Video: a Retro Review of Nikon’s 25-year-old Coolpix 300 ‘Personal Imaging Assistant’

Gordon Laing, founder of Camera Labs, is back with another Retro Review, this time taking an in-depth look at the Nikon Coolpix 300. As with his past reviews for his DinoBytes YouTube channel, Laing goes back in time to see how well Nikon’s ‘Personal Imaging Assistant’ holds up 25 years later.

The Nikon Coolpix 300 was released in late 1996 and retailed for around $800. While its ‘Coolpix’ nomenclature suggests this was only a digital camera, it actually had a few tricks up its sleeve, inspired by the PDAs of the day. The Coolpix 300 had a unique form factor, with a vertical design not unlike many modern smartphones.

At the heart of the device is a 0.3MP 1/3-inch CCD sensor (640 x 480 pixels) with a 45mm full-frame equivalent lens in front of it. It offered an F4 aperture and used a lever switch on the side to activate a close-focusing mode. The camera’s ISO was fixed at 100, which led the shutter, which offered a range between 1/30 and 1/2500, to do the heavy lifting. There’s also a xenon-style flash on the face of the camera for times when 100 ISO wasn’t going to cut it.

Despite its unique form factor, the Coolpix 300 still featured an optical viewfinder with basic guides to account for parallax. If you weren’t feeling the optical viewfinder though, you could slide down the plastic panel on the back of the display to reveal a 2.5” color touchscreen display, something Laing says was ‘the first touch interface on any digital camera I can remember.’ Aside from using it to compose and review shots, the rear display can be used to navigate the menu, draw on images and even take notes if there was something you needed to remember while out shooting. While it was possible to use your finger for navigating and drawing on the touchscreen, Laing suggests using the included stylus to get the best results.

Below is a sample gallery of images, used with permission from Laing:

The Coolpix 300 featured 4MBV of internal storage, which captured roughly 66 images in the ‘Fine’ image setting. The internal storage was also used to store audio memos, which could be recorded alongside each image or independent of images for other reminders and notes. As for how all the data is taken off the Coolpix 300, Laing explains the options Nikon provided:

‘Behind a flap on the side are a pair of digital connections: the small port connects to one of two supplied serial cables, one with a 9-pin D-SUB and the other with an ADB plug for Apple computers of the day. Both worked with the Nikon View software which presented the 300 as a TWAIN device for acquisition, and you could choose to download any combination of photos, memos or sound files. If the RS232 speeds weren’t fast enough for you, the wider interface on the COOLPIX 300 allows a high-speed SCSI connection with an optional cable.’

Laing concludes his Nikon Coolpix 300 review, saying:

‘The COOLPIX 300 arrived at the birth of consumer digital photography, a melting pot in the second half of the 90’s where almost every new model seemed to be trying something different just to see what would stick. Unfortunately the World wasn’t ready for the COOLPIX 300, or at least not from a camera company, and it proved to be Nikon’s first and last Personal Imaging Assistant. But there’s no doubt the COOLPIX 300 was ahead of its time.’

Despite its lack of success in the consumer market, both the Coolpix 300 and its more image-specific Coolpix 100 counterpart proved to be the building blocks for what would go on to be Nikon’s successful line of Coolpix compact cameras. You can find more of Laing’s Retro Reviews on his Dino Bytes YouTube channel and read Laing’s full written review over on Camera Labs:

Nikon COOLPIX 300 retro review by Gordon Laing