A dedicated button on the top of the camera activates Nikon's Vibration Reduction feature. The top-mounted mode dial is designed more for advanced photographers than for casual snapshooters, burying the scene modes in a menu and saving precious dial space for quick access to white-balance, ISO, and image-quality settings. The four-way controller on the back gives direct access to flash, self-timer, exposure compensation, and focus-range settings. The Nikon Coolpix P3's wireless abilities do exactly what they claim to do, nothing more and nothing less. Images can be sent directly to a printer or a computer for printing or storage via the P3's 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connection, at as much as 54Mbps. User input is required before each transfer, making the process a lot less automatic than it could have been. Even images captured in the camera's Shoot and Transfer mode must be approved for transfer after each shot, slowing the entire process to a crawl.
Setting up the P3's wireless connection to a computer is easy enough if you know enough about your computer's wireless abilities to get it to work. First, you must decide whether you want to connect in Ad-hoc (directly to a wireless-capable computer) or Infrastructure mode (over a local wireless network, via a wireless router). You must then enter the SSID for your network or computer and, if you have encryption enabled, specify the protocol you're using and the security key. Typically, you'll want to run the camera in ad-hoc mode, which lets you transfer directly to a nearby Wi-Fi-enabled computer. Infrastructure mode is usually reserved for more complex wireless network setups and isn't always necessary.
Two other major manufacturers make compact cameras with Wi-Fi capability, and they both offer unique capabilities that Nikon's lacks. Canon's Wi-Fi system integrates with its remote capture software, allowing full wireless control of its PowerShot SD430. Kodak's Wi-Fi system doesn't allow remote control but does allow you to use an Internet-connected Wi-Fi network to e-mail and Web-post pictures directly from its EasyShare One camera. If you don't have a wireless-enabled computer or printer--or simply don't want to deal with the hassle--have no fear; images can be transferred through a standard USB cable. Unfortunately, the camera uses the slower USB 1.1 standard, so don't expect quick uploads.
Nikon's optical-stabilization technique, dubbed Vibration Reduction, reduces shake in photos through tiny movements of the camera's lens. Nikon claims that this feature lets users shoot three stops slower than usual, but we saw it work only up to two stops at most. Given the 3.5X (36mm-to-126mm equivalent) optical zoom lens's relatively slow speed of f/2.7 to f/5.2, this is a welcome feature that should come in handy in low-light situations.
Rounding out the Nikon Coolpix P3's features are a whopping 8 drive modes, including one that captures 16 frames in less than a second and arranges them in a four-by-four grid, and another that captures 30fps at 640x480-pixel resolution; essentially a movie clip divided into individual frames. The P3 also has 23MB of internal memory--you'll still want an SD card if you plan on taking more than a handful of photos at time--as well as 16 scene-assist modes, 4 exposure-metering modes, and contrast/sharpness/saturation controls. The Nikon Coolpix P3's performance is disappointing, with some infuriating delays between shots. The camera takes slightly more than 4 seconds to turn on and shoot, and performance goes downhill from there. Shutter lag in bright light was an irritating 0.9 second, with dim light bumping that time up to 1.4 seconds. After taking a shot, it was a full 3 seconds before we could snap off another one. Burst mode was acceptable, with a rate of 1.5fps in five-shot bursts. The screen refreshes quickly but has a narrow viewing angle. Unfortunately, users are stuck with the LCD; the P3 lacks an optical viewfinder.