The new Nikon Coolpix 7900 offers a surprisingly sprightly package that is both very pocketable but very usable despite the small size. A large 2-inch colour screen means the majority of the back plate controls are shoved over to the right side of the screen, a neat optical viewfinder is clear and crisp and can be viewed without pressing a greasy nose into the middle of the colour screen.
Across the top plate are the usual control suspects of a mode dial offering activation of the camera's main shooting options, four subject program modes that include portrait and landscape settings, an all auto mode, the 640x480, 30fps movie mode and a set up position for, well, setting up the camera, which includes date and time settings fro example.
The shutter release sits adjacent a very small on/off button and on the trailing edge of the top plate are the zoom buttons that control the 38-114mm (35mm equiv) 3x optical zoom.
A fast F2.8 maximum aperture is let down by a F4.9 maximum aperture at full zoom, making it a challenge to achieve good handheld low-light shots without a flash. This slow aperture at full zoom also reflects the compromises made by Nikon to cram all that Extra Dispersion premium lens glass into such a small package, a compromise then, but one that seems worth it given other aspects of this very nice camera including the many scene modes.
You get no less than 16 scene modes (four from the main mode dial on the camera's top plate) and the other 12 in the ‘Scene' menus, which range from a Party, Beach and Snow and a Sunset mode to a Close Up setting and a Panorama assist mode among others.
Some of the new CoolPix's neatest features are to be found after you've you're your pictures. A red-eye removal mode actually works really well and is an in-camera post shoot process. The same is true of the new D-Lighting feature, which is an in-camera shadow lightening process that dramatically lifts an image out of the shadows. One downside of shadow lightening is slightly more noise and boosted contrast in brighter parts of the scene that isn't always intentional. However, it's a neat feature and works well enough to be more than useful on most shots printed at ‘normal' 6x4-inch print sizes.
Performance and response are good, metering is excellent and colour rendition in the standard mode is very good indeed, little need of the (also present) Vivid setting. Image noise is well controlled, even up to ISO 400 it's top sensitivity setting, while I found focusing to be very good in all but low light when, even with the bright AF assist beam in action, the AF could still be foiled.
However when it gets it right, the level of detail is astonishing, macro shots show almost every itchy making hair on aphids' legs on flowers while landscape style images pack enough detail for satisfyingly large prints (see images).
Nikon has distilled most of the good bits from this camera's Coolpix predecessors, creating an almost perfect point and shooter. Image stabilisation would be nice and some perfecting of the AF system would be even nicer, but otherwise the Coolpix 7900 is very accomplished, particularly when you realise you can make prints up to A3, at an output resolution of 200dpi, or even bigger if you know what you're doing thanks to its 7MP sensor.
A near perfect Nikon point and shooter at a neat price too.
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