Thursday, 10 July 2014

Nikon Coolpix P340

The Nikon Coolpix P340 ($379.95) is a minor update to the Coolpix P330 I reviewed last year. There are a few minor changes—the P340 omits a GPS, but adds Wi-Fi, and performance is just a little bit snappier than its predecessor—although I still feel the new version is just a beat slow in that department. Its 12-megapixel image sensor and lens are unchanged, but the image processor has been updated to support 1080i60 video recording and burst shooting is improved to 10.4fps. It’s not quite good enough to oust our Editors’ Choice compact, the Canon PowerShot N100, from its perch, as the Canon is a better choice for most consumers. But if you’re a serious photographer that wants a pocket camera and can live with one that’s not quite as snappy as the competition, the Coolpix P340 is worth strong consideration.

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Design and Features
The P340 is similar in size to competing 1/1.7-inch cameras with similar lenses, but it comes in at a lower asking price than the Canon PowerShot S120 and Fujifilm XQ1. The Nikon measures 2.3 by 4.1 by 1.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.8 ounces; the Canon and Fujifilm alternatives are only different by tenths of inches and ounces in size and weight. Like the Model T, the P340 can be yours in any color you’d like, as long as it’s black.

Nikon Coolpix P340 : Sample Image

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The 1/1.7-inch image sensor is larger than the 1/2.3-inch sensors found in most compacts, including the Canon PowerShot SX600 HS. It’s not the largest that you’ll find in a compact camera, as Sony uses big 1-inch sensors in its RX lineup. But you’ll have to lay down a lot more cash to purchase the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, RX100 II, or RX100 III ($799.99).

The 5x zoom lens is identical to the one used by the P330. It covers a 24-120mm (35mm equivalent) range and opens up to f/1.8 at the wide end. The aperture narrows to f/5.6 at the telephoto extreme, which is typical for a compact with a large sensor. If you want a 1/1.7-inch camera that captures more light throughout its zoom range, you’ll need to move up to one with a noticeably larger lens, like the Fujifilm X20 with its 28-112mm f/2-2.8 lens.

Like most compacts, the P340 can focus quite close at its widest angle, about 2 centimeters from the front element of the lens. When you combine that with the f/1.8 aperture, you can capture images with a very shallow depth of field when working close. The lens also has an integrated neutral density filter, which cuts out the amount of light that can enter without narrowing the aperture; it’s a very helpful tool for making longer exposures on bright days, especially when coupled with the low base sensitivity (ISO 80) provided by the image sensor. The ND filter can be engaged manually, or you can set it to automatically activate when needed.

Nikon Coolpix P340 : Sample Image

The P340′s control layout is strong. There’s a programmable Fn button on the face, right next to the lens. By default it controls the drive mode, but you can set it to control a number of functions, including the ISO, metering pattern, and focus mode. There’s also a control ring around the lens, which is also customizable to your liking. I set it to adjust exposure compensation, but it can also be used to fine tune white balance, act as a step zoom ring, adjust the shutter speed or aperture, or act as a manual focus ring. Peaking, which highlights in in-focus areas of an image, is available as a manual-focus aid.

The top plate houses a standard mode dial, the power button, an integrated zoom rocker and shutter release, and the top control dial. The rear panel houses a movie record button (directly next to the thumb rest), a second control dial, and playback, menu, and delete controls. The rear control dial has a center OK button and four directional presses that control the flash, adjust exposure compensation, toggle macro focus, and set the self-timer.

In most modes, the top dial adjusts the shutter speed and the rear the aperture, but there are a few exceptions. When shooting in Program, the top dial adjust the program line, narrowing or widening the aperture and adjusting the shutter speed in kind to capture a proper exposure at the set ISO. If you set the camera to Scene or Effects mode, the top dial will scroll through the available preset settings and art filters.

Nikon Coolpix P340 : Sample Image

I have the same complaint about the P340′s power button as I did with the P330: It’s a bit finicky. Simply pressing it in does not turn the camera on; you have to hold it for an additional beat before the camera starts. This isn’t the same when turning things off; a good, quick press powers down the camera. It’d be one thing if the button was easily tripped—it could save you from accidentally powering the camera on in your bag, and discovering your battery dead at the worst time. But the button is slightly recessed—the chances of it being pressed in accidentally are minimal. It’s not a deal breaker, but it does take a little getting used to.

I have absolutely no complaints about the quality of the rear display. It’s 3 inches in size with a 920k-dot resolution. It’s sharp and bright, so I had no issues using it on a bright summer day. I did wish that it tilted at times, like the display Canon includes on the N100, but a tilting design would add some bulk to the slim P340. The Canon N100 screen also supports touch input, which makes tap to focus possible. The P340 has a flexible spot available for focus that’s controlled via the rear dial’s directional presses; it’s not quite as quick to operate as a touch screen, but it’s more than adequate.

Nikon Coolpix P340 : Sample Image

The P340 drops the GPS that was included with the P330 in exchange for Wi-Fi. That’s a positive change for photographers who like to share photos via social media, but a step backward for geotagging enthusiasts. Nikon has been a bit slow to add Wi-Fi to its camera lineup, and is still working on refining the experience. It’s easy enough to connect your phone to the P340 via Wi-Fi, but I found that the performance was a bit inconsistent. On several occasions image transfer stuttered and stopped, which required me to power cycle the camera and close the Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility app on my iPhone 5 to get things working again. I had the most issues transferring Raw files, which the P340 converts to JPG before sending over to the phone for compatibility; my success rate was about 25 percent. But even when transferring JPGs, I dealt with about a 25 percent failure rate, and that’s with the camera and phone right next to each other in areas without a lot of competing Wi-Fi traffic.

Wireless Mobile Utility also works as a remote viewfinder. A Live View is beamed to your iOS or Android device, but it too suffers from speed issues. The feed is very choppy, to the point where I fired the shutter as a coworker was walking by the lens of the camera. The P340 had no issues capturing an in-focus image, but he had not yet appeared on the Live View feed when I snapped the photo. That’s not an issue if you’re standing right next to the camera, but if you’re attempting to mount the camera close to wildlife and trigger it remotely with your phone, the lag will kill your chances of getting the perfect shot. Controls are also limited when firing the camera remotely—you can adjust the zoom, set the self-timer, and fire the shutter, but that’s it.

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