Nikon Coolpix 4300 Review
The Coolpix 4300 creates a new position in the line-up between the Coolpix 2500 and the Coolpix 4500 with a full 3x optical zoom lens (38-114mm in 35mm equivalent) and a 4-megapixel CCD for images up to 2272 x 1704 pixels. It has the same general "look and feel" as the sales record breaking Coolpix 775 from 2001. The Coolpix 4300's Auto record mode is for point-n-shoot simplicity, the camera sets all the exposure controls for you with no menu available. The Manual record mode gives you two screens of menus and options for Program or full Manual exposure control. So there's plenty to keep the advanced user happy and the beginner's operation simple.
The first thing you notice when handling the Coolpix 4300 is the large handgrip that makes this camera very stable in your hand. One-handed shooting is simple and I'm glad to see that Nikon realizes that even a small camera like the 4300 can benefit from a larger handgrip. The 4300 uses its 1.5-inch color LCD for all of its information displays instead of a status LCD on top of the camera. It also uses the color LCD for image review, preview and access to the settings menus. The color LCD is a high quality display with a real- time refresh rate and is useable in all but the very brightest of outdoor conditions. A significant improvement to outdoor viewing would be for Nikon to have used an non-glare surface on the LCD instead of the high gloss one that's on it.
The Coolpix 880 was Nikon's first camera to use a lithium rechargeable battery pack and since then we have seen the EN-EL1 show up on the Coolpix 995, 775, 885, 4500, 5700 and now it is being used with the 4300. You can also use a 2CR-5 lithium one-use battery but thankfully the 4300 comes with the rechargeable EN-EL1 and MH-51 charger. Those 2CR-5 batteries get expensive at ~$10.00 each and then end up in the local landfill. The EN-EL1 battery pack can run the camera for about an hour and thirty minutes with the LCD on and takes 2 hours or less to charge. So the first accessory we would strongly suggest is an extra EN-EL1 to keep charged and stored in your camera bag.
The Coolpix 4300 shares numerous features with the Coolpix 4500 such as a 5-point autofocus with manual AF point selection, Quick Review function, excellent macro focus coverage, exposure/drive modes (Single, Continuous, Ultrahigh-speed Continuous and Multi-Shot 16) as well as Best-Shot Selection, white balance with fine tuning and bracketing, manual preset white balance, 256-segment Matrix, Center-Weighted, Spot or Spot AF Area metering, Noise Reduction for long exposures, adjustable ISO sensitivity (100, 200, 400 or Auto), control over image contrast and sharpness and 320x240 (QVGA) QuickTime movie capture at 15fps up to 40 seconds.
Gone is the aperture priority exposure mode, with only two possible settings (wide open or fully closed), this is not really going to be missed. When in the Scene mode the menu gives you a choice of twelve possible situations (Portrait, Party/Indoor, Night Portrait, Beach/Snow, Landscape, Sunset, Night Landscape, Museum, Fireworks Show, Close Up, Copy, Back Light). These presets aid the novice user in getting the best possible photographs by auto-selecting the optimum settings for each of the desired scene conditions. The Transfer button makes downloading image data to the host computer running NikonView software as easy as pressing one button. The new USB mass storage class drivers make the camera appear as a removable drive so you can use any file management utility to copy images to your hard drive.
The 3x optical zoom lens is quite sharp and reasonably fast at F2.8, it has the usual amount of barrel distortion at full wideangle that we see in most digicams. At the telephoto end it is relatively clean of pincushioning and the zoom mechanism is quiet and smooth. With the LCD on, the camera is in Continuous-AF mode and locks the focus very quickly when the shutter is half-pressed. With the LCD off, the average AF lock time is about a second to two. Using the UR-E7 lens adapter you can attach the Nikkor Coolpix 2x or 3x telephoto lenses, the WC-E24 or WC-E63 wideangle lenses, the FC-E8 fisheye adapter lens or the ES-E28 Slide Copier. The MC-EU1 wired remote control can be plugged into the USB port.
The power up to image capture time was under 5 seconds. These timings were based on the camera set to single advance mode, Large (2272 x 1704) image size, Fine JPG quality, auto white balance, continuous AF on, flash off with a 24x 512MB Lexar CF card. The shot to shot time is average at about three seconds. I continued to shoot as fast as possible and was able to fire five frames before the "hour glass" was displayed while the contents of the buffer was being processed. I was able to shoot another frame in about two seconds and to process the entire buffer required about twelve seconds. The 4300 has three continuous modes with burst rates as fast as 30 frames per second at a much smaller image size. The standard continuous capture rate in Large/Fine mode can record six frames in less than six seconds. The 4300 (like most digicams) is optimized for processing JPEG images so when in HI (TIFF uncompressed) mode the camera can only capture one frame and then do nothing for about twenty seconds while it processes it. The average user will rarely if ever run into a full buffer that will delay shooting. Thanks to the Quick Review feature you can quickly check your last picture on the LCD and jump right back to capture mode by simply tapping the shutter button.
When you're shooting flash it's obviously because you are in less than ideal lighting conditions. Nikon does not offer any type of "AF assist" in these conditions, much to our dismay. Other manufacturers have realized that most digicam users need a camera that can reliably focus in low light and/or low contrast conditions and have equipped their cameras with some kind of AF assist illuminator. Nikon has yet to introduce a Coolpix model with AF assist. They do incorporate focus assist devices on their digital SLRs (D100, D1, D1x, D1h) and most of their film cameras. In all fairness to Nikon, I did find that the 4300's autofocus does a good job in most low light conditions as long as there was significant contrast in the subject.
The bottom line: The Coolpix 4300 is an easy to use and reasonably priced four megapixel compact camera. It yields sharp pictures with good tone and color saturation. The four- megapixel images will yield photo-quality prints right up to 13x19" size and if you don't need that capability there are numerous other smaller image sizes available. This camera will please the novice as well as the intermediate user and thanks to its small size and light weight, it can be carried all day with little to no fatigue. If you want a good camera for someone making the switch from film to digital, they won't be disappointed when they open the box and see a Nikon Coolpix 4300 inside.
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