Buyer's Guide: Enthusiast raw-shooting compact cameras
Nikon Coolpix P7100
10MP | 28-200mm (7x) Zoom | $404 (US) £309 (UK) €344 (EU)
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- Full specifications, plus user reviews and more sample images
- Hands-on Preview (August 2011)
|The P7100 is peppered with manual control points, but we really like the manual exposure compensation dial, especially.||A 'Quick Dial' on the top left of the camera provides easy access to core shooting settings including white balance, ISO and exposure bracketing.|
|New on the P7100 compared to the P7000 is a control dial on the front of the camera, in an ideal position for manipulation using the index finger of your right hand.||Also new is a fold-out LCD screen (although the display itself is the same 921k-dot unit). A fully-articulated display would be preferable but even this limited articulation is useful for high and low-angle still/video shooting.|
- 10.1MP 1/1.7" CCD
- ISO 100-6400
- 28-200MM (equivalent) f/2.8-5.6 optically stabilized zoom lens
- PASM modes and full manual control in 1/3EV steps
- Three control dials (front and two on the rear)
- 720p video @ 30fps with stereo sound
- 3in tilting LCD screen with 921k dots
The Coolpix P7000's main flaw was its poor operational speed, both in terms of the time it took to write .NRW raw files, and more basic operations like accessing and dismissing menus, and changing key shooting settings. Its image quality was excellent, but the process of actually capturing an image in the first place could sometimes be unspeakably frustrating. Fortunately, Nikon appears to have listened to the criticism of the P7000, and although it is too early to offer any definitive conclusions it is immediately obvious on picking up the camera that the P7100 certainly offers a significantly snappier, more fluid handling experience.
|The Nikon P7100's built-in flash is powerful enough for close-range portraits like this, but does have a tendency to slightly 'overcook' portaits. Flash exposure compensation is available though, up to +/-2EV in 1/3EV steps.|
I still like the generous external control, versatile lens and high-resolution screen, but this time round it is complemented by a much more, responsive interface. Also apparently gone are the occasional AF glitches which afflicted the P7000. The additions that Nikon has made to the P7100's ergonomics are worthwhile, too. The front control dial is now in exactly the right position for operation with the right index finger, and the fold-out tilting screen - while not as versatile as a fully articulated model - is very handy for shooting stills and video from awkward high or low angles.
Less appealing is the P7100's over-reliance on its lens's optical stabilization system to avoid camera shake. In auto ISO mode, in poor light, the camera will consistently select a low ISO value and low shutter speed (presumably to avoid noise) - a gamble that doesn't always pay off. To be completely confident of getting a high enough shutter speed to be safe, I have found myself setting ISO sensitivity manually, far more than I expected to. The P7100's image stabilization system is very good, but it isn't perfect. It can't cancel out shivering on a cold windy day, and of course it is of no help at all if your subject is moving.
As far as image quality is concerned, the P7100 is a very close match for its predecessor, which is good news. As such, the P7100 is up there with the best of its 10MP peers in JPEG mode. Like the Canon PowerShot G12 however, the P7100's relatively slow lens means that you will have to use its higher ISO settings more often than you might with a camera that boasts a wider maximum aperture. Despite its relatively wide zoom range (for its class) the P7100's 28-200mm lens is nice and sharp across its focal span. Automatic distortion correction is available in JPEG mode, so if you're a habitual JPEG shooter you're unlikely to notice any bendy horizons. Distortion is apparent in raw files, but it's not complex and fairly easy to correct in Nikon's bundled View NX2 software and/or common third-party options like Adobe Camera Raw/Photoshop.
We haven't worked through the necessary in-depth testing of the P7100 that is required for a full review yet, and as such, for now we're reserving final judgement on the camera. That said, I've done a lot of shooting with the P7100 and despite some reservations, I've come to really enjoy using it. Compared to the Canon G12 and Fujifilm X10 the P7100 is certainly more of an all-rounder, thanks to its sharp 28-200mm lens - definitely the camera's trump card.
The biggest problems with the original P7000 were operational. Every camera has quirks, but the P7000's glacial raw write times and laggy menu system could be genuine show-stoppers. Its image quality, however, was excellent, and as far as its functional ergonomics were concerned, we had few concerns. With the P7100, Nikon has retained the P7000's good points, and appears to have largely ironed out the wrinkles. The P7100 is quicker in operation than its predecessor (although still not as fast when it comes to writing images to a memory card as the Canon G12 and Fujifilm X10), and thanks to the extra control dial and fold-out rear LCD it is more pleasant to use, too. That said, the fully-articulated screen on the back of the Canon G12 is superior in terms of versatility.
The P7100's image quality is very good though, video image quality has been improved slightly and although noise does take the edge off fine detail in low-contrast scenes at ISO 400 and above, the P7100's raw files provide a very good starting point for fine-tuning. My overall impression, pending a full review is that the P7100 is the camera that the P7000 should have been, and a much more convincing competitor to the Canon PowerShot G12.
Studio and Real-World Preview Samples (links open in new tab)
|Studio Comparison Tool||Nikon Coolpix P7100 Samples (30 images)|