Our First Take
If you're in the market for a sub-$500 compact that offers substantial manual control, a bright lens, and excellent image quality, the obvious choice is Canon's S series—currently represented by the PowerShot S120. Last year, Nikon tried to challenge the status quo with its own Coolpix P330, which shamelessly stole from the Canon playbook. Unfortunately for Nikon, the P330 came up a little short.
But it's a new year, and Nikon's back with a new S-fighter: the Coolpix P340 (MSRP $379.95). What do you get from the updated pocketable P-series? WiFi connectivity, a customizable lens ring, and one stop of high-ISO capability. Yep, that's it.
Design & Usability
A sharp looking, sharp feeling little box
On the outside, virtually nothing has changed from the Coolpix P330. The camera is still a box with sharp edges that look great in photos but create an ergonomic annoyance in real-world use. In the black matte finish, the camera feels quite nice, if a little too insubstantial. The glossy white finish, on the other hand, looks flashy but feels like cheap, chintzy plastic.
The boxy shape, aside from digging into your palm with its edges and corners, doesn't provide much in the way of grip. There's a thin, raised strip where a standard grip would normally be, and it provides a little purchase. But for the most part, Nikon is relying on the fact that the P340 is so light (6.9oz/194g) that a real grip is simply unnecessary.
A standard array of buttons provides enough control to suit most users, and the presence of dual control dials—one above the rear thumb rest, the other around the lens—allows for more advanced manual shooting. The 3-inch, 921k-dot screen doesn't articulate or feature touch sensitivity, but it's plenty bright and sharp.
The user interface is classic Nikon, with vertically arranged tabs each containing a list of menu items. Operation—as it was with the P330—is incredibly sluggish for a modern camera. The P340 features noticeable, frustrating lag in turning on and off, lag when navigating the menus, and lag when writing shots to memory. It's a problem we've seen throughout the Coolpix lineup, and it's a little baffling that a company like Nikon can't (or doesn't care to) quash such a simple yet infuriating shortcoming.
Token upgrades fail to address core issues.
There's really very little new in the Coolpix P340, but a few novel additions could draw some curious customers. First up is on-board WiFi connectivity via Nikon's Wireless Mobile Utility (iOS or Android). The app can be used to shoot remotely, transfer files, and so on. It's not the most polished WiFi solution we've seen, but it'll get the job done.
Another key addition is a functional lens ring—a feature the P330 lacked that was common to virtually all of its competitors. The new ring works as advertised, and you can choose its behavior from among quite a few different options—we set it to control the aperture, for instance. Sadly, the ring itself feels cheap, with hardly any resistance and wishy-washy click-stops. Nikon can do better, and we sincerely hope it does with the P350.
Under the hood, the 12.2-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor is unchanged from the P330, as is the 5x (24-120mm equivalent) lens with a fast f/1.8 aperture at full wide angle. Nikon's engineers have managed to wring an extra stop of high-ISO shooting out of the old combo, with the P340 now reaching up to ISO 25,600 equivalent at its Hi.2 setting. We can't imagine you'd want to spend much time shooting at that kind of sensitivity with such a small sensor, but in certain cases it'll be nice to have the option.
Another nifty addition—though it really only brings the P340 up to speed with the rest of the field—is the ability to shoot with filters (aka "Creative Effects"). There's now an Effects setting on the mode dial, and you can preview the results in realtime as you shoot. On the video front, you still get 1080/30p full-HD footage, which we praised in the P330. It's not 60p, but for most users that won't really matter. Lightroom users, you can breathe easy—the P340 also offers uncompressed RAW capture for stills.
A too-cautious step forward
With the Coolpix P340, it looks like Nikon has created a follow-up that fails to improve upon the core shortcomings of its predecessor—poor ergonomics, cheap build quality, and painfully sluggish operation. Instead, Nikon chose to tack on a few new, well-intentioned features that don't actually add a lot of value. There's little doubt that the PowerShot S120 will remain the superior pocket powerhouse thanks to its superb image quality, excellent user interface, and impeccable construction. And with its price dipping to around $400 at the time of writing, the Canon provides a great value as well.
Nikon really needed to step up its game with the P340, and from what we've seen here in Yokohama, it hasn't done so. The P340 is far from a bad camera: Given its core imaging components, it should be a more than competent stills shooter and a capable video tool. But as a complete package it's woefully underdeveloped, and under-polished.
We'll update you with our final verdict as soon as we get a P340 in for lab testing, but it's hard to imagine this camera performing well enough to overcome its missteps in other equally important areas.
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