The Coolpix 7900 follows the basic, simple design ethos established with the Coolpix 700 and 800 series back in the 90s, and gradually refined in subsequent generations of Nikon compact cameras. Aside from a slight restyling and moving of buttons (to accomodate the larger screen), the design is very similar to the previous generation (Coolpix 5200), and is exactly the same size. The styling is fairly traditional, and unlike many similar ultra-compact models, there is a decent handgrip. The entire body is clad in lightly textured cool aluminium with chromed accents (the 7900 is available in some parts of the world in silver and black). The lens, when retracted, is not fully flush with the body, but the smooth lines and lack of unecessary adornment means the Coolpix 7900 looks clean and slips easily into a pocket or purse. Control layout is logical and takes no risks, making the 7900 an ideal first digital camera for anyone making the move from a 35mm film compact. Very nice indeed.
In your hand
Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Coolpix doesn't feel too small in your hand, and - unlike many ultra-compacts - it doesn't seem like it's going to slip out of your hand every time you use it. The controls are a decent size and very well positioned, and all the most important ones can be accessed using one hand. Nikon should be congratulated for avoiding sacrificing handling and usability in the race to produce the smallest camera possible.
A sturdy metal-coated, spring-bound click 'n' slide door covers the battery compartment. The Coolpix 7900 uses an EL-EL5 rechargeable lithium ion battery pack ( charger included, of course). Nikon claims approximately 220 shots per charge using the CIPA standard test, which is an improvement on the Coolpix 5200, but by no means class-leading. If you can find them, the 7900 also accepts CP1 lithium batteries (giving about 150 shots).
A similar, smaller door on the left side of the camera (looking from the front) covers the SD slot, which is of the usual 'click in, click out' sprung latch type. There is around 14MB of internal memory to get you started (Nikon does not supply an SD card with the Coolpix 7900), and Images can be copied between the internal memory and SD card.
A single combined mini USB and AV (audio video) output port sits under a small flexible plastic cover on the right side of the body (again, looking from the front). An optional 'dummy battery' AC adaptor is available separately.
The optical viewfinder, complete with flash and AF ready lights is pretty standard stuff. It's inevitably small, the field of view is nowhere near the full frame (just under 75%) and it's so far from the lens that you'll get parallax errors if you shoot subjects nearer than about 2M. But it's no worse than any other similar camera, and comes in useful in very low or very bright light, or when you need to preserve battery power.
The 2.0-inch screen is not bad at all - the refresh rate seems very high (no lag at all), it's pretty bright and it shows 100% of the frame. It also gains up fairly quickly in low light. At 115,000 pixels it's not the sharpest screen on the market, but it is 'transflective' - you can use it in bright light - just.
The built-in flash is fairly large for such a small camera, which is reflected in the healthy 0.3 to 4.5m operating range (0.3 to 3.5m at the tele end of the zoom). Nikon has a lot of experience in flashguns, and it shows here - exposure is excellent, even at close shooting distances. The standard on/off/red-eye/slow synch options are available - if you turn on the red-eye mode (which uses a pre-flash) the In-Camera Red-Eye Fix is also activated.
The zoom buttons are perfectly situated on the rear of the camera just below the shutter release, within easy reach of your thumb. As is normal on digital cameras, the buttons are also used in playback mode to zoom into images or view several thumbnails at once.
The 3x Zoom Nikkor lens employs ED (Extra Low Dispersion) elements. The F2.8-4.9 maximum aperture is a reflection of the space saving design, and is forgivable - though it does make non-flash photography in low light at the tele end of the zoom something only the most steady-handed will attempt.
The main mode dial sits atop the camera right next to the shutter release and main power switch. From here you can choose between auto mode, scene mode, portrait-assist, landscape-assist, sports-assist or twilight portrait assist modes, plus access the setup menu or switch to movie mode. The positioning of the dial - and the size of the camera - means you can switch modes with your thumb even when holding the camera in one hand.
Although the controls have migrated to the right to make space for the larger screen, they are essentially exactly the same as those found on the Coolpix 5200, and offer direct access to flash, self-timer, AE-compensation, macro mode and playback mode. Note the new 'D-Lighting' feature - invoked in playback mode by pressing the OK button.