Nikon Coolpix P300 vs Canon PowerShot S95

It seems everyone’s getting in on the high end compact camera sector these days and a good thing too. The launch of the Nikon Coolpix P300 makes it the latest player to enter the game and it’s got some very interesting tricks up its sleeve. The question is, though, is it a better choice than any of the other top notch carry around compacts that money can buy?

To put things in perspective, we’ve matched it up against an old foe in the shape of the Canon PowerShot S95 - a firm hit with the Pocket-lint review team when it turned up in the labs in 2010. So, if you want to know which is the camera to buy, read on. It’s the Nikon Coolpix P300 vs Canon PowerShot S95.

Form Factor

1st: Canon S95
99.8 x 58.4 x 29.5 mm, 190g

2nd: Nikon P300
103.0 x 58.3 x 32.0 mm, 193g


There's not a lot of difference between these two as far as hunks of gadget matter go, but the Nikon P300 is definitely bigger. It’s thicker and it's wider and these are probably the most telling of the dimensions. The fact that the Canon PowerShot S95 is a few grams heavier really doesn’t make any difference when both are light as a feather anyway. It’s not grounds to choose one over the other but perhaps worth knowing if size is a bugbear for you.

Lens

1st: Nikon P300
24-118mm, f/1.8-4.9

2nd: Canon S95
28-105mm, f/2.0-4.9


With both Canon and Nikon having an excellent pedigree in lens manufacture, we’re not going to separate the two on levels of quality, but the obvious differences are the extra zoom on at both ends of the Nikon P300 and the speed of the lens. The difference in optical range is the Canon going up to x3.8 and the Nikon to x4.2, but the P300 is also slightly wider angled, so it’s going to give you that added degree of shooting flexibility. It’s not a huge amount but worth considering.

Also, while both cameras make for a good maximum aperture for both low light shooting and that sought after blurred background, or bokeh, effect; again, there’s just that little bit more on offer with the Nikon P300 and its lowest f-stop set to f/1.8.

Image Sensor

1st: Canon S95
1/1.7-inch CCD (10MP)

2nd: Nikon P300
1/2.3-inch CMOS (12.2MP)


This is always a tricky category to judge particularly when the specs are so different. A larger sensor doesn’t necessarily mean better sensitivity to light but it does offer a higher dynamic range with better exposed details in the resulting pictures. Interestingly though, the CMOS technology should mean an increased battery life on the Nikon as CCDs tend to use up more power. That said, Nikon has made claims of high sensitivity of its unit partly owing to backlighting. Whether that works and whether it cancels out the power saving effect, we’ll have to wait to see.

For now, the final worry for the Nikon is yet another apparent bonus. It offers a better resolution, which is good if you’re into blowing up your photos and cropping, but it does so on a smaller surface. So, the final worry is there might be a degree of pixel cram and so more noise as you start to push the ISO up. Once again, we’ll have to wait to get the P300 in the labs, but there’s enough doubt here to hand the category over to the Canon S95.

Display

1st: Nikon P300
3-inch, 921k-dot, LCD

2nd: Canon S95
3-inch, 461k-dot, LCD


It’s all about the screen resolution here, and the bottom line is that it’s twice as good on the Nikon P300 as it is on the Canon S95. While they both offer a decent screen display, you’ll just be able to pick out the details of your snapped pictures much better on the Nikon. You’re far more likely to notice if you got the shot in focus whereas you could easily be lulled into a false sense of security with the S95 until you get back home to your laptop and it’s all too late.

Video

1st: Nikon P300
1080p @30fps, stereo mic
2nd Canon S95
720p @24fps, stereo mic


It’s pretty obvious which of the two comes out on top in the video category but, in fact, there’s much more to it than just the Full HD of the Nikon. While both have built-in stereo microphones, it’s only the P300 that lets you both zoom and use continuous autofocus while you’re shooting - both considerable advantages given that subjects tend to move when you’re recording them. Another nice touch on the Nikon is that you can shoot very high speed and slo-mo video as well with frame rates of 15, 60 and 120fps also on offer. The catch there is that you only get to do it at VGA resolution and without sound as well.

Usability

Tie: Canon S95

Tie: Nikon P300


The two cameras are actually very similar on the outside, but there are two main differences worth pointing out. The advantage that the S95 has is the well documented and great to use control ring on the front around the lens. You can assign whatever function you like to it and use it to scroll through the values of aperture, ISO, shutter speed or whatever you like. The same feature exists on the Nikon P300 in the shape of a second wheel at the thumb position, but it’s not quite as traditional a camera and instinctive as the control ring. It's also not as flexible for function.

To the Nikon’s credit though it has a dedicated video record button which the Canon doesn’t have and that increases your chances of catching movie action as it happens rather than scrolling through the menus only to miss it before you can start taping.

Price

1st: Canon S95
£270

2nd: Nikon P300
£299.99


It’s slightly petty to quibble over a couple of quid but we’re going to do it anyway. The fact is that the S95 is supposed to be almost exactly the same price point as the Nikon P300, but the fact is, because it’s older, you can pick up the Canon a little cheaper here or there. Going into the future, this will probably be the case for a while. The question, though, is whether it’s worth paying the extra.

Conclusion

Winner: Nikon P300

Loser: Canon S95


Objectively speaking, the Nikon Coolpix P300 appears to be the better camera. The superior lens, display and video shooting capabilities are three very key areas and all places where this latest high end compact excels. Where it seems to miss out most is with the control ring that you get with the S95, but then that’s not going to be a must for everyone. However, if you take video shooting out of the equation, one might argue that you'd be better off with the S95 with the usability factor perhaps tipping the balance over relatively slim shortcomings in other areas

That said, there are other considerations that we’ll have to wait for the full review to see how big a difference they make with the P300. The most important of these is probably the introduction of Nikon’s latest camera processor, the EXPEED C2. It’s supposed to offer high-sensitivity performance and maximize image quality while producing better colours with less noise as well. If that’s really the case, then that alone would be reason enough to opt for the P300, making hardware specs like the size and type of sensor incomparable to the Canon’s. For now, though, and until the Pocket-lint labs come back and tell us that the image quality results of the Nikon Coolpix P300 are surprisingly terrible, then the Nikon Coolpix P300 is the high end compact that we would recommend.

You can check out the full review of the Canon PowerShot S95 and do let us know which of these two compacts you'd most like in the comments below.



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