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Nikon Coolpix 8700

Nikon moves into 8 megapixel territory with a long zoom, and a new body, but the same legendary Nikon feature set!

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 03/22/2004

Test Results

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Coolpix 8700 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Coolpix 8700's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the Coolpix 8700's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Excellent color, under a wide range of lighting conditions. True to form for Nikon digicams, the Coolpix 8700 did a great job with color throughout my testing. Outdoors, color was accurate and appropriately saturated, with bright, natural hues, and good skin tones. Indoors, the 8700 handled the very difficult incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait test quite a bit better than most cameras I test, producing good (although different) results with Auto, Incandescent, and Manual white balance settings. (Incandescent produced the warmest-looking image, Manual the coolest, with Auto somewhere in between. - There's thus a "look" to suit most every taste for this shot, depending on the white balance option you select.) Overall, I'd rate the 8700's color handling as among the best I've seen recently.

  • Exposure: Good to very good exposure accuracy, but somewhat high contrast. Exposure accuracy was typically very good with the Coolpix 8700's automatic exposure system. It required less exposure compensation than average on the Outdoor Portrait shot, about an average amount on the Indoor Portrait shot, and was generally pretty accurate otherwise. (Although it did leave the Far-Field house shot and Davebox images a little bright.) My biggest complaint is that the camera's default tone curve is rather contrasty, and the "low contrast" setting really doesn't work for dealing with harshly-lit subjects. (It seems to reduce the overall brightness of the images, without actually affecting the contrast at all.) Despite a tendency to lose detail in strong highlights though, the 8700 generally did a good job of preserving shadow detail.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Very high resolution, 1,600-1,650 lines on the ISO resolution target. The Coolpix 8700 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It didn't start showing artifacts in the test patterns until resolutions as high as 1,200-1,300 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,600 lines, although some might perhaps argue for as high as 1,700 lines along the horizontal axis. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until right at 2,000 lines, although some detail was still visible there.

  • Image Noise: Relatively low image noise at ISO 50, rapidly increases at higher ISO levels though. Image noise on the Coolpix 8700 is a bit of a mixed bag. Like most 8-megapixel cameras, its overall noise levels are higher than those of the best 4- and 5-megapixel models. That said, I found that it produced surprisingly "clean" images at ISO 50, with less noise than I expected, and indeed, lower noise than many competing 8-megapixel models. Its noise levels seemed to increase more rapidly at higher ISO levels than some of the competition though. The bottom line? Good, clean images at low ISO, but expect to see pretty visible noise at ISO 200. At ISO 400, the noise is pretty objectionable, to the point that I'd generally not consider the results acceptable.

  • Closeups: A *very* tiny macro area with good detail in the dollar bill. Flash is blocked by the lens, however. The Coolpix 8700 performed very well in the macro category (as do most Nikon digicams), capturing a minimum area of only 0.87 x 1.16 inches (22 x 29 millimeters). Resolution was very high, showing a lot of fine detail in the printing of the dollar bill. Details were well-defined, though all four corners of the image were rather soft. The position of the 8700's flash and the long lens barrel resulted in a dark shadow covering most of the frame though. (Plan on using external illumination for the closest macro shots with the Coolpix 8700.)

  • Night Shots: Excellent low-light shooting capabilities, with pretty good color. Problematic focusing at telephoto zoom settings and with lower-contrast subjects though. The Coolpix 8700 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color across the board. (Note though, that I had to use the Bulb mode for exposure times longer than 8 seconds, which could be a handicap at the lowest light levels.) The 8700 features an optional Noise Reduction system, but I was really hard-pressed to see any change in image noise with it turned on or off. - The good news with that though, is that the 8700 produces very "clean" images on long exposures, even without a noise reduction system engaged. (Very impressive.) The 8700's EVF is also better under low light conditions than most I've tested, usable down to 1/8 foot-candle, a good 3 f-stops darker than typical city night scenes. With an autofocus assist light, the 8700 is capable of focusing in total darkness, but in practice I found that it did much better at wide angle, with at least some background illumination, and definitely worked best with subjects having sharply-defined, high-contrast detail. In the dark, at telephoto zoom settings, and with less-contrasty subjects, focus could be pretty hit-or-miss.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: Good accuracy from the electronic optical viewfinder and LCD, though both are just slightly tight. The Coolpix 8700's electronic "optical" viewfinder (EVF) is just a little tight, showing about 96 percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor turns in the same numbers, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the 8700's LCD monitor has a little room for improvement here, but is still pretty accurate.

  • Optical Distortion: Average geometric distortion, fairly noticeable chromatic aberration. Optical distortion on the Coolpix 8700 is about average at the wide-angle end, where I measured an approximate 0.7 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared better, as I measured a 0.2 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is fairly high, showing about six pixels of fairly bright coloration on either side of the target lines in the wide angle shot. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

  • Shutter Response: Average to very fast shutter response, so-so cycle times, very fast continuous modes. The Coolpix 8700's shutter response was fairly puzzling at first, until I figured out that it depended a great deal on whether I waited for it to finish processing the previous image before hitting the shutter button again. When I was patient and waited for the camera, the shutter response was about the fastest I've yet measured on a prosumer digicam, at only 0.38 seconds in full-autofocus mode. When I hurried it though, the lag times stretched to a more typical range of 0.85-0.99 seconds. Using the "Quick Release" monitor option reduced the hurry-up shutter lag times to 0.53 - 0.55 seconds, once again a very good level. Prefocus lag time was also pretty good at 0.113 seconds. Single shot cycle times were unexciting at a bit over 3 seconds, extending to 3.6 seconds when the buffer filled, but the 8700's range of high-speed continuous modes were impressive indeed, particularly the Ultra High Speed continuous mode, which can capture up to 100 images at 30 frames/second, and 640x480 resolution. This is about as fast and as high resolution as the best movie modes in competing digicams, but the 8700 makes the images available as individual frames. (I do have to point out though, that some competing digicam models like the Sony DSC-F828 and Fuji S7000 can capture 640x480 video at 30 fps continuously, limited only by memory card capacity. While the results there are movie files, there's plenty of software that'll let you extract single frames from the video.)

  • Battery Life: Decent battery life, but not in the same class as other top prosumer models. With a worst-case run time of about 100 minutes, the Coolpix 8700 has somewhat better battery life than its predecessor, the 5700. That said though, it badly lags other high-end prosumer cameras like the Sony F828, Olympus C-8080, Canon Pro1, and Minolta DiMAGE A2. I highly recommend buying a second battery along with the 8700, or better yet, an external battery pack like the Maha PowerEx LiIon PowerBank.


Conclusion
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The Coolpix 8700 has a lot to live up to, as the current high end of Nikon's highly respected Coolpix line. Fortunately, it seems well up to the challenge. It delivers sharp, high-resolution images with very good color and low noise (at least at ISO 50), and has ample control for experienced shooters, while remaining approachable for rank beginners in full-auto mode, or when using one of its preprogrammed "scene" modes. On other fronts, the 8700 shows the tradeoffs camera designers are often forced to make: It's lens delivers sharp images from corner to corner of the frame, but with more chromatic aberration than I'd personally like to see. It delivered some of the shortest shutter lag times I've yet seen in a prosumer digicam model, but only when the camera isn't busy processing an image. (Using the "Quick Release" monitor option does help shutter lag when processing images though, keeping it in the "very fast" category overall.) While shutter lag performance is very good, shot to shot cycle times are on the slow side of average, at a bit over 3 seconds. - But the 8700's continuous modes include some that are again among the fastest on the market. In some areas though, the 8700 does unquestionably excel, such as macro shooting, and low-light handheld photography, thanks to Nikon's unique Best Shot Selector function. I also found its electronic viewfinder (EVF) to be much more usable under challenging conditions than most others on the market, and it provided a pleasingly high-resolution view as well. Overall, the Coolpix 8700 is a very strong entry in the high end digicam derby, and qualifies as a "Dave's Pick" at the high end of the market.

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