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Hands on ... Nikon Coolpix cameras

In recent weeks there has been a bombardment of TV adverts for Nikon's latest compact super-zoom camera, the S9300.

No episode of The Biggest Loser or Dog The Bounty Hunter is complete without an ad reminding me that "I am Columbus" or other such drivel.

But it's with some justification that Nikon is pushing its new model so hard. The S9300 packs an impressive array of features, including a sharp 18-times zoom lens and a GPS locator which adds precise location information to every photo taken with the camera.

The S9300 also sports full high-definition video recording with stereo sound, optical image stabilisation and all the features we've come to expect in compact cameras – automatic portrait modes, motion detection and a range of visual effects to give your photos a unique touch. In everyday use, the camera feels great – the solid shell inspires confidence and all the main controls fall neatly to hand.

So far so good, but step into any high-street shop and you'll be hit with a dilemma. The S9300 is currently priced within £10 of the high-end Nikon P310 compact. The cameras are a similar size and a similar weight and produce the same 16-megapixel shots.

But that's where the similarities end. Where the S9300 is modern and sleek, the P310 is deliberately utilitarian, with a matte finish on its boxy exterior. And while the S9300 features an 18-times zoom, the P310 only reaches a quarter of that range. The GPS from the S model is also absent, as are many of the automatic scene features.

So surely it's an easy win for the S9300? Not quite. Everything the P310 lacks in gadgetry it makes up for in image quality and responsiveness. Thanks to a high-quality lens – rated at F1.8-4.9 for stats fans – the P310 offers exceptional low-light performance, allowing shots lesser cameras would render as a blurry mess.

Beginners will get great shots from the automatic setting on the P310 while enthusiasts will relish the full manual control of exposure of shutter speed the camera offers. Focusing is also faster and more accurate on the P310. I fired off around 100 test shots on each camera in challenging conditions – some interiors and some outdoor shots, both on a dreich day. The S9300 performed quite well, registering truly sharp focus in around 90% of cases. But the P310 focused sharply 100% of the time, and did so more quickly than the S model.

Which camera is better? If you like your gadgets feature-packed and the prospect of GPS-tagged photos appeals, the S9300 is for you. But if you yearn for simplicity, accuracy and great-quality photographs, the P310 is a better buy.

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