- Good image quality
- Plenty of physical controls incl. dual control dials
- Extended zoom and tiltable LCD add flexibility
- Hotshoe can accomodate regular Speedlights
- HD movie capabilities limited to 720p
- Too big for trouser pockets
- Tiny viewfinder
- Review Price: £400.00
- 7.1x optical zoom (28-200mm)
- ISO 100 - 6400 (exp to 12,800)
- 720p HD movie capture @ 24fps
- Tiltable 3in, 921k-dot LCD monitor
The Nikon P7100 will most likely appeal to enthusiast photographers who may well already own a DSLR and who are looking for something a bit more portable. As such, it’s much more concerned with getting the basics right and offering a more DSLR-like user experience than it is with shoehorning in a long list of frivolous features.
Using the generally well-recieved Nikon P7000 as a template, the P7100 builds on the main strengths of its predecessor (build quality, handling, image quality) while also looking to address some of its inherent weaknesses (operational speed, processing lag) as well.
Externally, the P7100 looks very similar to the P7000, although it does get a front thumbwheel to compliment the one on the back, in much the same way that all mid- to high-end Nikon DSLRs do. The finger-grip has also been restyled to allow fingers to grip at an angle, rather than in line with the camera body. On the back, the fixed 3in, 921k-dot screen of the P7000 has been replaced with one that can be tilted up and down for easier low-level and overhead shooting. In terms of overall dimensions, the P7100 is a tad bigger than its predecessor too.
Internally, the P7100 is very much the same. Resolution remains at 10.1-megpixels, while HD movie recording is capped at a somewhat below-par 720p. The P7100 does, however, offer a range of digital filter effects – something the P7000 lacked. Processing times, as we will discuss in more depth later on, have been speeded up too.
Available for as little as £350 from reputable online retailers, there is very little to chose between the P7100 and its main rivals in terms of price. Canon’s G12, for example, generally cost around £50 more, although with some careful shopping around you should be able to secure one for around the same price. At around £270 the barely year-old P7000 looks like good value too, just so long as you can put up with the slow processing speeds. Despite lacking the extended zoom range of either the Nikon or Canon models, the Lumix LX5 (c.£320) is also well worth considering.
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.
First impressions of the Nikon P7100 are of a solid and well-built camera, albeit one that’s slightly chunky. At 400g with a battery and card (425g with a neck strap attached) there’s a reassuring but not inconvenient weight about it too. It’s too big to fit inside a regular trouser or jean pocket, but it does slip quite comfortably inside most coat and jacket pockets.Eyelets on each shoulder allow for a neck strap to be attached should you wish to carry it this way too.
The sculpted finger grip has been restyled from the more block-like grip
of the P7000. Big enough to accommodate two fingers, the asymmetric
shape encourages them to sit at an angle across the camera body,
resulting in a more comfortable holding position. The grip further
benefits from a rubberised finish.
In keeping with the needs of its target user, the P7100 sports a wide range of physical controls that allow for on-the-fly adjustments without the need to wade through the in-camera menu system. As with all enthusiast- and pro-grade Nikon DSLRs, the P7100 sports dual thumbwheels for speedy operation.
There’s also a dedicated EV compensation dial for exposure tuning, with another dial located on the other shoulder that allows equally quick and easy access to regularly accessed settings such as white balance, ISO and bracketing. Rounding things off are two Function buttons (one on the front, one on the top plate), both of which can be set to control or activate a function of your choosing.
Overall, we have to say that the P7100 is a very well laid-out camera. Yes, there are a lot of buttons and, at least initially, this could make the P7100 look a bit daunting to casual photographers. However they all have their uses and, once you’re used to them, allow for quick operation of the camera. The buttons are well spaced and easy to reach too, while the in-camera menu is easy enough to navigate. Overall, we have to confess that we rather like the bulky, no-nonsense aesthetics of the P7100 although we do concede that it won’t be to everyone’s taste.
A 3in, 921k-dot, 4:3 backlit LCD monitor adorns the back of the camera. This screen produces an especially bright and sharp image, which makes light work of reviewing images you’ve already taken. Better still,
the screen can be angled up by just over 90-degrees or down by around 45-degrees to facilitate easier low-level or overhead photography. By way of comparison the Canon G12 offers 2.8inch, 460k-dot monitor, although the G12’s side-hinge design does make it more flexible as it allows the screen to be rotated right round for self-portraits and shooting around corners and the like.
If you’d prefer to go down the optical route, then there’s a small optical viewfinder built in to the camera too. While this does add flexibility, particularly for DSLR users who prefer holding a camera to their eye, it is very small and (as is usually the way for optical viewfinders of this type) not particularly accurate either – very much something that should only be used as a general compositional guide rather than a precise framing tool.
In addition to the built-in pop-up flash, the P7100 also sports a hotshoe that accepts flashguns from the Nikon Speedlight range should you require a bit more power than the GN7 @ ISO 100 of the built-in strobe. Wireless data transfer via Eye-Fi SD cards is also supported.
While the P7100 still isn’t a praticularly speedy camera overall, it does show an improvement over its predecessor. Indeed, the general “sluggishness” of the P7000 was something that my predecessor, Cliff Smith, alluded to at some length in his review of it. One of Cliff’s specific criticisms centred on the perceptible delay he encountered when activating the P7000’s menu or leaving the menu system to return to shooting modes. Safe to say that Nikon appears to have sorted this particular problem out as there’s no such delay with the P7100.
Start-up speed – the time it takes from the camera being switched on to having a properly focused image in the bank – comes in at just under three seconds. This still isn’t particularly fast, but should just about prove acceptable in the vast majority of general shooting situations. Single-shot performance has made a slight speed gain over the P7000 too, dropping from around 2.5 seconds between shots to around 2 seconds when shooting JPEGs.
Switching to Raw capture, this rises to approximately 3.3 seconds. Continuous shooting speed also sees an incremental increase, although at 1.2fps it’s hardly about to win any prizes for speed either. If the P7100 has a major weakness, then this is most certainly it.
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.
At ISO 100 the P7100 produces sharp, clean images free from noise.
Raing sensitivity to ISO 200 poses no problems for the P7100.
At ISO 400 the P7100 is still producing noise-free images.
By ISO 800 there is a hint of softening as the camera’s built-in noise-reduction algorithms kick in.
By ISO 1600 fine detail has started to crumble, especially in the mid-tones and shadow areas.
ISO 3200 is both soft and noisy.
Unless you’re shooting thumbnail-sized images for online use ISO 6400 is all but unusable.
1/3secs @ f/8, ISO 400, AWB, tripod
1/5sec @ f/6.3, ISO 100, AWB, tripod
1/125 sec @ f/5, ISO 100, AWB
1/13sec @ f/2.8, ISO 200, AWB
1/125sec @ f/5.5, ISO 100, AWB
1/125sec @ f/4, ISO 100, AWB
1/200sec @ f/3.2, ISO 100, AWB, ‘Painting’ effect
Score in detail
Design & Features 8
Image Quality 9
Build Quality 9
|Camera type||Digital Compact|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||7.1x|
|Flash modes||Auto Flash|
|Video (max res/format)||1280 x 720|