I lose a lot of point and shoot cameras. While it helps me try a camera every few months or so, it doesn't help my bank account. I needed a camera to meter for the old school film cameras I have to use for school (and also to serve as my snapper for instagram). Therefore the search for a new compact camera started. When I saw the Nikon p310 for 200$, I started to reminisce of my days with the p300 I once had before (it died in a kayak incident which led to the purchase of the TX10). The previous camera was hard to use and to post-process on, but for the price, it was bang-on what I needed: manual controls, f1.8 lens and useable ISO 1600. The p310 provides a similar value for that awesomely good price.
200$ won't get you much in the camera world: a consumer entry level compact camera with an "OK" zoom (most will start at F3.3) and an "OK" image quality (most will get to ISO 800 and crash then again F3.3 aperture helps no one shoot ambient light). The p310 for that price gives you similar dSLR controls and a great sharp lens to boot.
It's a beautiful messI warn you though, the camera ain't easy to use.
- AF is reliable 2/3 of the time, even with Assist-Light on.
- The camera will deliberately block you from using certain shutter speed, ISO or aperture values depending on your actions.
- The camera menu interface is some crappy DOS shit. It has nothing to do with modern Nikon dSLR camera (okay it's not as bad as a Fuji, Ricoh, Nikon 1 and so on and so forth).
- The camera has a hard time producing great colours regardless of the picture controls mode you set it on and regardless of the custom picture controls you manage. Knowing your way out of Lightroom or Photoshop plays a integral part in the enjoyment of that camera. (update: I managed to come up with a decent custom picture profile that I will share later in this blog)
- The camera will never tell you when it runs out of battery. It will show you a full bar then turn off on its own.
In the handsThe build quality of the p310 is on simple minimalistic. The magnesium shell gives an overall solid feel and small finished details like the subtle rubber grip placement, the feedback on the buttons, wheels and nozzles are testaments of Nikon's expertise on no-compromise practical camera design. The only part that let me down was the screen… I was surprised at how easy it scratches vs. its dSLR counterparts. Just buy a screen protector if anything and you'll do fine.
Using itUsing the p310 requires a certain level of photography knowledge. Not to say that the camera performs badly on auto for the common man, but the auto mode is probably dumber than more user friendly cameras like Canons and Sonys. Powering on and off the device takes no time, I'd say it's instant. When working well, AF is on the fast side of things, unless you put it in macro mode. The shooting interface is intuitive enough to give you all the information you need to take a shot without overwhelming you. There is a customizable FN button on which you can assign useful settings like ISO/white balance. There is a long list of customizable settings hidden in the menus that actually help the camera provide a better shooting experience: you can decide on the shooting aspect ratio; disabling noise reduction and tweaking the picture controls well radically boost the image quality way above what the ubiquiteous Sony 16mp BSI (found in probably every digital camera today) is capable. While the Nikkor zoom lens's aperture isn't constant, it does provide a decent working fast apertures at various wide focal lengths (24mm f1.8, 28mm f2.0, 35mm f2.5) with image stabilization that makes 1/10 slow exposure shots possible. Customizable Flash exposure rocks and is usually spot on especially when set for 2nd curtain. There is a User function mode that remembers your settings for a particular type of photography. Scene modes are also part of the deal with "Sweep-Panorama" mode being the most useful. Auto ISO works wonders as it even lets you set a minimum shutter speed for it. HD Video recording is a button press away and the well-stabilized optical zoom is useable. All in all, this is a well functional camera for seasoned photographers, but not for people who aren't ready to learn the ropes of photography.
On the computerI bought the p310 to upload photo on the web (Facebook/Instagram). For those uses, P310 photos offer plenty of detail and crispness. Auto White Balance mostly nails the colour and said colours are on the realistic side of things, making the overall native image pretty flat on some occasions, especially in daylight. When viewed at 100%, images look good up until ISO 1600. Lowlight shots in bars and concerts look great without being OMG stunning like dSLRs with good lenses. Dynamic range is narrow as expected, yet using D-Lighting helps in creating a boring flat HDR-like image that doesn't blow highlight or burn shadows. The JPG file can surprisingly sustain quite a lot of stress in Lightroom before breaking down, all you need to do is increase colour noise reduction by a bit and you are ending up with an above average good file. HD videos are crisp and clear with great sound recording free of distortions no matter how loud the music is.
ConclusionOnce you get passed all the initial complications and actually get down to shooting with it, the Nikon P310 is probably the best pocket camera of the year. The pricing is ridiculously low and the camera that beats it cost nearly twice its price, mainly for the ability to shoot in RAW (the Canon s110 and now the Nikon P330). If you are looking for something small that takes great pictures, this is hands down the best solution, until compact cameras break the ISO 3200 barrier.
To see how it looks on Instagram go here. Read more...