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Advanced Compact Cameras - The Nikon CoolPix P330

Before buying the P330, I had the P310 - which was it's predecessor, which I thought was a very capable camera. But the P330 extends that capability further. All I can say is that this is perhaps the best truly compact camera you can buy - and certainly the best you can buy for under $300 (street price is around $290).

Whether you use this as your primary camera, or use it as a backup camera, it is an essential piece of gear to take on your vacation. In fact on a recent cruise, I took my Nikon D7100 DSLR with a 8-16mm lens and the P330. I used the D7100 DSLR for all of the wide angle shots, and the P330 for everything else.

Nikon P330 Overview

Nikon COOLPIX P330

Specifications
Exposure modes: PSAM
Sensor: 12.2 MegaPixel
Sensor size:: 1/1.7" BSI
Lens: 5x (f/1.8 max aperture)
Movie Mode: 1080p HD
ISO range: 80~12,800
File Format: JPG, RAW, MOV
Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC
Features: WiFi, GPS
Construction: magnesium chassis
Street Price with lens: $295


Alternatives

This camera rasies the bar further over the fine Nikon Coolpix 310; including a 40% larger sensor (1/1.7"), better low light capability (by using a sensible 12Mp sensor), RAW file capability, WiFi connectivity, GPS, and a bona-fide video PAUSE function in a magnesium chassis just about identical in size to the P310. If you liked the P310, you will love the P330.

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.

The camera is rugged as well. Although not advertised as a "ruggedized" camera, it's magnesium chassis means it may take additional punishment without problem. I have dropped this camera out of my pocket a few times, and while the camera was off (meaning the lens was not extended), no harm came to the camera. However, if dropped with the lens extended and power on, the camera may sustain damage.

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:
  • Large 12Mp 1/1.7" Back Side Illuminated sensor.
  • Continuous shutter release - up to 7 frames per second (limited duration).
  • Magnesium chassis.
  • Exposure bracketing.
  • Exposure compensation.
  • Flash exposure compensation.
  • Program, Aperture & Shutter Priority and Manual (PSAM) modes, along with automatic.
  • User defined mode.
  • Manual focus capability.
  • Vibration Reduction.
  • Mechanical/electronic shutter.
  • fast f/1.8 lens (although it is variable to f/5.6 at the telephoto end); 24-120mm equivalent.
  • 7-blade iris aperture.
  • Matrix, center weighted, or spot metering and focusing.
  • Psuedo HDR.
  • Dedicated command dial.
  • Flash modes including red-eye, fill, slow-sync, and rear-curtain sync.
  • WiFi remote capability (with the WU1a adapter).
  • Ability to set Color Temperature (3850~10,000 deg K).
  • Interval Timer.
  • GPS.
  • Panoramic, selective color, Hi-key, Low-key, Sepia, Macro, 3D modes.
  • Built-in ND filter.
  • Seperate movie button.
  • Video PAUSE function.
  • Stereo mic.
  • full 1080p HD movie.
  • low-light "stacking" mode.
  • Programmable function button.

Note: items listed in white are advanced features not normally found in a compact camera.

When have you ever seen a compact camera having rear-curtain sync (other than the P310)?

Low-light stacking mode: Like the P310, the P330 has a "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.

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. The photo was actually taken with a P310, but the P330 offers identical performance.

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.

The lens maintains it's sharpness throughout the entire range - which is what you would expect of a 5x lens. As is typical of almost any lens, as you stop down to f/8, the lens becomes sharper.


Advanced functions.

Video Pause function. One criticism of digital format video is lack of a bona-fide pause function. Whether it be a DSLR in video mode, a Video CamCorder, or a compact camera, when you take multiple videos, they create separate files. This then requires assembling these individual files into a single video file in post processing software. Unfortunately, many people do not posess the computer resources or knowledge to easily do this.

With the P330, you have a new feature - a true pause function. This allows you to pause the recording when you change scenes, so that you end up with a single video file, without the need to assemble files into a single larger video file. I am not aware of other cameras with this feature.

WiFi. A feature more and more Nikon cameras are supporting is WiFi connectivity. This allows you to connect your camera to an iPhone (or iPod Touch) or Android phone/tablet for remote control of the camera, as well as file transfer to social and media websites. This functionality does require an optional Wu1a adapter - around $55. While the adapter does not allow full control of the camera, the Wu1a, when used with the P330 includes depressing the shutter, zooming in and out of the lens, and transfer of photos and videos.

Wu1a Demo

Rear-Curtain Sync. One function only typically found on DSLRs is a rear-curtain flash. In the left photo below, the standard pop-up flash is used. As expected, the objects in the foregroud are illuminated. However, in the right photo, by using the rear-curtain mode of the flash unit, the background can be exposed before the flash fires, resulting in a better photo.

Rear-curtain flash mode is typically a feature with mechanical shutters. Since the P330 has a mechanical/electronic shutter, this mode is available. However, most compact cameras in this class do not have mechanical shutters, which may be a good indication why this feature is rather unique.


Using a flash in low light conditions.

Using rear-curtain flash.


Low Light Capability:

The low light capability of this camera is outstanding. While some ISO noise is apparent at ISO 3200, the performance at this ISO is incredible, and it is completely useable. Some DSLRs produced only a few years ago cannot match the high ISO performance of this little camera.


ISO 3200 performance.

Closeup at ISO 3200.
High Resolution Photo


ISO400 f/2.8 1/100sec.

ISO400 f/1.8 1/125sec.


ISO400 f/1.8 1/60sec.

Closeup of above photo.


Overall photo quality. I think you will find this camera produces outstanding photos in a variety of situations.


Beach at Philipsburg, St. Maarten.

Goony Bird.

Conclusion: Clearly, with incredible low-light performance and advanced feature set, this is a great little camera for pocket use. Thanks to the magnesium chassis, it has a very solid feel and weight to it. It is undoubedtly the best camera you can buy for under $300, especially if you are looking for a true pocket camera. I often augment the use of my Nikon D7100 DSLR with this little camera.

The only downside I have seen is the shutter lag is a bit apparent (time between depressing the shutter and the photo being taken). But that is common for a compact camera, and the lag on this camera is better than most compacts. If you are taking action photos, you may wish to use the continuous shutter feature of the camera.

If you find all of these features intimidating, realize you can use the camera in auto and scene mode to start with - and use the advanced features as you learn. It is a camera that will grow with you.