Nikon Coolpix P300 at a glance:

  • 24-100mm (equivalent) f/1.8-4.9 Nikkor lens
  • 12.2-million-pixel CMOS sensor
  • 1080p video recording
  • 3in, 921,000-dot LCD screen
  • PASM exposure control
  • Street price £244.99

Nikon Coolpix P300 review – Introduction

Until the last few months of 2010, there was a large gap in Nikon’s range of high-end compact cameras. By introducing the new P300 to its ‘performance’ Coolpix range, the company now has four current compact models for the demanding photographer. They cover the bases with a choice of two bridge cameras (P100 and P500), a large compact camera with viewfinder (P7000) and, with the P300, a pocket-sized compact camera.

Like the larger Nikon P7000 before it, the Nikon Coolpix P300 has a look reminiscent of its direct Canon competitor – in this case the PowerShot S95. However, there are a couple of features that separate the Nikon Coolpix P300 from its peers. It is not a direct competitor to the S95, or even the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 and Olympus XZ-1, because the P300’s 1/2.3in sensor size is much smaller than the 1/1.7in of the S95 and 1/1.6in of the LX5 and XZ-1.

Furthermore, the Nikon Coolpix P300 lacks raw file capture, which is a key feature for serious photographers. Instead, what we are looking at is Nikon’s first fast-lens pocket compact camera with full manual controls.


Shooting at 24mm and f/1.8 provides a fast enough shutter speed to eliminate any blur of the flower caused by movement in the wind

The key selling point of the Nikon P300 is its fast f/1.8 Nikkor lens. This f/1.8 setting is available at its widest 24mm focal length, and when its 4.2x optical zoom is fully implemented at 100mm the fastest aperture drops to f/4.9. Like many compact cameras, the smallest aperture possible is f/8. With an equivalent of 24-100mm, the lens offers a handy focal range for a camera at this level.

The P300’s back-illuminated CMOS sensor boasts 12.2 million pixels. The 1/2.3in (28.5mm2) sensor is almost 50% smaller than the 1/1.7in (43.3mm2) and 1/1.6in (48.5mm2) sensors used by the top-performing compact cameras, which means the photosites on the P300 are considerably smaller.

Scene modes are limited to some key types. These images show the low key, high key, high-contrast monochrome and nostalgic sepia colour modes

Full PASM controls are complemented by a refreshingly limited number of scene modes. These include key colour modes, such as high-contrast black & white and a nostalgic sepia, as well as a panorama sweep (180° or 360°). The latter mode is made possible by the P300’s Expeed C2 image processor, which also makes a full-resolution 8fps burst possible for seven frames. Video users will be pleased that the P300 captures in full 1080p with stereo sound, and offers a HDMi connection port. Moving and still images are viewed on the bright 3in, 921,000-dot rear LCD monitor.

Blur-free images are achievable in low light through the lens-shift vibration reduction and motion-detection systems, or using various shooting modes. A final feature to mention has to be the 3cm macro mode, which is impressive for a camera of any level.

Build and handling

There are few frills about the P300. It looks slick and feels well made. Its 32mm-deep body is in a classically simple style, while the rear rubber thumbgrip and strip on the front of the body provide a sufficient hold.

The direct movie record button is found on the rear of the body. All the buttons are flush and secure, while the dials require a satisfying level of persuasion to manoeuvre, which means they are not easily knocked.

The simple layout is well suited to shooting in auto mode, but lacks direct access to some key manual exposure controls, such as ISO and white balance. Including a function button could have served one of these controls. Instead, they are accessed through the menu only, which slows down operation. However, these controls are found on the first page of the easily navigated in-camera menu.

The P300 lacks raw file capture and spot metering, so I frequently employed exposure compensation. This can be found through the control wheel on the back of the body, and exposures can be corrected to ±2EV using the wheel on the top plate. The saturation can be adjusted through the same menu in the ‘vividness’ section.

As with most current Nikon cameras, there is a good variety of in-camera post-capture editing. This includes D-Lighting to boost shadow and highlight details, quick retouch to enhance the levels, and filter effects such as fisheye and painting. These are not available for the scene modes, though.


With no raw-image capture, the Nikon P300 depends entirely on the quality of its JPEG files. In real-world settings, the standard colour saturation and auto white balance combine for a pleasing tone in most situations, and wavers only under tungsten and fluorescent lighting, which is to be expected for a camera of this type. The images demonstrate crisp detail, if a little oversharpened, in scenes where the lighting is good and subject matter close to the camera. However, like most compact cameras, the detail is more smudged with wider scenes such as landscapes.

With such a populated sensor, image noise is a concern. In its ISO 160-3200 range, ISO 160 and 200 demonstrate good image detail and low levels of noise. The first real visible signs of noise appear at ISO 400. ISO 800 continues to hold out, but it is at ISO 1600 and 3200 where image detail and sharpness are compromised. Despite the patchy results, luminance noise is well controlled here and throughout the entire range. Unless you are going for a grainy effect with a desaturated look, stick to ISO 800 and below. The fast f/1.8 lens helps to make this possible, even in low light.

Whether it be sunny or cloudy, exposure compensation of around -0.7EV is best for correct exposures

In high-contrast scenes, the metering naturally exposes for midtones, with a loss of highlight detail. Again for a camera at this level, this is not unusual. In such situations, I tended to leave the exposure compensation at -0.7EV.

For scenes where focusing is tricky, such as macro shooting, the manually selectable single AF point serves well, although manual exposure control is not available when this is selected. This AF mode can be selected from any one of 99 points and represents the closest thing to manual focus. There are plenty of other AF modes to choose from, including subject tracking and face priority, but all are limited within the central area of the frame.

Resolution images:

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured with the lens set to its 75mm point.

We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately.

The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

Our verdict

There is much to like about the Nikon Coolpix P300, not least its style, simplicity and fast lens. However, in offering an f/1.8 lens and full manual control it seems an opportunity has been missed by not including raw shooting. Also, the small sensor cannot match top-end pocket compacts for image quality and noise control. As such, if Nikon wants to compete at the top, it will need to improve its second-generation model should it launch one.