The top end of the digital compact camera is a pretty exclusive place. You can count the number of semi-pro advanced compacts on the fingers of one hand, and still have a digit or two left over to scratch your head with as you figure out how long it'll take you to save up for one.
The yardstick against which all other semi-pro compacts are measured is the Canon PowerShot G series, which is celebrating its tenth birthday this year. We've yet to review the latest example, the G12, but we took a look at the G11 this time last year and were suitably impressed. A more recent contender is Panasonic's Lumix LX series, of which the latest example is the excellent LX5, which we saw a few months ago. More recent still is Samsung's first foray into this area of the market, the impressive EX1.
One manufacturer that used to be well-represented at the top end of the compact market is Nikon, but it's been over two years since the launch of the P6000, and even that camera was no match for its contemporaries the G10 or LX3. Now however Nikon has a new contender in the shape of the CoolPix P7000. I use the word “shape” advisedly here, because some commentators have pointed out that the P7000 bears a more than passing resemblance to its Canon rival.
However while there are obvious similarities in the size, shape and control layout it's hardly fair to accuse Nikon of copying, since the design of both models owes a lot to the shape of old 35mm rangefinder cameras, the owners of which are very much the target audience for this kind of camera.
Nikon certainly hasn't skimped on features for the P7000, setting out to match or beat its main rival. It is equipped with a large 1/1.7-inch 10-megapixel CCD sensor (the same size and resolution as the G12), a 7.1x f/2.8-5.6 Nikkor zoom lens, equivalent to 28-200mm (the G12 has a 5x zoom f/2.8-4.5, equivalent to 28-140mm), and a 7.5cm LCD monitor with a resolution of 921,000 dots (the G12 has a 7cm 461k screen, but it is articulated).
It also offers an optical viewfinder, a full range of manual exposure controls, optical image stabilisation, a pop-up flash and 720p HD video recording. The P7000 is also competing on price of course. The G12 is currently available for around £370, while the Panasonic LX5 is slightly cheaper at around £360. Nikon has picked its price point with care, and the P7000 is currently available for around £350. The only flaw in this cunning plan is the Samsung EX1, which can be yours for around £315.