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Performance and Image Quality

The P310 is fairly responsive, with fast start-up (although the low profile power button can be a little difficult to depress). Shot-to-shot times aren't bad and slow only a little when the flash is used. Autofocus is generally responsive in good light but the camera is a little prone to hunting in low light/low contrast conditions. In Auto and Target Finding modes, the focus point doesn't always land where you think or hope it will. But multiple AF area settings, including manual AF point selection, face priority, center and a fairly effective subject tracking, provide more effective (and accurate) options.

The P310 offers a number of continuous shooting and, at full resolution, can capture up to 5 images at 7fps, which is only slightly less robust than the 12MP P300's 7 images at 8fps. A slower (about 1fps) full resolution option captures up to about 30 frames, while continuous shooting at 60fps and 120fps is useful for stop motion and animated GIFs. Resolution is reduced to 1 megapixel and VGA (640 x 480), respectively. Nikon has also included its Best Shot Selector feature in the P310, in which mode the camera shoots 10 images and selects the sharpest photo. It works well, especially for portraits where you might miss someone blinking when you press the shutter.

One of the more useful of the P310's 'SCENE' modes is Panorama, in which the camera automatically creates a 180 or 360-degree panorama as you sweep it across a scene. It works very well, but the output is limited to 560px in height.

New in the P310 are Pre-shooting Cache and an Interval Timer. The former begins buffering shots when the shutter is depressed, but writes only the last 20 images (at 3 megapixels) to the card once the shutter is released. The latter is ideal for stop motion videos and can be set for 30s, 2 minute, 5 minute or 10 minute intervals.

At its base ISO setting of 100, the P310 is capable of excellent image quality. This bright outdoor scene contains bags of detail in both high and low-contrast areas.
Metering is impressive, too. This scene, lit with morning sunlight, could very easily have been underexposed but the P310 has delivered a very pleasant exposure with lots of detail in both midtone and highlight areas (though the sensor's lack of dynamic range is apparent in the blown-out region down the left of the image).

While the P310 can focus as close as 0.8 inches (2cm) in macro mode, we have found that the flash sometimes blows out the scene rendering images unusable (it also casts a lens shadow). It isn't a constant issue, but has happened enough during my shooting to be annoying, and can be a problem regardless of flash exposure compensation and metering mode. But for portraits and other general scenes, the flash works well.

Also a little disappointing is the P310's performance in Auto mode, where the program line seems heavily biased towards slow shutter speeds. Even when the ISO is automatically boosted to 800 outdoors at dusk, shutter speeds of 1/20th are not uncommon and while the P310's lens-shift vibration reduction works very well under most conditions, most of these shots were blurry. We've seen this behavior from the P7100 and Nikon's 1 System interchangeable lens cameras as well, and it's no less annoying here.

The P310's lens doesn't have a lot of reach at the long end, topping out at 100mm (equivalent). A digital zoom option (activated in the main menu) can expand equivalent focal length to 200mm, but as always, this 'crop and upsize' option significantly reduces pixel-level image quality.

Obviously a maximum aperture of f/1.8 means that in theory, you'll be reaching for those high ISO settings less often than you might need to with a slower lens, but f/1.8 is only available at the lens' widest-angle setting. Zoom the lens out to its full 100mm length and the maximum aperture decreases to f/4.9. Also worth noting is the fact that because of the small sensor size (It's 1/2.3 inch type), even when wide open, the lens doesn't deliver any significant shallow depth-of-field benefit (an f/4.9 aperture with a sensor this small is equivalent in depth of field terms to f/36.8 in full-frame 135mm terms).

At ISO 1600, the P310's output has a noticeable 'grittiness but there's still detail in medium and high-contrast areas. If you look closely at the strands of our subject's hair though you'll see the smoothing effects of noise reduction.
This becomes even more obvious at ISO 3200, at which point the P310's output doesn't look great when examined at 100%. Crucially though, exposure is accurate and thanks to noise-reduction the image is almost free from chroma (color) noise.

Where the P300 offers an ISO range from 160-3200, the P310's native ISO starts at 100 and ends at 3200, expandable to ISO 6400 at Hi 1. At ISO 400, images are perfectly acceptable but start to lose fine detail upon close inspection. This loss progresses as the ISO is raised but most casual shooters will be fine with images up to ISO 800. By ISO 1600, photos should be reserved for snapshot sized prints and the Web. Noise reduction cannot be disabled; the best you can do is set it to Low and without a RAW option, there's not much you can do to offset how noise reduction affects the image. Purple fringing is rare but showed up from time to time in our images around extremely high contrast edges.

Colors from the P310's 'standard' Picture Control preset are accurate and natural looking but not quite as punchy as we'd expect from some competitive cameras (Canons and Sonys, in particular, tend to deliver more saturated colors at default settings). Saturation and contrast can be tweaked though, if you prefer, and a Vivid mode is also on hand.

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