DCRP

Nikon Coolpix P7000 Review

Using the Nikon Coolpix P7000

Record Mode

If you've got the "welcome screen" turned off, then the Coolpix P7000 will be ready to start taking photos in about 1.3 seconds. If you have it turned on, expect a 3.5 second wait.

Autofocus speeds were about average, though the AF system was unreliable at times. As noted elsewhere, on some occasions the camera will give up trying to focus entirely, for no apparent reason. Try again and the camera locks focus perfectly. This issue was most noticeable when I was taking the studio test scene below. As far as speeds go, you'll wait for between 0.3 - 0.5 seconds for the camera to lock focus while at the wide end of the lens. Expect to wait for twice as long when you're at or near the telephoto end of things. On more challenging subjects, focus times often exceeded one second. And speaking of one second, that (or a bit longer) is how long you'll wait while the camera focuses in low light situations.

I noticed that the camera's metering system is rather slow to adjust. If you move from a dark to bright subject, several seconds pass before the image changes on the LCD to reflect the new scene.

I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.

One big problem on the P7000 with the original firmware were slow shot-to-shot times. My camera uses the newer v1.1 firmware, and these are the numbers I can report: for JPEGs, you can take another photo in about two seconds, while RAW+JPEG combos lock up the camera for around four seconds. Not as fast as the PowerShot G12, but an improvement over the P7000's original firmware. Adding the flash into the mix did not significantly increase these times.

After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.

Now, let's take a look at the numerous image size and quality options available on the Coolpix P7000:

Resolution Quality # images on 79MB internal memory # images on 4GB SD card (optional)
10M
3648 X 2736
RAW 5 230
Fine 16 770
Normal 32 1540
Basic 63 3010
9M (3:2)
3648 x 2432
Fine 18 870
Normal 36 1720
Basic 70 3350
8M
3264 x 2448
Fine 20 970
Normal 40 1910
Basic 78 3650
7.5M (1:1)
2736 x 2736
Fine 21 1030
Normal 42 2040
Basic 83 3890
7M (16:9)
3584 x 2016
Fine 22 1060
Normal 44 2110
Basic 85 4020
5M
2592 x 1944
Fine 32 1520
Normal 62 2940
Basic 117 5480
3M
2048 x 1536
Fine 50 2410
Normal 97 4640
Basic 181 8620
2M
1600 x 1200
Fine 80 3770
Normal 153 7100
Basic 266 12000
1M
1280 x 960
Fine 120 5740
Normal 220 10000
Basic 362 17200
PC
1024 x 768
Fine 181 8620
Normal 316 15000
Basic 507 24100
VGA
640 x 480
Fine 362 17200
Normal 563 24100
Basic 724 30100

If that isn't overkill, then I don't know what is!

The Coolpix P7000 allows to you take a RAW (NRW) image, either alone or with a JPEG of the size and quality of your choosing.

The Coolpix P7000 has the standard Nikon menu system. It's fairly attractive and easy-to-navigate, though opening and closing it takes longer than it should (the whole interface on the camera is this way, unfortunately). The menu is divided into several tabs, for still shooting, playback, and setup. Keeping mind that you might not see all of these in every shooting mode, here's the full list:

Shooting menu
  • Picture Control (Standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome) - see below
  • Custom Picture Control (Edit & save, delete) - see below
  • Metering (Matrix, center-weighted, spot, spot AF area)
  • Continuous (Single, continuous, BSS, continuous flash, multi-shot 16, interval timer shooting) - see below
  • Autofocus mode (Single, full-time) - the latter will keep the camera focusing, even when the shutter releases isn't halfway-pressed; reduces focus times at the expense of battery life
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Noise reduction filter (Normal, low) - for regular shooting
  • Long exposure NR (Auto, on) - when needed or forced on for exposures longer than 1/4 sec
  • Distortion control (on/off) - see distortion test later in review
  • Wide-angle converter (on/off) - for use with optional conversion lens
  • Flash control (Auto, built-in off)
  • Active D-Lighting (Off, low, normal, high) - see below
  • Zoom memory (28, 35, 50, 85, 105, 135, 200 mm) - when holding down the Fn button and using the zoom controller, the camera can jump to these preset focal distances; you can remove the focal lengths you don't want
Playback menu
  • Quick retouch (Low, normal, high) - I'll tell you about most of these later
  • D-Lighting (Low, normal, high)
  • Print set (Select images, delete print set)
  • Slideshow
    • Start
    • Frame interval (2, 3, 5, 10 secs)
    • Loop (on/off)
  • Delete (Selected images, all images, selected NRW images, selected JEPG images)
  • Protect
  • Rotate image
  • Hide image
  • Small picture (640 x 480, 320 x 240, 160 x 120)
  • Copy - from internal memory to memory card or vice versa
  • Black border - put a frame around a photo
  • Skin softening
  • Straighten
  • Miniature effect
  • NRW (RAW) processing
Setup menu
  • Welcome screen (None, Coolpix, select image)
  • Date - for home and travel
  • Monitor settings
    • Image review (on/off)
    • Brightness (1-5)
    • Photo info - select whether to show the electronic level, histogram, and composition grid
  • Date imprint (Off, date and time, date)
  • Vibration reduction (on/off) - you'll want to turn the image stabilizer off when using a tripod
  • Motion detection (on/off) - whether camera will boost ISO to freeze moving subjects; only available in auto modes
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • Redeye reduction (Pre-flash on, off)
  • Digital zoom (On, crop, off) - see below
  • Zoom speed (Auto, normal, quiet) - normal is for stills, quiet for movies; auto will select between the two
  • Sound settings
    • Button sound (on/off)
    • Shutter sound (on/off)
  • Record orientation (Auto, off)
  • Auto off (30 secs, 1, 5, 30 mins)
  • Format memory/card
  • Language
  • TV settings
    • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
    • HDMI (Auto, 480p, 720p, 1080i)
    • HDMI device control (on/off) - whether you can control the camera with the remote control of a compatible HDTV
  • Built-in ND filter (Off, auto, on) - see below
  • AE/AF lock button (AE/AF lock, AE lock only, AF lock only)
  • Fn button (Off, NRW/normal, ISO sensitivity, white balance, Picture Control, Active D-Lighting, metering) - I told you about these earlier
  • Av/Tv button (Toggle Av/Tv selection, virtual horizon, view/hide histograms, view/hide framing grid, built-in ND filter) - this one's customizable too
  • Customize My Menu (1-6) - you have six slots to fill with your favorite menu options for the My Menu option on the Quick Menu dial
  • Reset file numbering
  • Blink warning (on/off) - warns you if a subject had their eyes closed
  • Reset all
  • Firmware version

Looks like I've got some explaining to do before we can move on to the photo tests!


Editing a Picture Control

Let's start with Picture Controls, a feature that was once exclusive to Nikon's digital SLRs. The camera has six preset Controls (standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome), and you can customize them to your heart's content. There are two custom Picture Controls in which you can also store your settings, though Nikon strangely put them into a separate menu item. The following properties can be adjusted in a Picture Control:

  • Quick adjust - lets you adjust the items below by ±2 step at one time
    • Sharpening (Auto, 0 to 6)
    • Contrast (Auto, -3 to +3) - not available when Active D-Lighting is on
    • Saturation (Auto, -3 to +3)
  • Filter effects (Off, yellow, orange, red, green) - only for monochrome preset
  • Toning (Black & white, sepia, cyanotype) - only for monochrome; each of these can be fine-tuned

Something I don't like about the Picture Controls -- and Nikon is hardly the only company guilty of this -- is that when you view each preset, all of their values look the same, which is the opposite of how things are in reality.

Now it's time to talk about the myriad of continuous shooting options available on the camera. Let's start with the regular continuous shooting mode. Here you can take up to 45 JPEGs in a row at 1.4 frames/second. If you're shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG, you'll get five shots at a faster 1.8 fps. Do note that you'll experience about a fifteen second wait while the camera saves the images to the memory card before you can start taking more photos.

Other continuous modes on the camera include:

  • BSS [Best Shot Selector] - the camera takes up to ten photos in a row, saving only the sharpest one; a classic Coolpix feature
  • Continuous flash - camera takes three photos in a row with the flash, at 1.3 frames/sec
  • Multi-shot 16 - camera takes sixteen photos in a row at 30 fps, and compiles them into a 5 Megapixel collage
  • Interval timer shooting - AKA time-lapse mode; the camera will take photos at a set interval (30 sec, 1, 5, or 10 mins); AC adapter strongly recommended

The Coolpix P7000 has the same Active D-Lighting feature as most of Nikon's other compact and D-SLR cameras. This feature's aim is simple: to preserve highlight and shadow detail. It's off by default, and you have three levels to choose from (low, normal, high). Do note that processing time will increase when using this feature. Want to see it in action? Look below:

Active D-Lighting off
View Full Size Image
Active D-Lighting low
View Full Size Image
Active D-Lighting normal
View Full Size Image

Active D-Lighting high
View Full Size Image

There's a very noticeable increase in shadow detail when you move from the "off" to "low" position. While it may not seem like there's much of a difference between the low and normal settings, you do get some highlight detail back with the latter. The high setting further increases the shadow and highlight recovery. If I owned the P7000, I'd probably keep Active D-Lighting pegged to "low" in most situations.


Electronic level

Buried deep within the setup menu is the P7000's electronic level feature. If you have trouble taking photos with level horizons like I do, then you'll like this feature. When the line on the screen levels off and turn green, you know you're set!

I want to quickly mention the camera's digital zoom feature. You don't want to use the regular digital zoom -- rather, it's the "crop" option you should be interested in. This gives you extra zoom power without a loss in image quality. The catch is that you have to lower the resolution to 5 Megapixel or less in order to take advantage of this feature. It looks like if you drop down to 3 Megapixel (perfectly acceptable for 4 x 6 inch prints), you'll get a total zoom power of 10X -- not bad!

The last feature I want to mention is the P7000's built-in neutral density filter. This cuts down on the amount of light that comes through the lens (by three stops), which allows you to use slower shutter speeds or larger apertures than you could otherwise. You can have the ND filter turn on automatically when the subject is too bright (in Program and low noise night modes only) or do it manually.

Alright, that does it for menus -- let's do photo quality now.

The Coolpix P7000 did a decent job with our macro test subject. The figurine has a smooth (almost soft) appearance, though plenty of detail is still captured. There's a bit of a color cast here, most noticeable on the "cloak" that is orange rather than red. There's a tiny bit of noise to be found here (mostly noticeable on Mickey's head), but it's not enough to concern me.

Nikon cameras are somewhat unique in that they have a "sweet spot" in the focal range that offers the closest focusing distance. On the P7000, that spot is roughly between the 1X and 2X positions. You'll know you're there because the "macro flower" and zoom gauge on the LCD will both turn green. Once there you'll have a minimum focus distance of 2 cm. Nikon does not publish the minimum distances beyond that point.

The night shot turned out great. The brought in enough light, as you'd expect given its manual controls. The buildings are nice and sharp from one end of the frame to the other. Highlight clipping isn't too bad, and purple fringing levels are low. While there's some noise visible here, it's very mild.

Now let's use that same night scene to see how the P7000 performed at high sensitivities. If you're comparing the P7000 to the PowerShot G12, click here to open up that review so you can compare these photos side-by-side, though do note that the G12's photos are much darker (I'm going to try to reshoot those). Here we go!


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400 (Hi 1)

The night scene starts to soften up as soon as you leave ISO 100, no doubt due to increased noise reduction. That trend continues at ISO 400, though all three of these sensitivities are still usable for large prints. The ISO 800 photo has a fair amount of detail loss, but I don't see why you can't make a small or midsize print at that setting. Things start to really go downhill at ISO 1600, so I'd avoid using this setting (and those above it) unless you're shooting RAW.

While I don't think the ISO 6400 photo can be saved, I think the ISO 1600 and 3200 images can be improved upon with some simple post-processing. I've converted them using Adobe Camera Raw and then applied some of my own noise reduction and sharpening. Here are the results:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage _+ Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

The ISO 1600 photo is definitely a lot nicer when taken in RAW -- just look at how the vertical bars on the building on the right come back. The post-processed image is still noisy, but certainly better than the JPEG, at least in my opinion. The processed ISO 3200 photo is better than the JPEG, but I would still probably avoid using this one in low light, unless you're really desperate.

We'll take a look at the P7000's high ISO performance in normal lighting in a moment.

The P7000 uses its flash to reduce the risk of redeye in your people pictures, and look -- it worked great. If some redeye does slip by, you'll have to get rid of it on your computer, as there's no removal tool in playback mode.

There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the Coolpix P7000's 28 - 200 mm zoom lens. You can see the effect of barrel distortion by looking at the building on the right side of this photo. One cool feature on the camera is that you can turn on distortion correction, which reduces this phenomenon, like so:

That's a whole lot better if you ask me! The distortion test charts did not show any vignetting, and corner blurring was minimal.

Now it's time for our studio test scene. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare these photos with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Those of you comparing the P7000 and PowerShot G12 need only scroll down a bit to see how the two stack up. For now, let's see how the Coolpix P7000 performs in terms of noise from ISO 100 to 6400:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400 (Hi 1)

The first three crops, covering ISO 100 through 400, are pretty clean, though each photo gets progressively softer. At ISO 800 there's a drop in color saturation, and a bit more noise -- but still, better than your typical compact camera. Details start disappearing at ISO 1600, but it's still usable for most print sizes. ISO 3200 has quite a bit of noise, but may be able to be rehabilitated (see below). I'd pass on ISO 6400 entirely.

It's time for another RAW vs. JPEG comparison, once again using the ISO 1600 and 3200 test images:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

There's a pretty obvious improvement for the ISO 1600 photo, in terms of both color and detail. The converted ISO 3200 photo also looks better than the original JPEG, though it's still on the noisy side, which limits what you can do with it.

Now I want to show you how the Coolpix P7000 and PowerShot G12 handled our test scene, side-by-side. Remember that this is only comparing JPEG quality (you can download the RAW conversions from the G12 review and compare them to the photos above). Let's begin with ISO 800 and work our way up:

ISO 800


Canon PowerShot G12


Nikon Coolpix P7000
 
ISO 1600

Canon PowerShot G12

Nikon Coolpix P7000
 
ISO 3200

Canon PowerShot G12


Nikon Coolpix P7000

Right off the bat, you'll notice that the ISO 800 photo taken with the PowerShot G12 has a bit more detail than the Coolpix P7000, not to mention more saturated color (which drops off at that point on the P7000). Both cameras lose detail at ISO 1600, with the G12 again retaining a bit more. The Canon starts to pull away at ISO 3200, with the P7000's photo looking pretty muddy.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the photos produced by the Nikon Coolpix P7000. The only real issues I had were the somewhat inconsistent metering (and a tendency to clip highlights), and an overall lack of shadow detail. The good news is that both of these issues are easily remedied: use the handy exposure compensation dial on the top of the camera for the former (or bracket) and the Active D-Lighting feature for the latter. Colors were nice and vibrant, and images are a pleasing smooth appearance to them. The Coolpix P7000 does a good job at keeping noise under control until you reach ISO 1600, at which point you might want to start thinking about switching over to the RAW format. Purple fringing levels were low.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look our photo gallery -- perhaps printing a few of the pictures if you can -- and then you can decide for yourself if the P7000's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The Coolpix P7000 is capable of recording videos at 1280 x 720 (24 frames/second) with stereo sound -- the same as the PowerShot G12. You can keep recording 720p24 video until the time limit reaches 29 minutes, which is more than what the G12 is capable of in a single clip. If you want lower resolutions, you can choose from 640 x 480 and 320 x 240, both of which record at 30 frames/second.

Nikon allows you to use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie, and the lens moves slowly and quietly when you do so. The image stabilizer is available, as well. The camera can focus continuously while recording, though the sound from the AF motor may be picked up by the microphone. Speaking of which. unlike the PowerShot G12, the Coolpix P7000 supports an external microphone, for higher quality sound than those tiny pinhole mics can produce.

Recording videos on the P7000 is a fully automatic affair, with even the ISO sensitivity locked up. There is, however, a wind cut filter that you may find useful when filming outdoors.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the efficient H.264 codec.

Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the 720p setting. It's a bit choppy, which is due to the 24 fps frame rate.


Click to play movie (1280 x 720, 24 fps, 13.5 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Playback Mode

The Coolpix P7000 has a nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and playback zoom. One thing I was hoping you could with the playback zoom feature is move from photo-to-photo, while keeping the zoom and position intact, but you can't.


Calendar view

In addition to viewing photos one-at-a-time or as thumbnails, you can also navigate through your collection using the calendar you see above. One weird thing is that you the camera lets you select any date -- even those without any photos -- which slows the whole process down.


Brightening a photo with D-Lighting

The camera has a ton of editing options, which include:

  • Quick retouch - uses D-Lighting (see below) and also boosts contrast and saturation
  • D-Lighting - brightens dark areas of a photo; select from low, normal, or high
  • Redeye correction
  • Rotate image
  • Small picture - downsize an image
  • Trim (crop) - zoom into a photo and you'll be given this option
  • Black border - put a frame around your photo
  • Skin softening
  • Straighten image
  • Miniature effect - blurs a photo while keeping the center sharp, giving the impression that everything's smaller than in reality
  • NRW (RAW) processing - see below
  • Edit movie - trim unwanted footage off of the beginning or end of a clip; you can also grab a frame from a movie and save it as a still image


RAW processing in playback mode

One nice option on the P7000 lets you edit and convert RAW images right on the camera. You can change the image size and quality, white balance, exposure compensation, Picture Control, distortion control, and D-Lighting setting. The result is saved as a JPEG.

By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but press the Display button and you'll see a lot more. Not only do you get a histogram, but you can also select different tones and the areas in the photo with that tone with flash.

The camera moves between photos without delay.

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