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Digital Camera Reviews > Nikon Coolpix
Nikon Coolpix P3 VR Wi-Fi
Date: March 22, 2006
Beginner to Serious Amateur
The Nikon Coolpix P3 is a digital camera
targeted to beginner and serious amateur photographers.
It has 8.1 megapixel resolution on a 1/1.8 in.
CCD image sensor, and a 7.5-26.3mm (36-126mm,
35 mm equivalent) 3.5x optical Zoom-Nikkor lens,
with a maximum aperture of F2.7(W)-F5.3(T), and
minimum aperture of F7.6.
We find the overall image quality of the Nikon
P3 to be good to very good, though we'd prefer
images to retain more details.
(36mm, 35mm equivalent)
(126mm, 35mm equivalent)
The Nikon P3 has a 3.5x optical Zoom-Nikkor lens.
In the above pictures, we show the coverage for
36mm, and then 126mm. It takes about 2 sec. to
zoom from wide-angle to telephoto (I counted 8
The camera is choke-full of practical features
to help you get the best picture possible. Besides
Auto mode and easy-to-use Scene Modes, the Nikon
P3 also has Programmed Auto and Aperture-Priority
Programmed Auto mode is a more flexible Auto
mode and allows you to choose some of the most
important exposure settings, such as ISO, exposure
compensation and metering mode. Program Shift
works in conjunction with Programmed Auto mode
and allows you to shift the aperture/shutter speed
combinations in tandem while still keeping the
Aperture-Priority mode is like Programmed Auto
mode but also allows you to select (fix) the desired
aperture, and let the camera select the appropriate
shutter speed. However, as you are aware, aperture
usually changes as you zoom. So Nikon has also
provided a Fixed Aperture feature that will keep
the aperture (in Aperture Priority mode) as
close as possible to the one you've set when
you zoom (works only for aperture range: f/5 to
f/7.3). Unlike many digital cameras with "electronic"
apertures, the Nikon P3 has a Six-blade hexagonal
iris diaphragm with 10 possible settings (in 1/3EV
The camera also provides a live histogram, exposure
compensation (with Auto Bracketing), manual White
Balance (with WB Bracketing), manual AF Area mode
(and corresponding Spot AF area metering). Shutter
speed ranges from 2-1/2,000 sec. in all modes,
except in Fireworks and Night Landscape scene
modes where slow shutter speeds of 4 and 8 sec.
are also available. Note, however, that you won't
be able to select any exposure settings in these
7.5mm, Programmed Auto, Multi-Pattern
1.12 sec., F2.7, +0.7EV, ISO 50, Preset WB
Macro can be as close as 4 cm (1.6 in.). The
AF indicator dot and AF frame turn green to indicate
successful focus; a blinking red AF indicator
dot and blinking AF frame indicate focus has not
AF is fast and works very well even in low-light.
In extreme low-light, the AF Illuminator automatically
(if you've set it on in the menu) kicks in to
help achieve focus. One thing we've noticed is
that the AF Illuminator is placed quite high in
relation to the lens and is not able to light
up a subject at close macro range, so you might
have some problem achieving focus lock in very
close macro range in low-light.
Best Shot Selector (Menu - BSS - ON) works by
taking 10 shots in a row (as long as you keep
your finger pressed on the shutter release button)
and then discarding all except the one that comes
out the sharpest. Very cool feature!
The Nikon P3 provides three AF modes: Auto selects
the subject with the most contrast out of 11 AF
areas; Manual (AF area) allows you to select from
99 AF areas; and Center-focus area.
Manual AF area helps tremendously for off-center
subjects, especially in macro photography. Once
you set this option in the menu, it stays out
of the way until you call for it. Nikon has implemented
a very intuitive way to do that: anytime you wish
to invoke manual AF area mode, simply press the
OK button and use the arrow keys to move the AF
area around the screen to one of 99 possible positions.
When you're done, press OK to set it at its new
position. Some cameras make you go thru hoops
to do what the Nikon P3 does so elegantly. What
more, Manual AF area is nicely complemented with
Spot AF area metering mode.
As you can notice in the picture above right,
the 4 angle brackets denote the extent of the
selectable area and so these 99 AF areas unfortunately
do not go to the edge of the screen.
There are four metering modes:
Matrix (Multi-Pattern), Center-weighted, Spot
and Spot AF area. The latter is interesting because
it will meter at the spot that you have manually
moved the AF area to on the screen. Makes sense!
|Blinking smily face
||AF locks and tracks face
In addition to Auto AF and Manual area AF, Face-Priority
AF is available in Portrait scene mode. You use
the blinking smily face displayed on screen as
a guide. When the subject's face becomes the same
size as the smily face, the camera recognizes
it and frames with a double yellow border. If
the camera detects multiple faces, the closest
will be framed with a double border, the rest
by a single border. The camera can recognize up
to 3 faces. Once a face is locked on, the camera
will even track it as you move to recompose.
This face recognition capacity is, of course,
limited depending on the shooting condition. Bottom
line: it works but it's not perfect: the subject
must be facing the camera; also, the camera may
not be able to detect faces that look away from
the camera, are partially hidden by sunglasses
or other obstructions, or faces that take too
much or too little of the frame.
As the above two pictures show, the auto white
balance (AWB) indoors under artificial light is
not accurate. Fortunately, the Nikon P3 allows
WB to be set manually via the Menu: Preset WB
allows us to correct the colours to real white.
AWB works well in natural light.
You can set the ISO on the Nikon P3 from 50 to
400. The 100%
crops above (area delimited by the white square)
demonstrate that noise at ISO 50 and 100 are under
control. Noise starts to be visible at ISO 200
but is usable. At ISO 400, the presence of noise
takes the form of coloured splotches.
1/6.9 sec., F4.8, ISO 50, Auto WB
CA is minimal to non-existent in everyday shots.
In the high contrast shot above, the corner delimited
by the red square at middle, and reproduced at
100% crop at bottom right, shows no purple fringing.
Multi-Pattern, 2 sec., F2.7, ISO 50
Preset (manual) WB, Macro, Self-timer 10 sec.,
Tripod Used, 100% Crop
The Nikon P3's slowest shutter speed only goes
down to 2 sec. in AUTO, P and A modes. Generally,
with CCD image sensors, noise usually becomes
more prominent at slow shutter speeds.
We take a low-light indoors shot. Light is from
two of those special "natural light"
fluorescent bulbs on the ceiling. To obtain a
long exposure, I place Bamm-Bamm under my desk
in the shadows. I obtain focus lock easily since
the Nikon P3 has an AF Assist Illuminator. The
noise reduction works well. Since 2 sec. exposure
is really not long enough and there is no way
to manually select a slower shutter speed, the
picture is a bit underexposed.
|Same picture as above with
D-Lighting applied in Picture Project
And that is where another unique feature of the
Nikon digital cameras comes into play: D-Lighting
control allows you to "rescue" images
that come out too dark. You can do that in camera
(a copy of the picture is made) or later in PictureProject.
There are three levels of brightness that you
can apply in PictureProject (in camera, the camera
makes that decision for you): Low, Normal and
High. We choose "Low" and the result
is above. Pretty impressive, eh?
You can view a live histogram by pressing the
RIGHT ARROW key. At the same time, Exposure Compensation
is automatically invoked. Again, this makes great
sense because you would want to adjust the exposure
compensation if you decide the histogram is indicating
over- or under-exposure. No need to press another
button, you are already in exposure compensation
|7.5mm, Programmed Auto, Partial
1/2sec., F2.7, ISO 50, Handheld, 100% Crop
|7.5mm, Programmed Auto, Partial
1/2sec., F2.7, ISO 50, Handheld, 100% Crop
Nikon has now included its lens shift Vibration
Reduction (VR) technology developed for its digital
SLR lenses into the P3 lens. VR is Nikon speak
for lens image stabilization, the true kind, where
a lens element shifts to counteract tiny camera
movements that can cause blurred images. When
tuned on, VR allows you to handhold the camera
at slower shutter speeds than you would normally
be able to without suffering from camera shake
(with resultant blurred images). As the two above
images show, the VR technology in the P3 is very
The Nikon Coolpix P3 delivers good to
very good image quality and its many practical
features allow you to face challenging photographic
situations with confidence.
The pictures in the Nikon Coolpix P3 Photo
Gallery page provide a good sample of what
the camera is capable of. I have provided samples
at 800x600 pixels (compressed to Quality 60/100
in Photoshop Elements) as well as the 3264x2448
pixels original size (click on the image for the
You can safely assume that most macro shots
and slow shutter speed shots required the use
of a tripod. Any image that is adjusted for levels
in Photoshop has "_adjusted" appended
to the file name (though the original sized image
is, of course, not adjusted).
I have defaulted the image size to 800x600 pixels.
For those who have their monitor resolution set
to 1024x728 pixels, everything should snugly fit
and you should not have to scroll to see the whole
image. If your monitor is set to 800x600 pixels
resolution, start the slide show and then scroll
to the right to position the image within your
screen width. Then, press F11 (if you are using
Internet Explorer) to switch to full screen mode,
and the image should fill your screen nicely.
Press F11 again at any time to switch your monitor
display back to normal mode.
To return to this page from the Photo Gallery,
click on the animated graphics of the camera.
Please open and download the original size version
only if you need to and only once
to your hard drive -- and save me some precious