Nikon Coolpix P7100 compact camera
All at your fingertips
Review Just over a year ago Nikon released the Coolpix P7000 to slug it out with Canon’s PowerShot G12. Both cameras appeal to the high-end consumer who wants most of the controls and features of a DSLR in the body of a compact. With the Coolpix P7100, Nikon introduces some welcome new features and tweaks including a tilting screen and an improved user interface, yet like the aging G12, it remains a 10Mp snapper.
PowerShot punisher: Nikon's Coolpix P7100
The P7100 has a solid metal build and a retro, if stocky, charm. When holding it, with its firm and secure grips, it feels very much like having a compact, lightweight DSLR in your hands. This Coolpix goes against the current trend in the compact market, as the P7100 showcases as many physical controls as it can possibly fit on its relatively small body, giving the user direct access to virtually all useful shooting settings.
There are plenty of dials and buttons but they are all so ergonomically and logically placed that, once you learn where they are, you can use them without taking your eye off the viewfinder. From the handling and shooting point of view this is certainly one of the most comfortable compact cameras I have used.
Some days, you can't beat an eye-level viewfinder
The top plate alone accommodates three dials. A left dial providing immediate access to some of the most frequent functions such as ISO, White Balance, Bracketing, Image Quality, as well as My Menu and Picture Controls. This dial was cleverly designed to offer not only access to the above-mentioned settings but also to select option within each setting at the same time. In fact, the dial has a small button in its middle that allows you to easy change the parameters of each setting.
Then there is the usual DSLR-like mode dial, which apart from the obvious Auto, Program Auto, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Movie and Scene modes now also includes an Effects mode, comprising 10 different options, three User Defined modes and a Low Light mode, which expands ISO sensitivity up to 12800 at the reduced resolution of 3Mp. The last of the three top dials is an old-fashioned exposure compensation disc, a great tool for controlled manual exposure.
Fast access to functions puts an end to endless menu musing
Although there’s a built-in flash the top plate hotshoe broadens the creative horizons of this compact. Additionally, to offer the same level of manual control of a DSLR the P7100 is now equipped with a twin dial system, with a command dial on the front and one on the back, to have full and quick command of the shutter/aperture operation.
Another major addition to this latest Coolpix model is the provision of a tiltable 3in LCD screen that packs a 920k-dot resolution. The screen has amazing colour reproduction and is bright and clear even in direct sunshine. The P7100 also features an optical viewfinder that, whilst rather small and with only an 80 per cent coverage, is still a welcome inclusion in a compact and one that will certainly pleases many enthusiast photographers.
A pop-up flash for when needs must
While Nikon’s Coolpix P7000 had been heavily criticised for having sluggish processing speeds, by contrast, the P7100 model is fast and responsive in every operation. From quick menu and settings reactions to excellent start-up time, good writing speed in JPEG format and a smooth and accurate Autofocus response I can’t possibly fault the P7100 on performance. RAW shooting can still be a little slow but it is more than adequate for this class of camera and usually a sticking point even for higher models.
The P7100 has a good choice of well crafted and realistic filter effects in addition to a wealth of 18 preset scenes to select from but I was disappointed Nikon did not include their Easy Panorama functions into its features, opting instead for the outdated Panorama Assist mode, which still needs manual stitching in place of its more advanced composite automatic version featured by other compacts.
The Coolpix P7100 mounts a very versatile 28-200mm (equivalent) f/2.8-5.6 zoom lens that benefits from very well controlled chromatic aberrations. A new addition is the Zoom Memory function that lets you select 6 different zoom presets to quickly switch to your the preferred focal length in every scene. Another nod to the enthusiast photographer is its Neutral Density filter that increases creative exposure control by providing a three-stop drop off in shutter speed that allows you to select slower shutter speeds even in bright conditions.
Dim view: a neutral density filter is on-board too
The P7100’s complex vibration reduction system, which in addition to the lens VR also adds a Motion Detection function to compensate for both camera and subject movements and a Best Shot Selector that automatically chooses the sharpest image of up to 10 continuous shots, further improves this camera low light and low speed performance.
6-42.6mm zoom (35mm equivalent: 28-200mm)
The 1/1.7in 10.1Mp CCD sensor is one of the larger sizes used by compact cameras, but it’s no match for some of the mirrorless models out there. Yet keeping the sensor resolution at 10Mp help maintain a better individual pixel size when compared to higher resolution models. This in turn results in better detail rendition, better noise performance and the possibility of shallower depths of field, a great creative advantage over other compacts.
Attach your own flashgun if you need an extra burst of light
The improved Expeed C2 image processing delivers quite impressive ISO performance results, especially at low speeds. But even at the fastest settings noise control is respectable, with images captured with a sensitivity of up to ISO 3200 revealing minimal amounts of noise. Again, the P7100 ignores current trends as it doesn’t sport full HD video; being limited to a 720p HD movie mode. Regardless, the footage it produces is smooth and crisp while sound reproduction has a wide spectrum and is crystal clear.
Given the exhaustive range of control and customisation on offer, the P7100 might prove hard to resist for enthusiast photographers with manual operation inclinations. Likewise for pros who need an easy, compact camera to carry along but want to keep the same level of flexibility when shooting that a DSLR offers.
While the plethora of physical controls may well prove too intimidating for a less advanced users, it is this versatility that makes it an ideal camera for a beginner too. The Coolpix P7100 would certainly help to improve technique, as it has the perfect balance of auto modes with plenty of scene selection and intelligent functions to get started with and full and easy manual control for later experimentation
That said, the price tag on this camera will by itself exclude most happy snappers, but you do get what you pay for, as the Nikon Coolpix P7100 has no major flaws and delivers very satisfying images. With the PowerShot G12 over a year old now, the pressure is on Canon to match Nikon’s accomplished well-designed rival, but why wait? ®
Catherine Monfils is a professional photographer specialising in portraiture, lifestyle and fashion.
More Camera Reviews…