In addition to the typical features that can be reached easily by dedicated buttons and via the four-way control, the P330 has a thumb dial and a mode dial beside the shutter button, which offers a user-customizable position. In addition, there's a function button on the front of the camera. This function button can be customized to toggle a variety of settings. Also, the mode dial offers a position for full manual mode. Best of all, you get the ability to shoot RAW files and RAW + JPEG simultaneously, not just in single shot mode, but also in low- and high-speed burst modes without slowing the camera down. If the 10fps high-speed burst isn't fast enough for you, you can also shoot 1-megapixel files in either the 60fps or 120fps burst modes. These bursts are a lot of fun to whiz through using the rear dial, which flip past at a slow-motion pace.
The camera only has a few minor trade-offs to consider. First, the 5X zoom is not the most powerful, though this isn't a serious knock, in my opinion. That's because many super zoom compact cameras have troubles with deteriorating image quality (distortions and lack of detail) at the higher magnifications. The 24mm-120mm zoom on the P330 may not get you a closely cropped shot of a distant animal, but its quality is consistent through its zoom range. The only defect I could spot was at wide angle: There is some barrel distortion at the edges, which you can see on the Samples page in image DSCN0191 - the bridge tower at left has a serious lean to it when it should be vertical. Still, unlike some other models, I did not see obvious color aberrations or digital noise at the fringes of my test shots.
One other caveat: You can't use the flash in burst mode, whether fast or slow. Otherwise, the built-in flash performs well. It's specified to have a range of 21 feet, but I'd put the usable range closer to 15 feet, based on my test shots. Still, that's an impressive range, and within that range produced attractive results, scattering a lot of light in dark interiors to help produce good exposures. Plus, in addition to slow sync, which fires the flash and uses a slow shutter speed, the camera offers rear-curtain sync, which fires the flash just before the shutter closes.
All in all, the camera performed well using Auto mode and Program mode at default settings. But I did on occasion run into imprecise results using the auto focus, both when shooting landscapes in bright sunlight and when shooting close-ups of flowers. In both cases, this is easily remedied because the camera offers a wealth of auto focus area modes, including manual focus. The camera does select macro AF automatically, if needed, and can focus as close as 1.2 inch, which is very handy for photographing very small subjects. And while manual focus is iffy on compact cameras because you must rely on a magnified image on an LCD rather than an optical viewfinder, at least this camera's version is usable: The preview image is magnified on the LCD while you adjust the focus distance with the four-way control dial. The 3-inch LCD is bright and has a very sharp resolution of 921,000 dots, and has an anti-reflective coating. Still, you might find yourself wanting some form of affirmation on screen, such as edge highlights. Unlike the LCD on some other models, I did not run into a restricted viewing angle with this camera's display.
In addition to face priority, center AF, and subject tracking, there are manual spot, subject tracking and target finding AF modes. Target finding allows you the freedom of not having to select the subject or put it in a static AF area, though the camera may not always select the subject you intend to be in focus, particularly in very bright or dark light or if your subject doesn't stand out from the background or other subjects in the frame. This mode is available when shooting in Program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, manual, and user mode.
Despite its lack of a handgrip, I found the brick shape of the camera easy to grasp. There's a rubberized ridge on the front panel and a textured grip at the top of the back panel for thumb traction. Just above this grip pad is a thumb dial atop the camera that eases navigation. On the other side of the shutter button/zoom ring sits the mode dial for quick shooting mode changes. The mode dial has a scene mode position, which you assign to one of the 20 scene modes, including scene auto selector, the usual assortment of sports, beach and sunset, plus black-and-white copy and backlighting. There is also a 3D photography setting for those with a 3D monitor, and two panorama modes: Easy mode allows you to simply pan the camera and it stitches a panorama together with a maximum resolution of 9600 x 920 (at wide 360-degree angle setting). The Panorama Assist mode offers on-screen guides for you to frame the individual shots, which you combine later on a computer. The software Panorama Maker is included on the software CD-ROM, as is Nikon's ViewNX 2, an all-in-one browsing, editing, and online sharing application for both still images and movie files.
Also within the scene mode menu is a Special Effects selection, which in turn has nine settings similar to what some other camera makers call filters, such as sepia, high-contrast monochrome, and selective color, which creates a grayscale image with only the user-selected color left behind. You get 12 color selections and can scroll quickly through them using the dial atop the camera, which Nikon calls the command dial. You use this same dial to select one of four colors when using the Cross Process selection in the same Special Effects menu. I would prefer to have these selections side by side with the other color adjustments that are located in the main shooting menu under Picture Control: standard, neutral, vivid, and monochrome. These Picture Control settings can be used in P, S, A and Manual modes, and thus while shooting RAW files, while the special effects can not. The Picture Control selections can each be customized with varying levels of sharpening, contrast, filter effects, toning, and saturation, depending on the setting. Within this menu, you can save two custom settings. And, if you assign Picture Control to the Fn button on the front of the camera, you can quickly launch this setting and the Picture Control menu with one button press (assuming you're in P, S, A or M mode).
Regarding the command dial atop the camera, it is an apt name. Navigating on-screen menus, when outfitted with a four-way dial and select button, is pretty smooth. But also armed with a second dial takes it one step further. After you've scrolled with the rear dial to the setting you want to change, you don't have to press the select button and then scroll to your selection. At the initial screen with, say, white balance highlighted in the main menu, turning the command dial scrolls through the options and a corresponding icon changes with it next to the setting (see Recording Screens & Menus page if you need help visualizing this).
The camera also includes some more pedestrian features found on many other cameras, such as smile timer. You select this feature using a leftward press on the four-way control to bring up the self-timer menu (you can also set it for 2 or 10 seconds). This feature worked well and did not cause me to strain in an attempt to get the shutter to trip.
When it came to still images, the Coolpix P330 did not disappoint. Exposures were accurate in most cases when using Auto mode, Program mode or auto scene selector mode. Where automatic settings won't get you what you want, however, the wealth of adjustable settings will simply pick up the slack. In addition, having RAW shooting at your fingertips buys you a lot more leeway in the image editing software (or when using the in-camera RAW processing, for that matter).
In particular, this camera's low-light performance impressed me. You can see how minimal the digital artifacts are on the Sample Photos page. The camera's fast lens helps in this regard, to minimize blur in low light, because it has a wide maximum aperture of f1.8. Also helping out is the optical image stabilization - moving glass elements in the lens to combat camera movement rather than compensating with only digital processing.
I was similarly impressed with the full high-definition 1080p video this camera recorded. Many other cameras boast this enticing specification but fail to deliver the quality. In contrast, the P330 both recorded sharp, attractive video regardless of zoom magnification and kept its auto focus on target while zooming through the entire 5X zoom range. Also, though you might be able to detect slight zoom motor noise on the audio, it is not loud and distracting - something that almost ruins videos shot with some models, while some low-end models can not zoom during video recording at all.
The camera's playback mode segments RAW files from JPEGs. In standard playback mode, you only see JPEG files and videos. To see RAW files, you select RAW processing in the playback menu. There you get a substantial list of adjustments to play with, without having to move your files to a computer for processing. Here you can change the white balance, exposure compensation, image quality and size, and tinker with the D-Lighting (brightness and contrast). Even better, you also get the full selection of Picture Control adjustments, including the two custom settings you can create, which includes parameters for sharpening, contrast, and saturation.
Battery life on this camera is not rated for a marathon, with a CIPA rating of 200 shots. But that's not to say you're mileage won't vary favorably if the conditions are right. While my first battery charge only lasted 160 still images and five short videos, this was the battery charge out of the box (and therefore not verifiable as totally charged). My second charge was able to last 391 photos and four short videos. CIPA specifies that half the shots are with flash, and the Nikon website mentions that focus was adjusted for each shot. I took a number of burst shots and tend to avoid flash if possible, so this may well explain the bulk of the longer battery life in my testing.
Bottom line - The Coolpix P330 offers a lot of features for the money; $379 or less. The zoom power may be modest, and 12M is not in the stratosphere of pixel counts, but high image quality as well as high HD video quality more than outweigh such would-be shortcomings when coupled with the wealth of button controls and deep menus. Add to that RAW shooting - which doesn't even slow down high-speed burst mode - and you have the perfect companion for the shooter who wants an dSLR but is unwilling to lug the gear or switch lenses.
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