consider a bit since 1) if you don't need a WiFi camera, then some other 8 megapixel cameras offer more controls and 2) this camera isn't great for low-light or action shots. Also, I hope Nikon adds on remote shooting and camera-to-camera transfer via a firmware update.

Camera rating upon 10 (more about this): [Category: Mid-sized]

  • 8.0 - Body/Exterior
  • 6.0 - Bundle, batteries and memory
  • 7.5 - Lens
  • 7.0 - Feature set
  • 7.0 - Controls and operation
  • 5.0 - Performance
  • 8.0 - Image quality
  • 6.9 - Overall rating

What's hot:

  • 3.5x zoom lens with optical image stabilization
  • 2.5 inch LCD with average resolution and visibility
  • Good build quality
  • Aperture control and some other changeable settings
  • User-friendly; many scene modes and built-in help
  • Interval shooting feature can be useful
  • Built-in WiFi; same price as P4 (At time of writing)
  • Nice VGA movie recording at 30 FPS
  • Above average, good image quality

What's not:

  • Below average battery life
  • Not for low-light; fairly weak flash, poor AF in the dark, no ISO 800
  • Slow performance in almost all aspects, small buffer
  • No control over shutter speed, no live histogram either
  • Plastic compartment door and tripod mount
  • No remote shooting and camera-to-camera transfer
  • Wireless print adapter will cost you extra

Recommended Accessories

  • 1 GB Secure Digital card
  • Extra rechargeable EN-EL5 lithium-ion battery

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