- 8x zoom lens.
- Slim, pocketable design.
- SnapBridge for seamless wireless photo transfer.
- Very affordable.
- Few manual control options.
- Low-res LCD.
- 720p video without autofocus.
- So-so image quality.
- Proprietary charging port.
The Nikon Coolpix A300 packs a long zoom lens into a slim, affordable camera with wireless connectivity, but its image and video quality disappoint.
The A300$136.95 at Amazon is a slim shooter you can slide into a pocket with ease. It measures 2.3 by 3.8 by 0.8 inches (HWD) and weighs just 4.2 ounces with a card and battery installed. Nikon only sells it in silver. It’s about the same size as the $160 Canon PowerShot Elph 190 IS (2.2 by 3.8 by 0.9 inches, 4.9 ounces), the closest model from Nikon’s biggest competitor.
The 8x zoom lens is big for a camera this slim. Its starts at 25mm, which is plenty wide, and zooms all the way to a 200mm equivalent, a decent telephoto distance. The light-gathering capability is a bit anemic, with an f/3.7 f-stop at the wide angle and a narrow f/6.6 rating when zoomed all the way in. In bright light it’s not a big deal, but you’ll find that flagship smartphones, which typically have a prime lens that matches the A300 in wide-angle coverage but gathers roughly four times as much light, have an advantage in dim lighting without a flash.
The A300 has a traditional camera flash, rather than the LED light you get with a phone, so it can add more illumination to a scene. Out of the box it will fire automatically, but you can suppress it using the flash button (indicated by a lightning bolt icon) on the rear. Other rear controls include a button to adjust Exposure Compensation, which is used to brighten or darken a scene, a Macro focus button, the Self-timer, a button to access the camera’s various Scene modes, and the standard Delete, Menu, Play, and Record buttons. The On/Off button is on the top, along with the shutter release and zoom lever.
You can leave the camera in the default Scene Auto Selector mode and let it take care of all settings for you. I found this to be hit or miss in terms of image quality. Shooting in shaded daylight, taking some macro shots of cherry blossoms, the camera wanted to use a very slow shutter speed and the flash for the scene. The result (above) could be viewed as artistic, but for me it’s a throwaway shot.
I had better luck choosing my own Scene mode—there are several, covering various types of images including landscapes, portraits, fast action, and fireworks—or simply setting the camera to Auto mode. It handled snapshots well when set to this mode, even at twilight.
The rear display isn’t going to wow anyone. It’s a little small at 2.7 inches, with a mere 230k-dot resolution. You can see what you’re shooting or what you’ve shot already, but details that are sharp in a picture are a little muddy on the screen, even if you zoom in when reviewing a photo you’ve already taken. Viewing angles are also a problem—you can view the LCD from the left or right, but try looking at it with the lens tilted down or up away from your eyes and the screen appears washed out and dark.
The A300 gets one thing perfectly correct—wireless communication. It has Nikon’s SnapBridge tech, which uses a cocktail of Bluetooth, NFC, and Wi-Fi to communicate with your Android or iOS smartphone. With Android, NFC gets the job done, but you’ll need to establish a Bluetooth connection between the camera and your iPhone; in either case, the SnapBridge app walks you through the process.
Once things are set up you can choose to send only images you want over to your phone, or transfer photos automatically as you capture them. You can also use your phone as remote control, leveraging a Wi-Fi connection for that function.
The A300 is powered by a rechargeable battery. It’s removable, but Nikon only supplies a charging cable to replenish it in-camera. Unfortunately, the connection is not a standard micro USB or USB-C port. If you lose the oddball USB cable with a small, squarish plug, you won’t have as easy of a time replacing it. CIPA rates the A300 for 240 shots per charge, although that number will drop if you utilize wireless transfer. There is a standard SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot for image and video storage.
The A300 delivers perfectly acceptable speed for an inexpensive compact. It starts and shoots in 1.6 seconds, focuses in about 0.2-second, and fires off images continuously at a rate of one per 1.8 seconds when set to its Sports Scene mode. It pales in comparison with a good smartphone in burst capture—an iPhone can grab bursts of shots at 10fps.
I used Imatest to check the quality of the A300’s lens, which is backed by a 20MP CCD image sensor. At its widest angle it scores 2,201 lines per picture height on a center-weighted sharpness test. That’s better than the 1,800 lines we look for in an image at a minimum. Results are strong, better than 2,500 lines, at the center, and very good (2,085 lines) through most of the frame, but you do have to deal with edges that are slightly soft (1,738 lines). That drop at the edges is typical of a camera of this type.
At the extreme of its zoom the A300’s lens covers a 200mm field of view at a modest f/6.6 aperture. Because it doesn’t capture a lot of light, its ISO pushed higher than its base (ISO 80) setting when testing—to ISO 200. There’s definitely some image noise and loss of detail that drops the sharpness score here to 1,427 lines; I’d expect it to be a bit higher at ISO 80, though probably not significantly so.
Loss of detail at higher ISOs is an issue with the A300. The 20MP sensor packs a lot of pixels, but it squeezes them into a small space, and CCD technology doesn’t do as well in dim light as pricier CMOS sensors. The camera does keep noise under 1.5 percent through every test ISO—the highest setting I was able to force was ISO 800—but there’s clearly some noise reduction at play. Images show a drop in fidelity as you move from ISO 80 to ISO 160, but are still decent. At ISO 400 there’s a slight blur to details, and at ISO 800 photos are heavily blurred. Of course, you don’t have manual control over ISO, so it’s up to the camera to decide which setting to use.
The camera records 720p video at 30fps in AVI format for up to eight minutes at a time. You can zoom the lens while recording, but you shouldn’t. The A300 does not focus at all when recording, so once you adjust the length of the lens your entire scene goes blurry. That’s not to say that the 720p quality is earth-shattering to begin with—textured surfaces appear waxy and edge are crisp. The A300’s internal microphone is fairly solid—it picked up my voice clearly, and all but eliminated the background noise generated by the fans that cool our studio lights.
The A300 has one big advantage over a smartphone camera—a zoom lens. It’s not the longest you’ll find in a pocketable camera, but it’s certainly a solid option at this price point. And it has one of the better wireless transfer systems out there from an ease-of-use perspective—you can set it to beam every shot you take right to your smartphone so you can share photos with family and friends on Instagram or Facebook. But aside from that, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Image quality is good in bright light, but a slow lens means you’ll lose a lot of quality when using the zoom indoors. The rear display is just barely adequate, and sometimes the default Scene Auto Selector shooting mode makes a decision that doesn’t make any sense. And the camera is fairly useless for video recording—you’ll end up with out-of-focus footage if your subject changes position or if you try to zoom the lens while rolling footage. The best low-cost compact we’ve reviewed in recent memory is the Canon PowerShot Elph 170 IS, but it’s showing its age and omits Wi-Fi. We’ve asked Canon to send over its successor, the Wi-Fi-enabled, 10x-zooming, $160 Elph 190 IS to see if it’s a low-cost camera worth buying in 2017.