Nikon Coolpix P7100 £499
19th Oct 2011 | 11:19
Has Canon's PowerShot G-series finally met its match?
The Nikon Coolpix P7100 is the brand's new replacement for its flagship advanced compact camera - the Coolpix P7000 - and comes with a number of new and upgraded features over its predecessor, including some fresh controls, a high-resolution tilting LCD display and a revised user interface, to name a few.
The Nikon Coolpix P7000 was originally launched just over a year ago in order to compete with Canon's revered PowerShot G-series, matching its main rival - the Canon PowerShot G12 - in terms of key specifications, full manual control and premium build quality. It also proved itself capable of producing beautiful images straight out of the camera. Where it fell short, however, was in its handling, delivering a sluggish shooting experience.
The new model doesn't appear to have had much of its fundamental hardware altered in comparison to its ancestor: the Nikon Coolpix P7100 still packs the same 10.2MP CCD, a 7.1x optical zoom lens, which offers an equivalent focal range of 28-200mm on a 35mm camera, and vibration reduction (VR).
Also unchanged is the 720p HD movie mode, which is starting to look a little outdated in comparison with a lot of the lower-spec compact cameras out there that now offer Full HD filming capability.
Nonetheless, the Nikon Coolpix P7100 offers an impressive range of advanced technologies that improve upon the P7000's specifications, not least the addition of the previously-mentioned, more flexible articulated screen (albeit of the same size and resolution).
There's also a new front control dial for improved handling and AE lock when shooting movies, plus some new additions to the camera's effects options and claimed enhancements to the Nikon Coolpix P7100's responsiveness and image quality.
But does Nikon's latest launch live up to the manufacturer's claims?
Build quality and handling
The chunky design of the Nikon Coolpix P7100 may not win it any beauty pageants, but what it lacks in conventional good looks it more than makes up for in functionality.
Like its stocky main rival - the Canon PowerShot G12 - the Nikon Coolpix P7100 sports the same angular, utilitarian design as its former incarnation. Some of the other compact cameras that fall into the advanced category sport more elegant styling, but the Nikon does have its own sense of quirky retro charm.
It's tall, irregularly shaped and covered in all manner of protrusions, including numerous buttons, dials and other controls, as well as an optical viewfinder. Newcomers to the advanced compact camera category might be a little daunted by the sheer number of controls when taking an initial glance.
Admittedly the user interface does take a little longer to grow accustomed to if you're not used to having complete manual control over all of your settings, but practice makes perfect and - once you've got used to how this camera operates - you won't look back.
The solid metal body and plethora of superbly engineered, chunky dials and controls that litter the surface of the Nikon Coolpix P7100 lend the camera a robust, professional finish: it certainly feels like it's built to last. Its larger-than-average dimensions mean that it can happily incorporate generous, ergonomically-shaped front and rear grips which - in conjunction with the tactile rubberised cladding coating them - helps users to keep a firm purchase on the camera.
The top panel features the main set of controls. There's a small illuminated power button sandwiched in-between the well-stocked, chunky mode dial on the left and a slightly smaller, dedicated exposure compensation dial on the right.
The responsive shutter release sits forward of these controls and is encircled by a spring-loaded switch that powers the Nikon Coolpix P7100's 7.1x zoom lens from one end of its focal range to the other at speed. Perched on the right-hand corner of the top panel there's a small Fn2 button, which can be programmed by the user to access one of a number of different settings, helping to speed up operation.
To the left of the mode dial, the top panel slopes upwards to accommodate the porthole-shaped optical viewfinder around the back.
On top, the Nikon Coolpix P7100 features a metal hotshoe for attaching accessories, including any of the excellent Speedlight models that Nikon has to offer in its Creative Lighting System.
A further dial sits behind the camera's small pop-up flash, which sits flush to the camera body when not in use. This dial provides handy shortcuts to key features comprising image quality, ISO sensitivity, white balance, bracketing, Picture Controls and the customisable My Menu screen.
Around the back, the rear LCD remains the same sizeas the P7000's, at three inches, and sports an unaltered - but nonetheless impressive - high resolution of 921,000-dots. However, it does differ in that the Nikon Coolpix P7100's screen is now tiltable, making it more flexible when shooting high or low-angle images, as well as when filming video.
The LCD was one of the high points of the older P7000's design, and it's just as impressive today, offering a clear, detailed display and a wide viewing angle. There is a small optical viewfinder on offer too, for those occasions when conditions make using the screen tricky.
To the right of the screen you'll find AE-L/AF-L, playback, menu and delete buttons, all arranged around a large, textured four-way D-pad. The D-pad itself can also be rotated, for fast scrolling through on-screen options, settings and images in playback, while each of the directional keys offers softkey access to the Nikon Coolpix P7100's flash, focus mode, macro and self-timer options.
Above, there's a rear command dial and a button to toggle the various bits of on-screen information - including a live histogram and virtual spirit level - on or off, as well as a button to activate the pop-up flash.
The front of the camera now features a new control dial that's easy to reach and operate with your index finger, although it does appear to do the same job as the rear command dial, so we're a little baffled by its inclusion in the interface.
A customisable Fn1 button completes the Nikon Coolpix P7100's comprehensive array of controls, save for a button to unlock the metal ring that surrounds the lens housing, enabling accessories to be attached.
The level of control that the Nikon Coolpix P7100 affords over every aspect of the shooting process is second-to-none. Photographers who love to tweak and hone settings a customisable options on their cameras will have plenty to keep them occupied with this highly advanced compact.
Equally, however, when you want to take a break from the technical side of things and simply concentrate on your timing or composition, there's a comprehensive set of automatic shooting modes on offer too.
The JPEGs that come straight out of the camera are beautifully detailed, featuring faithful tones and true-to-life colours with just the right level of punch to them. The Nikon Coolpix P7100 also provides the added benefit of being able to shoot raw files, giving you the ultimate level of control over the entire shooting process from capture to computer, at the same time as enabling you to really maximise the potential of the images you create with this formidable camera.
Chromatic aberration is generally well-controlled, although there is some evidence of fringing in between areas of high contrast in some scenes - generally only visible if you start 'pixel-peeping'. Distortion is similarly well-controlled throughout the 7.1x optical zoom lens's focal range and the level of sharpness delivered across the board is also impressive.
For those who want to ease themselves into the experience of shooting with such an advanced compact camera (or if you just want to take a break from the manual modes), there are plenty of automatic exposure modes on offer. Auto mode takes care of everything for you and produces consistently high-quality results, with accurately-exposed, pleasingly coloured shots with minimal effort on the photographer's part.
If you want to get a bit more involved, there are 18 scene modes to choose from - each of which is manually selectable - although you get the added bonus of the Scene Auto Selector if you can't decide which to use or want to speed things up a bit. The modes on offer cover just about every shooting situation, including the 'usual suspects' such as Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night Portrait, in addition to a flash-free Museum mode, useful Backlighting Correction feature and a Pet Portrait mode.
We're a little disappointed that Nikon's impressive Easy Panorama feature hasn't made it onto the list, but you do get a manual Panorama Assist option instead. Each of the scene modes produces very good results, and the Auto Selector proves itself to be adept at correctly interpreting our subjects, successfully picking an appropriate mode with consistency.
Also on the mode dial is Nikon's array of special effects, each of which can be previewed on screen as you scroll through the options. On offer is Creative monochrome, Painting, Zoom Exposure, Defocus During Exposure, Cross Process, Soft, Nostalgic Sepia, High Key, Low Key and Selective Color.
Normal, with no effects applied
Defocus During Exposure
Each setting adds its own distinctive look to your images in-camera, processing them quickly and producing pleasing results that enable that little extra bit of creativity if you want some time away from your computer screen.
When it comes to noise control, the Nikon Coolpix P7100 fares better than its predecessor as well as succeeding in out-performing the competition at higher ISO sensitivities. The camera does a decent job of suppressing noise across its native range, maintaining an impressive level of detail at all but the very top settings.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon P7100, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Nikon P7100 is capable of resolving up to around 18 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 14 (see full image)
ISO 6400, score: 14 (see full image)
ISO 100, score: 22 (See full image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (See full image)
ISO 400, score: 20 (See full image)
ISO 800, score: 18 (See full image)
ISO 1600, score: 16 (See full image)
ISO 3200, score: 16 (See full image)
ISO 6400, score: 16 (See full image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions, and the resulting images are analysed using the DXO Analyzer software to generate the graphs below.
Signal to noise ratio
Our lab results from the Nikon Coolpix P7100 show that there is an improvement over the Nikon Coolpix P7000 for signal to noise ratio, and these results are also better than those produced by the Canon PowerShot G12 and Olympus XZ-1. These results show that the Nikon P7100 handles noise well, with less noise in images across the sensitivity range than the comparison cameras.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, please click here to read the full article.
When it comes to dynamic range there is only a marginal improvement over the Nikon Coolpix P7000, and while it cannot match the Canon PowerShot G12 and Olympus XZ-1 its performance is still better than average, showing that it's capable of capturing a good amount of both shadow and highlight detail across the sensitivity range.
This chart indicates that the Nikon Coolpix P7100's raw files (after conversion to TIFF) dynamic range is an improvement over the Nikon Coolpix P7000, and beats both the Canon PowerShot G12 and Olympus XZ-1 at sensitivities over around ISO 200.
For a full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests, please read our full guide to noise and dynamic range results.
JPEGs straight out of the camera demonstrate the Nikon Coolpix P7100's ability to record faithful colours with a wide dynamic range.
The Nikon Coolpix P7100's effects filters include a punchy, high-contrast black and white setting, complete with simulated film grain.
The Nikon Coolpix P7100's autofocus system is responsive and accurate, enabling us to track our subject and capture this rare moment where he remained still.
The Nikon Coolpix P7100's wide-angle lens enables you to capture sweeping vistas in plenty of detail.
This advanced compact's Macro autofocus mode is excellent, giving scope for photographing small subjects up close with a very pleasing amount of detail and superb colours.
The Macro autofocus mode in action again.
This high-contrast scene is testament to the sensor's ability to record a wide range of tones.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 100 Image, see the cropped (100%) versions below
The launch price for this camera isn't cheap at £499.99 - around the same as an entry-level DSLR kit - but once the street price settles it should bring the Nikon Coolpix P7100 into line with the competition.
The larger size of the Nikon Coolpix P7100 - like the Canon G12 - means that there's plenty of space for controls on its outer surface. While you might struggle to stuff this camera into an average-sized pocket, the pay-off you get in terms of handling is worth it, in our opinion.
The amount of options and settings that are directly accessible from the camera body makes the Nikon Coolpix P7100 slick to operate whether you're shooting with it on Auto or manual: just about every key setting that you might want to alter quickly while shooting is at your fingertips, so you'll rarely need to dip into the main menu system.
The claims Nikon made at this camera's launch with regard to improved handling were certainly borne out during our test period, thanks in no small part to the Nikon Coolpix P7100's new EXPEED 2 processor.
The Nikon Coolpix P7100's autofocus system is fast and accurate, the camera is quick to start up and shot-to-shot times - including when shooting RAW files - are much improved in comparison to the criticised P7000. In terms of functionality, the Nikon Coolpix P7100 matches rivals in most respects, but its 7.1x optical zoom is the Nikon Coolpix P7100's trump card over its main - less well-endowed - competitors, adding another level of flexibility to its feature-set.
The snappy autofocus system and comprehensive array of controls scattered across the robust camera body keep the shooting process slick, and the Nikon Coolpix P7100 delivers great-looking images whether you shoot on Auto or in one of the manual modes. The flexibility of being able to capture RAW files is the icing on the cake.
The sheer number of controls the Nikon Coolpix P7100 offers may prove daunting for less-experienced users, and some may be disappointed with the lack of Full HD movie-making capability. Action photographers are unlikely to be bowled over by the camera's continuous shooting rate, either.
The number of upgraded features in comparison to the older model it replaces may not be numerous, but the changes that have been made are very significant. The combination of superb image quality and total manual control, along with a much-improved - dare we say - snappy performance, leaves a lasting impression.
In short: the Nikon Coolpix P7100 is the camera that the P7000 should have been.