Nikon Coolpix 8700Nikon 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 2:Executive OverviewReview First Posted: 03/22/2004
(This is a quick digest of the rest of the review. If you plan on reading the whole review, you can skip this page and continue on with the Design section that follows.)
The new Coolpix 8700 builds on the earlier Coolpix 5700 with the addition of an 8 megapixel sensor. In most other ways, the 8700 is very similar to the 5700. Too big for either shirt pocket of purse, the 8700 really begs for a camera bag to be transported in, but its neck strap eyelets are well positioned to let the camera hang level when suspended by them.
The 8700 keeps the big 8x Nikkor 8.9-71.2mm ED lens from the 5700, which provides a zoom range equivalent to a 35-280mm lens on a 35mm camera. Focus can be automatically or manually controlled, with an adjustable, five-point AF area. In addition to the 8x optical zoom, the Coolpix 8700 also provides up to 4x digital zoom, depending on the image size selected. (Keep in mind that digital zoom compromises image quality because only the central portion of the CCD's image is enlarged, decreasing resolution.) An electronic viewfinder offers a miniaturized version of the LCD monitor for TTL (through the lens) framing, complete with a detailed information display. For a larger view, the 1.8-inch LCD monitor has an articulated design, popping out from the back panel and swiveling around approximately 270 degrees. The LCD can also flip around and fold flat against the back panel, giving it the familiar rear-panel position common to most digicams. Finally, it can be closed (turned with its face against the camera body) when not in use, protecting the monitor from dirt and scratches.
Following the standard of prior high-end Nikon Coolpix models, the Coolpix 8700 offers a very extensive set of exposure controls. Program AE, Flexible Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes are available, each with a wide range of features. Shutter speeds range from as high as 1/4,000 (limited to 1/2,000 in most modes though) to eight seconds, with a Bulb setting for exposures as long as ten minutes. An optional Noise Reduction system decreases the fixed-pattern image noise that would normally be present in long exposures. The maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 - f/4.2, depending on the zoom setting, and is adjustable in one-third EV steps. Four metering options include 256-Segment Matrix, Center-Weighted, Spot, and AF Spot (which ties the metering spot to the selected AF area). An ISO adjustment provides options that include Auto (which only takes the ISO up to 200), 50, 100, 200, and 400. It is disappointing that the ISO 800 setting was dropped, but it may be due to the overall increase in noise associated with an 8 megapixel sensor. The camera's adjustable White Balance setting offers Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Speedlight, or Preset (which allows you to manually adjust the white value by using a white object as a reference). Additionally, all white balance settings other than Preset can be adjusted from -3 to +3 units on an arbitrary scale, letting you fine-tune them to your liking. A White Balance Bracketing mode captures three images with slightly different white balance adjustments, letting you pick the best image when you view the photos on your computer.
Exposure compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments, and is controllable in all exposure modes but Manual and the Fireworks Scene mode. The Auto Bracketing feature takes three or five shots of the same subject with varying exposure values determined either by the photographer in Manual mode or by the camera in all other modes, with variable exposure steps between shots. Best Shot Select snaps multiple images and then automatically picks the sharpest, making it feasible to handhold the camera for surprisingly long exposures. The "Quick Review" button lets you quickly check the last shot taken without leaving Record mode, going so far as to make most of the Playback mode options available, while permitting a very quick return to shooting. Through the camera's settings menu, you can also adjust the image sharpness and color saturation. An Image Adjustment menu offers Contrast, Lightness, and Monochrome adjustments as well. Additionally, the Coolpix 8700 allows you to save up to three sets of user settings for focus, exposure, and other camera options, for rapid recall via the setup menu. (A very handy feature if you're in a situation where you need to switch rapidly between two radically different shooting environments, as in a reception or party with both outdoor and indoor activities.) A Self-Timer mode offers a three or 10-second countdown before firing the shutter. The camera's built-in flash operates in Auto, Flash Cancel, Anytime Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Sync modes. An external flash hot shoe is also included in the camera's design, and accommodates a more powerful external flash unit.
Like the Coolpix 5700 before it, the Coolpix 8700 offers a wide range of "motor drive" rapid-exposure modes for capturing quick sequences of images. Continuous L, Continuous H, Ultra High Speed Continuous, and Multi-Shot 16 modes are available through the settings menu, and offer a range of sequence shooting speeds. (Multi-Shot 16 mode subdivides the image area into 16 sections and captures a "mini-movie" of small images at 816 x 612-pixel resolution.) Movie mode has gotten more involved as well, with four capture options. "TV movie" captures 30 frames per second at 640 x 480 with vertical interlacing, and a maximum length of 35 seconds. "Small movie" mode takes 320 x 240 movies at 15 frames per second for a maximum of 180 seconds. "Time-lapse movie" takes 640 x 480 stills and joins them to create a 30fps silent movie of up to 35 seconds long, or 1,050 frames.
The 8700 also includes two new modes. First, a 5 shot buffer mode, which shoots at five frames per second until the shutter is released, then saves the last five frames captured--good for action scenes whose peak moment is difficult to predict. (Until you've used a feature like this for shooting live action, it's hard to fully appreciate what a difference it can make.) And then there's Time Lapse, where the user can choose a capture interval from 30 seconds to 60 minutes. The camera will then take pictures until either the shutter is pressed again, the memory card is full, or 1,800 shots have been captured.
The Coolpix 8700 stores images on CompactFlash cards (Type I or II), although none comes with the camera. File formats include several levels of compressed JPEG files as well as an uncompressed TIFF mode (Hi quality setting), and an NEF (RAW data) format. Available image sizes are 3,264 x 2448 (8MP), 3,264 x 2176 (max 3:2 ratio), 2,592 x 1,944 (5MP), 2,048 x 1,536 (3MP), 1,600 x 1,200 (2MP), 1,280 x 960 (SXGA or 1MP), 1,024 x 768 (XGA or PC), and 640 x 480 (VGA or TV) pixels. A Video Out jack connects the camera to a television set or video monitor, for larger screen image review.
A rechargeable EN-EL1 lithium-ion battery pack powers the camera, and an AC adapter is available as a separate accessory. (The battery and charger are included in the box with the Coolpix 8700.) The camera connects to a computer via a USB cable (included), and the accompanying software provides image downloading and organizing capabilities. The Coolpix 8700 downloads its images fairly quickly, as I clocked it at a transfer rate of 752 KB/second. This is faster than any cameras using a USB version 1.1 interface, but on the slow side of the range for USB 2.0-equipped models.
The rotating LCD monitor makes shooting at odd angles a lot more comfortable, and control layout is intuitive. I love the 8X lens, but I'm still not crazy about the EVF monitor, far preferring an optical viewfinder. In a non-SLR, however, it's impossible to provide such dramatic zoom with a rangefinder design without fairly major parallax error, and such long-zoom optics for an optical viewfinder can be prohibitively expensive.
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