DCRP

Nikon Coolpix P7000 Review

Look and Feel

The Coolpix P7000 is a midsize, fixed-lens camera that (as I mentioned) closely resembles Canon's PowerShot G12. Take a look at these photos to see for yourself:

The front and back of the Canon PowerShot G12 and Nikon Coolpix P7000
Photos not to scale (but are close) and are courtesy of Canon and Nikon

Sure, there are some differences in places: the G12 has a rotating LCD, while the P7000's flash must be popped up -- just to name two things. But if you covered up the manufacturer names, one could easily pass for the other.

The P7000's all-metal body feels very solid, though it feels like Nikon cheaped out a bit with the plastic dials and buttons on the camera. The P7000 is a prime example of a camera with "button clutter", and while the ISO/WB/quality dial on the top tries to simplify things, I found that it actually slowed me down (the sluggish interface doesn't help matters, either). Despite a rather small grip, the P7000 was easy to hold with one hand. One thing you will have to deal with is nose smudges on the LCD, as the viewfinder doesn't protrude at all from the back of the camera.

Alright, now let's see how the Coolpix P7000 compares to the other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot G12 4.4 x 3.0 x 1.9 in. 25.1 cu in. 351 g
Nikon Coolpix P7000 4.5 x 3.1 x 1.8 in. 25.1 cu in. 310 g
Olympus XZ-1 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.7 in. 19.4 cu in. 244 g *
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7 in. 19 cu in. 233 g
Ricoh CX4 4.0 x 2.3 x 1.2 in. 11 cu in. 184 g
Samsung TL500 4.5 x 2.5 x 1.2 in. 13.5 cu in. 356 g
* Approximate

The Coolpix P7000 is tied with -- guess who -- the Canon PowerShot G12 as the largest camera in the group. The P7000 is definitely too large to fit in your jeans pocket, but it will go in a jacket pocket, in a small case, or over your shoulder with ease.

Let's start our tour of the camera now, shall we?

Front of the Nikon Coolpix P7000

The first thing to see on the front of the camera is its F2.8-5.6, 7.1X optical zoom Nikkor lens. This lens has a focal range of 6.0 - 42.6 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 200 mm. The lens isn't threaded, though you can attach the lens adapter I mentioned earlier and then screw in a wide-angle conversion lens (filters are iffy). To do that you'll first need to press the button to the lower-right of the lens and remove the ring around the lens.

The P7000 features a 1/1.7", 10.1 effective Megapixel CCD. I'm not sure if this is the same sensor that everyone else (save Panasonic) is using, but it's a good possibility. Since this sensor is larger-than-average and has a lower pixel count that most CCDs, it should offer better photo quality at high sensitivities that your typical compact camera.

You'd expect a camera in this class to feature image stabilization, and the P7000 uses what Nikon calls Vibration Reduction. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands that can cause "camera shake", which can blur your photos in low light, or at the telephoto end of the lens. The camera shifts one of the lens elements to compensate for this motion, allowing for a higher likelihood of a sharp photo. Image stabilization systems can't work miracles, though. They can't freeze a moving subject, nor will they permit handheld, multi-second exposures, but they're way better than nothing at all. Want to see the P7000's IS system in action? Here, have a look at these:


Vibration Reduction off


Vibration Reduction on

Both of the photos you see above were taken at the very slow shutter speed of 1/3 second. You don't need to be a professional camera reviewer to see that the VR system did its job here. You can also use Vibration Reduction in movie mode, as illustrated in this brief video clip.

Directly above the flash is the camera's optical viewfinder. I'll tell you more about that when we get to the back view of the camera.

At the top-right of the above photo is the camera's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The flash does take up valuable finger space when it's popped up, but there's still enough room left to keep a firm grip on the camera -- just make sure that you don't press the button on the Quick Menu dial. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 6.5 m at wide-angle and 0.8 - 3.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO), which is pretty good. If you want more flash power and less of a chance of redeye, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.

Moving now to the lower-left of the lens, you'll see the camera's customizable Function (Fn) button. By default it does nothing, but it can do a number of different things, though some of the options are a bit puzzling. The functions include:

  • Switch between RAW and "normal" JPEG shooting
  • Set ISO to Auto
  • Set white balance to Auto
  • Set Picture control to Standard
  • Set Active D-Lighting to Normal
  • Set metering to spot

I think this feature would've been better if you actually had a choice of what setting you want, rather than just a fixed option. Of course, there's the Quick Menu dial, though it's really not that "quick" to work with. One more thing the Function button can do is something called "Zoom Memory", which allows you to jump to preset focal lengths, by holding down the Fn button while operating the zoom controller.

Other items on the front of the camera include stereo microphones, a receiver for the remote control, and the AF-assist lamp. In addition to helping the camera focus in low light situations, the AF-assist lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

That'll do it for the front of the Coolpix P7000!

Back of the Nikon Coolpix P7000

The main event on the back of the P7000 is its 3-inch, 921,000 pixel LCD display. As you might imagine, this screen is super sharp, whether you're composing photos, reviewing those you've taken, or just navigating through the menu system. I found the screen's outdoor visibility to be good, and in low light the image on the display brightens automatically, so you can still see your subject.

Above the LCD is the P7000's optical viewfinder. While I love having a viewfinder on my cameras, the one here was a bit disappointing. It's quite small, and its eyepiece cup doesn't really "seal" against your eye. In addition, since the viewfinder does not protrude from the back of the camera, your nose will leaving lots of smudge marks on the LCD. The coverage of the viewfinder is 80%, so keep that in mind when you're composing your pictures. You can adjust the focus of the viewfinder by using the diopter correction knob located to its left.

That button with the flash symbol and Pacman on it is what you'll press to release the P7000's flash. On the opposite side of things you'll find the camera's too-small command dial. You can use this for adjusting the various settings on the camera, among other things. Continuing to the right, you'll find the AE/AF lock button, which lists photos by date when in playback mode.

Now let's go over the buttons and dials to the immediate right of the LCD. Starting at the top we've got the Display and Playback buttons. The Display button toggles through the information shown on the LCD, or turns it off entirely.

Below those is the combination four-way controller / scroll wheel, which are used for adjusting manual exposure settings, navigating menus, and much more. The four-way controller can also be used for the following:

  • Up - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash off, fill flash, manual, slow sync, rear curtain sync) - the manual option allows you to select the flash strength, from 1/64 to full
  • Down - Focus mode (AF, macro, infinity, manual)
  • Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 sec self-timer, 2 or 10 sec remote control, Smile Timer)
  • Right - AF area mode (Face Priority, auto, manual, center [wide, normal, spot], subject tracking)

Some of those items need further explanation before I can continue the tour. I'm going to start at the bottom and work my way up, so let's go over those AF Area modes first. The default setting is Auto, where the camera picks from nine focus points. The manual mode allows you to select one of ninety-nine possible focus points, or you can just go with the center of the frame, with three focus point sizes to choose from. The Face Priority mode will find up to twelve faces in the scene, and will make sure that the closest one is properly focused. The P7000 turned in an average performance with our face detection test scene, locating three or four of the six faces in the photo. Finally, the subject tracking option will let you lock onto an object in the frame, and the camera will follow them as they move around.

A feature related to face detection is the Smile Timer. This will find up to three faces in the frame, and when one of them smiles, the camera will take a photo. It'll keep doing this until you tell it to stop, or twelve photos have been taken.


Manual focus

The camera's manual focus feature has the usual bells and whistles, including center-frame enlargement and a distance guide, though the latter isn't terribly useful.

Getting back to the tour now, the last items of note on the back of the camera are the Menu and Delete photo buttons. Just above the Menu button is the P7000's rear IR receiver -- pretty smart idea on Nikon's part to have one here too.

Top of the Nikon Coolpix P7000

Like dials? Then the P7000 may be the camera for you!

Adjusting the bracketing mode via the Quick Menu dial The customizable My Menu, which is one of the choices on the Quick Menu dial

Starting on the left side, we have the Quick Menu dial. While shortcuts are always nice, the Quick Menu is anything but quick, due to the sluggish user interface on the P7000 (it takes about 1.5 seconds for the Quick Menu to show up). I think that a more traditional shortcut menu (like on the PowerShot G12) would've been a better choice. Anyhow, there are six items on this dial, and when you select one, you then press the button in the center of the dial to open up the shortcut menu. The items found here include:

  • Quality
    • Image quality (see chart later in review)
    • Image size (same as above)
  • ISO
    • ISO sensitivity (Auto, High ISO Auto, ISO 100-200, ISO 100-400, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400/Hi 1)
    • Minimum shutter speed (Off, 1 - 1/125 sec) - how slow the camera will let the shutter speed go before increasing the ISO
  • White balance
    • WB (Auto, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent 1/2/3, cloudy, flash, color temp, preset 1/3)
    • WB fine-tuning (see below)
  • Bracket
    • Auto bracketing (Off, Shutter speed bracket, sensitivity bracket, white balance bracket)
    • Number of shots (3, 5)
    • Increment for Tv/Sv bracket (0.3, 0.7, 1.0)
    • Increment for WB bracket (1-3)
  • My Menu - quickly access up to six of your favorite camera settings
  • Brightness distribution (see below)

The P7000 has several Auto ISO options. The regular Auto mode will boost the sensitivity as high as 800, while the High ISO Auto mode will go a stop further, to 1600. You can also select smaller ranges, such as ISO 100-200 or 100-400.


Fine-tuning white balance

The camera has an impressive set of white balance options. There are the usual presets, plus three slots for custom settings, where you'll use a white or gray card to set the white balance. You can also set the color temperature, with the usual range of 2500K - 10000K available. If you're still not getting accurate color, then you can try fine-tuning the current setting (see screenshot above). Want to really cover your behind? Then you can also use white balance bracketing, which takes three shots in a row, each with a different WB setting. The interval between shots can be 1, 2, or 3, though I have no idea what those are equivalent to.

In addition to white balance, you can bracket for exposure in two different ways on the P7000. There's a traditional shutter speed bracketing mode, or you can have the camera adjust the ISO sensitivity, while keeping the aperture and shutter speed intact.


Brightness distribution view

The brightness distribution feature is unique to the Coolpix P7000. Set the Quick Menu dial to the appropriate position, take a photo, and the camera will display the screen you see above. The screen displays shooting information, a histogram, and a "tone level" bar. When you select a tone level, the areas in a photo with that tone will begin to blink. This is a good way to look for clipped highlights and dark shadows. You can do the same thing in playback mode by pressing the Display button a few times.

Alright, let's get back to the tour, this time looking at the hot shoe at the center of the photo. The P7000 works best when a Nikon Speedlight, as they'll sync up with the camera's i-TTL metering system. If you've got the SB-900 or SU-800 attached, you can also use them to control multiple wireless flashes. Do note that you can't use high speed flash sync or AF-assist with multi-area AF with these Nikon flashes. If you're using a non-Nikon external flash, then you'll probably have to adjust the exposure manually on both the camera and the flash.

Moving to the right, you'll see the P7000's mode dial, which has the following options on it:

Option Function
Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with some menu options locked up.
Program mode Still automatic, but with access to all menu options. The Flexible Program feature lets you scroll through several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the command dial.
Shutter priority mode You choose the shutter speed, and the camera picks the appropriate aperture. Shutter speed range is 8 - 1/2000 sec.
Aperture priority mode You choose the aperture, and camera picks the correct shutter speed. The aperture range is F2.8 - F8.0.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself. Aperture range remains the same, while the shutter speed range expands to 60 - 1/4000 sec.
Movie mode More on this later
Scene mode Let the camera pick the scene mode for you, or select from one of the following situations: portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach, snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, food, museum, fireworks, copy, backlighting, panorama assist.
Low noise night scene Lower the resolution to 3 Megapixel and uses an ISO range of 400 - 12800 in order to obtain a sharp photo in low light.
User 1/2/3 Save your favorite camera settings into these three slots.

The Coolpix P7000 has a nice collection of both automatic as well as manual controls. If you want a total point-and-shoot experience, just set the mode dial to the Auto position.


Scene mode menu

Another choice for automatic shooting is the Scene Auto Selector feature, which is the first choice in the Scene mode menu. The camera will select one of six possible scene modes for you, and if it can't find one, it'll use a generic auto mode. If you want to manually select a scene mode, there are tons to choose from. One interesting one is the Panorama Assist mode, which helps you line up photos side-by-side, for later stitching on your Mac or PC.

Another scene mode -- which has its own spot on the mode dial -- is the low noise night scene mode. This will lower the resolution to 3 Megapixel and use an ISO range of 400 - 12800, in order to take a sharp photo in low light. While the photos may be blur-free, they're very soft and loaded with noise (see example).

In terms of manual controls, you've got the usual suspects -- aperture, shutter speed, or both. You can also save your favorite camera settings to three spots on the mode dial. One thing you won't find on the P7000 is a bulb mode.

Next to the mode dial is the power button, which has the shutter release button / zoom controller combination above it. I found the zoom controller to be too small, and quite plasticky for a $500 camera. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.5 seconds (a slower option, used in movie mode, is also available for stills). I counted twenty steps in the Coolpix P7000's 7.1X zoom range.

To the right of the power button is the dedicated exposure compensation dial -- always a handy thing to have. As you can see, the range is -3EV to +3EV, in 1/3EV increments. Above that is the Av/Tv button, which you'll need to press when you want to switch between adjusting the aperture and shutter speed when in "M" mode. The function of this button can be redefined to do something else, and I'll tell you exactly what later in the review.

Side of the Nikon Coolpix P7000

The only thing to see on this side of the camera is the external microphone input, which is located under a plastic cover. The lens is at the wide-angle position here.

Side of the Nikon Coolpix P7000

You'll find more I/O ports on the other side of the camera. Under a plastic door of average quality are the mini-HDMI and USB + A/V out ports. There's also a little port down at the bottom of the photo through which you'll feed the power cable for the optional AC adapter.

The lens is at full telephoto here.

Bottom of the Nikon Coolpix P7000

Our tour concludes with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find the speaker, a metal tripod mount (hidden from view here), and the battery/memory card compartment. The door over the battery/memory compartment feels slightly flimsy, and you won't be able to access the contents of said compartment while using a tripod.

The included EL-EL14 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.

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