As smartphones eat into the compact camera market, the demand side of the camera market has shifts upwards. Cameras like the Canon S120 or Panasonic LF-1 were once considered to be advanced compacts; devices that catered to enthusiast shooters looking for portable shirt-pocket machines. However, many modern smart devices produce image quality that is comparable to the matchbox cameras of old, and as such, anybody who is purchasing a camera in 2014 (and beyond) is likely looking at a device that gives demonstrably better features and image quality than their phone. This is the "disruptive" aspect to what the iPhone has done; not only has it replaced the traditional digital camera for many people, it has changed the nature of the cameras that people are buying in its wake.
The benchmark in small, lightweight and slim compact cameras has long been Canon's S-series. The current standard-bearer is the S120, but the range dates back to the S90. That camera was launched in 2009; future iterations did not stray far from it's formula of basic box with above-average photographic features. As a competitor, Nikon's P3xx series launched in 2011, and like the Canon S-series, has maintained a consistent form factor and overall operational familiarity. The P300-320 cameras have traditionally been positioned below the Canon S series, but starting with the P330, the sensor size was increased from the entry-level 1/2.3" size to the more advanced-compact 1/1.7" size to match against the Canon S110. So, is the Nikon P340 a worthy competitor to the Canon S120?
Design and Features
|All in the family: Nikon Coolpix A and P340|
Wi-Fi is built in to the camera, meaning that it is compatible with Nikon's iOS/Android app that allows for wireless file transfer/viewing and remote operation. This keeps pace with the Canon S120, which also includes built-in Wi-Fi. However, GPS ability was lost in the transition between P330 to P340. This is an understandable design choice, as the price of the camera has to be kept down in this segment of the market. However, where the Canon has an edge is with its touchscreen control, whereas the Nikon does not.
Keeping with trends in the compact camera market, the P340 lens boasts a fast aperture (f/1.8) and a wide zoom range (5x, 24-120mm full frame equivalent). However, it should be noted that f/1.8 is only available at the wide end, with the lens stopping down to f/5.6 when fully extended. There's not much to say about the quality of the lens, as the limiting factor on a camera of this type will be the sensor. It does the job, and produces fairly crisp-looking out-of-camera JPEG images when shooting at short and middle distances. It also has close-focusing macro capability (2cm), and can produce results like this:
|Nikon P340, macro focusing mode.|
The P340 has a number of scene and effect modes. Most are on the gimicky side ("toy camera" etc.) but there is enough processing power to do selective colour during video shooting, as is possible on the D5300.
Though image quality has improved over the years for cameras of all types, ISO 400 was the traditional upper limit for reasonably care-free shooting for compact cameras. The P340 does that one stop better with the aid of a backside illuminated sensor (BSI), and as you can see in the samples below, even ISO 800 usable. (This is an ad hoc ISO test, using the pop fridges across the camera store.) However, for comparatively low image noise and reasonable crisp edges, ISO 400 (not depicted) will still be the limit for the most discerning users. Noise reduction becomes intrusive after ISO 800; the images will still be usable for small prints and downsizing for the web, but cropping in will produce unsatisfactory results.
Throughout this review, you can tell that it's been unavoidable talking about the Nikon P340 without mentioning the Canon S120. The Canon is the better known quantity in this market space, and there are quite a few users who have stayed with the S-series through its various evolutions. Can the Nikon convince users to switch? Possibly, but there are a number of factors at play here.
At heart, even though these are two cameras with similar specifications, the market space in which they live in are treated differently by the two companies. In use, both cameras can be configured for full-automatic operation for camera neophytes, or the controls can be dialed back in for more advanced shooters. However, in the latter situation, some design philosophies become more apparent. With the advanced menus turned on, Canon's menus will likely make more sense to enthusiast shooters than the P340's will. There's a sense (fairly or unfairly) that Nikon sometimes goes overboard in simplifying menus for non-enthusiast shooters, and while it's nowhere near as bad as in the Nikon 1 cameras, the menus on the Nikon simply don't feel as enthusiast-oriented as on the Canon. This can work against less-experienced shooters as well; there is such a thing as complicating things in order to simplify them.
Price-wise, its a close call between the two cameras. Though the Nikon P-Series has traditionally be placed downmarket of the Canon S-series, the P340 was introduced mid-way through the Canon S120's lifecycle. In other words, at time of launch (Spring 2014), both cameras were selling at similar prices.
It's worth mentioning that the the S-series has had problems with the lens mechanism. This was notably an issue with the S110, but the problem was also present on older cameras such as the S100. Thus far, the S120 does appear to be more reliable.
Despite the rise of smartphone photography, there are still compelling reasons to have a compact camera vs relying on an iPhone for all of your photographic needs.
- Better image quality
- Image stabilization
- Ability to zoom the lens
- More video options
- Easily expandable memory compared to Apple devices
- Offloads picture taking from phone, giving the phone more battery life
All of these virtues are present in the Nikon P340. As a camera, it's not the smallest, fastest, nor does it have the best image quality, but it is affordable and unlike some compact cameras; the form factor is not too small to comfortable hold on to.
Users stepping up from a smartphone will find the camera operation fairly simple when used in full automatic mode. However, dedicated DSLR users looking for a second camera will likely look further upmarket at cameras like the Canon G-series or the Fujifilm X20 or Sony RX100II. Otherwise, this is a competent, but not necessarily a stand-out camera. The the earlier years of the digital camera market, the 1/1.7" sensor size used to be considered something for an advanced camera, but with the march of progress, the benefits of that image quality are not accessible to a broader range of people. That appears to be the P340's mission; being as accessible to as many value-oriented buyers as possible, both in usability and price.
With thanks to Broadway Camera