Nikon Coolpix P7700 Review
Design & Features
The Coolpix P7700 is a mid-sized camera with a well-built magnesium-alloy body. You expect a premium compact camera to feel solid in your hands, and the P7700 does. The only parts that felt a bit "cheap" were the various plastic dials on the top and rear of the body. The P7700 is easy to hold, thanks to a rubberized grip that's just the right size.
The camera body is covered with buttons and dials which can be a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, these buttons typically handle just one function. You may need to keep an eye on your fingers, though. Your thumb sits dangerously close to several buttons on the back of the camera. Also, I found the exposure compensation dial very easy to accidentally turn, so that's something else to watch out for. Something that surprised me is that the Coolpix P7700 lacks a dedicated movie recording button. That means that you must first set the mode dial to one of the movie positions in order to record video.
The design of the the Coolpix P7700 has changed considerably since the rather homely P7100. Here's a quick comparison:
|Images courtesy of Nikon USA|
With the optical viewfinder gone, Nikon was able to give the Coolpix P7700 a more rectangular, and dare I say, more professional appearance. Most things are in the same place on the front view, though you'll note the dial has a more traditional design now. The two cameras are virtually unchanged on their top sides. On the back you'll again see the disappearing viewfinder -- controls are more-or-less the same. The LCD design is different as well, with the Coolpix P7700 having a flip-out, rotating display, compared to the articulated (tilting) screen used on the P7100.
The mid-sized P7700 in the hand. The lens cap, which has had a rough life, does not include a retaining strap, so don't lose it!
Now let's see how the Coolpix P7700 compares to other premium compacts in terms of size and weight:
The Coolpix P7700 is tied with the Fuji X10 as the largest camera in this class. It's also the heaviest by a decent margin. The P7700 definitely won't fit into your skinny jeans, but it travels well in a jacket pocket or over your shoulder.
Let's tour the Coolpix P7700 now, using our tabbed interface:
The main event on the Coolpix P7700 is its new, faster lens. Gone is the average F2.8-5.6 maximum aperture range of its predecessors - this puppy is F2.0 - F4.0. No, the lens isn't as fast as on some of its competitors, but it's still a big improvement in my opinion. The focal range remains the same as on the P7000 and P7100: 6.0 - 42.8 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 200 mm. The lens is threaded for 40.5 mm filters. Conversion lenses are not supported.
To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 10 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 5.5 m at telephoto, which are respectable numbers. The proximity of the flash to the lens makes me think that redeye will be an issue, but we'll see about that later. The built-in flash can serve as a commander for a wireless flash -- a rare feature on a premium compact.
Directly above the lens are two pinholes that serve as the camera's stereo microphone. To the left of those is the AF-assist lamp, while under the Nikon logo you'll find the receiver for the optional wireless remote.
The final items here include the redesigned front dial (on the grip) and the first of two customizable Function (Fn) buttons.
The LCDs on the Coolpix P7000 series have been evolving over the last few years. The original P7000 had a fixed LCD. Last year's P7100 got an articulating display, which was a nice improvement. On the P7700, we finally got the best option: a display that flips to the side and rotates a total of 270 degrees.
Rotating LCDs are great for shooting over crowds of people, or taking creative photos at ground level. The screen can be placed in the traditional position (shown below), or closed entirely for protection.
While the design of the LCD is different on the P7700, the display itself seems to be the same one that was found on the P7100. It's 3 inches in size and packs 921,000 pixels. As you'd expect, everything is very sharp. I was also pleased with the visibility of the screen, both outdoors and in low light.
As I mentioned in the intro to this review, Nikon sacrificed the optical viewfinder on the Coolpix P7700. Some people will undoubtedly miss it. At the same time, there are probably some folks who won't even notice.
Now let's talk about buttons (and dials). Above the LCD you can see the release for the built-in flash, the Display button (which toggles the information on the LCD), and rear control dial.
To the right of the LCD you'll find buttons for AE/AF Lock, entering playback mode or the menu system, and deleting a photo. In between all those buttons is the combination four-way controller and scroll dial. The dial feels a bit cheap and plasticky, but it does the job (which is adjusting settings). The directional component of the wheel lets you adjust the flash, macro, self-timer, and focus point settings.
Lots to see on the top of the Coolpix P7700, and I'll start by pointing out the flash, which is closed in this photo. Below that is what Nikon calls the Quick Mode dial. I call it frustrating, for reasons that I'll discuss after the tour. The dial allows you to adjust ISO sensitivity, white balance, bracketing, Picture Controls, and image size/quality. You can also access a customizable "My Menu" via this dial.
At the center of the photo is the P7700's hot shoe. It'll work best with Nikon flashes, like the ones I listed in the accessory discussion, as they'll sync with the camera's metering system. That said, the Coolpix P7700 does not support the redeye reduction, or AF-assist features of Nikon's Speedlights. Nikon's Creative Lighting System (AKA wireless flash control) is supported, however. If you're using a third party flash, you'll probably need to adjust its exposure manually. There's no fixed x-sync speed on the P7700, so all shutter speeds are available when using an external flash.
Right next to the hot shoe is the mode dial, which is overflowing with options (which I'll list after the tour). Continuing to the right, we find the often-fussy power button and the too-easy-to-bump exposure compensation dial (though I appreciate the light that comes on when the EV is something other than zero).
Above that you'll find the second of the two customizable buttons on the Coolpix P7700. To the left of that is the combination shutter release button and zoom controller. The zoom is variable speed (more on that later), and at normal speed, you'll travel from 1X to 7.1X in about two seconds. I counted nineteen steps in the P7700's 7.1X zoom range.
There are three things to see here: two I/O ports, plus the speaker. The I/O ports, kept under separate plastic covers, are for adding an external microphone or GPS receiver.
The lens is at its wide-angle position here.
On the right side of the camera are two additional I/O ports. They include mini-HDMI and USB + A/V output. That little door at the bottom of the photo is through which you'll feed the optional AC adapter.
The lens is at its full telephoto (200 mm) position here.
On the bottom of the Coolpix P7700 you'll find a metal tripod mount (which isn't aligned with anything in particular) as well as the battery/memory compartment. This compartment is protected by a pretty solid door. You won't be able to open it while the P7700 is on a tripod, though.
The included EN-EL14 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.
You can have a live histogram, electronic level, and grid lines (not shown) displayed on the LCD; the level can be shown as a bar instead, if you wish
I want to talk about features controlled by the various dials and buttons on the camera, and I'm going to start with the Quick Mode dial. This dial has been on several generations of P-series camera, and I can't say that I've ever been a fan of it. The reason is two-fold. First, it doesn't actually save you any time. The time it takes you to spin the dial, press the button, and navigate through the menus is longer than if there was a direct button or, dare I suggest, a traditional shortcut menu. Second, the user interface can be poorly displayed and difficult to use. I didn't even know there was an ISO 80 on the camera because of the way things are presented on the LCD. Naturally, this is all subjective and you may feel differently, but there's my two cents.
|The horizontal layout of the setting you're adjusting doesn't show very many values at once.||The customizable My Menu|
The options that you'll find on the Quick Mode dial include:
- Image quality/size: select from fine or normal JPEGs, RAW (NRW), or RAW+JPEG, at a variety of sizes; a RAW image is a whopping 28.6 MB in size, while a fine quality JPEG is about 6.5 MB
- ISO sensitivity: choose from a fixed range of 80 - 6400 (Hi 1), a straight Auto mode, or an Auto mode that stops at a preset value (ISO 200, 400, or 800); you can also select the slowest shutter speed that the camera will use before bumping up the sensitivity
- White balance: select from lots of presets, set the color temperature, or store three custom settings that you've created using a white or gray card; you can also fine-tune the white balance in the amber-blue and/or green-magenta direction
- Bracketing: you can bracket for exposure or white balance, with the number of shots, interval, and range (WB only) being options
- My Menu: store up to five of your favorite main menu options here
- Picture Controls: there are four preset plus two custom "controls", each of which contains parameters such as sharpness, contrast, and saturation; in monochrome mode you can add filter and toning effects, as well
|Customizing the Fn buttons lets you avoid using the Quick Mode dial|
If you don't want to deal with the Quick Mode dial, there is another option. You can assign the functions found on the dial to the customizable Fn1 and Fn2 buttons, which are on the front and top of the camera, respectively. Three functions can be assigned to the Fn1 button, with the shutter release button and rear and scroll dials being the modifiers. Do note that only certain functions can be assigned to the Fn1 + shutter release combo -- the front and rear dials give you more choices.
Let's go over the options on the mode dial now:
Lots to talk about here, and I'll start with the numerous automatic shooting modes. If you want a pure point-and-shoot experience, just set the mode dial to "Auto". If you want the camera to select a scene mode for you, then switch to Scene mode, where you'll find the aptly named Scene Auto Selector feature. If you want to select a scene mode manually, there are tons to choose from, as well as lots of special effects in the Effects mode. Here are some of the highlights:
- Night landscape: if you choose handheld mode, then the camera will shoot a series of exposures, and then combine them into a single photo (here's an example); the tripod mode will do a long exposure which, as its name implies, requires a tripod
- Backlighting: the P7700 has a high dynamic range (HDR) feature, and this is what it's called; there are three levels to choose from (1-3), with the camera saving two images (one "non-HDR composite image" and one "HDR composite image") with one press of the shutter release button
- Panorama: choose from Easy Panorama, which works just like "sweep panorama" on Sony cameras, or Panorama Assist, which helps you line up the photos for later stitching on your Mac or PC; Easy Panoramas can be 180 or 360 degrees
- Effects: I'm not going to describe each of these, but do wish to mention that a couple of them (creative monochrome, zoom exposure, and cross process) can be fine-tuned to your liking
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|HDR on (level 1)
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Pretty exciting example, eh? The backlighting feature did a great job of brightening up the foreground, though a lot of burned highlights remain in the background. I think results would've been better if the camera took three exposures, instead of just two. Even with its flaws, the backlighting feature is worth using in situations like this.
And now, a look at the output from the Easy Panorama feature, which lets you "sweep" your way to photos that go all the way around!
As you can see, the P7700 did a nice job of automatically stitching together this 180 degree panorama. The image size isn't very large, so these are best suited for web viewing.
Being an enthusiast camera, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the Coolpix P7700 has plenty of manual controls, as well. You can adjust the aperture and shutter speed, of course, fine-tune white balance (as shown earlier), and bracket for exposure or white balance. Manual focus is also available, with the ability to enlarge the center of the frame. For those who struggle with horizons, you'll definitely find the camera's single-axis electronic level to be helpful. And, if you were paying attention earlier, then you already know that the P7700 shoots RAW, using Nikon's NRW format.
Now I want to talk about the items found in the P7700's menu system. It's attractive enough and easy to navigate, though some help screens would've been nice. Here are the most interesting things that you'll find in the shooting and setup menus:
- Continuous: here's where you get at the camera's seven burst modes, as well as the interval (time-lapse) function; the time-lapse function is simple, letting you choose an interval of 30 secs - 10 mins between every photo; I'll have more on continuous shooting performance on the next page
- AF Area mode: select from face priority, 9-point auto, 99-point manual, center (normal or wide), subject tracking, or target finding AF; for this last item, the camera decides what the main subjects are, and gives them focus priority; for those wondering where the manual focus option is, it's accessed by pressing down on the four-way controller
- Autofocus mode: selects from single or full-time AF; the second option reduces focus times at the expense of battery life
- Built-in ND filter: the P7700 has a neutral density filter which you can activate using this option; the ND filter reduces the amount of light that hits the sensor by three stops, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds or wider apertures than you could without it
- Distortion control: reduces barrel distortion (and off by default); see example later in photo test section
- Active D-Lighting: preserves details in highlight and shadow areas, with three levels to choose from; this feature is off by default; see example below
- Zoom memory: lets you quickly jump to preset focus distances (e.g. 28, 35, 50, 85 mm) by holding down the Fn1 button when operating the zoom controller
- Monitor settings: here you can turn on post-shot review, adjust the LCD brightness, choose what information is displayed on the screen, as well as the style of the electronic level
- Digital zoom: normally I recommend avoiding using this feature; however, if you turn on the "crop" feature and lower the resolution a bit, you can get additional zoom power without a drop in image quality
- Zoom speed: select from normal, quiet, or an auto mode which uses normal when shooting stills, and quiet when recording movies
- Fn1 button: select what options you can quickly adjust when you hold down the Fn1 button plus the shutter release, rear dial, or scroll wheel
- Fn2 button: choose what this customizable button does: displaying the electronic level, live histogram, composition grid lines, or activating the ND filter
- Customize My Menu: choose which settings appear in the "My Menu", which is accessed with the Quick Mode dial
Active D-Lighting, found on many other Nikon cameras, aims to improve overall image contrast. This feature is off by default and doesn't seem to be available in Auto mode. There are three levels to choose from: low, normal, and high. Here's the effect of Active D-Lighting on our purple fringing torture tunnel:
|Active D-Lighting off
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|Active D-Lighting low
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|Active D-Lighting norm
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|Active D-Lighting high
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Thanks to the miracles of Photoshop, I was able to take the above sequence without a tripod, thus avoiding the eyes of the Stanford security people. Two things can be seen above. First, highlight clipping is reduced as you increase the level of Active D-Lighting. Just look at the sky on the right, which changes from white to blue. The other thing is that the hallway gets a bit darker, but I didn't find that terribly bothersome. There is also a modest increase in most as you crank up the ADL, but again, it's not horrible.
Now let's talk movies. First, I need to remind you that the only way to record videos on the Coolpix P7700 is to set the mode dial to one of the two movie positions. Why Nikon did not put a dedicated movie recording button on this camera is beyond me. Once you're there, you will be able to record Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 (30 fps) with stereo sound. There are two bit rates to choose from: 18.8 and 12.6 Mbps. If you don't need 1080p video, you can also record at 1280 x 720 or 640 x 480, both at 30 frames/second. You can keep recording until the file size hits 4GB or the elapsed time reaches 29 minutes, whichever comes first.
You can use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie, and continuous autofocus will keep things in focus for you. The VR (image stabilization) system is also at your disposal.
If the mode dial is set to the CSM (movie custom setting) mode, you'll be able to adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity prior to recording. A wind filter is also available for when you're shooting outdoors. If you've got an external microphone attached, then you'll be able to adjust its sensitivity via an option in the setup menu. You cannot take still images while recording a movie.
In addition to "regular movies", the Coolpix P7700 can also record at low or high frame rates, using the HS Movie feature. If you want movies to play in slow motion, then try recording at 60 or 120 fps (at 1280 x 720 or 640 x 480, respectively). If you want things to move faster than normal, then there's a 15 fps mode, which records at the 1080p resolution. Audio is not recorded in any of the HS Movie modes.
Something that really bugged me about the P7700 is the one second delay between the time you press the shutter release button and when movie recording actually starts.
Here are two sample movies for you, taken at the highest quality setting:
The video quality looks pretty good to my eyes!
|About a third of the Retouch menu||In-camera RAW processing|
Nikon has done a very nice job with their playback mode. Some of the notable features here include:
- Calendar view: quickly jump to photos taken on a specific day by repeatedly pressing the "zoom out" button
- Quick Retouch: enhance color and contrast at the press of a button
- D-Lighting: brighten the dark areas of a photo, with your choice of low, normal, and high settings; very handy!
- Special effects: choose from eight special effects to apply to photos, such as selective color, fisheye, and vignette
- Straighten: fix those crooked horizons
- NRW (RAW) processing: a feature every RAW-enabled camera should have, this lets you adjust the white balance, exposure, Picture Control, image size/quality, and distortion correction on a RAW image, which is then saved as a JPEG
- Edit movie: trim unwanted footage from a video clip, or capture a frame and save it as a still image
There are two things missing in playback mode, at least for me. First, there's no redeye removal tool. Second, when you're zoomed in on a photo, there's no way to move between photos while keeping the zoom and location locked.
By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos. Pressing the display button will give you a bit more information, plus an interactive histogram. What makes the histogram interactive is that you can move the cursor through it, and the camera will make areas in the photo with that brightness level blink.
The Coolpix P7700 moves between photos at an average clip. A low resolution version is shown instantly, with the sharper version appearing about half a second later.