Nikon P7700 £499.99
11th Oct 2012 | 15:47
Premium compact camera explored
The latest in the lineup is the Nikon P7700. It features a large 1/1.7-inch 12 million pixel CMOS sensor, a 7.1x optical zoom lens and a fully articulating screen.
Though Nikon has chosen to keep a smaller sensor size than a couple of other premium compacts starting to enter the market (most notably the Canon G1 X and the Sony RX100), it's important to remember that the sensor size is exactly the same as that found in the Canon G15, very newly announced at Photokina 2012.
The lens, which offers an equivalent of 28-200mm in 35mm terms, is capable of going down to f/2.0 at the widest angle of the lens, rising up to f/4.0 at the top end.
That doesn't compare spectacularly well to other premium compacts currently on the market, with the Panasonic LX7 and Samsung EX1 both having f/1.4 optics, while the Sony RX100 and Fuji X-F1 can both reach f/1.8.
It's worth pointing out, however, that the Nikon P7700 does have a longer zoom capability, so it offers more flexibility in that respect. The Canon G15 features an f/1.8-2.8 lens, but only boasts 5x optical zoom.
Photokina 2012 highlights: what you need to know
Other features of the Nikon P7700 include a 921k dot vari-angle LCD screen, a fast EXPEED 2 image processing system, and high sensitivity shooting up to ISO 6400. As on most other premium compact models, the Nikon P7700 has the ability to shoot in raw format, while full manual control is also available, as well as semi-automatic modes.
Although not-built in, the Nikon P7700 is compatible with Eye-Fi cards, which enable you to directly transfer images over wireless networks. Other compatible accessories include a GPS unit, remote control and Speedlight flash units.
It's clear that the Nikon P7700 is a direct rival to the Canon G15. The Nikon P7700 retails at £500/AU$650/US$500, compared with £550/AU$630/US$500 for the Canon G15.
Build quality and handling
It's clear that Nikon has put in a lot of thought to the design of the P7700, with lots of direct control dials and buttons that will surely appeal to the enthusiast photographer.
The camera also feels very solidly built, and like a real piece of quality kit in the hand. Despite the 7x optical zoom lens and the articulating screen, the overall size of the body is still relatively small. Although it's not quite trouser pocketable, slipping the Nikon P7700 into a jacket pocket or a bag should be no trouble.
At the top of the camera is a mode dial, which enables you to choose between fully automatic, semi-automatic and fully manual modes. Nikon has also included the ability to save up to three groups of commonly used settings and access them directly from the mode dial. Extra touches such as this make the camera really quite appealing.
There's also several Fn buttons that can be customised to quickly access a variety of different functions. For example, one that can be found at the top of the camera can be used to quickly switch on visual aids, such as the digital level gauge.
Another useful dial on top of the camera is an exposure dial, giving quick access to exposure compensation, which ranges between +/- 3. Since this is located at the top-right of the camera, it's easy to push around with a thumb when shooting one-handed.
Also helpful for quick access is a second dial on the top-left of the camera. You spin this round to gain instant access to controls such as ISO, white balance and picture style. Once an option is selected on the dial, you can hit a button in the centre of it to immediately access that setting.
A scrolling dial at the top of the grip portion of the camera sits nicely under the finger when holding it and can be used to control parameters such as aperture and shutter, depending on the shooting mode.
The grip itself is also pretty chunky, giving good purchase, especially when holding the camera one-handed. A thumb grip at the back of the camera also helps with keeping a good hold on the camera.
Another scrolling dial can be reached easily from the thumb grip, and is used to set other functions. One handy thing here is that the Function buttons can combine with the scroll dial to give even more customised access to key functions.
It's a shame that the Nikon P7700's screen isn't a touch device, since that would make accessing key functions and setting the autofocus point a lot quicker.
Autofocus points can be selected when shooting in the appropriate mode. To do this, the central button on the four-way pad needs to be pressed, then using either the scroll dial or directional keys, the desired point can be selected.
Initial indications, and the specs list of the Nikon P7700, were very promising, and we're pleased to say that images from the camera are very good. Colour rendition is good, with images appearing bright, sharp and punchy without being overly vibrant.
Canon's G series of cameras - such as the Canon PowerShot G15 and Canon G1 X - have been dominant in this sector of the market for quite some time, so it's nice to see Nikon introducing something that is a lot more capable of competing than previous iterations of the P series.
Autofocus acquisition is reasonably quick in the majority of cases, and is also accurate. You can move the focus to a specific focus, or let the camera do that for you. There's also the option to choose between normal autofocus, close-range focusing and macro-close up.
Photokina 2012 highlights: what you need to know
Switching to macro mode when you want to photograph an object extremely close is a good idea, with autofocus able to perform from only a couple of centimetres away.
This gives the camera the edge over cameras such as the Canon G1 X, which although packing a much large sensor needs around 20cm to focus, making it very difficult to use for close-up work.
Even at low sensitivity settings, there is some evidence of image smoothing when examining the images at 100%, but given the size of the sensor this isn't a surprise. It's certainly not something that will affect image quality at standard web and print sizing.
Edge to edge sharpness is generally very good, while you can also implement some creative effects thanks to the f/2.0 maximum aperture of the lens. Out of focus areas are rendered well, with a pleasing drop-off in sharpness.
Noise is controlled well at low sensitivity settings, but at higher sensitivities, such as ISO 800 and ISO 1600, image quality starts to deteriorate. Luckily, the f/2.0 lens means that these sensitivities can perhaps be avoided, but if you're forced to bump up the ISO, be prepared for a less than perfect performance.
Still, if you only want to keep images small, either printing-wise or for displaying online, they should be fine.
Nikon has included a number of digital filters that can be implemented on shots. While it's perhaps true that they won't appeal to the vast majority of consumers that Nikon is aiming this camera at, the filters aren't the best we've seen, and are easily beaten by offerings from other manufacturers such as Panasonic and Sony.
Still, it's nice to have something to play with, and some of the filters are customisable. Unfortunately, you can't shoot in raw format when using the effects, so if you decide later down the line that you don't like the filter on a particular image, you're stuck with it.
Matrix (sometimes known as evaluative or general) metering on the Nikon P7700 works well, providing good exposures in the majority of cases. If you are shooting something with mixed or difficult lighting, you can switch metering modes to something more appropriate, via the menu, relatively quickly.
Automatic white balance does a good job of judging the scene to provide accurate colours, even in mixed or artificial lighting. If you find that the camera can't quite cope, white balance can be changed via one of the mode dials at the top of the camera, so it's easy to make adjustments.
One of the biggest niggles we have with this camera is its shot-to-shot time. Despite having a fast processor, it's a very slow process, sometimes needing two or three seconds before it's ready again. Needless to say, this can be very frustrating, especially when trying to shoot more than one photo of a subject in reasonably quick succession.
The Nikon P7700's screen, which is not only fully articulated, but also high resolution at 921k dots, is great to use, and seems to work well in mixed lighting conditions. We've been unable to test it in bright sunshine, but in general outdoor conditions, glare hasn't been an issue.
Few will mourn the loss of the viewfinder that appeared on previous versions of the P series, especially given how good the screen is to use to compose images.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon 7700, 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 80 the Nikon 7700 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 80, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
Raw signal to noise ratio
In contrast, the signal to noise ratio scores for raw images are more spread out, with the Nikon P7700's raw images most like the Nikon P7100's between ISO 100 and 800, after which point the newer camera takes the lead. The P7700's images consistently beat the Canon G12's for signal to noise ratio throughout the sensitivity range. They fall below the Sony RX100's again at low sensitivities, before then taking the lead and holding it from ISO 400 onwards.
JPEG dynamic range
For dynamic range, JPEG images from the Nikon P7700 sit firmly in the middle of the scoreboard. They start off stronger than all the cameras' and stay stronger than the Nikon P7100's images at all ISOs. The Sony RX100's images are once again the strongest after ISO 200. And Canon G12's results are most similar, so that second and third place interchange at each new ISO setting.
Raw dynamic range
Again, the results of the raw images are more spread out than those of the JPEG images. And again, the Sony RX100 produces the greatest dynamic range of the lot, apart from at ISO 1600-3200, where the Sony and the Nikon P7700 are almost on a par. The Nikon P7100's images show the third best dynamic range, and the Canon G12's results are the weakest, throughout the sensitivity range.
There's a fairly wide range of digital filters which you can apply to images during capture on the Nikon P7700. Although not quite as pleasing as those from other manufacturers, some of them are customisable, giving you room to experiment.
The P7700 copes well when using the Matrix metering setting, producing images that are, on the whole, well exposed with a good range of highlights and shadows.
The Nikon P7700 is equipped with a 7.1x optical zoom lens, starting at 28mm (35mm equivalent).
At the furthest reach of the lens, this is 200mm equivalent, giving it good flexibility for use when travelling.
Colours from the Nikon P7700 are represented very well, with a pleasing amount of punch, without being overly vibrant.
Thanks to the f/2.0 aperture, the Nikon P7700 is capable of producing pleasing shallow depth of field effects, enabling you to get really creative with images.
Taken at f/8.0, this enables us to examine the edge-to-edge sharpness of the onboard lens. The Nikon P7700 has coped well, producing a clear image up to the corners. There is some evidence of image smoothing when zooming in to 100%, but this is to be expected from a camera of this kind.
In-camera editing tools are available, such as the ability to add filter effects post-capture. This is an example of an added vignette.
Best high-end compact camera
Using the Nikon P7700, it's easy to see that this a marked improvement over previous P series cameras, especially in terms of aesthetics and design.
Now a camera that is much more pocketable, it still retains all the mode dials and manual controls that appeal to the more advanced photographer.
Image quality is generally pretty good, though it's not any better than rival cameras in the market, and is a worse performer than cameras such as the Sony RX100, which features a larger sensor in what is a smaller body.
That said, it does have other benefits, such as the articulating screen and a hotshoe for adding accessories. If you don't shoot in low light conditions very often, and want the benefit of a longer zoom range than some of the other competitors on the market, this is a very tempting proposition.
Nikon has worked hard to produce a camera that is visually appealing, with dials and function buttons beckoning to serious photographers who want quick access to their most commonly used settings.
Unfortunately, shot-to-shot time is seriously slow, leading to missed shots and a lot of frustration waiting for the camera to catch up with you. Perhaps this is something that could be addressed by Nikon with a firmware upgrade.
With a raft of premium compact cameras now flooding the market in a bid to appeal to those looking for something a little more sophisticated from a compact, Nikon has produced a camera that is very likeable in many respects, with the P7700 having just a few let downs.