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(Pocket-lint) - Nikon’s top-spec P7000 compact has a large 10.1MP sensor and wide 7.1x optical zoom (28-200mm equiv) lens. A clear competitor for Canon’s G-series crown then - but is it good enough to unhinge the current king?

Nikon’s Coolpix cameras are undergoing something of a revolution - with innovation from the likes of the S1100pj projector camera, lower spec compacts now featuring AMOLED screen technology and then, of course, there’s the top seed of the bunch: the high-end Nikon Coolpix P7000.

With a 10.1-megapixel sensor that’s a larger-than-average 1/1.7-inch size, there’s plenty of scope for top-notch quality - larger sensor size means bigger pixel sites compared to a smaller equivalent, thus more light is available to each which leads to a better signal and, so the theory goes, a “cleaner” image.

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The P7000 also features a 28mm wide-angle Nikkor lens which, with 7.1x optical zoom, can extend through to a maximum of 200mm and even benefits from optical image stabilisation. The recently announced Canon PowerShot G12 - a clear hot-on-the-heels competitor - has a 5x optical zoom, meaning a 28-140mm zoom by comparison.

Elsewhere the P7000 has a 3-inch, 920k-dot LCD screen to the rear and also has an optical viewfinder in place, though due to design constraints this only has approximately an 80 per cent field of view, i.e., some 20 per cent of the edge of the frame isn’t visible for composition, but will be captured in the final image.

As with many other advanced compacts, the P7000 is aimed at those who know what they want from their photography. Manual modes feature to allow for full control, including RAW shooting capabilities, an electronic virtual horizon for lining up vertical and horizontal horizons, and an abundance of controls readily available on a variety of dials for immediate and physical adjustment.

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As with many other cameras recently released on the market the P7000 also features an HD movie mode capable of capturing 720p at a cinematic 24 frames per second. With a 3.5mm microphone port also included, it’s possible to attach an external microphone for more advanced sound recording during video capture too.

The P7000’s body is fairly substantial in order to house that optical viewfinder and large lens (it protrudes some 5cms from the body at full zoom). Control dials are also prevalent, with an array for various functions across the top of the camera. From right to left there’s a dial for exposure compensation that has a small orange indicator light when activated, with a customisable AV/TV function button in front of this. The main mode dial is just off-centre to the right of the standard hotshoe and the far left features a secondary mode dial to quick select and adjust the likes of ISO and White Balance. On the rear there’s also a thumbwheel, much like one found on a DSLR camera, and a D-pad that doubles up as both a four-way pad and rotational wheel to also cycle through options. Having both the thumbwheel and rotational D-pad is similar to having twin wheels and is ideal for adjusting aperture and shutter speed values in manual mode independently.

Although the vastness of controls may sound confusing it’s actually not and it’s a pleasure to have physical attributes to adjust settings rather than needing to menu dig all the time. Because of this separation of menus, however, you’ll need to learn which one you need to access to adjust particular options.

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In use the P7000 has both good and bad points. The first thing to come a cropper is the sheer amount of time RAW files take to process through onto the card. When a single RAW frame is fired it’s not possible to do anything for about 4 seconds. That may not sound like a long time, but for photography aficionados it’s far slower than it ought to be. A maximum of five RAW frames can be shot in a burst mode before the camera’s buffer becomes entirely clogged, though this will take considerably longer to clear - so the P7000 really isn’t necessarily one for high speed burst snappers.

The menus themselves also suffer from ever so slight delays. This would be very pernickety to moan about were this most other cameras - but for almost £500 of your hard-earned cash everything should be far superior to an average compact, not, as is the case here, a little inferior. The black out between button press and menu arrival is subtle, but it is there (this could be fixed in a future firmware update and, indeed, we hope that it does see improvement).

Secondly there’s a subtle flaw with the exposure compensation wheel to the camera’s top right. As it sits almost flush yet protrudes ever so slightly across the back it’s rather easy to knock it out of position, especially as fingers need to “reach around” it in order to press the shutter. Yes, an orange light does illuminate to indicate that the exposure has been adjusted, but it’s no guarantee that you’ll always notice and by then it could be too late.

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When it’s good, though, it’s great. The P7000’s rear LCD is nice and resolute and the 3-inch size more than ample. The dual-axis electronic level is also rather useful for ensuring accurate horizontal and vertical alignment, which is particularly useful to avoid “sheering” in flat image planes - frame up and if the horizontal and vertical measures read flat but the image in the frame still isn’t square on then you know to reposition yourself accordingly. Then there’s the P7000’s viewfinder which is perhaps a slightly different story of pros and cons - on the one hand and, without sounding too obvious, there is an optical viewfinder (unlike almost all compacts to market) present that’s great when glaring sunlight is too much for the rear screen. The biggest issue is its field of view, however: with only some 80 per cent of the final frame actually visible in the finder itself it’s not ideal for accurate framing. Although having an optical type is preferable for clarity, a model like the P7000 would potentially benefit more from an electronic viewfinder to allow for a greater field of view and also the ability to play back images direct to eye.

The autofocus system is swift and accurate (though don’t necessarily expect it to pick out fast-moving subjects with ease, as per the majority of compacts to market) and the variety of focus-area options are user-definable to provide a good degree of customisation.

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Outside of the decent Auto point-and-shoot modes the P7000 has the standard PSAM manual control modes. Controlling these is easy thanks to a dual wheel system on the rear of the camera. It’s a shame the manual focus option can’t make use of a similar rotational thumbwheel as it’s currently controlled by the up and down keys on the D-pad which make it a tad fiddly to use accurately.

Lastly, there’s the 720p HD movie mode. Smooth and high quality, the frame rate provides great playback and the autofocus mode is relatively nippy in use too (though not perfect, it has to be said). The zoom can be used too, and glides elegantly from one focal length to another for the smoothest recording transitions.

It’s worth noting the P7000’s price point too. At around £480 it’s certainly not cheap, but then there’s a lot of bang for your buck. It marginally undercuts the Canon G11 and/or G12 which is its closest-run competitor camera. The two have many similarities and it is more than likely many will spend a great deal of time scratching chins in photo shops trying to weigh up the two. At such a price this clearly isn’t a camera for everyone - you’ll be savvy with knowing what you’re doing, buying it for a good reason (perhaps as on-the-go support for a DSLR that you don’t want to take everywhere) and, given its fairly large size, keeping a small bag in tow rather than popping it into a pocket. There’s room to expand too: as well as hotshoe flash guns and microphones the P7000 also has a wide-angle converter available too, which can bring in light from angles steep enough to equate to a 21mm wide angle. Of course each new accessory means less cash in your pocket but more creativity at your fingertips.

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Those looking for top-notch picture quality, detail and sharpness will be pleased to hear that the P7000 most certainly delivers. Using Auto ISO (100-400) and all images produced were of exceptional quality, plus that F/2.8 aperture at the wide end lends itself well to low-light shooting too. Even the top-end ISO 3200 is mightily impressive as much detail is maintained. Granted there’s some image noise at this high ISO levels, but it’s rather well handled overall.

And for the most demanding out there, the P7000 can also shoot RAW files as Nikon’s NRW file type. Software provided in the box covers all the RAW processing capabilities you’ll need, though if you prefer to use Photoshop a future release will see compatibility.  

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To recap

The Nikon P7000 is a high-spec compact camera that produces great-quality images. Despite some write speed issues, the positives come in abundance: an advanced layout makes access to manual controls intuitive, and a strong feature set with 720p HD video tops off a strong model. However the near-to-£500 price tag will limit its appeal; this is strictly one for those in the know

Writing by William Perceval.