The P7100 uses a 1/1.7inch CCD sensor, which in terms of surface area is approximately twice the size of the standard 1/2.3inch sensor found in the vast majority of compacts. This chip offers an effective resolution of 10.1million pixels, exactly the same as the Canon PowerShot G12. The P7100 uses Nikon’s previous generation of EXPEED 2 image processor, although its maximum burst speed is an altogether pedestrian 1.2fps. Sensitivity stretches from ISO 100 to ISO 3200 in standard mode, with two further expanded settings available: a full-resolution ‘Hi 1’ setting of ISO 6400 and a Low Noise Night Mode that cranks the ISO up to 12,800 but reduces resolution to 3MP.
Images can be recorded as JPEGs or as lossless Raw image files in the Nikon .NRW file format. Adobe and Apple have now patched their respective Lightroom 3 and Aperture 3 editing suites to cater for this file type so digital darkroom enthusiasts are well catered for. JPEG shooters, meanwhile, can choose from three levels of quality – Fine, Normal and Basic – with a range of resolution options available, from the maximum 10.1MP right down to 1MP. By default the P7100 shoots in 4:3 aspect, although 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 options are also available, albeit at lower resolutions.
The P7100 gets a 7.1x optical zoom that offers a focal range of between 28-200mm in 35m terms, which is more flexible than the 5x (28-140mm) optical zoom of the Canon G12. Maximum aperture is f/2.8 at 28mm, rising incrementally to f/5.6 at 200mm. The lens also benefits from Nikon’s proprietary Vibration Reduction (VR) technology to counter image blur caused by hand-shake at either slower shutter speeds and/or the use of longer focal lengths.
In addition, the P7100 also gets a Virtual Horizon that's a really useful tool for landscape compositions. Also helping out is a built-in neutral density filter that offers the equivalent of three stops, allowing you to shoot at slower speeds in brighter conditions – useful for adding motion blur to running water (when used with a tripod) and suchlike.
This being an advanced compact it’s no great surprise to find the full compliment of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual (PASM) exposure modes on the main mode dial. These are supported by 18 individual Scene modes, an Automatic mode, the aforementioned Low Noise Night Mode and, new for the P7100, an Effects mode that offers a small selection of digital filters.
There are also three slots on the main shooting dial given over to user-defined custom modes. Each of these allows you to set up and store your own preferred shooting mode, focal length and Autofocus mode presets (among others), which you can then instantly call upon using the main shooting mode dial.
There are five Picture Control options in total: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome and a user-defined Custom setting. Nikon’s Active D-Lighting technology is also present to help lift shadow detail when exposing for highlight areas, backed up by Noise Reduction and Distortion Control to counter barrel distortion when shooting at extreme wideangle settings. It's also possible to bracket images for exposure or white balance while the camera is being used in one of the ‘PASM’ shooting modes.
Should you want to tinker with your images in-camera, a wide selection of editing controls are offered including Raw image processing, which can be used to turn Raw image files into more computer-friendly JPEGs.
One rather disappointing aspect of the P7100 is that Nikon hasn’t seen fit to improve on the movie recording abilities of its predecessor. Thus, the P7100’s high-definition movie recording capabilities remain capped at a 1080 x 720p at 24fps. For a camera of this type and price this is pretty disappointing to say the least.