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Advanced Compact Cameras - Highlighting the Nikon CoolPix P310

As I have upgraded and changed my camera gear for vacation and cruise photography, I recently discovered you always need a true "pocket camera". However, I only came to realize this after I got rid of my pocket camera. There are just times when you cannot or don't want to carry a camera around your neck or strap, and it just seems everytime I left the camera behind, a photo opportunity presented itself.

Nikon P310 Overview

Nikon COOLPIX P310

Specifications
Exposure modes: PSAM
Sensor: 16.1 MegaPixel
Lens: 4.2x (f/1.8 max aperture)
Movie Mode: 1080p HD
ISO range: 100~6400
File Format: JPG, MOV
Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC
Construction: advanced
Street Price with lens: $200


Alternatives

You should first realize this camera is no longer manufactured, however at the time of this writing, there is still left over new stock, as well as refurbished cameras available. This camera has been replaced by the P330, which is an even more capable camera. Since this camera has been discontinued, there are some great deals on it - usually under $200.

Suitability for Travel: Rates a 5 out of 5, simply because is it one of the best truly pocket cameras you can buy. It has a fast f/1.8 lens for superior low-light capability (although it is only f/1.8 at the wide angle end). The camera also features PSAM exposure modes, as well as a psuedo-HDR mode and a low-light stacking mode. While it doesn't have nearly the same size sensor as a DSLR, it is DSLR-like in many ways. And given that it is a pocket camera, it can be an every day carry camera without having to lug around a heavy DSLR. The photo you take with the camera you have is better than the camera you left behind.

Overview: This camera is small, light weight, and has all of the features a serious camera enthusiast would want. But it is also easily used by novice photographers with it's automatic modes. Notable features of this camera include:

  • Continuous shutter release - up to 7 frames per second (limited duration).
  • Exposure bracketing.
  • Program, Aperture & Shutter Priority and Manual (PSAM) modes, along with automatic.
  • Manual focus capability.
  • Vibration Reduction.
  • fast f/1.8 lens (although it is variable to f/4.9 at the telephoto end).
  • Psuedo HDR.
  • Dedicated command dial.
  • Flash modes including red-eye, fill, and rear-curtain sync.
  • Seperate movie button.
  • Stereo mic.
  • full 1080p HD movie.
  • low-light "stacking" mode.

When have you ever seen a compact camera having rear-curtain sync?

Low-light stacking mode: While I rarely use scene modes, this is one that is quite useful. When in the "night-landscape" mode, if the light is low enough, the camera will take up to 4 photos, then stack (or combine) them together for a single higher quality photo. This mode is generally limited to night landscapes where there is no dynamic action as the camera must be still for the 4 photos. As well, use of a tripod is recommended.

This is an example of low-light stacking. The photo was taken around 9:00pm in early June. So you could say this was in "dusk" conditions as the sun had already set.

While Night-Landscape mode is not a substitute for a high-end camera, it did remarkably well I think.

There are two modes you can use in Night-Landscape, Handheld, and Tripod.

 


Aperture priority mode - 1/2.5s, f/1.8, ISO 400

Night-Landscape - 1/15s, f/1.8, ISO 800
 
From these photos you can clearly see that the Night-Landscape mode created a properly exposed photo, where using Aperture priority did not do as well. Still, at f/1.8, you can see that Aperure priority still got the photo - although it was perhaps -1Ev underexposed.
 

Crop of the above photo.

Crop of the above photo.

From the cropped sections, you can see that the photo to the left - even though it used a lower ISO - is significantly more noisy, and not as sharp as the right photo. Note that I did raise the lighting a bit on the left photo to see these things a bit clearly. My conclusion is that the Night-Landscape stacking mode does help in some situations, depending on the subject material, and provided you have the time to setup the camera and take the photo.

Lens Testing:

The test photos were taken of gym equipment, then cropped to show the results. The yellow box in the lower right is the cropped area for each photo shown below.


Nikon P310 @ 30mm f/5.6

Nikon P310 @ 40mm f/5.6


Nikon P310 @ 85mm f/5.6

Nikon P310 @ 85mm f/8

The lens maintains it's sharpness throughout the entire range - which is what you would expect of a 4x lens. As is typical of almost any lens, as you stop down to f/8, the lens becomes sharper.


Good low light performance.

Crop of photo at left.

Conclusion: Clearly, this is a great little camera for pocket use. While you can opt for the Nikon P330 replacement - which gives you RAW file capability as well as a larger 1/1.7" sensor, you cannot beat the P310 for the low under $200 street price. Admittantly, this is a close out price, but since camera manufacturers replace compact cameras on an annual basis, this camera is hardly obsolete.