Design and Handling
The P3 (and the almost identical non-WiFi P4) will be familiar to users of any Coolpix from the last few years; Nikon has found a basic design and layout it likes and is sticking with it. Unusually for what is essentially a souped-up 'point and shoot' model the P3 has dedicated external controls for ISO and White Balance (an idea first seen on the P3's predecessors, the P1 and P2), which along with buttons for flash, macro and self-timer mean there's little need to enter the extensive menu system for most everyday photography. The camera itself is stylish (much more so the an the P2 it replaces) and well built, with an all-aluminum casing that oozes quality (though it does get rather warm during Wi-Fi transfers).
Key body elements
Although much of the P3's power is accessed via it's myriad menus the important everyday stuff (including image quality, white balance, ISO and so on) is easily accessible via external controls. There's an awful lot of features under the P3's hood, and to be honest I'd be surprised if most users ever get near half of it, but I guess it's nice to know it's all there just in case.
Controls & Menus
Nikon has been almost continually tinkering with its menu and control system since the first Coolpix, though it seems to have finally settled on something it likes over the last year or so. Although ostensibly a fully automatic camera designed for the 'point and shoot' snap shooter, the Coolpix P3 has a bewildering array of modes, options and features - some of which are not only very useful, but are still fairly unique to Coolpix models. The sheer number of features can be a little daunting at first - the seemingly endless pages of menus and icons mean that a good hour or two with the manual in one hand and the camera in the other will pay dividends when you actually go out and start shooting. Unfortunately for the more seasoned shooter the user interface still has some infuriating quirks that seem designed to maximize the number of key presses needed to change the most basic setting - though moving the white balance and ISO options to the mode dial is an important move in the right direction. To speed things up Nikon has included - hidden away in the setup menu - an option to replace all menus with a single page of icons, which is fine as long as you take the time to learn what the icons mean, but is nowhere near as elegant as, for example, Canon's FUNC menu.
|The basic record screen is fairly packed with information. You can't control the amount of info displayed (it's either on or off), but there is a grid option for those of us who struggle with straight horizons.||The live histogram can't be just left on all the time - it appears when you press the AE compensation button or when - as here - you're using Aperture Priority mode.|
|A complaint we've had about Coolpix cameras for many generations now is the long-winded approach to changing things like flash mode. Rather than each press of the flash (or macro) button cycling through the options, it brings up this mini menu, so just turning on macro mode, for example, requires a minimum of three button presses.||The three page record menu gives you control over a huge range of basic and advanced shooting options, including metering pattern, burst mode, Best Shot Selector, bracketing, image adjustments, focus mode and noise reduction. Incidentally we'd recommend sticking to center focus (we found the auto area AF to often pick the wrong part of the scene).|
|As we've come to expect from Coolpix cameras there are lots of scene and advanced scene modes, many of which have several sub-options. Though since these are simply marked 'effect 1' and 'effect 2' it's back to the instruction manual to find out what they actually do.||In playback mode you get the usual options for viewing images full screen, with shooting information (shown here), magnified or as 2x2, 3x3 or 4x4 thumbnails.|
|The two page playback menu has options for managing saved images, producing slide shows, applying Nikon's 'D-Lighting' (contrast masking, to brighten up shadows) and resizing.||The setup menu (accessed by turning the main mode dial to SETUP) has basic camera settings such as date and time, welcome screen and card formatting.|
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