A superb all-rounder, offering great image quality. Fast, fun and about as future-proofed as a digital camera can be
Great image quality
Top photo features
Accessible wireless technology
Lively, realistic colours and good detail
Some noise can occur
Setting up Wi-Fi devices can be a pain
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Like a Hollywood starlet and her entourage, even the smallest and slinkiest of today's digital cameras tend to be surrounded by a host of plugs, power leads and USB cables.
Of course, you can minimise clutter by carrying pre-charged batteries and a few spare memory cards, but until now there's been no way of cutting out the cables altogether. The Nikon P1 changes all that, ushering in a world where you can download images to your laptop while on the move, without weighing yourself down with cables and exposing ports and cards to outdoor conditions.
The P1 looks very much like any Nikon compact; traditionally styled in metal alloy with a small, but adequate, right-hand side grip and a large 2.5-inch screen round the back. Only a smooth black bump on the side betrays its new-fangled connectivity, and you might not even notice that until it flashes a tiny blue LED when working.
A joy to use
The green Auto mode, large screen and pocket-friendly 190g weight might suggest a basic happy snapper compact, and the P1 is certainly a joy to use. There's a responsive zoom, simple controls and a screen that despite not being overly sharp, works in all but the strongest of lighting. But there's actually a lot going on beneath the clear text or icondriven menus.
Exposure options include aperture priority, a full range of metering modes (including one that follows the spot AF around the screen) and a host of scene settings. These also tweak sharpness, saturation and colour and are well worth exploring, although you can, of course, adjust those settings yourself.
The P1's autofocus options are worth discussing, not least because there are so many of them, from continuous AF to the enjoyable Face Priority AF for portraits (and yes, it does actually work, most of the time). Infinity and Focus Limiting modes chip away at focusing delay, although it's a pity that the AF system itself can be hesitant and occasionally fail in low light.
But it's the wireless features of the P1 that offer something unique. Setting up Wi-Fi devices can be a pain and connecting the P1 to your PC with a USB cable (hopefully for the last time!) is no exception.
Nikon's Wireless Camera Set-up Utility software attempts to make the process of inputting SSID, channel number and WEP data as painless as possible, but you'll still need a modicum of technical knowledge and patience to get it working.
When it does work, you simply turn the mode dial to Wireless and select the profile you've just configured. There are separate profiles for PC and any printers connected to it, and the P1 can store a total of nine profiles.
And once connected, you can download all the images in the 32Mb internal memory or SD card, or just select by date or tag. You can even set up the P1 to beam images instantly to your PC when you hit the shutter - although the 10-second transfer for a top quality 8MP image might slow you down a bit.
Is it worth it?
We had no trouble transferring or printing photos from up to around 10m away from our wireless router, and through two very solid stone walls. Unlike Kodak's partnership with T-Mobile for its Wi-Fi camera (the EasyShare One), you can't currently use the P1 with hotspots out of your home, although Nikon may develop this service in the future.
New technology often comes at the expense of image quality, but not with the P1. Images are bursting with detail and home to some of the liveliest, more realistic colours we've seen from the current crop of 8-megapixel compacts.
Exposure rarely strays from perfection and, while ISO400 images do carry significant spreads of colour noise, it's not a big problem - unlike many rivals that have similar specifications.
Flash illumination is strong and even, skin tones are excellent and the movies are watchable (though a bit smeary in bright light). In short, even if you never use the Wi-Fi functionality, this is one of very best 8-megapixel compacts available. And for anyone with even a passing interest in the wireless future ahead of us, it's unmissable. Mark Harris
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