The Nikon Coolpix P310 is a camera without peer at its price. It's a premium compact camera priced more like your average point-and-shoot, with a fast F1.8 lens, manual exposure controls, very good image quality, and a pocket-size body. The Coolpix P310 offers the best bang for the buck you'll find in the premium-compact class, just as long as you don't need a long-zoom lens or a RAW mode. See also: Group test: what's the best compact camera?
Nikon Coolpix P310: Performance, Image Quality, and Video Quality
In our jury evaluations for image quality, the Nikon Coolpix P310 largely lived up to its "premium compact" branding. It may not have the best overall image quality in the premium point-and-shoot realm, but it is among the best cameras we've tested this year. See also: Learn to take better photos with an online simulator.
The Nikon Coolpix P310 earned scores of Very Good in three of the four testing categories (exposure quality, sharpness, and lack of distortion), and a Good score for color accuracy. Unlike most other cameras these days, the Coolpix P310 takes an understated approach to colour reproduction; you don't see the punchy, oversaturated colors that you do in other cameras' pictures. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though skin tones do look a bit on the pale side.
The Nikon Coolpix P310's scores in our video tests weren't as impressive. In our bright-light tests it produced noticeably less contrast, sharpness, and detail than some of the better video-capable point-and-shoot cameras. In our low-light tests, the P310's 1080p/30-fps test clips looked so dark that we had a hard time picking up what was happening in front of the lens. Overall, the Coolpix P310 earned a score of Fair for video capture; we rated its audio pickup as Good.
With a rating of 230 shots per charge in CIPA's standardized tests, the Nikon Coolpix P310's rechargeable lithium ion battery ranked at the high end of our Fair range for battery life.
Nikon Coolpix P310: Shooting Modes and Features
These days most cameras in this price range are loaded with bells and whistles such as in-camera GPS and Wi-Fi capabilities. Instead, the Nikon Coolpix P310 is somewhat refreshing in its straightforward features, which Nikon is aiming solely at traditional photography.
The Nikon Coolpix P310 is a very good performer in macro mode, with the ability to get within an inch of the subject and capture a crisp shot--at least in well-lit situations. I also found that the camera's close-up focusing capabilities are even better if you switch to manual focus; in Auto mode, the camera's minimum focus distance is about an inch, but if you jump into aperture-priority mode and use manual focus, you can get within half an inch. In either case, the depth of field is impressively shallow for a camera with a relatively small 1/2.3-inch-type sensor.
As you'd expect in a premium compact camera, the Nikon Coolpix P310 goes beyond Auto mode and Program Auto mode and offers manual exposure controls, aperture-priority mode, and shutter-priority mode. One notable omission is a RAW-shooting mode. In addition to those manual controls, you'll find a custom entry on the mode dial labeled with a "U" for "user." When you set the camera to User mode, diving into the menus allows you to pick your own default settings.
Another entry on the mode dial gives you quick access to the camera's Night Landscape mode, which employs exposure bracketing and image stacking to produce crisp, clear photos in low-light settings without using a flash. The results are outstanding, but the camera takes about 8 seconds to process your photo in this mode. It's great for one-off photos in low light, but your shot-to-shot times will suffer as you wait for your images to write to your storage card; you can't use the camera while it processes the photos. You'll encounter the same slow save speeds while shooting video, but at least you can use the camera while you're waiting for a video to save to your card.
For high-speed shooting, you have other options. A Function button on the front of the camera provides access to burst-shooting settings: a 5-frames-per-second burst mode at full 16-megapixel resolution, a 120-fps high-speed mode at 640-by-480-pixel resolution, and a 60-fps mode at 1-megapixel resolution. The front-mounted Function button also provides access to a precapture buffer that starts taking 3-megapixel images once you half-press the shutter button, an interval timer that you can use for time-lapse photography, and a unique "Multi-shot 16" mode that creates a single mosaic of shots captured at high speed.
Since all of those options are available at the touch of the Function button, the rest of the settings menus stay clean, but there's a catch: Because the button is on the front of the camera, you sometimes forget it's there.
You access the camera's extensive array of scene modes in a more traditional way, via the mode dial; you'll find a single Scene position that brings up a menu of 20 scene-mode options. Along with mainstays such as portrait, fireworks, landscape, and sunset mode, the P310 has newfangled options such as a 3D capture mode (which records images as .MPO files) and two options for panoramic images: a motion-controlled panorama mode and a stitch-assist panorama mode that helps you compose up to six successive shots.
Some of the Coolpix P310's best features come into play after you take a picture. Like many of Nikon's cameras, the Coolpix P310 has excellent post-shot editing tools that you can apply to a copy of an original photo during playback. A few highlights among the post-shot tools are a Quick Retouch feature that brightens up colors and contrast in your images, a D-Lighting (dynamic lighting) option that brings out details in darker areas of a scene, a Miniature Effect filter that mimics a tilt-shift lens, and a Selective Color feature that lets you pick a single color to highlight in an otherwise black-and-white shot.
Although the P310 doesn't provide full manual exposure controls in video mode, it does put a couple of semimanual video options at your disposal. By pressing the left and right directions on the camera's control pad while capturing video, you can force the camera's autofocus system to readjust or lock the exposure settings for a particular scene. You can also trim down clips inside the camera.