White Balance

The NV7 has five white balance presets (daylight, cloudy, fluorescent H & L, tungsten) in addition to the default auto mode. There is also a custom (measured) manual white balance option and - unusually - a Kelvin slider for setting color temperature. In our tests the auto white balance system worked acceptably well outdoors and in bright mixed light, though it is more easily fooled than we're used to by scenes with areas of solid color (including the sky) - we found the occasional situation where even the smallest change in framing resulted in a small, but obvious, change in white balance. It also didn't do very well at all in any of our artificial (indoor) lighting tests - as shown below. If you want a more neutral result we'd suggest using the custom white balance function and a gray card.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 10.0%, Blue -12.8%
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red 6.7%, Blue -20.4%
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 8.9%, Blue -15.3
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red 6.1%, Blue -10.5%

Flash Performance

The small built-in flash unit has a range of around 0.2m - 5.8m (7.8 inches to 22.8 feet) at the wide end of the zoom and 0.6m - 4.0m (1.9 to 15.7 feet) at the long end, which isn't bad for a camera in this class, and is a lot better than the NV10 (though this is partly due to the camera using a higher ISO more readily). We found flash exposures to be a little hit and miss, with close shots at the wide end of the lens sometimes overexposed and shots at the long end of the zoom a little underexposed (though this is easily fixed in post-processing). There is also a slight warm tone to flash shots (which is actually no bad thing).

Skin tone
Good color and exposure
Color chart
Strong warm tone

Macro Focus

As is common to most compact digital cameras the NV7's macro mode is most effective at the wide end of the zoom, where you can get as close as 10cm, capturing an area around 7cm (2.7 inches) across. At the long end of the zoom the performance isn't bad either - 60cm subject distance capturing an area just over 9cm wide. There is inevitably some distortion (and corner softness at the long end), but it's not a major issue. Focus is a bit slow in macro mode, and we did get more focus errors than we're used to.

If you find the 80cm closest focus distance in non macro mode too limiting (we did) you can switch to 'Auto Macro' mode (which frees up the entire 10cm to infinity range), though again this does slow down focusing a little. Finally there is a separate Super Macro mode capable of getting as close as 1cm (0.4 inches) at the wide end.

Wide macro - 70 x 53 mm coverage
43 px/mm (1101 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Low
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm
Tele macro - 91 x 68 mm coverage
33 px/mm (848 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 270 mm
Super macro - 24 x 18 mm coverage
125 px/mm (3167 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: High
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Barrel distortion is - at 1.1% - on the low side for a camera with such an ambitious zoom range, and doesn't significantly mar most real world scenic shots (though it also doesn't subside until you get beyond the middle of the zoom range). There is a tiny (0.2%) amount of measurable pincushion distortion at the telephoto end of the zoom.

Barrel distortion - 1.1% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.2% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 270 mm

General Image Quality Comments

Taken as a whole the NV7's output is probably best described as being overprocessed. In good light the results are bright and almost ridiculously over-saturated (making wintry, dull London look like Disneyworld). The tone curve used is way too steep for my taste, with virtually all fine tonal detail in shadow areas clipped to black (or, if the metering gets it wrong, highlights are very harshly clipped). But contrasty, saturated output suits some people and certainly produces pictures with real 'punch' straight out of the camera, so it is perhaps a matter of taste.

Much more serious is the issue of noise, which rears its ugly head even at the lowest ISO setting, but really becomes a problem at ISO 200 and above. The noise - and harsh, smeary noise reduction - means the images lack much of the fine texture of the scene, and seriously limits the NV7's usefulness as a photographic tool for anyone wanting to produce larger prints (and the files are totally unsuitable for post-processing work).

So then, the usual excessive contrast, dynamic range, clipping issues, a touch of over-sharpening, mild (hardly worth worrying about) purple fringing, noise, smeared low-contrast detail and slightly eccentric white balance system. We also found a lot of small, but annoying focus errors (due in part to the unsophisticated fixed focus point). Not boding well is it?

And yet if this all sounds terrible I should add some qualification. From the 500 or so shots taken in preparation of the gallery a very small number showed any serious problems - focus and exposure are generally very reliable (though the focus struggles in low light), and the color may be over cooked, but I'm sure it would appeal to the novice 'point and shoot' customer wanting punchy shots without doing any post processing. Many of the problems won't show in a standard sized print, but the excessive contrast (and resultant shadow clipping) will turn off many purists, and can ruin shots on bright days if there's anything of any importance in the darker areas of the scene.