Nikon Coolpix P7100 Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Performance starts with image quality, which is the criteria used as the foundation of our digital camera ratings. As the Nikon Coolpix P7100 follows it predecessor with the same 10 megapixels CCD, it is no surprise that this model performs exceptionally well in terms of image quality.
While the launch of the P7000 introduced a new image quality champion among fixed-lens cameras, the P7100 now falls short but only against the Fuji Finepix X100 which cost twice as much and uses a much larger sensor. This represents a truly solid performance, particularly when considering its stabilized 7X wide-angle zoom lens. By comparison, the X100 has neither stabilization nor a zoom lens.
Images from the Nikon P7100 are usable up to ISO 400 for maximum output size. At ISO 800, it shows a slight amount of noise along with a little softening of details. Still, there image quality is good enough for a relatively large print. ISO 1600 is really fantastic for a small digital camera and even a medium-sized print, like a 9x12", can come out looking good. By ISO 3200, we have to give up on fine details but subjects are recognizable and even small prints are quite reasonable.
The dynamic range of this digital camera is on par with most cameras in its class, save for those equipped with Fuji's EXR technology. As such, the X100 and F550 EXR
Fujifilm Finepix F550 EXR maintain an edge for outdoor photography where light causes extremely contrasty scenes. The usual solution for photography of outdoor scenery is to wait for the time around dusk and dawn when light produces scenes of much lower contrast.
Metering of the Coolpix P7100 is quite good. Even the few times when it over-exposes, it rarely does so by much. Under-exposure is much more rare, save for low contrast scenes. There is a live-histogram which helps judge the metered exposure and it is affected by EC. As we mentioned on the previous page of this review, it is of little use outside of automatic modes since it is based on the display image rather than the actual scene.
The 7X zoom lens is quite compact with a good maximum aperture at wide-angle. Towards the telephoto end, it drops down two stops though. There is definitely a noticeable amount of barrel distortion at the wide-end, which can optionally be correct in-camera. At the telephoto end there is an almost imperceptible amount of pincushion distortion. The P7100 shows good sharpness over the entire frame. It is worth noting that the default settings make images entirely too soft, so adding +1 to sharpness was needed to make the output of this digital camera competitive.
NOTE The internal processing of the digital camera has significantly changed compared to its predecessor, so the remainder of this review page is entirely specific to the P7100.
Color rendition is customizable with 3 modes and 7 levels of saturation. The default Saturation level is visibly oversaturated, so dialing it down one step makes it more realistic. Of course, getting accurate colors from a digital camera depends on having accurate while-balance too. The P7100 shows better than average automatic white-balance with good presets and accurate custom white-balance.
The Nikon Coolpix P7100 features much improved speed over its predecessor. This is extremely welcome in terms of autofocus which is the only serious criticism of the P7000. The P7100 focuses as fast as ¼s in good light, slowing down to a reasonable ½s under typical indoor conditions. When light levels are quite low, it takes up to ¾s before either locking or giving up.
Speed of the P7100 is characterized by the following numbers:
- Power On: 1s, great for a camera with an extending lens.
- Power Off: 2s, typical for a camera with an extending lens.
- Zoom: 2s from wide to telephoto or vice-versa.
- Focus: Below ½s on average. Very good for Contrast-Detect.
- Shutter-Lag: Almost instant.
- Black-Out: 1¾, average, problematic for action.
- Shot-To-Shot: 2½s with AF or down to 2s in MF, Average.
- Exposure Mode Change: 1s, on the slow side.
- Playback: About ½s to Enter and Exit.
This digital camera is generally quick and responsive with the exception of the Quick-Menu. While busy writing, a button press is occasionally ignored but the camera responds quickly when it is ready. This makes the P7100 suitable for keeping pace with relatively still subjects but shot-to-shot and blackout times are too long for action photography. Battery-life is quoted at 350 shots-per-charge which is average for a premium compact.
Video-recording performs reasonably well. There is barely a delay when staring to record but stopping cuts off the last ½s of videos and takes about 2s to complete. Sound is recording during the entire video. Both focusing and zooming are possible during video recording. Zooming however becomes very slow to avoid making noise which would be picked up by the built-in microphones.
The Nikon Coolpix P7100 is an excellent digital camera with an extensive feature set and a design to access most commonly used functions. It has very little direct competitors when counting its zoom range or expansion options. It is only the second compact camera to feature a digital-level or a mini-jack sound input.
Image quality is simply excellent. It shows less image noise at high-ISO than all compact cameras with image stabilization. Color, white-balance and exposure are all rather good too and compares well to all other fixed lens camera. Dynamic range is good but not best-in-class. Focus speed is very good for its class and makes it very usable for most situations other than action photography.
In terms of ergonomics, having three control dials and plenty of buttons makes it very efficient but we feel Nikon could have done even better. The two usability issues remaining from its predecessor are poor accuracy of the LCD preview and Live-Histogram.
In the end, the Nikon Coolpix P7100 provides a very compelling choice for photographers looking for advanced photographic control in a compact body. It has an unparalleled feature set, including support for both an add-on flash and an external stereo sound source, making it the most versatile compact camera to date.
Nikon P7100 Facts
|10 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 100-6400|
|7.1X Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/4000-60s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|1 Axis Digital Level||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|1.2 FPS Drive, 90 Images||Spot-Metering|
|1280x720 @ 24 FPS Video Recording||Hot-Shoe|
|3" LCD 920K Pixels||Stereo audio input|
|Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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