Nikon’s P7100 is built with the high-end user in mind. This 10.1-megapixel, 7.1x optical zoom compact is one of a handful to come equipped with an optical viewfinder - although with a 80 percent field of view it does have its limitations - and the body is laden with numerous control dials and buttons that make it feel rather DSLR-like in use.
When the P7000 was released last year it failed to captivate us quite as much as we’d hoped. Indeed it couldn’t knock Canon’s G12 off the compact camera top spot. With that in mind, can the P7100 address its predecessor’s issues to become it the king of the compacts?
As per its predecessor the P7100 has a 1/1.7in CCD sensor. The size is important to note as it’s larger than the sensor you’d find in a standard compact camera and this is beneficial for not only improved image quality but also enhancing shallow depth of field (blurred background). And although 10.1-megapixels may sound a little conservative by today’s standards it’s an ideal resolution that carefully balances out physical size and final quality.
The P7100’s image quality is amped up a gear thanks to the EXPEED 2 image processing engine but, ultimately, is very similar to its P7000 predecessor. But we wouldn’t call that a bad thing. Those looking for top-notch picture quality with fine details and sharpness need look no further. Using the ISO Auto mode (from ISO 100-400) and all images were of great quality, and even right through to the higher ISO 3200 setting a decent amount of detail is achieved. Of course there’s some image noise, but the camera does a good job of hiding it in its JPEGs via processing. If you’re a RAW buff, then the P7100 also lets you capture NRW files that give you the full, unprocessed original image to do with it as you please in post-processing.
As well as the usual full array of manual and auto shooting modes the P7100 has a selection of effects and filter modes, including: cross process, burst effect and mono. There’s a 720p HD movie mode too, should you wish to turn filmmaker for the day.
Despite the P7100’s good quality there is something that can’t go ignored: the release of several Compact System Cameras in the last 12 months does make this Coolpix feel a little sidelined. Think about it for a moment: Micro Four Thirds cameras are the same (if not smaller) in physical size, have larger sensors for better image quality and more pronounced depth of field. They offer the versatility of a variety of lenses and, crucially, are no more costly than Nikon’s high-end compact.
The P7100’s 7.1x optical zoom lens provides a 28-200mm equivalent with vibration reduction image stabilisation. While that may not sound mind blowing in terms of reach, it’s got far more telephoto power than Canon’s G12 and blows the likes of the Panasonic LX5 out of the water.
The f/2.8-5.6 aperture also means there’s plenty of light at the wide end for shallow depth of field control and, while it might have been nice for a brighter aperture at the telephoto end, the logistics of that just wouldn’t be feasible unless the camera was made considerably larger to accommodate. Making an already huge camera more huge is really out of the question for us.
The lens is powered via a zoom toggle around the shutter button and moves swiftly into position. Autofocus is also swift to find a subject – though we’re talking only milliseconds faster than the P7000 was – and there are a vast number of focus area modes to choose from. At your disposal the P7100 offers: face priority, auto, manual, centre (spot/normal/wide) and subject tracking. Good to see all bases covered, although it’s still not possible to acquire focus right up to the edges of the screen.
King of controls
If there’s one thing the P7100 isn’t short of then that’s control buttons. A dual thumbwheel system - one on the rear and one on the front of the camera - makes for a DSLR-like feel, and adjusting aperture and shutter in manual mode is effortless. On top of the camera is a mode dial like you’d find on most compacts to cycle through shooting modes, but it’s the other two dials for exposure compensation and function control that make the P7100 extra detailed in use.
The P7100’s function dial is broken down into quality, ISO, white balance, ‘my’ settings, shooting styles and bracketing. It’s an exhaustive list that covers every angle, whereas the contrasting exposure compensation dial feels rather old-school in its design and activates an orange light to confirm when it’s been adjusted.
Far from calling it a day there, Nikon has included a four-way d-pad that doubles up as a third rotational ‘thumbwheel’ control, a function button on the front of the camera to the side of the lens and a second function button on top of the camera. Despite such a vast range you won’t find yourself ‘lost’ amid the menus as they become second nature very quickly and are exactly what a high-end user would want from a compact camera.
Going The Extra Mile
When we looked at the P7000 almost all of our moans centered around the slow R raw write time and plodding menu system. We’re pleased to report that the P7100 has amped up performance - it now speeds through menus and the raw files are written faster to camera. However, don’t anticipate a miracle from the raw file write speed, it’s not nearly fast when compared to a DSLR or Compact System Camera and will clog up the camera should you be shooting in the three-shot bracketing mode.
As mentioned the P7100 also has an optical viewfinder that’s a rarity among compacts. However the 80% field of view means the outermost 20% of the captured image won’t show up in the viewfinder and this can make precise framing very difficult. With the recent announcement of the Fujifilm X10 the Nikon’s viewfinder is put to shame in field of view, size and brightness. We’re pleased it’s built in to this Coolpix’s design, but the standards bar needs to be raised or an electronic alternative should be utilised - which would also help keep the physical bulk of the camera down.
On the P7100’s rear there’s a high-resolution 921K-dot LCD is mounted on a tilt-angle bracket to complement the viewfinder. This screen can be moved approximately 90 degrees vertically to face up or down for various shooting angles. It’s a good quality screen that’s easy to view and plays back images with clarity, so few complaints to be had in this department – you may not even use the viewfinder all that often.
The P7100 does a great job in addressing the previous P7000’s issues. While the latest Coolpix is faster in use and has all the controls a demanding user could ask for. We do have to question whether the age of this type of camera is coming to an end, with Compact System Cameras dominating in recent months this Nikon may find its large build and high price pushes it to the sidelines.
That said, for the sort of camera that it is, the Coolpix P7100 has a features list that’s hard to beat, it’s great to use and the pictures are of excellent quality. If this camera pushes all your buttons then we suggest you push its buttons back and buy one – the P7100 is a great, high-spec compact.