When Nikon released the Coolpix P7000 in 2010, I took a close, hard look at it. That camera seemed to have most of the features that I was looking for in a compact pro-level digital camera without the bulk of a DSLR. I had a chance to use one belonging to a friend for a few days, and though I liked it, the overall performance seemed a bit slow, especially compared with the Canon G12 owned by another friend.
First, the P7000 was slower than the G12 in most every way, and the Canon had an excellent 2.8-inch Vari-Angle LCD panel, a feature that I had come to really appreciate with my own Nikon D5000 DSLR. The Canon was very tempting, but I decided to wait and explore other options in pro/enthusiast compact cameras. And while I was narrowing the field, Nikon announced a new camera in the fall of 2011.
I'm glad that I waited, because after doing plenty of research and comparison between the current offerings of cameras like this including some that were being announced, I bought the Nikon COOLPIX P7100
. Sometimes it's good to hold up on buying what one really needs.
I had explored the new mirrorless cameras from Nikon and others, but for serious, practical photography with a camera smaller than a regular DSLR, this one fits precisely that role. The lens is fixed, but it's a Nikkor that equates to a 28-200mm on a 35mm SLR, a 7.1x zoom in fact. There's also a small optical viewfinder that may be tiny, but it's useful when needed.
Getting down to the subjective nitty-gritty, here are my basic observations.
* Substantial 7.1x optical zoom range; extra punch over 5x helps
* Tilting 3-inch Vari-Angle LCD display is just what's needed
* Excellent image quality, far better than anticipated
* Superb ergonomics; rational array of controls
* Very respectable battery life; averaging 320 - 350 shots per charge
* Much faster operational speeds than the P7000
* Uses readily-available SD card; SDXC support
* RAW (NRW) support for when needed for serious images
* Hot shoe accepts wide variety of Nikon Speedlights
* Rubberized grip area on the body
* Wish the P7100 would go to 24mm wide angle, but a 28-200mm zoom is more important
* f/2.8 maximum aperture limits it's low-light use; f/2.0 would be good
* Only 720p HD video offered; subjectively not crucial
Besides the Nikon COOLPIX P7100, I had taken a realistic and objective look at a number of better digital cameras that I hoped would meet my own subjective individual needs, and then narrowed the list to the following: the Canon G12 10 MP Digital Camera
with it's 5x optical image stabilized zoom and 2.8 Inch Vari-Angle LCD display, and the Fujifilm X10 12 MP EXR CMOS Digital Camera
, which featured its f2.0-f2.8 4x optical zoom and a 2.8-Inch LCD display. Each of these cameras had very strong points, each with its own set of features that would be useful for the creative process.
But even though the Fuji X10 had a very fast and sharp lens, it had the shortest zoom range and its LCD screen was fixed as opposed to the tilting screens of the Canon and the Nikon, so that left two. The Nikon had a significantly higher LCD screen resolution than the Canon (921k dots vs. 461k dots), and the Nikon's LCD at 3.0 inches was about 10% larger than that on the Canon. The Canon offered slightly more dynamic range (11.2 EV vs. 10.7 EV), about half a stop, and a bit better macro capability, but the Nikon's 7x optical zoom (28mm - 200mm) compared to the Canon's 5x (28mm - 140mm) was the final deal clincher for me.
I would suggest to that anyone considering the Nikon P7100 that it's worth the time to take a close look at these three cameras that go many steps above the general point and shoot category in features and quality of images. We each have our priorities; choices are a subjective thing for each of us, and for me the Nikon offered the best balance of what I was looking for.
There wasn't much about the P7100 that I wasn't aware of before it arrived and took it out of the box, as I had already played with a couple of them. When first unboxed, it was apparent that the Nikon attention to detail was all here. The first thing that's noticed is how solid this camera feels, and maybe that's partially due to its magnesium chassis. Followed the printed Quick Start Guide and charged the battery for the recommended 1 ½ hours while reading and going through the box contents. This camera came packaged with:
- EN-EL14 Rechargeable Li-ion Battery
- MH-24 Battery Charger
- AN-CP21 Strap
- Reference Manual on CD-ROM
- NikonView NX 2 CD-ROM
- UC-E6 USB Cable
- EG-CP16 Audio/Video Cable
The MH-24 Battery Charger blinks when charging, and glows steadily when the battery is topped up. Put the battery cap in a safe place for when it's needed. Once the battery was charged, inserted a Class 10 SDHC card and took the P7100 out for a trial run.
Even though I had played with this P7100 before, I now had a chance to really put it through its paces. This one was mine. Larger than most compacts, this camera subjectively has a comfortable feel; everything seems to fit the hand quite easily. There are enough controls and options that can be set to customize it to ones individual preferences, and in my initial explorations, found that this was easy to accomplish.
The P7100 In Use:
The small quick menu dial on the top of the camera body quickly became my ally, and it made access of the various functions such as ISO settings, white balance, auto bracketing and such to be far easier than exploring the camera menus. Fiddled with various shots trying face detection, the various metering settings and such, all part of the learning experience. This method is far better than digging into the viewfinder menus to access the various features.
The small optical viewfinder is useful under some circumstances, but be aware that you really getting about 80% of what will actually show in your resulting images. It's useful when needed, but the tilting 3-inch Vari-Angle LCD display is for this user where this camera really shines. It's a brilliant and very sharp monitor, offering very close to 100% of what your results will be, and for one who wears glasses, those 921,000 dots do help. It allows for creativity from some fairly awkward angles, and as I have made good and frequent use of this feature on my D5000, am happy to have it on this camera.
Once one gets used to it, and that doesn't take long, the ergonomics and controls of the P7100 are excellent. Now that I've spent some real time with it, there's nothing that I would change in that respect. Am not a much of a video shooter, but from the little that I've done, the video quality is good. The 720p may be a bit dated for some, but if you need to shoot only the occasional video, then it should be adequate.
The built-in flash does a better job than was expected, and within the abilities of how these function, have no complaints with the results. But when I attached and used the Nikon SB-400
, the resulting images were close to dazzling. I've used my SB-400 and the older SB-600 on my Nikon DSLRs, but this combination on the P7100 helped produce some of my best flash images ever.
As noted early, I'm getting a very respectable 320 - 350 shots per charge with the standard EN-EL14 battery, but experience is a good teacher, so I usually try to get spares. When I went online here to get the second Nikon EN-EL14 battery, there was a shortage. EN-EL14 fits and is made specifically for the Nikon D3100, D3200, D5100, COOLPIX P7000 and COOLPIX P7100 digital cameras. I did find a genuine Nikon EN-EL14 battery for close to Nikon's suggested SRP of about forty bucks, but you have to dig. There are additional issues dealing with these Li-Ion batteries, and I keep the info updated in the comments to my review of the Nikon EN-EL14 Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery
. In any case, don't waste your money on clone or third-party batteries for this camera.
The P7100 is the type of compact digital camera that you may want to spend a little time getting used to, and maybe even a couple of hours getting into the manual reading how to get the most from it. The images straight from the camera look quite, with excellent details, bright colors, and very good performance at both the wide angle (28mm) and telephoto (200mm) settings, with surprisingly low noise. This is a highly-recommended 5-star compact digital camera worthy of the Nikon name. Prices keep trickling down on this model, and if you can get it for under $300, don't hesitate; grab it. You'll be glad that you did.