Nikon Coolpix P7700 Review
Usability - How easy is it to use?
Broadly speaking, the Nikon Coolpix P7700 is a well-designed camera. It wears its advanced features on the outside, with loads of buttons and dials, making using most features efficient. At the same time, the automatic mode (P) and scene modes are just as easy to use as with any point-and-shoot camera. While the camera is being used, the P7700 displays visual cues to show what is happening.
Despite being one of the largest compacts, its back is covered with buttons except for a rubber-coated area to secure your thumb. This is complemented by a small rubber grip at the front of the camera. This digital camera is easy to hold securely with one hand. At 392g it has a confidence-inspiring weight without feeling heavy. Nikon provides a neck-strap which is attached by eyelets on either side of the camera but one can easily use a wrist-strap instead. Given its size, the P7700 is certainly not pocket-size.
The top panel holds, from left-to-right, the quick-menu dial-and-button, the hot-shoe, the mode-dial, the power-button, the shutter-release surrounded by the zoom controller, the exposure-compensation dial and the small customizable Fn2 button. Both EC and quick-menu dial are designed to be operated from the back, so they protrude slightly. The former has soft detents, while the latter hard ones, so it is possible to accidentally dial some EC.
The quick-menu dial has a designed introduced many years ago by Konica-Minolta and rarely seen since. It is operated by first rotating it to a desired parameter and then pressing the button in its center to activate the menu for that parameter. This is faster than scrolling through menus looking for an option. Unfortunately, unlike in the original implementation, changing parameters other than WB makes the preview disappear.
Skipping over the standard hot-shoe, we arrive at the mode-dial which works just as expected. The camera changes modes rapidly and there are click-stops that make it impossible to unintentionally turn it. Note the presence of a Movie-Mode position which makes recording videos much more usable than on most of recent digital cameras. Next is a small power-button which is level with the top camera surface. It lights up for a short period when powering on and then flashes when sleep mode automatically engages after a delay of inactivity.
The shutter-release has some resistance to the touch and goes smoothly to the halfway point. The full-press is a hair deeper, making taking the shot after pre-focusing very quick. The rotating zoom controller surrounding the shutter is quick and responsive but moves the lens in coarse steps, making it rather difficult to frame precisely without moving yourself.
Further right is the exposure-compensation dial. It dials EC in 1/3 EV steps and works in most camera modes except for a few Scene ones. Thankfully it does work in Panorama-Assist mode. When this dial is positioned anywhere other than zero, a small orange light turns on to remind the user that exposure-compensation is in effect. This is simply a great design. The only limitation is that 1/2 EV stops are not available on this camera since the dial has hard clicks for 1/3 EV increments.
The last button on top of the camera is the Fn2 button. Nikon offers 4 functions for this button: Virtual horizon, Toggle histogram, Toggle grid and Built-in ND-filter. The standard Virtual HorizonNikon's term for a 1-axis digital-level is intrusive to view a subject but that can be changed for a more compact view. The truly interesting option here is the 3-stop ND filter which is valuable to experiment with photographs showing motion-blur.
The front of the camera is comparatively bare. The most important item there is the front control-dial which is mounted diagonally for perfect comfort. There is also an AF-assist lamp, two tiny holes which form the stereo microphone, an IR receptor and the customizable Fn1 button.
Customization options for Fn1 are considerable:
- With the shutter, it can use: RAW format, Auto ISO, Auto WB or the default Picture Control. This option can and should be turned off as it interferes with the other customization options for Fn1.
- With the front or upper-rear control dial, it can control Metering, Continuous Drive, FC, Active D-Lighting, ISO, WB, Picture Control or Vibration Reduction.
- With the lower-rear control-dial, it can control any of the same options as with the other dials.
While the Fn1 button is a little low for our liking, it is quite easy to use with any of the upper control-dials. For this reason, it highly recommended to set Fn1 to control ISO with the upper dials. With the lower-rear dial, one could chose between WB, Metering or FC. WB is a great candidate unless you generally leave the quick-menu dial to the WB position.
There is an important distinction when setting WB with either method. The Fn1 button only allows one to select a WB setting, including both automatic ones, all presets and three custom memories. To measure custom WB or apply fine-tuning, you have to use the Quick-Menu dial. This is one of the areas where the triple control-dials are clearly under-used. One could have easily made a dial select the WB setting and each remaining one fine-tune along an axis.
The back of this digital camera is very busy. A large and very sharp 3" LCD with 920K pixels dominates the back with the rest mostly covered by buttons. The LCD refreshes quickly and has a good anti-reflective coating. From bright to low light, visibility is rarely a problem. The display is mounted on a rotating hinge attached to the side of the camera. This makes it possible to capture self-portraits but is more awkward to work with than the tilting one on the P7100. It is also the most fragile part of the P7700. Unlike its predecessor, this camera thankfully shows 100% coverage.
At the upper left corner of the camera is a small spring-loaded button to release the popup flash. Push the flash down to bring it back in. Also above the LCD is a poorly placed Display button which cycles over display modes. There are two in Capture mode and three in Playback mode. In Playback mode, there are 5 ways to move from image to image, showing how under-used the controls are. One could have easily reserved the 4-way controller for panning, the zoom-controller or one of the control-dials for zooming and a control-dial to select images and still have controls to spare! When entering the Histogram display mode, only the upper-rear control-dial selects images.
The display is not Exposure-Priority. Dialing in EC alters the histogram as it should but not changing exposure parameters like aperture and shutter-speed. Unfortunately, the live-histogram is computed on the incorrect LCD display, so even in cases of severe under-exposure you would not know it. There is a setup menu to simulate exposure in Manual mode but it the display is still considerably off.
The upper-rear control-dial is located above the right corner of the LCD and is comfortable to reach. It is used to control shutter-speed in Shutter-Priority and Manual modes, as well as Shift in Program mode. In other modes, it does absolutely nothing and neither does the the third control-dial further down, another real example of poor usage of the high number of controls on the P7700. With three control-dials, Aperture, Shutter-Speed and ISO could each be given their own with the mode-dial selecting which ones are active. There would also be no need to customize a button to set ISO.
To the right of the LCD are 4 independent buttons plus the already mentioned lower-rear control-dial which is also a 4-way controller with central OK button. The combined AE-L/AF-L is customizable. It can lock exposure, focus or both. For AE-L, it lock exposure while being pressed or when pressed until pressed again. The latter is useful when shooting multiple images for a panorama for example. Note that the Panorama Assist mode does this automatically. There also a Playback, Menu and Delete button which work exactly as expected. In Capture mode, Delete prompts for deletion of the last image or video.
The 4-way controller has functions assigned to each direction:
- Up: Cycles over flash modes when the flash is raised: Auto, Auto Redeye, Fill, ManualWith sub-options for power from Full to 1/64th in one stop increments., Slow-Sync, Rear-Sync and Commander. This last mode is used to control other flashes wirelessly. The central OK button must be pressed to change settings.
- Right: Brings up a vertical menu to choose between focus-point selection modes: Face-Detect, Auto, Manual, Center, Center Wide, Subject Tracking and Target Finding. Target Finding attempts to guess the subject of a photo.
- Down: Cycles over focus modes: Normal AF, Super-Macro AF, Macro AF, Infinity and Manual Focus. Infinity locks focus to infinity. This is good for shooting landscapes in very low-light or when shooting from a moving vehicle when the camera cannot focus normally. Manual Focus lets you set the distance using the vertical directions. The camera makes it very easy to select a distance by magnifying the center of the frame which appears sufficiently sharp to confirm focus.
- Left: Brings up a vertical menu for self-timers: Off, Delay, Remote Delay and Smile. The Delay and Remote menu items have sub-options for 1s, 2,s or 10s. By default, timers reset after each use. While a setup option corrects this, timers still get reset each time Playback mode is entered. So, if you often shoot from a tripod and review your shots, it can get rather frustrating.
The bottom of the camera features a metal tripod mount. It is not in-line with the center of the lens but is close to the camera center. The camera itself feels solid with two exceptions. One is the hinge for the rotating LCD and the other is the door covering the combined memory and battery compartment.
Using this Coolpix is generally pleasant. While there are clearly areas for improvements with so many controls, the traditional menu is rarely needed. The Nikon P7700 is comfortable to hold and both upper control-dials are perfectly positioned. The LCD makes it easy to frame under most conditions. Outside of what this camera could have been, the two real usability issues are the self-timer which resets often and the lack of a proper Exposure-Priority preview.
Nikon P7700 Facts
|12 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 80-6400|
|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|
|8 FPS Drive, 6 Images||Spot-Metering|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Hot-Shoe|
|3" LCD 920K Pixels||Stereo audio input|
|Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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