Nikon Coolpix P7700:
Hands On Review
Nikon's flagship pocket camera has arrived, but does the Coolpix P7700's new image sensor and faster lens make up for the absence of an optical viewfinder?
By Greg May
- P7700 Big Picture
This product is ranked:
22nd of 26 in $300 - $400 16th of 24 in Advanced Compact Digital Cameras 47th of 66 in 10-12 Megapixels Digital Cameras 34th of 43 in Nikon Digital Cameras 39th of 50 in 11 & 12 MP
Last updated on 03/16/2013
The Coolpix line of pocket cameras have been high performers in the category, even if they haven't always looked the part. The latest models feature large rotatable LCD panels, and this replacement to the P7100 improves on the predecessor in most every way. Nikon has bumped up the resolution from 10.1 to 12.2 megapixels, and even more importantly, made the lens a F2.0 - F4.0, which means much improved low-light images. Video quality, as well, has jumped from 720p to 1080p, at a full 30 frames per second. At first glance, the model's specs put it ahead of the pack in most areas, with lots of features, including an external microphone input. For those who love numbers, the ISO range of 100-3200 is competitive with other pocket cams, but doesn't come close to matching your DSLR. However, the impressive 28 - 200 mm lens is equivalent to a 7.1x optical zoom, and has some built-in image stabilization (Vibration Reduction).
Body And Design - Nikon P7700
The first thing you'll notice is the nicely shaped, well-balanced body, made from a professional-looking magnesium alloy. The next thing you'll notice is the fairly confusing control scheme. You'll spend a lot of time exploring the various settings, and even the dials on the camera--there are no fewer than 5 rotatable dials for various tweaks and menu, not to mention the directional pad. A couple of these felt unnecessary, and for novices absolutely overwhelming, especially the large EV compensation dial. Most people won't use it, or will set it once and forget it. It's all the more surprising that, amid the profound numbers of controls, the P7700 lacks a "record movie" button, requiring that you rotate the image-type dial to "movie mode."
|The P7700 features a high-quality, vari-angle LCD screen.|
On the plus side, the large screen made us forget about the lack of an optical viewfinder. The three-inch, 921K pixel screen was bright enough to see even in bright sunny days, and offered enough clarity to be able to focus properly and get a clear and immediate sense of the scene. Battery life is excellent, rated at 330 shots, and the included charger takes about 90 minutes to fully charge the battery. In terms of looks and feel, the P7700 is the heaviest camera in the class, weighing in at 392 grams. Professionals coming from DSLRs won't mind, but if you're used to a truly lightweight, smaller camera, you'll definitely notice a bit of bulk on this model. The surface is nicely grippable, though, and it held up unmarked and unscuffed by some drops and knocks. The lens accepts 40.5mm screw-in filters without the need for an adapter, a nice change.
There is no built-in wifi, but you can purchase the optional GPS adapter to add geolocation information. Unfortunately, the camera has been found to be incompatible with the Eye-Fi cards, and is currently listed as unsupported, which is disappointing. Unlike most cameras in this class, the flash can serve as a wireless controller for external flashes, and the P7700 supports both wired and wireless remote controls. The pop-up flash is, as with most cameras, mediocre and to be used rarely- but thanks to the fact that it must be manually enabled, won't fire when you aren't expecting it.
User Experience and Performance - Nikon P7700
The Coolpix P7700 offers not only JPEG capture, but also RAW. Further, it can take HDR (high dynamic range) shots in one shutter press, thanks to the "Backlighting" mode.There are Panorama and Night Landscape modes as well, which work fairly well. And for those who want a rapid capture option, there are seven burst modes. As usual for Nikon, the main command dial includes and Auto, Program, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, fully Manual, the aforementioned movie mode, a custom movie mode for those who want some manual control while shooting, three special user-saveable custom modes for still images, Effects, and Scenes. The Coolpix line has always included some interesting effects that can be applied on-camera to images, and this model is no exception. Most of the ten or so are a bit gimmicky, but are quite adjustable and certainly worth checking out, even if they are poorly documented.
The P7700 includes several different shooting modes to choose from.
The effects include creative monochrome, cross process, soft, sepia, painting, zoom exposure, defocus during exposure, high key, low key, and selective color. Scenes are for options like portraits, landscapes, sports, night-time portrait, party/indoor, beach, snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, museum, fireworks show, black and white copy, backlighting, panorama, pet portrait, and even 3D photography. Yelp lovers will like the "food" option as well.
In our tests, we found the latest Coolpix camera to offer decent performance, but ultimately fell short of what we needed to see for real-world use. Startup times were fine, with the camera ready to go about a second after power on. The power button itself took some getting used to, as it requires you to hold it down a bit. Shot to shot speeds were sluggish though, taking four seconds for RAW or max-resolution JPEG image captures, and since the screen goes dark when shooting bursts, it's hard to get great images of moving objects or people. Those looking to use a camera at the highest settings should probably look elsewhere--this model is simply too slow at the moment, and the lengthy processing times make it a chore to shoot.
This issue is only worsened by the hit-and-miss autofocus system. We tested the camera in many conditions, including indoors, low light, and outdoors/daytime. With still objects, the camera's focus was excellent, though it wasn't exactly snappy. However, with moving objects or people, even outdoors, the autofocus system time and again failed us. We regularly would have to switch to manual mode to fix the focus. In a batch of 200 fairly challenging indoors photos, with people moving around in a mid-sized room, the autofocus system was practically useless--even when a subject was centered, pinpointed, and still.
Image Quality - Nikon P7700
|Despite a few usability issues, the P7700 takes high quality images.|
Overall, the images produced by the Nikon Coolpix 7700 are excellent. In difficult low-light conditions, there was an impressive lack of noise. Regardless of subject or environment, colors popped, textures were rich, and white balance was good. We never noticed redeye issues, and sharpness was uniformly great, with only minimal distortion or fringing at the extreme zoom. As long as focus was sharp, pictures were satisfying.
Conclusion - Nikon P7700
Nikon aims high with the Coolpix P7700, featuring a great lens with one of the best zoom ranges in the category. But for every improvement and innovation, a problem crept up--the improved burst shooting hamstrung by slow processing, excellent image quality and low light capabilities wounded by the poor autofocus. Even the excellent range of manual controls was hurt by the lack of needed ones and a confusing assortment of dials. This is an excellent body, with plenty to appreciate--a solidly-built advanced compact that offers photographers a world of features in a fairly handy package. If you won't miss an optical viewfinder and don't mind the autofocus woes, then the P7700 produces great results.
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