BUILD AND DESIGN
The P300 follows the classic design for compact digital point and shoots, that is to say a rectangular body with softly rounded edges and about the size of a deck of cards. The fixed base of the zoom lens protrudes about 3/8 of an inch from the front of the camera, but the P300 still transports easily in a shirt pocket. Body construction is of metal and composite materials, and the fit and finish seem in keeping with the camera’s price point.
Ergonomics and Controls
There is a small patch of rubberized material on the camera back that serves as a thumb rest and a narrow ridge running about halfway up the front of the camera body on the right side that provides a little bit of a gripping point for the middle finger of the right hand. As with most compact digitals, even users with small hands are able to wrap their fingers around the body in various ways to facilitate their grip. The matte black paint finish has a smooth feel, so using the camera with the provided strap is good insurance against an accidental drop.
Controls are simple and straightforward: the camera top houses the lens zoom control, shutter release button, command dial, power on/off switch, mode dial and pop-up flash. The camera back is largely taken up by the 3.0-inch monitor but also includes the dedicated video capture button, playback button, rotary multi selector, menu and delete buttons. The on/off switch is recessed into the top of the camera to the point where it takes a concerted push to power on or off – you’re not likely to turn the camera on or off by accident, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself having to push the button more than once to achieve your intended purpose.
Manual shooters may find the P300 a bit frustrating when it comes to trying to change major shooting settings on-the-fly. While the camera has external controls for the self-timer, exposure compensation and macro mode, features such as white balance, single or continuous shooting and ISO sensitivity can only be accessed by internal menu.
Menus and Modes
Menus are simple and intuitive in the automatic and scene shooting modes, and only slightly more expansive when shooting manually. For example, in the full auto mode the user can select image size for stills and video capture along with video focus mode, and not much else. Switch to any of the scene shooting modes and you lose the ability to set image size for stills.
In the manual modes a wider variety of user inputs is available: image size, white balance, metering, continuous versus single shot capture, ISO sensitivity, exposure bracketing, autofocus area mode, autofocus mode and flash exposure compensation. What was surprising was the lack of adjustment for sharpness or contrast – the P300 permits adjustment of hue, brightness and vividness – but nothing more. Here’s the complete rundown on P300 shooting modes:
- Auto: Fully auto mode with limited user inputs.
- Scene: Offers 16 fully auto shooting options designed for specific subjects; limited user inputs.
- Night landscape: Fully auto mode designed to capture the ambience of night landscapes; offers handheld and tripod mounted shooting options.
- Backlight: Fully auto mode designed for use when light is coming from behind the subject throwing features or details into shadow; user has high dynamic range inputs.
- Program auto: Camera handles shutter and aperture settings, but user has the range of inputs for manual shooting settings.
- Aperture priority: User sets aperture, camera sets shutter speed and user has inputs available.
- Shutter priority: User sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture and user has inputs available.
- Manual: User sets shutter speed and aperture (via command dial and rotary control, respectively) and has inputs available.
- Movie: Capture 1920 x 1080 HD (at either 18.8 or 12.6 megabytes per second), 1280 x 720 HD, or 640 x 480 video, all at 30 frames per second. A 15 frame per second 1920 x 1080 HD option is also available, along with 1280 x 720 at 60 frames per second and 640 x 480 at 120 frames per second. Clip lengths vary depending on the capture option chosen.
The P300 3.0-inch LCD monitor has a 921,000 dot composition and is adjustable for five levels of brightness. If those monitor numbers sound familiar, they are the same size and composition as the monitors on a number of Nikon’s top-end DSLRs. The monitor produced a 453 nit peak brightness level and a 755 to 1 contrast ratio in our studio measurements.
While the 453 figure is a bit lower than the 500 we would like as a minimum peak brightness level, the 755:1 contrast ratio is towards the upper end of the desirable range for that value. In practice the P300 monitor was a bit more useful than most compact point-and-shoot cameras in bright outdoor conditions, but could still be difficult under certain light and subject combinations. Monitor coverage is approximately 100%.