Nikon P300 Review
Night landscape Mode
Night landscape mode is designed to make it easier to capture scenes in low light. Two modes are available - tripod and hand-held. When shooting in the default Hand-held mode the camera takes multiple frames at a high enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake and combines them together to create a single, properly exposed image with less noise.
In Tripod mode the P300 sets a longer shutter speed and wide lens aperture to achieve the same effect. Both modes produce good results, but as you can see in the crops below, images shot in hand held mode are fractionally less detailed when viewed at 100%, but the difference is subtle and unnoticeable at normal print sizes.
|Tripod mode||100% crop|
|Hand held mode||100% crop|
Backlighting mode is used to balance exposure when shooting a subject against a bright background. If an HDR mode (see below) is not selected in the menu the camera defaults to fill flash and will prompt you to raise the flash before shooting. The flash is used to provide exposure in the foreground. Backlighting does a good job of balancing exposure but the P300's tiny built in flash is not particularly effective except at close range. The closely related Night portrait mode can be found through the 'SCENE' modes menu.
|Program mode (flash off)
||Backlighting mode (fill flash)|
If the P300's built-in flash isn't quite powerful enough to provide a balanced exposure, you can select one of the 'HDR' settings. In HDR backlighting mode the P300 captures multiple exposures and combines them to achieve a larger dynamic range in the final image.
In HDR mode there are 3 levels that allow the effect of the HDR to be adjusted in increasing degrees of intensity. When taking HDR images it can be helpful to shoot using a tripod in cases where longer exposures may be encountered. However, for shots like the ones below, the P300 takes the successive frames quickly enough to be shot in-hand.
|HDR off||100% crop|
|HDR 1||100% crop|
|HDR 2||100% crop|
|HDR 3||100% crop|
Even when set to level 1, it is clear that HDR mode has a significant impact on shadow brightness, but images still appear relatively 'natural'. Set to level 2, shadows get brighter still, but noise levels are noticeably increased.
Level 3 begins to overexpose the highlights and the shadows begin to show significant chroma noise. Noticeable halos begin to form around high contrast areas such as at the edges of the windows illustrated above.
In many cases, whether you choose fill flash backlighting or HDR to balance exposure in high contrast scenes comes down to a matter of taste. The P300's built-in flash isn't particularly powerful, and as a consequence it can't balance scenes where the subject is more than a couple of meters away. Alternatively, HDR can create images that look unrealistic and grainy, especially in (what were) shadow areas. We have also noticed that HDR mode can create an unexpected amount of purple fringing in high-contrast areas as can be found on the window edges in the HDR 3 example above. HDR mode can help help to produce images that are more balanced in exposure, but we don't see much if any increased detail in the shadows.
The scene mode includes an easy panorama creator which allows you to take 180° or 360° panoramas just by panning the camera across the scene. The manual recommends shooting the scene over 15 seconds for 180° and 30 seconds for 360° panoramas. Even when following these recommendations we had problems getting the P300 to consistently create successful panoramas. In many cases the camera stopped part way through and created a partially grey image, especially in low light conditions. The P300 also includes a panorama assist mode that works by helping you align multiple images which can be more reliable but not as quick as the easy mode. With the panorama assist mode you would need to stitch the photos together using software on a computer. The image files created using the easy panorama mode are limited to 560 pixels high by 3200 pixels wide for 180° panoramas and 6400 pixels wide for 360° panoramas.
|180° panorama using Easy panorama mode|
|Incomplete panorama shot in Easy panorama mode which is generally caused by low light or rapid panning.|
When Easy Panorama works, it works pretty well. The panoramas that we've created with the P300 don't show any obvious joins, and exposure is realistic across the entire panned frame. Assuming that the panorama is complete (see comments above) the only issue is a slight 'striping', which you can see in the sky areas of these two images. This is caused by slightly mismatched luminance between the stitched frames. It's subtle though, and depending on how well your computer screen is calibrated you might not even see it.
Special Effects modes
The P300 includes 5 Special effect modes. These special effects are applied while shooting and cannot be altered. The Soft mode does quite a good job at emulating a plastic lens like you would find in a toy camera. As well as adding a browny-orange stain, the nostalgic sepia also employes this softening filter to create a more authentic look than just color filtering. High key over-exposes and saturates the colors. Low key under-exposes and de-saturates.
As well as the special effects modes the P300 also offers 4 filter effects which can only be applied to captured images through the playback menu. When selected, applying a filter effect takes a few seconds to complete, and a copy is saved to the card along side the original file.
We've found the filters work well in their intended purposes but the sparse selection is limited in its usefulness. The blur on the Miniature effect can not be adjusted in any way which means that you have to frame your subject about 2/3 the way down the frame to be in focus after applying the filter. The Cross screen filter will only work with images that have very bright point sources of light. In most evenly exposed images the effect will be completely ineffective. These filters may inspire different ways of shooting but from our perspective are not particularly useful.
May 31, 2011
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