DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 4300
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Thursday, August 29, 2002
Last Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2002

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The review has been finished using a production model camera. Product shots have been updated where necessary, and all sample photos are from this shipping model.

The Nikon Coolpix 4300 ($499) isn't a groundbreaking product like some of Nikon's other new cameras. Rather, it's a 4 Megapixel version of their popular Coolpix 885 (see our review), with a a new coat of paint. That means it's a small camera that works well in both point-and-shoot and manual control modes.

Find out more about the 4300 in our review, which begins now!

What's in the Box?

The Coolpix 4300 has a very good bundle, with one exception. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 (effective) Mpixel Nikon Coolpix 4300 camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • EN-EL1 rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • CD-ROM featuring NikonView 5 and other software
  • 151 page manual (printed)

Just like Nikon's other new digicams, the memory card is way too small for the resolution of the camera. You only get a 16MB card with the CP4300. The card is one of those unmarked Lexar "starter cards" which only mentions the size in small print on the back of the card. (Apparently some folks in other countries get larger cards, but I can't confirm this.)

The now familiar EN-EL1 rechargeable battery (5.0 Wh), also found on the CP4500 and CP5700, is used here. Nikon estimates that the battery will last for about 90 minutes in "average use". You can also use a (non-rechargeable) 2CR5 battery if you're in a real jam.


Charger and battery

Nikon includes an external charger for the EN-EL1. They also give you a lens cap and strap to protect the lens.


As you can hopefully see, this is a pretty small camera

Like its predecessor, the CP885, this model supports tons of optional accessories. That includes lenses, a macro flash, and LCD hoods. You can get wide-angle, fisheye, and telephoto lenses. The CP4300 supports the Macro Cool Light, which is a ring light made just for macro shots. You'll need a conversion lens adapter to use the Cool Light as well as the accessory lenses. A wired remote control and a slide copier are also available

The 4300 includes version 5.1.2 of NikonView, which is one way to transfer photos. The software is Mac OS X native but is still sluggish and buggy. The CP4300 is fully compatible with Mac OS X and Windows XP.

It looks as if Nikon has improved the layout of their manuals since the CP4500 and CP5700. This is good news!

Look and Feel

The Coolpix 4300 looks exactly like the Coolpix 885, except in a new color. This small camera is made of a mixture of plastic and metal, and I'd rate it about average in the durability department. The camera is very easy to hold with one hand or two.

The official dimensions of the CP4300 are 3.7 x 2.7 x 2.0 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 225 grams (7.9 ounces) empty. It will fit into most pockets with ease.

Let's tour the 4300 now.

The Coolpix 4300 has an F2.8-F4.9, 3X optical zoom lens. The lens has a focal range of 8 - 24 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. The lens barrel is threaded (not sure what the diameter is) and you can use the various Coolpix lens accessories (via an adapter in most cases).

There is also 4X digital zoom on the CP4300, but using it will reduce the quality of your photos.

Directly above the lens is the CP4300's flash. The flash has a working range of 0.4 - 3.7 m (wide-angle) and 0.4 - 2.3 m (telephoto). Compared to the CP4500, the CP4300 covers a larger area at wide-angle, but not at telephoto. While the CP4300 supports the macro Cool-light flash, you can't use a regular external flash with it.

The Coolpix 4300 continues Nikon's tradition of omitting an autofocus-assist lamp. Even the cheapest Sony models have one -- come on, Nikon!

Here now is the back of the camera. The CP4300 has a 1.5" LCD display which is bright and fluid. Nose smudges won't be a problem, at least if you use your right eye with the optical viewfinder like I do. The LCD shows 97% of the frame.

Speaking of which, just above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. It's good-sized for a small camera, and it covers 80% of the frame. It does lack a diopter correction knob, however, so those of you without perfection vision may not see clearly. Below the LCD, you'll find four buttons:

Record Mode Function Playback Mode Function
Exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV, 1/3EV increments) Delete photo
Focus/Drive (Self-timer, landscape, macro, macro + self-timer) and manual focus Photo information
Flash mode (Auto, off, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, slow sync) Thumbnail mode
Menu Menu

By holding down the Focus/Drive button and using the zoom controls, you can manually focus the camera. It's too bad that you only get a little chart of the relative focus distance instead of actual numbers.


Quick Review feature (from Coolpix 4500)

Just a bit to the right of those four buttons is the Quick Review button. This feature puts the previous photographed image in the top-left corner of the LCD (you can scroll through your other images as well). Pressing the Quick Review button again enters playback mode.

Straight about that button is the four-way switch. In addition to menu navigation, the switch is used to turn the LCD on and off and active the "small pic" feature in playback mode (more on that later).

Continuing in the northern direction, we find the Transfer button. This button lets you mark an image for automatic transfer to your computer.

Finally, there are the zoom controls. The CP4300's 3X zoom moves quickly from wide-angle to telephoto in less than 2 seconds.

Here now is the top of the Coolpix 4300. The only items up here are the power switch, shutter release button, and mode wheel. Nope, no LCD info display here!

The mode wheel has the following options:

  • Auto record - fully automatic, most settings locked up
  • Scene Mode - choose one of 16 scenes and the camera chooses the appropriate settings. The scenes include:
    • Portrait
    • Party/indoor
    • Night portrait
    • Beach/snow
    • Landscape
    • Sunset
    • Night landscape
    • Museum
    • Fireworks show
    • Close-up
    • Copy - for copying text or drawings
    • Back Light
  • Manual record mode - more on this below
  • Movie mode
  • Setup mode
  • Playback mode

The manual mode is a bit different than on Nikon's other cameras. The first thing that happens in manual mode is that all the menu options are unlocked. Once there, you have your choice of programmed auto or full manual mode. Programmed auto is just that -- the camera chooses the shutter speed and aperture. In full manual mode, you choose both. The aperture is F2.8 - F13.4, with not many stops in between. Shutter speed choices range from 8 sec to 1/1000 sec. There is also a bulb mode with a maximum shutter speed of 60 seconds (tripod and remote shutter release cable strongly recommended).

There is no shutter or aperture priority mode on the CP4300. You either set them both at the same time, or let the camera do it.

On this side of the camera, the only thing you'll find is the video out port.

Here is the other side of the CP4300, all closed up. Let's open things and take a closer look:

The Coolpix 4300 has a Type I CompactFlash slot, meaning the IBM Microdrive is not compatible. The plastic door covering the slot is sturdy enough.

Just to the right are the I/O ports, which are usually protected by a plastic cover. The ports include USB and DC in (for optional AC adapter).

You can also see the famous (or infamous?) unmarked Lexar CF card.

Last but not least, here is the bottom of the camera, with plastic tripod mount and battery compartment. The EN-EL1 is shown at right.

Using the Nikon Coolpix 4300

Record Mode

The Coolpix 4300 takes over 4.5 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting. When you depress the shutter release halfway, the camera generally locks focus in a second or so. Low light focusing is just fair -- would be better with an AF-assist lamp of course. When you fully press the shutter release button, the picture is taken with minimal shutter lag.


LCD in record mode, with manual focus turned on

Shot-to-shot speed is average. You will wait 3.5 seconds or so before you can take another picture (at the fine quality setting). The exception to this is in TIFF mode, of course. Taking a picture in TIFF (HI) mode locks up the camera for over 45 seconds (!). You can pause and/or delete your photo on the LCD as it is being saved to the CF card.

Speaking of image quality settings, here's a chart of the various image size and quality choices available on the Coolpix:

  # of images on included 16MB card
Image Size HI quality Fine quality Normal quality Basic quality
2272 x 1704 1 8 16 32
2048 x 1536 N/A 10 19 37
1600 x 1200 N/A 16 31 59
1280 x 960 N/A 24 47 86
1024 x 768 N/A 37 69 121
640 x 480 N/A 86 144 229

TIFFs can only be recorded at the 2272 x 1704 size. To find out how many photos you can store on a larger card, just "do the math".

The Coolpix 4300 uses the traditional hierarchical menu system that most of the other Coolpix models use. It's easy to use though some items can be hard to locate. Here's what you'll find in the menus:

  • White balance (Auto, preset, fine, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, speedlight) - more info below

  • Metering (Matrix, spot, center-weighted, spot AF area) - in spot AF area metering, the camera samples the light only in the current focus area

  • Continuous Menu
    • Single shot
    • Continuous - 1.5 frames/sec; I was able to take 10 in a row at the normal quality setting
    • Multi-shot 16 - puts 16 consecutive shots into one full size image - like a collage
    • VGA Sequence - 2.5 frames/sec, 640 x 480
    • Ultra HS - 30 frames/sec, 320 x 240, images saved in separate folder on the CF card

  • Best Shot Selector (on/off) - takes up to 10 consecutive shots, then chooses the sharpest image

  • Image Adjustment (Auto, normal, more contrast, less contrast, lighten image, darken image, black & white)

  • Image Sharpening (Auto, high, normal, low, off)

  • Lens (Normal, wide adapter, telephoto 1, telephoto 2, fisheye 1, slide copy adapter) - use this if you bought a conversion lens

  • Image Quality and Size
    • Image Quality (Hi, fine, normal, basic)
    • Image Size (2272 x 1704, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480, 2272 x 1520)

  • Sensitivity (Auto, 100, 200, 400) - if set to Auto, ISO will wander between 100-400.

  • Exposure Options
    • Exposure mode (Program, Manual)- switches between programmed auto and full manual mode
    • AE Lock (on/off/reset) - turning this on will lock the exposure settings after the first shot
    • Exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)

  • Focus Options
    • AF Area Mode (Auto, manual, off) - in manual mode, you can use the four-way switch to pick the area to focus on
    • Auto-Focus Mode (Continuous AF, Single AF) - how the camera focuses (always or when the button is pressed halfway)
    • Focus Confirmation (MF, on, off) - shows what areas in the image are in focus on the LCD

  • Auto Bracketing
    • Exposure Bracketing - 3 or 5 shots in a row with varying EV values
    • WB Bracketing - 3 shots with varying white balance. One normal image, one "bluish" image, one "reddish" image

  • Noise Reduction (on/off) - Noise reduction will reduce the appearance of noise or grain in your images. It is only used at shutter speeds slower than 1/30 sec. Note that a tripod or a very steady hand is recommended for this feature.

  • CF Card Format

A quick note about white balance: the preset mode allows you to shoot a white or gray card/paper to get the perfect WB setting. On all of the WB modes except Auto and Preset, you can fine tune the setting ±3 by using the command dial. You can also use the WB bracketing feature that I mentioned before. In other words, it's hard to have bad white balance on this camera.

In addition to the main menu, there is also a setup menu (accessed via the mode wheel) with even more options. The interesting ones include:

  • Monitor options
    • Display Mode (Monitor on, review only, preview only, monitor off) - options for the LCD
    • Brightness

  • File numbering (on, off, reset)

  • Shot confirm lamp (on/off) - self timer will light after a picture is taken if this is turned on

  • Pic Data/Transfer
    • info.txt (on/off) - saves a text file with exposure information along with your photos
    • Auto Transfer (on/off) - turn this feature on and off

  • Interface
    • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
    • USB (PTP, Mass Storage)

  • Language (German, English, French, Japanese, Spanish)

Let's move on to photo quality now.

Seasoned DCRP readers know that Nikon cameras have the best macro mode out there. The CP4300 continues this tradition. Our 3" tall subject above looks great in terms of color and sharpness. The 4300 can get as close as 4 cm to the subject at full wide-angle (when the macro flower on the LCD turns yellow). At full telephoto, the minimum distance rises to 30 cm.

Where does one go for night shots when it's too foggy for Twin Peaks or Treasure Island, and the City Hall lights aren't on? Why, USF of course! This is the St. Ignatius Church at the University of San Francisco, which can be seen from all over the city. At night it's lit up with yellowish-colored lights -- this isn't a mistake on the camera's part. I was quite happy with how this shot turned out. It was taken with noise reduction on, so there aren't any "unnatural stars" in the sky. The manual control of shutter speed really helps in the night shot department!

The CP4300 didn't do quite as well on the redeye test. This didn't surprise me, given the proximity to of the flash to the lens. It's not the worst I've seen, but certainly not great either. Note that I blew this photo up a bit so you could see the details.

Aside from the above average redeye, I was very impressed with the photo quality on the Coolpix 4300. The photos look just as good as the more expensive Coolpix 4500, in my opinion. My photos came out properly exposed, with very little noise. Chromatic aberrations weren't a problem either, even on the "hallway of purple fringing" test shot (seen in the shootout). Don't just take my word for it -- I've got plenty of sample photos for you in the CP4300 vs. Kodak LS443 shootout gallery as well as the standard photo gallery!

Movie Mode

The Coolpix 4300 has a very basic movie mode. You can record clips up to 40 seconds in length, without sound. They are recorded at the usual resolution of 320 x 240, at 15 frames/second. They are saved in QuickTime format.

Since sound is not recorded, you can use the optical zoom during filming.

Here's a fairly dull sample photo. It would have been more exciting if you could hear the carillon in the clock tower playing in the background.


Click to play movie (3.5MB, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Coolpix 4300 has a pretty nice playback mode.

The basic features that we all know are here: slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.

Zoom and scroll lets you zoom in up to 6X into your photo (in 0.2X increments), and then move around in the zoomed-in area. This is useful for checking the focus.

Another CP4300 feature (known as Small Pic) lets you resize your image to a much smaller size. Choose from 640 x 480, 320 x 240, 160 x 120, and 96 x 72.

One nice feature is the ability to delete a selection of photos, instead of just one or all of them. You can also mark images to be automatically transferred when the camera is hooked into the computer.

If you want more details about your photo, the CP4300 is your camera. You can get three pages of additional information, including a histogram.

The CP4300 moves through images quickly. A low resolution image is shown instantly, followed by the high res version about one second later.

How Does it Compare?

The Nikon Coolpix 4300 is a worthy follow up to its predecessor, the 885. It offers most of the features found on the more expensive Coolpix 4500, including the use of conversion lenses and the macro ring light! Most importantly, the 4300 has the excellent photo quality that is found on the more expensive Coolpix. The camera can be used in both point-and-shoot and manual modes, with the latter coming in handy for those challenging low light shots (among others). What would I add to the 4300? Maybe support for CompactFlash Type II cards and a microphone. Other than that, I'm very satisfied -- this small Nikon gets my enthusiastic recommendation.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality
  • Many manual controls
  • Good value for a 4MP camera at $499
  • Stunning macro ability
  • Support for many add-on lenses
  • Nice playback mode

What I didn't care for:

  • No AF illuminator
  • Included 16MB memory card way too small
  • Movie mode could be better
  • Doesn't support Type II CompactFlash cards

Some other midrange 4 Megapixel cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S40 (replaced by the S45 outside of the U.S.), Casio QV-R4, Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom (I suppose), HP Photosmart 812, Kodak EasyShare LS443, Konica KD-400Z, Kyocera Finecam S4, Minolta DiMAGE F100, Olympus D-40Z, Pentax Optio 430RS, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix 4300 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out photos in our standard gallery, as well as the bonus Coolpix 4300 vs. Kodak LS443 shootout gallery!

Want a few more opinions?

Read previews of the 4300 at Steve's Digicams, DP Review, and Imaging Resource. Final reviews were not posted when this review was written.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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