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Operation and controls

If you want it to be, the P300 can be an effective, and very compact point and shoot camera. However, as well as several fully automatic modes, the P300 also offers the standard PASM modes which are common on DSLRs. Significantly, unlike many of its peers, the P300 boasts two control dials - one on the top, and one on the rear of the camera to control exposure settings in 1/3EV steps - a 'hands on' touch that more advanced photographers will no doubt appreciate. Some commonly-accessed shooting settings, such as flash mode and exposure compensation have physical buttons, whilst others, including ISO and white balance, can only be accessed through the menu system.

Top of camera controls

On the top of the Nikon P300 you will find the power button, mode dial, command dial and shutter / zoom control. Choosing SCENE on the mode dial gives you access to the automatically adjusted scene modes - Landscape, Sports, Beach and Panorama, etc. The green camera icon designates full auto mode, and PASM modes are also on hand for those photographers that want to take full advantage of the P300's manual exposure controls. The command dial is used to shift exposure values in Program mode and shutter speed in either Shutter priority or Manual mode. Exposure values can be nudged in 1/3EV steps in either direction while keeping the exposure constant.

The other two options on the mode dial are for quick access to 'Night Landscape' and 'Backlighting' scene modes. In Night Landscape mode two modes are available - Hand-held and Tripod. In hand-held mode a single press of the shutter release triggers several exposures which are then combined to create one sharp image, whereas in tripod mode, a single, longer exposure is captured. Backlighting mode is designed to balance exposure in scenes where the principal light source is behind the subject (such as a portrait, where your subject is silhouetted in front of a sunset). There are two methods available in backlighting mode - the standard (default) which uses the flash to provide illumination, and HDR which combines several exposures to create a balanced result.

Rear of camera controls

The controls on the back of the P300 are laid out in a fairly standard arrangement, including a four-way controller and combined control dial with an 'OK' select button in the center. At upper right is a rubber pad that acts as a thumb rest. The 5 small holes in the thumb rest are the camera's inbuilt speaker. To its left is the movie record button. Movie capture can be initated at any time using this button, in any of the shooting modes. Beneath the four-way controller are the menu and delete buttons. Because the control dial forms the four-way controller we've found that it can be all to easy to accidentally press down when it is rotated, and thereby to activate the options around its periphery when you only want to rotate the dial.

On-screen controls and menus

The P300's on-screen controls are minimal, but very simple to use and understand. Anyone coming to the P300 from the P700 will feel immediately at home, since the displays of both cameras are very closely related, but even the uninititated will appreciate the clean, unclutted layout. Exposure values are indicated clearly at the bottom of the screen, and ISO is shown at the lower left, except when Auto ISO is set. Oddly, in auto ISO mode, the currently active ISO setting is not displayed.

When shooting in Manual mode the P300 gives you easy access to shutter speed and aperture settings via the camera's two physical control dials. When exposure values are changed using the dials, the P300 shows this slightly disorientating, scrolling display.

 

Pressing the exposure compensation button on the rear of the camera brings up the on-screen controls for Hue, Vividness and Brightness (Exposure compensation).

While in Exp. Comp. mode a live histogram is displayed but disappointingly this is not available when shooting in full manual mode.

Menus

The P300 has a very simple menu system that provides easy access to all of the major features you would expect on a camera of this class. Image mode, white balance, metering and ISO are right at the top of the list for quick access, but it's a shame that you have to enter the menu system to change them. Other, arguably less useful settings such as macro mode get their own dedicated buttons on the rear of the camera.

The menu is divded into three tabs - shooting, video and the setup menu where lesser used functions can be found (and, confusingly, Vibration Reduction).

Review, Edit and Playback

In playback mode it's easy to review and edit the pictures you've taken. You can zoom out and find an image in thumbnail mode as well as find a shot by date on the calandar. There are also many image editing options available after you've taken your shot. D-Lighting provides a greater tonal range in scenes containing areas of different brightness by adjusting the tone curve of captured images.

Filter effects provide four creative editing options: Cross screen, Fisheye, Miniature effect and Painting. The 'Miniature effect' is meant to simulate a tilt-shift lens but in our experience of shooting in this mode the effect is subtle. [See examples on the Photographic tests page]

Pushing out on the zoom rocker allows you to zoom out into smaller and smaller thumbnails. At the very end you can access the calander that oragnizes your shots by date.

Pressing OK on the select wheel while in playback mode takes you to the file information and histogram view.
There are filter effects that can be added to your images after you take them like this fisheye filter. In the Playback menu there are many options for editing and refining your image in the camera.
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