Nikon Coolpix P7100 Review
by Dan Havlik, Stephanie Boozer, Shawn Barnett, and Zig Weidelich
The Nikon Coolpix P7100 ($499) may look a lot like its predecessor and have some of the same features, but at heart it's a changed camera. Yes, this flagship Coolpix still has a compact and tough body that recalls at least one of its competitors -- okay, we'll say it, the Canon G12 -- and yes, there's the same 10.1-megapixel, 1/1.7-inch CCD image sensor and 7.1x (28-200mm eq.) f/2.8 lens that performed solidly on the previous model, the P7000. But internally, Nikon's made some important changes to the P7100, all of which are aimed at ramping up its overall operating speed and its autofocusing capabilities.
The P7000 captured some very nice images, but it was also a chore to use because of its slow start-up time, slow shot-to-shot times, and slow and cumbersome interface for changing basic settings. According to Nikon, that has become a thing of the past with the new model. In its pre-release info on the camera, Nikon claimed the P7100's shooting lag time had dropped to an estimated 200 milliseconds from 310 milliseconds on the previous model.
In addition to what Nikon calls the P7100's "enhanced high speed performance and quick response," the camera's 3-inch LCD can now tilt away from its body for help in composing shots from high or low angles. Nikon's also slightly tweaked the P7100's ergonomics and controls, including adding a larger rear command dial and a new sub-command dial on front for adjusting aperture, shutter speed, and other settings.
Overall, however, the Nikon P7100 feels more evolutionary than revolutionary. But that's not really a bad thing. The camera still only offers 720p HD -- not full 1080p HD -- and if you put the P7100 side-by-side with the previous model (or the Canon G12, for that matter), you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference. But sometimes it's the small steps that are the important ones, and while we found the older model frustrating to use for candid photography, the new P7100 is much more polished and responsive, quicker overall, and downright fun. Most importantly though, it can capture lovely photos with image quality that rivals even its closest competitors. Let's take a look.
Look and Feel. The chunky but comfortable Nikon Coolpix P7100 looks and feels like it's built for photography. With more and more compacts -- including Nikon's own J1 compact system camera (CSC) -- starting to resemble fashion accessories as much as cameras, this says a lot about the all-black P7100's target audience. It's for enthusiast and professional photographers seeking a more compact fixed-lens camera to accompany their digital SLR.
The Nikon P7100 has an optical viewfinder and non-interchangeable 7.1x (28-200mm equivalent) zoom lens that retracts to make a fairly flat design that's easy to stuff in a jacket pocket or bag. It's a little large to squeeze in a pants pocket though. With dimensions of 4.6 x 3.0 x 1.9 inches, the mostly metal Nikon P7100 is slightly larger than its predecessor and and weighs about an ounce more, at 13.9 ounces (with battery).
The front of the camera has a small, textured rubber grip that provides a good hold. It's more curved on the Nikon P7100, to make room for the new half-inch Sub-command dial for adjusting settings on the fly. The infrared port also had to move to a new position underneath the Nikon logo, while the AF-assist lamp stayed put. The stereo mics also had to move a bit, with the right mic taking up a new home next to the zoom lens and Fn1 button. A metal ring surrounds the lens, which is removed before attaching a converter lens adapter by pressing the button opposite the Fn1 button.
The biggest change to the front of the camera is the addition of the Sub-command dial. I liked this addition to the Nikon P7100 -- the more controls, the merrier -- but I occasionally found myself accidentally hitting the dial, which turns easily. By default, though, the Sub-command dial doesn't control anything except aperture in Aperture priority and Manual modes. An option in the Settings tab allows swapping of the aperture and shutter speed settings between the Sub-command and Main command dial.
Otherwise, the Nikon P7100 feels comfortable in your hand with no major picture-taking flaws. This is no real surprise: we liked the previous design as well and this is hardly a departure. The camera's grip is small, but sufficient and the zoom toggle is just right. The power button is flush, and the translucent ring surrounding it lights up when the camera is on.
Controls. The Nikon P7100, like its predecessor, has lots of helpful external controls, which should appeal to advanced users. One of our favorite features is the EV dial on the top right of the camera, which is adjustable with the thumb. The large, clear numbers on the dial are easy to see for fast, accurate adjustments. The Mode dial is also easy to turn with a thumb and forefinger, giving you a selection of canned scene modes and effects (a cool, adjustable "Creative Monotone" is worth checking out) and traditional options such as Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and full Manual. The Nikon P7100 also has three user-programmable mode settings, labeled U1, U2, and U3.
There's a programmable Function 2 button on the right of the top deck (it's been relabeled "Fn2" from the previous model); a hotshoe (iTTL) for an external flash with a small removable cover (yeah, you'll probably lose it) and the Quick Menu Dial, which is basically the same as from the P7000 but much more responsive. (More about this later in the Shooter's Report). Just turn the dial to your desired function and press the dial's center button to bring up an onscreen menu for each function. Functions include image quality, ISO sensitivity, white balance, bracketing, My Menu and Picture Control.
A small button marked with a lightning bolt and pac-man symbol triggers a the pop-up flash. While it's tiny, the flash has pretty good range with ISO set to Auto: from a foot to 29 ft on the wide-angle; and a foot to 14 feet on the telephoto. Below the hotshoe is a small optical viewfinder with its diopter correction dial to the left. One minor ergonomic tweak is that the strap lugs on the side of the body now swivel, to help keep the shoulder strap from tangling. Instead of solid metal lugs that take a cloth-only camera strap, the Nikon P7100 uses smaller lugs that require D-rings that can rattle while recording movies.
On the rear of the Nikon P7100, the camera's slightly larger command dial is now directly above the handy AE/AF-Lock button. On the old model, the AE/AF button was on the top right but that space is now taken up with a rubber thumb pad, creating a more comfortable place to grip the camera without accidentally locking the exposure.
Other minor changes include the Display button, which is now near the top of the rear of the camera, below the mode dial. Otherwise, much on the Nikon P7100 is the same as its predecessor: the Playback button is above the Multi-controller, which has a speed dial around the outside and an OK button in the center. Just above the Menu button is a second IR remote window, which is great for wireless shutter activation without having to move to the front of the camera to make your sensitive exposures. Finally, the Delete button is on the bottom right.
Viewfinder and LCD. Though they're nearly extinct on most compact cameras, optical viewfinders are practically de rigueur for flagship compacts. While we're hip to the benefits of using an optical viewfinder, especially when composing shots in bright light, the Nikon P7100's viewfinder is miniscule, offers only partial coverage, and barely usable. It does have a diopter correction which helps it adjust to your eye. With optics separate from the lens, it suffers from a degree of parallax error for shooting nearby subjects. It's better for shooting subjects that are further away, but we generally preferred using the live preview on the P7100's tilting LCD for composing pictures. (You may feel differently, depending on your affection for optical viewfinders.)
The most obvious difference between the Nikon P7100 and its predecessor -- at least externally -- is its new articulation mechanism for the LCD panel. It's now possible to tilt the LCD panel approximately 81 degrees downwards when shooting over your head, and 105 degrees upwards for waist-level or low-to-the-ground shots. Unlike cameras with side-mounted tilt/swivel displays, it isn't possible to view the LCD panel from in front of the camera, or the left and right, so it can't be easily used for self-portraits, or when the photographer is participating in a group shot. The Nikon P7100's LCD panel is the same as that in the P7000 in terms of basic specifications: a 3.0-inch diagonal, with a resolution of 307,000 pixels (921,000 red, green, and blue dots), an anti-reflective coating, and an unspecified wide viewing angle.
Sensor. If the Nikon P7100's 10.1-megapixel, 1/1.7-inch CCD image sensor seems underwhelming -- it's essentially the same chip as the previous model -- we're not entirely disappointed. Camera manufacturers have done a fairly good job in recent years of keeping megapixel counts on their top-of-the-line compacts within reason. Had Nikon chosen to increase the resolution on the P7100, the company likely would've never heard the end of it from angry photographers worried about how the extra pixels would affect noise in low light. With the advent of compact system cameras and their much larger sensors -- even the Nikon J1's small-by-comparison CX-format (13.2 x 8.8mm) chip -- traditional compacts with fixed lenses like the Nikon P7100 don't have much wiggle room when it comes to resolution. The more pixels they add to their tiny sensors, the worse the digital grain at higher ISOs.
Maintaining the pixel count at 10MP may help with noise, but maximum image resolution remains stuck at 3,648 x 2,736 pixels (which is more than enough for most photos, if you ask us.) Nikon has also worked on its image processing algorithms in the P7100, with a particular focus on improving noise performance across the board. ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 3,200 equivalents by default, with the ability to expand this range to ISO 6,400 equivalent at full resolution with the Hi 1 setting. There's also an ISO 12,800 setting available only in the 3-megapixel Low Noise Night mode.
Lens. In front of that 10.1MP sensor is the Nikon P7100's tried-and-true 7.1x, optically stabilized zoom lens. (The same lens was used on the P7000.) Focal lengths range from 6.0 to 42.6mm, equating to a range of 28 to 200mm on a 35mm camera -- a useful wide-angle to a good telephoto. Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 at wide-angle, to f/5.6 at telephoto. The P7100's extra telephoto reach compares favorably to the Canon G12, which has a 5x optical zoom with a 28-140mm equivalent range.
The Nikon P7100's optical zoom lens includes two Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass elements and thus carries the Nikkor ED branding shared with Nikon's top interchangeable lenses. The design also includes a built-in neutral density filter, just like the competition. Macro focusing is possible to just 0.8 inches. For photographers needing additional wide-angle reach, an optional WC-E75A Wide Angle Converter (US$299) can be attached to the Nikon P7100 via a UR-E22 adapter ring, and the combination yields a generous 21mm-equivalent wide-angle.
Zoom Control. One of the more interesting functions of the Nikon P7100 is its Zoom Memory function, which allows several specific focal lengths (28, 35, 50, 85, 105, 135 and 200mm) to be registered for quick recall, effectively simulating the shooting experience of using several interchangeable prime lenses. For photographers used to this shooting style, it may help ease the transition between their compact and SLR cameras.
VR Image Stabilization. The Nikon P7100's "Vibration Reduction" stabilization system has what Nikon calls "5-Way VR" to help produce sharper images. This encompasses the aforementioned optical image stabilization, which moves elements in the lens's optical path to counteract camera shake, thus reducing blur. It also includes electronic VR, otherwise known as software deblurring or deconvolution, which attempts to determine the effects of camera shake in captured photos, and then mathematically corrects for this. The other three pieces of the "5-Way VR" pie are a motion-detection function, which can automatically raise ISO sensitivity (and hence, shutter speeds and noise levels) as the camera deems necessary to freeze motion, an expanded ISO sensitivity range of up to 6,400 equivalent, and a Best Shot Selector function. This last works by automatically capturing as many as ten sequential shots while the shutter button is held down, and then discarding all but the sharpest shot.
Processor. The Nikon P7100 is still powered by an EXPEED C2 image processor, like that of its predecessor, and burst-shooting speed is rated just ever so slightly slower, at 1.2 frames per second in JPEG mode. (The P7000 was rated for 1.3 fps in JPEG mode, and managed 1.36 fps in our in-house testing, although interestingly in RAW+JPEG mode the burst performance actually rose to 1.8 fps.) As mentioned earlier, Nikon has tweaked its image processing algorithms in the P7100 in an attempt to lower noise in images across the ISO spectrum. In the Nikon P7100, ISO ranges from 100 to 3,200 equivalents by default but expands to ISO 6,400 at full resolution in the Hi 1 setting. There's also an ISO 12,800 setting available only in the Low Noise Night mode but that's at a considerably reduced resolution.
As mentioned earlier we noticed an improvement in the overall operational speed in the Nikon P7100 from its predecessor, which we'll discuss further in the Shooter's Report.
HD Video. One of the biggest disappointments of the Nikon P7100 is its high definition movie mode, which, like its predecessor, peaks at 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels) at 24 frames per second (24p). Even a year ago on the P7000 that seemed meager, but on the new P7100, not having full 1080p HD video is a major bummer. (The year-old Canon G12 also shoots at a maximum of 720p24.)
Movies are saved using H.264 compression, in a .MOV file format, and include stereo audio -- either captured using the Nikon P7100's internal stereo microphone, or an external mic using the camera's stereo microphone jack. Movie audio is recorded as 16-bit, 48KHz AAC, with an average bitrate of 28Kbps. One big plus about the P7100 -- which we wish some other cameras in its class offered -- is the ability to optically zoom while shooting movies. That's something the Canon G12 can't do.
Connectivity. For viewing images and movies on the latest high-def displays, the Nikon P7100 includes a Mini HDMI (Type-C) high-definition video port with CEC support, plus a standard AV/USB 2.0 output port and a stereo microphone jack. As mentioned, there's also an infrared receiver front and back, compatible with Nikon's optional one-button ML-L3 wireless remote control.
Storage and battery. The Nikon P7100 stores data on Secure Digital cards, including SDXC types. Eye-Fi cards are supported. Speed Class 6 or faster cards are recommended when recording HD video. There's also about 94MB of built-in memory that can be used for image storage. Still images are saved in either JPEG compressed or .NRW RAW formats, with the latter able to be processed on both Windows and Macintosh platforms using the supplied ViewNX 2 software, or the optionally available Capture NX 2 package.
The Nikon P7100 draws its power from a proprietary 7.4v, 1030mAh EN-EL14 lithium-ion battery pack. Battery life is CIPA-rated at around 350 stills on a charge, which is pretty good. An AC adapter (EH-5b) is optionally available, requiring a "dummy battery" power connector (EP-5A).
Shooting with the Nikon Coolpix P7100
by Dan Havlik
Shooting with the Nikon P7100 is a bit like seeing a friend the summer after their first year at college. They look a little different, act a little different, and gosh darn it, they seem more mature. I reviewed the P7000 last year for Imaging Resource and while I liked the camera's features and image quality, I found it frustratingly slow to use and somewhat unpolished. After my initial review, there were a few firmware updates to the camera that improved its overall speed but not dramatically.
The new Nikon P7100 isn't a dramatic leap forward from its predecessor either but it does improve on the previous model in significant ways. Most importantly, it doesn't feel like it's a step behind you half the time. I tested the camera during two long photo walks: one along the Hudson River in upper Manhattan and another while hiking the Capital Crescent Trail, a former commercial railroad line that's been turned into a long, winding hiker-biker park connecting Washington DC and Maryland. The Nikon P7100 proved to be an excellent travelling companion on both treks.
According to our lab testing and my own real world experience, the P7100 starts up and is ready for first shot in just under two seconds. That may not be earth-shattering, particularly for a camera in this class and price range, but it's a marked improvement over the P7000, which took about three seconds to capture a first shot. While on my hikes, I felt comfortable powering off the P7100 for stretches when there was nothing interesting to shoot, knowing I could fire it up quickly if I suddenly saw a shot I liked. This, unfortunately, was not true with the previous model.
Shooting speed. Shot to shot times have also improved on the Nikon P7100. When capturing JPEGs at full resolution in single-shot mode, I was able to shoot an image and be ready for the next one in just over two seconds. Again, that's not stellar speed but it's an improvement. Photo walks are not exactly non-stop action -- I actually think they're more of a contemplative photographic experience -- but when there's a gorgeous natural setting or wildlife you want to capture quickly, it's good to have a camera that stays up to speed.
Though I mostly used the Nikon P7100's HD video feature for capturing sports -- you can see two examples on this page of an indoor basketball game and an outdoor soccer match -- its good shot-to-shot times make it suitable (if not particularly ideal) for action stills. Though a digital SLR would be preferable, soccer moms and dads should be able to get some fairly sharp shots of their kids in action with the P7100.
I ran into problems when shooting RAW images (NRWs) with the Nikon P7100, averaging an excruciating nine seconds between shots in single-shot mode. Our lab results, however, were much better with an average of 2.43 seconds between RAW images and 2.82 seconds when shooting RAW + JPEG. This is definitely a camera you're going to want to use with a fast memory card if you like shooting RAW.
In our lab testing we achieved those faster shot-to-shot times while using a SanDisk Extreme Pro 8GB SD card that's capable of 45MB/s write speeds. In my real world experience, however, I shot with the Nikon P7100 using a Lexar Professional 4GB 133x Speed SD card that can write at approximately 20MB/s. Fortunately, high-quality memory cards are a lot cheaper than they used to be: you can get an 8GB Extreme Pro card for under $30.
In Continuous shooting mode, the Nikon P7100 isn't exactly a speed demon but it's a decent performer. It can capture 1.15 frames per second, and, with the SanDisk Extreme Pro card, it took 15 seconds to clear the buffer after 25 shots. While shooting RAW it could shoot 1.59 fps for 5 shots and took 7 seconds to clear the buffer. In RAW+JPEG mode, 1.59 fps for 5 shots and 10 seconds to clear. Again, none of this will help you covering even semi-pro sports (you'll definitely want a DSLR for that), but for photographing candids, the P7100 will do fine.
The Nikon P7100's flash recycle time was decent with the camera's small strobe averaging 4.7 seconds between pops. My parents commissioned me to capture a portrait of them for their Christmas card and the relatively good flash recycle speed didn't keep me or them waiting. (For the card, I ended up using a shot without the flash, however, because the P7100's on-camera strobe was too harsh. Remember to dial it back for portraits.)
If all this sounds like I'm harping on speed stats and cycle times that are slightly below average for a camera in its price range it's only because the P7100 feels so much faster compared to its predecessor. I experienced little to no shutter lag when shooting with the camera and aside from the slightly mushy shutter button, I felt free to fire away during my treks along the Hudson and the old train track in Maryland.
Scrolling through menus and changing settings, which previously took a split second to register, was relatively seamless on the Nikon P7100. This was particularly noticeable on the Quick Dial on top of the camera, which wasn't exactly quick to use on the previous model. On the P7100, the Quick Dial responded, well, quickly and helped me adjust some of my most used settings, such as ISO, bracketing and white balance, on the fly. If the P7100 didn't respond as spritely as, say, a digital SLR, I never once felt frustrated by its speed and could instead just concentrate on photography.
Design. As mentioned already, the small but chunky Nikon P7100 doesn't look much different from the previous model, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, it isn't exactly inspiring either. They say form follows function but I would've been happier if Nikon slimmed down the ergonomics on the P7100. As it is, it's a comfortable, if slightly bulky camera, but it feels good in your hand and should make serious photographers feel confident.
My only quibble is that its large size for a compact camera presents a dilemma: use the neck strap or just hold it in your hand? I went with the latter during my photo walks, winding the neck strap around my wrist to prevent accidental drops.
As with the previous model, there's ample external control on the Nikon P7100 with two programmable Function buttons, a new sub-command dial on the front of the camera, a larger command dial on back and, perhaps our favorite feature, an easily adjustable EV dial on the top right of the camera, which you can turn with your thumb. While it's in a prominent, easy-to-access position on the top right of the camera, the shutter button feels a little mushy, and adjusting the 7.1x optical zoom with the surrounding zoom ring is awkward if you have long fingers.
Screen Dream. Otherwise though, I had no trouble finding my way around the camera and adjusting settings. The biggest change -- and it's a positive one -- to the design of the Nikon P7100 is the revamped 3-inch LCD screen, which now tilts away from camera's body for composing overhead or down low shots. You can tilt the LCD approximately 81 degrees down when shooting over your head and 105 degrees up for waist-high or low-to-the-ground photos. The one drawback is that unlike cameras with side-mounting swiveling screens, you can't view the LCD from the front of the camera for cheeky self-portraits.
Otherwise, the specs of the Nikon P7100's screen are the same as the previous camera, with a serviceable resolution of 307,000 pixels and an anti-reflective coating which helped during my outdoor treks in bright, mid-day sun. The handy virtual horizon indicator is also carried over from the P7000.
Features. There may not be as many scene modes and special effects as you might find on a more consumer-oriented camera but the Nikon P7100 has some interesting perks. In addition to an automated Scene Auto Selector mode, which will pick the scene mode based on shooting conditions, you can pick from a range of presets including Fireworks, Food, Landscape, Pet Portrait, Sunset, Sports and others.
If you drill down a little deeper on the Nikon P7100, you'll find some more sophisticated automated functionality including two Auto white balance positions: Auto1 being the standard, and Auto2 providing a warmer look. A new HDR function -- which is part of the Backlighting mode -- creates a single image with expanded dynamic range by combining multiple shots in-camera. Nikon recommends using a tripod.
There are also quite a few new Special Effects and Filter Effects functions, some of them quite uncommon. Perhaps the most unusual is a "Zoom Exposure" feature that adjusts the optical zoom position during a long exposure. There's also a Defocus Filter mode that captures two exposures, one sharply focused, and the second slightly out-of-focus. These are then combined to create a single image that, for night shots, adds soft halos around lights.
Another addition is a Painting mode that provides something like a combination of extreme HDR and a washed-out high-key look. A Creative Monochrome filter adds a solarized look and feel and a grainy look in monochrome photos. Maybe it's my continuing love of black-and-white film but I find myself frequently using the monochrome feature on digital cameras. Sure, you can always convert images into black-and-whites using software later but the experience of capturing photos directly in black-and-white can't be matched. You immediately feel connected to photography's past and a swell of pride that you're doing something artistic. I captured quite a few "grainy" black-and-white photos with Nikon P7100 of moody stairwells, bridges, and street corners. Cool is cool.
Other creative options on the Nikon P7100 include High/Low Key, Sepia, and Cross Process (mimics the effect of deliberately processing color film in the wrong solutions). In Playback Mode, there are new post-capture effects including Fisheye and Cross Screen Filter. Accessing all theses creative modes takes digging through menus and might require consulting the full camera manual on the CD-ROM, which is always kind of a bummer.
Movie recording on the Nikon P7100 is limited to a maximum of 720p HD at a film-like rate of 24 frames per second. So if you're looking for full 1080p with this camera, you'll be disappointed. The 720p HD feature on P7100 isn't bad, though, and I got very good quality footage of an outdoor soccer game. Especially handy was the ability to zoom while shooting video, which helped me capture the action as it moved downfield. An indoor basketball game I shot was more hit or miss but that was mainly because of the horrible light emitting from the gymnasium's sodium-vapor ceiling lamps.
As an alternative to the camera's internal mic, there's also a stereo microphone jack compatible with Nikon's ME-1 microphone. The Movie mode can now lock exposure by pressing the AEL button, allows lens zooming during recording, and includes a gain-up function to adjust the optional external microphone.
Image quality. Image quality, while not on par with a DSLR, was quite good for a compact, especially in natural outdoor light. At ISO 100 and 200, 13x19-inch prints of my outdoor shots in natural light looked great; there was slight softness on close inspection but they were not bad at all.
At ISO 400, images from the Nikon P7100 were usable at 13x19 inch but shadow noise was a little more pronounced. Printing at 11x14 looked a lot better. I shot the portrait of my parents for their Christmas card at ISO 400 and while I liked the image -- and so did they -- my only gripe is that it looks slightly oversaturated and skintones came out pinkish. This might be partially because I used the Cloudy White Balance setting, which tends to warm up scenes. Also, one thing you'll notice when shooting portraits with the P7100 "wide open," i.e. at f/2.8, is that you don't get much of a blurry background effect that will really make the subject pop. This is simply because the small sensor and short lens limit the ability to create a shallow depth of field. If you want a very smooth background blur effect -- known as good bokeh -- you'll want to shoot with a camera with an APS-C or larger size sensor and a true f/2.8 or faster lens.
ISO 800 shots from the Nikon P7100 were a little rough at 11x14 but looked quite good at 8x10. I put the P7100's low-light shooting capabilities to the test while capturing scenes inside a tunnel during my hike along the Capital Crescent Trail. While it performed fairly well for a camera in this class with a sensor the size of a tiny toenail, when I pushed it above ISO 1,600, things started to get hairy.
At ISO 1,600 images were usable at 8x10, though with enough luminance noise in the shadows that we recommend printing at 5x7 inches maximum. ISO 3,200 shots were fair at both 5x7 and 4x6, but we wouldn't call either great; just fair, mostly because of the softness from the extra noise. Still, all and all, our results were very good.
What most impressed us about our images from the Nikon P7100 was the corner sharpness produced by the camera's ED-Nikkor-branded 7.1x (28-200mm eq.) lens. Corners were surprisingly sharp at both telephoto and the wide angle. I live near the George Washington Bridge in upper Manhattan and it's a frequent subject of my images. Photos I captured of the bridge with the Nikon P7100 had crisp corner to corner sharpness and I'd highly recommend this camera for anyone interested in shooting landscapes and other sprawling subject matter. I only wish that the lens went a touch wider, say to 24mm.
Chromatic aberration from the Nikon P7100 was mild to moderate in our test shots. Overall, control over ugly aberrations was fairly decent for a camera in this class and we saw very little "purple fringing" in high contrast shots, such as trees against a bright sky. In terms of geometric distortion, there was moderate pincushioning at telephoto and noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle. But that's not unusual for even a top-of-the-line compact camera, and you can always turn the P7100's Distortion Control feature on to eliminate most of it.
The Nikon P7100's small flash was sufficient to 10 feet at ISO 100 at wide angle. At telephoto, however, it was not enough even at only 6 feet. In Auto mode, it raised the ISO to 800 and produced a bright exposure at 14 feet at telephoto. As mentioned earlier, if you want to shoot portraits using the flash, make sure you scale down the exposure compensation. Like some other compact cameras with on-camera flash, the P7100 has a tendency to "nuke" subject matter at close distances.
The Nikon P7100's auto white balance -- which most photographers will likely go with most of the time -- was very good outdoors and fairly good in tungsten light, if slightly magenta, though it really struggled under sodium lighting. Like many of Nikon's compacts, the P7100 was a good macro performance and close-ups of flowers looked stellar, though there was some chromatic aberration about halfway out from center.
In a Nut Shell. The 10.1-megapixel Nikon Coolpix P7100 might not be a huge leap forward from its decent if flawed predecessor but it does offer enough significant improvements, particularly when it comes to operational speed, to warrant a recommendation. In addition to being faster to use, Nikon has added some nice features to the P7100 including a 3-inch LCD display that tilts up and down away from the camera body for composing shots from unusual angles. If we were disappointed that the HD movie feature's resolution is still stuck at 720p24, it's not a make or break factor for us. Last year's camera felt like an ambitious rookie; this year's model, the Nikon P7100, is a more mature offering, making it a serious player in the advanced compact camera category.
Nikon Coolpix P7100 Lens Quality
For more detailed lens test results, click on the Optics tab.
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Nikon Coolpix P7100's zoom shows some mild blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center at f/2.8, though blurring doesn't extend far into the image area. At the usually sharper f/5.6 setting, results are just a hint soft throughout the frame, though sharpness level is more uniform. At telephoto and f/5.6, details are just a hint soft at the center of the frame, with slightly more blurring in the upper left corner. At f/8 telephoto, corner blurring is about the same, though details at center appear slightly softer than f/5.6 due to diffraction. Overall, it's actually a pretty darn good performance.
Wide: High barrel distortion; quite noticeable
Tele: Moderate pincushion distortion, visible in some images
Geometric Distortion: Barrel distortion at wide-angle is somewhat high (0.9%), and quite noticeable in several images. At telephoto, pincushion distortion is also higher than average (0.5%). The Coolpix P7100's processor does not correct geometric distortion by default, however there is a Distortion Control option that works quite well. See the Optics page for details.
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is fairly low in terms of pixel count with the lens at f/2.8, though the hard line of pixels is bright enough to notice. At f/5.6, the effect is a little more noticeable, partly from some blurring that smudges the distortion. At telephoto and f/5.6, results are still on the moderate side, though noticeable, and results are similar with the lens at f/8. The P7100 is however suppressing CA during its JPEG processing. See the Optics page for uncorrected RAW examples.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Nikon Coolpix P7100's Macro mode captures a sharp image with a lot of strong detail, and manages to do so without much blurring in the corners of the frame (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Chromatic aberration is visible, but not overly so. Minimum coverage area is 1.46 x 1.09 inches (37 x 28mm), which is quite good. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens, resulting in a strong shadow in the lower right of the frame. Thus, external lighting will be your best bet when shooting this close.
Nikon Coolpix P7100 Viewfinder Accuracy
Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Nikon Coolpix P7100's optical viewfinder showed only about 83-84% coverage at both wide-angle and telephoto lens settings, which is quite loose. The camera's LCD monitor proved much more accurate, however, showing about 99% coverage at wide-angle, and close to 100% coverage at telephoto.
Nikon Coolpix P7100 Image Quality
For more detailed image quality test results, click on the Exposure tab.
Color: The Coolpix P7100 produced good overall color, though with some strong oversaturation of bright reds, blues, and greens. Yellows are actually a little muted. Some noticeable shifts in hue occur in oranges (pushed toward yellow) and cyans (pushed toward blue), though other colors are close to accurate. Dark skintones show a push toward orange, while lighter skin tones are actually very close to accurate when manual white balance is used, though they can appear too yellow or pinkish when using auto white balance. Overall though, pretty good, natural-looking results.
Auto1 (Standard) WB:
Good, though slightly red
Auto2 (Warm) WB:
Good but greenish
On the warm side
Incandescent: The Nikon Coolpix P7100 offers two Auto white balance settings, one labeled "Standard" and one that's warmer. In this test, the Auto1 setting came closest to accurate, though results are a little reddish. The Incandescent setting probably produced the most pleasing results to the eye, though the color cast is noticeably warm. Both the Manual and 2,600K settings are probably more technically accurate, but both seem too cool.
Horizontal: 1,700 lines
Vertical: 1,600 lines
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,700 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,600 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred at a little after 2,200 lines per picture height.
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) doesn't work well at wide angle when the specified distance (29 feet in this case) goes beyond 16 feet, because that takes the camera out of the main lab, so the wide-angle result is inconclusive. The telephoto flash test came out well at the specified 14 feet, though the camera boosted ISO to 800.
Auto flash produced bright results in our indoor portrait scene, losing most of the ambient light with a shutter speed of 1/30 second, at ISO 100. The Nikon Coolpix P7100's image stabilization should help with slower shutter speeds in low lighting, but any movement of the subject could be problematic at this shutter speed. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is good at ISO 100 and 200, though a small amount of smudging is already slightly noticeable at ISO 100. Detail is still good at ISO 400, though smudging is more evident. Chroma (color) noise begins to interfere with color balance at ISO 800, and increases from that point on. Luminance noise also gradually increases, with a visible grain pattern at the higher ISO settings. Noise suppression efforts are also problematic at the higher sensitivities, though a good amount of stronger details stay discernible at ISO 800 and 1,600. See Printed section below for how this affects printed images.
ISO 200 looks quite nice at 13x19 inches.
ISO 400 images are usable at 13x19 inch, but shadow noise is a little more pronounced. Printing at 11x14 looks a lot better.
ISO 800 shots are a little rough at 11x14, but I'd still call them usable. They look quite good at 8x10.
ISO 1,600 images are usable at 8x10, though with enough luminance noise in the shadows that we prefer the 5x7-inch print.
ISO 3,200 shots are usable at both 5x7 and 4x6, but we wouldn't call either great; just usable thanks to faded color and contrast.
ISO 6,400 files are usable at 4x6, but with very little nuance to the colors.
Results are pretty good, a little better than the P7000, particularly at ISO 400 and 800. We'd suggest limiting your high ISO shooting to 3,200 at the outside, leaning toward 1,600 in general.
Nikon Coolpix P7100 Performance
For more detailed performance test results, click on the Performance tab.
Startup Time: The Coolpix P7100 takes about 1.9 seconds to power on and take a shot, which isn't bad.
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good, at 0.28 second at wide angle and 0.27 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.019 second, which is quite fast.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is just okay, capturing a JPEG frame every 2.02 seconds in single-shot mode. Continuous mode captures JPEG files at 0.87-second intervals or 1.15 frames-per-second, which is on the slow side.
Flash Recycle: The Nikon Coolpix P7100's flash recycles in about 4.7 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is average.
Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just below the 1/16 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, which is excellent. With the AF assist enabled, our tester noted that the AF assist lamp overwhelms the autofocus system in our test, requiring two foot-candles of ambient light before focus was achieved.
USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Nikon Coolpix P7100's download speeds are slower than average. We measured only 3,864 KBytes/sec.
In the Box
The Nikon Coolpix P7100 ships with the following items in the box:
- Nikon Coolpix P7100 digital camera
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery EN-EL14
- Battery charger MH-24
- USB cable
- Audio/video cable
- Software CD-Rom
- Quick start guide
- User's manual (CD-Rom)
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity SD/SDHC memory card. These days, 4GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, 8GB should be a minimum.
- Medium camera case
Nikon P7100 Conclusion
It was with some trepidation that I approached this review of the Nikon P7100. While there was much to like in the previous model including its good image quality and excellent built-in zoom lens, it was a slow and frustrating camera to use. When you look at the specs and features of the P7100, it may not seem that much has changed. This slightly chunky flagship Coolpix camera has pretty much the same look and feel as its predecessor and much of the same functionality. The one glaring improvement -- and it's an important one -- is the 3-inch, 921,000-dot LCD screen, which is now a vari-angle display that can be tilted up or down for help in composing shots from unusual angles.
While that's great, the important changes on the P7100 have occurred, as they say, "under the hood." While this camera is no speed demon and, in fact, is still slower to use than some competing models, it's a massive improvement over the P7000. The only time I felt I had to stop and wait for the P7100 was when shooting RAW images while using a less-than-ideal SD memory card. Potential buyers take note: if you plan to purchase the Nikon P7100, also get the fastest SD card you can find. Overall though, where the P7000 could be maddening to use the P7100 was just plain fun.
The camera starts up and is ready to shoot in just a couple seconds, has improved shot-to-shot speeds and with its excellent 7.1x (28-200mm eq.) zoom lens can capture nice, professional-looking images with crisp edge sharpness. Not everything is perfect, however. We really wish they had increased the movie mode's resolution to full 1080p HD and slimmed down the size of this slightly bulky, but still portable camera. Those issues are not deal-breakers though, and we think Nikon fans will love this camera as a mid-size travelling companion when they don't want to haul around their big digital SLR. So it is with some relief that we can say the Nikon P7100 makes a worthy Dave's Pick.
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