- Review Date: 12/08/2011
- Bottom line:
The Nikon Coolpix P7100 is big on image quality and manual controls, although it comes at the cost of size and weight. The camera will appeal to you if you are an enthusiast who doesnâ€™t always want to lug a D-SLR around, but is a tough sell if youâ€™re looking for a compact and sleek point-and-shoot.
Lots of physical controls. Tilting LCD. Optical viewfinder. Raw shooting support. Hot shoe.
Bulky. Expensive. HD video limited to 720p24. Some performance and control quirks.
The Nikon Coolpix P7100 ($499.95 direct) is a point-and-shoot camera squarely aimed at photographers who demand to be in control of every shooting setting. But all those wheels, dials, and buttons help bulk up this 10-megapixel camera. That extra size did allow Nikon to add an optical viewfinder, hot shoe, and articulating rear LCD, none of which are found on our Editors’ Choice point and shooter, the svelte Canon PowerShot S100 ($429.99, 4.5 stars). If you’re looking for a compact camera with D-SLR like manual controls, the P7100 is worth a closer look.
Design and Features
The P7100 is Nikon’s take on the enthusiast point-and-shoot, a product concept that has also been tackled by Canon, Panasonic, and Olympus. Nikon takes the approach that Canon took with its PowerShot G12 ($499.99, 2.5 stars), emphasizing controls and functionality over size. The P7100 measures 3.1 by 4.6 by 1.9 inches (HWD) and weighs 14 ounces, slightly larger than the 3-by-4.4-by-1.9-inch, 12.4-ounce G12. If you’re looking for a smaller camera with advanced features, the Canon PowerShot S100 is the way to go—it measures only 2.3 by 3.9 by 1.1 inches and weighs 7 ounces.
Although its f/2.8-5.6 lens doesn’t gather the most light in its class—that distinction goes to the f/1.8-2.5 lens found on the Olympus XZ-1 ($499.99, 3.5 stars)—it does have the longest zoom range. The P7100 has a 7.1x zoom, which covers a 28-200mm (35mm equivalent) field of view. This gives it a much longer reach than the 28-112mm covered by the XZ-1 or the 28-140mm of the Canon G12. The long zoom range also sets it apart from mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, like the Olympus PEN E-PM1 ($499.99, 4 stars). Even though that camera has an image sensor that is much larger than that of the P7100, its standard lens adds a lot of bulk to the body and only covers a 3x (28-84mm) zoom range.
You have two options for image framing with the P7100, an articulating rear display and an optical viewfinder. The 3-inch LCD features a 921k-dot resolution, which is extremely sharp and bright. You can tilt it up and down to shoot from various positions and help to avoid glare on sunny days. The optical finder is a nice addition for eye-level shooting, and even though it zooms along with the lens, it does not give a full view of the frame coverage. This requires you to frame a bit tight, or to crop images a bit to get them to match what you see in the finder.
You’ll not want for physical controls when shooting with the P7100. In addition to the standard mode dial, the camera has front and rear control wheels, an EV compensation dial, and a function dial that allows you to adjust ISO, white balance, and other settings. The camera also has a hot shoe so that you can add an external flash or microphone. Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-LX5 ($499.99, 3.5 stars) has a more robust hot shoe which supports an electronic viewfinder, but doesn’t have nearly as many controls.
The menu system is similar in look and feel to Nikon’s D-SLR cameras. Clean text against neutral backgrounds let you adjust settings. One quirk of the P7100 is that not every shooting setting is adjustable via the camera’s main menu. You’ll only be able to adjust ISO, toggle between Raw and JPEG shooting, and modify white balance via this control interface. This can be a bit of a hurdle when learning to use the camera, as these options are often found in the main shooting settings in other cameras.
Performance and Conclusions
The P7100 performed well in our Lab tests. It was able to start up and grab a shot in about 1.6 seconds, there was a 0.9-second wait time between shots, and the camera recorded a mere 0.1 second on shutter lag tests. It bested our Editors’ Choice Canon PowerShot S100 on startup and shutter lag, the S100 required 2.3 seconds to start and measured 0.3 second on the shutter lag test, but wasn’t able to keep up with its 0.5-second recycle time between photos. One thing to note about the P7100, although you can hold down the shutter and rattle off shots for up to 30 seconds, in my tests, it took a full minute for the buffer to clear and all of those photos to be written to a Class 6 memory card. Some camera functions were unavailable while images were being written to the card, which can be troublesome if you need to adjust settings to grab another shot after having captured a long burst of photos.
I used Imatest to objectively measure the sharpness and image noise. Sharpness is measured in lines per picture height, with a center-weighted score of 1,800 lines being considered acceptably sharp. The P7100 did just slightly better than this, registering 1,854 lines. Photos recorded by the Canon G12 were slightly better, that camera scored 2,049 lines on the same test. The Panasonic LX5 and Olympus X-Z1 both lagged behind a bit, scoring 1,626 and 1,777 lines respectively.
Image noise becomes a factor as you increase a camera’s sensitivity to light, expressed numerically as its ISO. When an image is made up of more than 1.5 percent noise it becomes very grainy. The P7100 was able to keep noise below this mark through ISO 1600, which will still allow you to grab some photos in dimly-lit environments. At ISO 3200 the camera produced images with about 1.6 percent noise, so you can feel comfortable using it at this setting if absolutely necessary. The P7100 is matched in image noise performance by the Panasonic LX5 and Olympus XZ-1, both of which produce clean images through ISO 1600. However, the lenses on both of these cameras let in twice as much light as the P7100 on the wide end, which gives them a distinct advantage when used in darker settings.
Video is recorded in 720p24 resolution in QuickTime format. The quality is quite good—sharp details are retained and you can zoom while recording. Smooth motion is limited a bit by the 24p frame rate, it would be nice if the camera supported 30p recording in HD as it does with standard-definition video. You can connect the camera to an HDTV via mini HDMI and to a computer via a proprietary USB cable. Standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported.
If you’re the type of photographer who simply needs to have full control over your camera, the P7100, while by no means small, is a compact alternative to a D-SLR. Although its body is in the same size class as many mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras like the Olympus PEN E-PM1, they become much larger when you attach a lens. The Canon G12, available for the same price, also features an optical viewfinder, but its lens doesn’t offer the same zoom range as that of the Nikon. If you’re willing to forgo the optical finder and long zoom range, you may want to consider the Panasonic LX5 or Olympus XZ-1, both of which have shorter zooms, but faster lenses that can gather more light. Our Editors’ Choice high-end point-and-shoot camera is still the Canon PowerShot S100, a more-affordable model that's quite a bit smaller, but if you’re set on a digital compact camera with an optical viewfinder and lots of manual controls, the Nikon Coolpix P7100 won’t disappoint.
This review is in partnership with Ziff Davis Media.