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I normally start my reviews by describing my initial impressions of the camera, talking about build quality, control layout and handling, then move on to features and performance, and usually finish up with my opinion of the image quality. However, for this review of the new Nikon Coolpix 7900, I’m going to approach it a little differently. I want to talk about image quality right from the start, because frankly it’s made such a big impression on me.
The sample shots I’ve taken with this camera are some of the best photos I’ve taken this year; in fact some of them are so good I’m not going to publish them here. Instead I’m going to sell them to a picture library, and I’m pretty sure they’ll take them. Don’t worry, the sample shots at the end of this review are good, but when you’re looking at them remember that this camera can do even better. Also bear in mind that all the shots were taken using the default auto settings, apart from the beach shots which were taken using the beach/snow scene mode.
Take a look at the macro shot of the seashell. The level of detail is simply awesome. Zoom in and you can see tiny details and textures that are barely visible to the naked eye. Look at the landscape shot, and the rich colours. That’s Devon in the Spring, and it really is that green. It also has no purple fringes on the branch silhouetted against the sky, and no edge distortion despite the wide-angle zoom setting. As for the beach shot looking down the wavebreak to the navigation marker and the sign about the jet ski area, that was taken pointing into direct bright sunlight. However, there’s no lens flare, no loss of shadow detail and no blown-out highlights. The exposure is spot on.
And then there’s the image noise. Or rather, there isn’t. The ISO 400 test shot is over-exposed because it was beyond the range of the camera’s shutter speed, but there’s very little noise. On the ISO 200 and lower shots there is no noise at all, which practically makes the Coolpix 7900 unique among small digital compacts at this price point.
It’s not just the seven megapixel CCD that’s making the pictures look this good. It’s a combination of resolution, lens quality and one of the best processing engines around. I’ve used all of the other seven megapixel compacts on the market and none of them can hold a candle to this little Nikon for image quality.
Like most people in Britain I’m usually a champion of the underdog, so it’s a little bit galling to see Nikon, a big-league player if ever there was one, produce something as good as this. I’ve been playing with the Coolpix 7900 for almost a week now, studying it, taking pictures with it, trying out menu options and generally giving it the third degree, and I’m damned if I can find any bad points at all. It is beautifully made with a strong, light, sleek and attractive all-metal body, plus the control layout and menu is the very model of ergonomic accessibility. The large LCD monitor accurately matches the colours and tones of the final image and the 7900 is equipped with a host of advanced features that make it both easy to use and extremely versatile. In short, the darned thing’s as near perfect a compact camera as I’ve ever seen. Even the price is good. At £251 (at the time of writing) it rivals its nearest seven megapixel competitors, such as the Canon IXUS 700, the Pentax Optio 750Z or the Sony DSC-P150.
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