The P300 is built around a 1/2.3-inch backlit CMOS sensor that offers 12.2-megapixels of effective resolution along with Nikon’s EXPEED C2 image processor that allows you to shoot at up to 8fps at full resolution. Sensitivity, meanwhile, ranges from ISO 160 to ISO 3200.
Used on its highest 12.2MP setting the P300 is capable of producing a maximum output of 4000 x 3000 pixels in the sensor’s native 4:3 aspect ratio. There are also options to record at 8MP, 5MP, 3MP, as well as PC-quality and VGA-quality. The ability to shoot at other aspects is limited to just 16:9 at 9MP.
The P300 comes with a 4.2x optical zoom that covers between 24mm and 100mm in 35mm terms. While this isn’t an especially wide focal range for a compact, it does compare favourably with its rivals – the Canon S95, for example, offers 28-105mm (3.8x), while the Lumix LX5 offers 24-90mm (also 3.8x). With a maximum aperture of f/1.8 the P300 is also one of the fastest compacts on the market.
Given that the P300 is presented as a premium compact that’s designed to appeal to photography enthusiasts it’s somewhat disappointing that the camera is JPEG only, with no way to record images as lossless Raw files. In complete contrast, both the Canon S95 and Lumix LX5 offer the ability to shoot in Raw.
In other areas, however, the P300 does offer DSLR-owning photography enthusiasts some familiar traits and features. For example the camera boasts the full compliment of creative DSLR shooting modes – Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and fully Manual, all of which will be second-nature to DSLR owners.
If, however, you’d prefer to let the camera take full control then the P300 offers a fully Automatic shooting mode, along with a selection of 17 individual Scene modes. Hidden away within these scene options is a Panorama mode that can be used to create 180-degree or 360-degree panoramas by simply panning the camera in a predetermined direction with the shutter button held down.
While we’re big fans of Sony’s Sweep Panorama technology, we’re also suitably impressed by Nikon’s reply to it. The P300 lacks the ability to shoot high-resolution panoramas that’s offered by some Sony compacts, but image quality remains pretty good, with almost seamless stitching too.
Rounding things off are a couple of interesting shooting modes: Night Landscape and Backlighting. Both work by taking multiple exposures and blending them together. Night Landscape does this in order to reduce noise, while Backlighting does so to simulate an increase in dynamic range. These are useful tools that can produce good results when used sensibly, although we’d advise caution with the Backlighting/HDR option as cranking it up to Level 3 generally leads to comically unnatural results.
Turning now to drive modes, in addition to the standard single-shot and 8fps continuous modes, the P300 also offers a number of high-speed modes: Best Shot Selector records up to 10 shots in succession and then automatically selects the sharpest while discarding the others.
Multi-shot, meanwhile, records 16 frames in super-quick succession and displays them all as single image. From here you can zoom in and crop the individual frame that you want, which can then be saved as a unique file. There are also 60fps and 120fps options, both of which record images at 1MP. As might be expected processing times for both are somewhat elongated compared to regular shooting modes.
Movie recording is well catered for with the P300 able to record movies at a maximum 1920 x 1080p at 30fps. If required, movie quality can be stepped down to VGA quality, with all movies stored in the H.264 file format. Audio is recorded in stereo via two microphones on top of the camera, and AF can be set to either full-time or single. In addition, it’s also possible to operate the zoom while movies are being recorded.
The P300 is furnished with a number of in-camera editing tools that offer limited ability to alter your images without a computer. From simple all-in-one Quick Retouch commands to Dynamic Lighting and Skin Softening tools, the P300 also gets some basic digital filters, including fisheye and miniature effect. Oddly though, there’s a distinct lack of basic tools, such as crop or red-eye removal.
On the back, the P300 benefits from a fantastic high-resolution LCD monitor. Measuring three inches from corner to corner, the screen offers a 920k-dot resolution, which puts it right up there with the very best DSLR screens. The screen further benefits from an anti-reflective coating that enables you to see it even in bright, direct sunlight.