Overall image quality is very good. The larger than average sensor is able to deliver images with a noticeably wider dynamic range than what you would be able to achieve with a regular compact. Of course, you’ll still be forced to make the same critical ‘shadow-or-highlight’ decisions when metering for high-contrast scenes, but with the useful inclusion of an AEL button and the ability to shoot in Raw, these decisions can be corrected, at least to some degree, later on in a digital darkroom.
Of the four Picture Controls, we tended to favour the ‘Standard’ setting as it offers a good compromise between the high-saturation pop of ‘Vivid’ and the far more restrained tones of ‘Neutral’. Used on this setting you can expect the P7100 to deliver pleasing, lifelike colour.
In his review of the P7000, Cliff Smith rightly praised the fixed 7.1x zoom lens, finding it to deliver very good levels of corner-to-corner sharpness. Given the fact that the P7100 uses exactly the same optic, it’s no surprise to find that this positive trait carries over to the new model.
While we were generally satisfied with overall levels of sharpness, it is possible to tweak them via the Picture Control menus should you wish. The P7100 also does an especially good job of controlling purple fringing, even on the kind of back-white, high-contrast borders normally affected.
Barrel distortion is quite pronounced at 28mm, however the P7100 does offer a built-in Distortion Control that can be used to effectively counter it. It’s quite effective for general day-to-day photography, although if you’re able to shoot in Raw you will find the relevant Photoshop tool more effective.
Sensitivity performance also impresses. All settings at and below ISO 800 deliver crisp, richly detailed images that are unaffected by noise. From ISO 1600 noise does begin to creep into images, although at smaller sizes, it’s still not too intrusive. It’s only really when you move up to the likes of ISO 3200 that image quality really begins to suffer, with a visible softening in images along with a loss of saturation and contrast. Automatic White Balance proved consistently reliable though, with no major problems to report.
Not only is the Nikon P7100 the equal of the Canon PowerShot G12, in many ways it's superior. For a start it's cheaper, offers a wider focal range, while the LCD monitor is larger and sharper too. Of course it's not perfect; the 720p HD movie mode is a bit measly, the optical viewfinder a bit poky, and while the sluggish performance issues of the P7000 have been improved on, the P7100 still isn't going to win any prizes for speed. That said, it's a very good camera that offers plenty of physical control and solid image quality. If you're looking for a compact camera with the feel of a DSLR but without the bulk, you should definitely take a look at the Nikon P7100.