Nikon Coolpix 300

By John Henshall

Is it a digital camera? Is it an audio recorder? Is it a Personal Digital Assistant? No, it's all three. It's the new Nikon Coolpix 300.

It's difficult to describe what this device looks like. At 3 inches wide by just under 6 inches high and one inch thick (7.5x15x2.5cm) with a large sliding cover and a circular thing at the top left corner. Slightly smaller that a Psion 3, at a first glance it's more like a cellular phone than anything. The 'circular thing' is one of those 'circular things' we're so used to in photography - a lens. Next to the lens is a small viewfinder and flash. On the other side, beneath the sliding panel, is a 2.5 inch LCD colour screen. Apart from a couple of buttons and a sliding switch on the sides, that's just about it. No knobs, no dials. But, in the bottom corner furthest from the flash, a telescopic stylus pulls out.

Nikon Coolpix 300 Rear viewDon't lose this stylus (I wonder what it would cost to replace?) because it operates just about everything on this device: the LCD turns out to be touch sensitive.

You can frame images on the LCD if the ambient light doesn't wash out the image. If it does, Nikon have thoughtfully provided an optical viewfinder too. Why can't all digital cameras have both? Press the little yellow button and the picture is taken, followed by audio for a pre-set duration. Or you can record pictures without sound (66 in 'Fine' or 132 in 'Normal' modes), or seventeen minutes of sound without pictures, on the 4MB of on-board fixed memory.

What makes this device unique is the ability to write over images on the LCD screen, superimposing hand-drawn captions over digital pictures. This could be a very useful feature for surveyors, estate agents, insurance loss adjusters - in fact anyone who wants to attach notes and sound to digital images. The 640x480 pixel images aren't the best I've seen but they are adequate for the purpose. Using a supplied cable, images can be displayed on a standard television monitor - much easier than peering into the LCD screen.

We've seen PDAs which record sound, cellphones which incorporate PDAs. The Nikon Coolpix 300 is a PDA combined with a digital camera and audio note-taker. One day soon we'll see a digital camera, audio recorder, portable television, PDA and cellphone all rolled into one lightweight small hand-held unit. I just pity the poor person who has to buy and carry the boxes of batteries.

This article first appeared in "John Henshall's Chip Shop" in "The Photographer" magazine, November 1997.
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