Befitting its status as a premium compact, the P300 is constructed from a mixture of metal and plastic. It’s not too weighty in the hand, but does feel reassuring solid. It’s a stylish contender too; design very much follows the minimalist tradition, with clean, straight lines and low-profile buttons and controls. If first impressions count then the P300 certainly impresses.
The only real downside to the minimalist approach taken by Nikon with the P300 is the lack of a proper finger grip. Yes, there is a small rubberised strip on the front of the camera, but it’s not really all that substantial and doesn’t offer all that much purchase. Thankfully, the moulded thumb-rest on the back of the camera is a little more pronounced and is rubberised too for added grip.
In use, the P300’s zoom control isn’t particularly smooth or responsive. Taking just under a second and a half to extend from 24mm-100mm, the spring-loaded rocker switch makes quite large focal jumps even when lightly feathered. In fact, we were able to count no more than 12 individual steps between the wideangle and telephoto extremes. This can make precise framing a bit of a chore and ideally we’d prefer to see a bit more precision from something billed as a premium model.
Elsewhere though, the P300 impresses with its ease of use. Given its minimalist design, there’s no button clutter to deal with, with all controls proving easy to reach and use. The ring around the directional-pad doubles up as a control wheel, and there’s also another control wheel subtly built into the top-plate of the camera.
Echoing the dual-wheel control of Nikon DSLRs, these two wheels act independently of each other when the camera is in fully manual mode, with the top thumb wheel controlling shutter speed and the D-pad wheel controlling aperture. It’s a neat and precise arrangement that makes shooting in fully manual mode much more intuitive.
The menu system, in keeping with so many other Nikon cameras, is also really well laid out and easy to navigate. The options you are presented with are dependant on what shooting mode you are using, but common to all shooting modes is the simple act of pressing ‘Up’ or ‘Down’ on the D-pad to arrive at the setting you want to change from where you press Right to access a sub-menu to make your changes with the OK button confirming your selection and taking you back to shooting mode. If only all camera menus were this simple.
The P300 contains a 1050mAh Li-Ion battery that drains very quickly. In fact, using the camera non-stop we were only able to record around 150 images before the battery was exhausted. There’s no standalone battery charger in the box, although you do get a USB to mini USB lead that plugs directly into the base of the P300 to charge it via the mains supply or a PC. Be careful though, as the plastic cover guarding the mini USB port on the base of the camera looks like it’ll snap off before long.
We timed the P300’s start-up speed at a fraction under two seconds, which is perfectly reasonable for a compact camera. AF performance is smooth and quick too, with the camera able to go from near focus to infinity focus almost instantly in good light. In really poor light the P300 is able to emit an orange AF assist light to help find focus
Used in single-shot mode the P300 is able to record and process individual images in just over a second, with no upper limit on the number of shots you are unable to record. Switching to continuous drive allows you to snap at 8fps for up to seven consecutive shots, after which the camera will lock-up for around five seconds while it processes the images.