Nikon CoolPix P7100 Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Versatile and sharp 28-200mm equivalent lens
- Very good image quality, especially at low ISO settings
- New front control dial adds a useful manual control point and makes operation more ergonomic
- Articulated screen is invaluable for shooting from troublesome vantage points
- Optical viewfinder can be useful in certain situations/lighting conditions (and extends battery life)
- External Microphone input
- Raw capability with in-camera raw conversion
- Virtual horizon
- Useful in-camera distortion correction (in JPEG mode)
- Decent battery life
Conclusion - Cons
- Exposure compensation dial is quite easy to move inadvertently
- Limited manual control in movie mode
- Fn 2 button is not as useful as it could be (can only be set to activate up to 4 options)
- Video recording is limited to 720p
- Optical viewfinder coverage is relatively low at approximately 80%
The P7100 is a very capable camera with an impressive level of manual control - significantly more than you'll find on most compact interchangeable lens system cameras, and more than some mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (we're looking at you, J1 and V1). The P7100 can also be used quite comfortably as an auto-everything camera, but in fully-automatic mode you are restricted to a very limited auto-ISO range of 100-800, and you don't get the option to customize this function at all.
The improvements that Nikon has made in response to the P7000's speed issues have done a lot to make the P7100 a truly usable and versatile camera. Write times when shooting in raw still aren't fantastic though, and since the camera 'locks up' during this period, this can quickly become frustrating if you're trying to shoot many frames in succession.
Traditionally, cameras with this form-factor would have acted as 'bridge' models, spanning the gap between much cheaper 'point and shoot' compacts and DSLRs. These days of course this niche is also being occupied with a new generation of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras - many of which aren't much more expensive than the P7100. Cameras like the Olympus PEN E-PL3 or Sony Alpha NEX-C3 offer a similar level of manual control to the P7100, but boast much larger sensors. What the P7100 does have, of course, which these cameras don't, is a versatile 28-200mm (equivalent) zoom lens in a genuinely portable package. A camera like the Olympus E-PL3 is comparable in size and general bulk to the P7100 when paired with a fixed focal-length pancake lens, but as soon as you stick a zoom on the front it gets very big very quickly.
There is no escaping the fact that the P7100 exists in a market that is rich with competitors - both compact and interchangeable lens models - that are faster, in some respects more versatile and which offer sensors capable of significantly better image quality for around the same price. But despite such aggressive competition the P7100 holds its own and offers a couple of genuine advantages - its lens, and its impressively generous manual control and customization options.
The P7100 features the same sensor that was used in the P7000 and the Canon G12, which means at a raw pixel level each of these cameras produces nearly identical image quality (although the P7100 appears to apply noise reduction to raw files at ISO 6400). Anyone looking to upgrade from a P7000 won't notice much if any improvement in image quality. Nikon has made some minor changes to the JPEG noise reduction though, which helps to retain somewhat more fine detail than the P7000 when shooting at high ISO settings.
When compared to its main competitor, the Canon PowerShot G12 the JPEG noise reduction used in the P7100 can be somewhat heavy-handed, resulting in images that appear somewhat splotchy when viewed at 100%. In everyday shooting though, at the low end of the P7100's ISO sensitivity scale, image quality is excellent. Color and saturation are nice and neutral in JPEG images, and detail reproduction is up there with the best compact cameras in this price bracket.
The P7100's 720p video mode is perfectly sufficient for videos that you might share on the web but it does fall a bit short of the versatility offered by some of the higher-end compacts (which in some cases offer video quality settings of up to 1080p at 60fps). The P7100 uses variable bit rate encoding which means that your file sizes can change depending on the complexity of your scene, but it floats around 10mps, which is sufficient for most uses but can result in some noticeable artifacting in some cases.
With a bevy of manual control points, the P7100 is a dream for fans of 'hands on' photography. When shooting in PASM modes the shutter speed, aperture or program shift can all be readily accessed through a dedicated control point, and one of our favorite features is the quick access dial on the top left of the camera that provides quick access to things like ISO, white balance and image quality. Twin Fn buttons can be customized to further streamline the shooting experience as well, which once you've got everything set up to your liking, makes for very fluid handling. The only manual control which really doesn't work in our view is focus. On a camera like this with such a low-resolution magnified live view feed, manual focus is hard to use, and rarely useful. That said, it could be invaluable for some types of photography - star trails, for instance.
The P7100's size makes it easy and comfortable to access all of its many controls without causing hand cramps. The front hand grip is slightly different from the one on the P7000 (to accommodate the new front control dial), but the P7100 still feels nice and stable in use. The new articulated LCD makes the P7100 much easier to handle in difficult situations like shooting above a crowd or when getting close to ground level subjects. The screen is not fully articulated like the one on the Canon G12 (it can't be rotated to side or faced to the front), but even with such limited articulation it does provide meaningfully greater flexibility.
The Final Word
The Nikon P7100 is a well-rounded camera which offers a huge amount of manual control that is both quick to access and intuitive in use. The large command dials on the front and back of the camera are well positioned and easy to locate by touch, which helps to keep your eyes on your subject. As such, although the P7100 is perfectly capable when used as an auto-everything point and shoot, its true potential is more evident when shooting in PASM modes.
Nikon has done a lot to make the P7100 a more genuinely usable enthusiast compact than its predecessor. Everything from image capture to accessing and navigating menus is quicker than it was in the P7000 and the camera as a whole is snappy and a pleasure to use. While these much needed improvements are a welcome change we still feel there is some room for improvement, especially in the P7100's video capability. Video footage is very nice (and slightly improved over the P7000) but the P7100's video specification lags behind an increasing number of compact cameras at similar (and in some cases lower) price points. Many cameras in this price range offer movie recording at 1080p with frame rates as high as 60p. On the plus side, the P7100 is a more versatile video camera than the Canon PowerShot G12, which lacks either AF or optical zoom during video capture.
In other respects the P7100 stacks up very well against the G12. As far as their handling is concerned, the cameras offer similar but not identical experiences. We like the G12's fully articulated LCD screen and its dedicated ISO sensitivity control but the P7100's quick control dial is useful too, and we prefer the more DSLR-like design of its two command dials as well as the slightly longer reach of its optical zoom. Ultimately neither camera is unequivocally 'better' than the other overall, and crucially, their image quality is extremely similar (and very good). Compared to competitors like Olympus's XZ-1 and Fujifilm's X10, the P7100's main advantage is its wider zoom range. The XZ-1 and X10 have faster lenses though, which means that within the span of their more restrictive zooms you'll be able to shoot at wider apertures, and thus lower ISO settings. This can make a meaningful difference to image quality especially in poor light.
As well as obvious competitors, anyone interested in buying the P7100 should - and no doubt will - consider the recent crop of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras as well. The P7100 is very far from being a poor cousin to these system cameras though, and does have some unique tricks up its sleeve. Its generous manual control options and high-quality zoom lens mean that in our opinion it deserves serious consideration as a second body alongside a DSLR or as a more portable alternative to an entry-level interchangeable lens mirrorless camera.
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Movie / video mode
Photographers who like to take control, with all of the P7100's external control points you almost never need to enter the menus.
Not so good for
People who want a truly pocketable compact camera. Although the P7100 does offer great manual control there are other cameras with similar image quality in smaller packages.
Nikon's engineers have done a lot to address the issues that hindered the P7000 like slow operational speed and quirky handling. The P7100's excellent image quality combined with good ergonomics and build quality make this camera a good choice for anyone looking for a compact camera with a DSLR-like level of manual controls.
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