Originally Posted: December 1, 2012
Last Updated: December 2, 2012
The Coolpix P7700 ($499) is Nikon's flagship compact camera, and the replacement to last year's P7100. In a way, Nikon has done the same thing with the P7700 that Canon did with their PowerShot G15: improved the lens, bumped up the resolution (for both stills and movies), and removed a popular feature (the G15 lost its rotating LCD, while the P7700 no longer has an optical viewfinder). While the Coolpix P7700 has the same 28 - 200 mm range as the P7000 and P7100, its lens is much "faster", with a maximum aperture range of F2.0 - F4.0. This means that more light comes through the lens, letting you use faster shutter speeds, and hopefully a lower ISO sensitivity. Bottom line: better image quality in low light.
Other features include a 12.2 Megapixel CMOS sensor, a boatload of manual controls, 8 frame/second continuous shooting, built-in wireless flash control, Full HD video recording, and support for a wide variety of accessories. Oh, and you like dials, the Coolpix P7700 is your camera, as it has plenty!
The full list of changes between last year's Coolpix P7100 and the new P7700 can be found in the following table:
If you don't mind the loss of the optical viewfinder, then the Coolpix P7700 is a very nice upgrade over the P7100 that came before it. We'll see if performance -- something that has plagued past P6000/7000 series models -- has improved later in the review.
And on that note, let's get started with our review of the Nikon Coolpix P7700!
What's in the Box?
The Coolpix P7700 has a pretty standard bundle for a camera in the year 2012. Here's what you'll find when you open the box:
- The 12.2 effective Megapixel Coolpix P7700 digital camera
- EN-EL14 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Lens cap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Nikon ViewNX 2
- 32 page Quick Start Guide (printed) + Reference Manual (on CD-ROM)
Nikon has built 86MB of memory into the Coolpix P7700. That won't hold very many photos (especially if RAW is involved), so you're going to want to buy a memory card right away, assuming that you don't have one already. The P7700 uses SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, and I'd recommend a 4GB card if you'll mostly be taking stills, and an 8GB or 16GB card if Full HD video is more your thing. Buying a high speed card (Class 6 or higher) is recommended for best camera performance.
The Coolpix P7700 uses the same EN-EL14 lithium-ion battery that's used on several other Nikon cameras. This battery holds 7.6 Wh of energy, which pretty good for a compact camera. Here's how that translates into battery life:
While its numbers are down slightly compared to the Coolpix P7100 that came before it, the P7700's numbers are still well above the group average. Should want to pick up a spare EN-EL14 battery, one with a Nikon label will set you back around $38.
When you run out of juice, just pop the EN-EL14 into the included charger. This charger, which plugs right into the wall, takes just 90 minutes to "fill up" the battery.
As with all D-SLRs, the sky's the limit when it comes it comes to accessories on the Coolpix P7700. Here are some of the most important ones:
I should add that you don't need the lens hood in order to use a filter on the Coolpix P7700. The lens itself is threaded for 40.5 mm filters, and Nikon makes an MC protector (they call it a neutral color filter) that you can use to protect your lens. I see no reason why other types of filters wouldn't work equally well.
Bundled software includes Nikon Transfer, ViewNX 2, and Short Movie Creator (all three are for both Mac and Windows). Nikon Transfer does just as it sounds -- it moves your photos and movies from the camera to your PC. ViewNX 2 is a pretty standard image organizer, with a good set of editing tools for both JPEG and RAW images. You can adjust things like sharpness/contrast/brightness/and color, brighten shadows, straighten a crooked photo, remove redeye, or reduce chromatic aberrations. If it's a RAW file you're working with, you can also adjust the exposure and white balance. Unfortunately, RAW editing is very slow, even on the 12-core Mac Pro that I have in my office.
If you'd prefer to use Adobe Photoshop for your RAW editing, then just make sure that you have the latest version of the Camera Raw plug-in.
The ViewNX software can also be used to edit videos produced by the Coolpix P7700. Also included is something called Short Movie Creator, and I think Nikon can explain what it does better than me, so here goes. "Short Movie Creator analyzes the registered source files and automatically edits the movie based on the settings that you apply." I haven't tried it, instead using Final Cut Pro to work with the P7700's videos.
Unfortunately, Nikon is keeping up with most of the other camera manufacturers by splitting the P7700's documentation into two parts. Inside the box is a 32 page "Quick Start Guide" which provides just enough information to get you up and running. For more detail, you'll have to view the full manual, which is in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. The full manual should answer almost any question you might have about the camera, though you'll have to wade through a lot of "notes" and fine print to find what you're looking for. Instructions for using the bundled software are installed onto your computer.
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
View Full Size Image
|HDR on (level 1)
View Full Size Image
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
View Full Size Image
|Active D-Lighting low
View Full Size Image
|Active D-Lighting norm
View Full Size Image
|Active D-Lighting high
View Full Size Image
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.
Performance & Photo Quality
Shooting performance on the Coolpix P7700 is average in most respects. The area in which it was most disappointing was in low light, where it's noticeably slower than the competition (I really noticed this while taking our night shots). RAW write times were also poor. Here's a summary:
Yikes, what's up with those slow RAW write times? Doesn't bode well for continuous shooting, that's for sure.
Speaking of which, there are a whopping seven continuous shooting modes on the Coolpix P7700. There are three at full resolution (at 1, 4, and 8 frames/second), two at 1280 x 960 (at 60 or 120 fps), plus two unique features. One of those unique features is Best Shot Selector, which has been around for almost as long as this website. In that mode, the camera takes up to 10 photos in a row and saves the sharpest one. The other feature is called Multi-shot 16, which takes 16 photos at 30 frames/second and puts them into a 5 Megapixel collage.
How does the P7700 perform in the full resolution burst modes? Let's find out:
I was not impressed with the full resolution burst modes on the Coolpix P7700. The camera can shoot quickly, but the buffer fills quickly and then takes up to 15 seconds to clear, with the camera unusable during that time. The LCD is also blacked out while shooting at the medium and high speed settings. The low speed option lets you take a much larger amount of photos, but the burst rate is poor. Something else that concerned me is that my camera crashed while a couple of times while saving photos to the memory card at the high speed settings.
Let's move on to our photo tests now!
While the Coolpix P7700 did a good job with our macro test subject overall, it did struggle a bit with color accuracy. Most of the colors look good, though the "face" is a bit too pink, and the red cloak is way more "fluorescent" than in reality. Aside from that, the figurine is super sharp, with lots of detail captured. I don't see any noise or detail smudging here, and I certainly wouldn't expect to.
There are two macro modes on the P7700. In normal macro mode, your minimum focus distance ranges from 2 cm at wide-angle to 4 cm from roughly 1X - 3X (the macro flower will turn green on the LCD). At full telephoto, the minimum distance rises to 45 cm. If you want to restrict focusing to just close-up subjects, there's a second macro mode for that.
The P7700 turned did an impressive job with our night scene. The exposure looks good, with less highlight clipping than you usually see from a compact camera. The buildings are very sharp, and there aren't any funny color casts. Noise wasn't an issue, and purple fringing levels were very low.
Let's use this same night scene to see how the Coolpix P7700 performed across its entire sensitivity range:
ISO 6400 (H)
As you'd expect, there's nearly no difference between the ISO 80 and 100 shots. Noise increases a bit at ISO 200, and more so at ISO 400. Detail loss doesn't become noticeable until ISO 800, which makes this setting my recommended stopping point for JPEG shooters (more on RAW in a moment). While the ISO 1600 photo may be usable for small prints or web viewing, there is quite a bit of mottling and detail loss. Things continue to go downhill at ISO 3200, and the "high" setting of ISO 6400 should be avoided.
I always like throwing in a good RAW vs. JPEG comparison, and here it is for the night shots, at the ISO 800 and 1600 settings:
The first thing that I noticed when doing these conversions was the improvement in color. Look closer and you'll also see that highlight clipping has been reduced slightly. And, of course, there's also a lot more detail in the RAW conversions, making the retouched ISO 1600 photo a lot more usable than the original JPEG.
We'll do this test again under our studio lamps in a moment.
I must admit that I was a bit worried about redeye problems when I saw how close together the flash and lens are. Thankfully, the P7700 has no such problem, due to the digital removal system that runs after the photo is taken.
|Distortion Correction off (default)||Distortion Correction on|
There's a moderate amount of barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the Coolpix's 28 - 200 mm lens. Nikon has provided a distortion correction feature that does a good job of "flattening" everything out. My only question is why this feature is on by default! Two lens issues that I did not see on the chart or in the real world were corner blurring or vignetting.
Now it's time to see how the Coolpix P7700 performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. As I noted in the macro test, the camera seemed to struggle a bit with the white balance in our studio, producing rather flat-looking colors. Since we're looking at noise in this test, I'm going to overlook that. Here's how the P7700 performed from ISO 80 to 6400 in normal lighting:
ISO 6400 (H)
Everything is clean through ISO 200, with just a touch of noise appearing at ISO 400 (as well as a drop in color saturation). Things are still looking pretty good at ISO 800, and even ISO 1600 is usable for smaller prints or downsizing for the web. Things really start to go downhill at ISO 3200, where quite a bit of detail is lost. Once again, I'd avoid using the ISO 6400 setting.
Let's do another RAW vs. JPEG comparison, this time with the two highest sensitivities: ISO 3200 and 6400.
As with the night shots, color gets a nice boost when you shoot RAW and convert the files with Photoshop. You get a lot of detail back at ISO 3200, making larger prints a possibility at that sensitivity. While there's also an improvement at ISO 6400, I'm not convinced that you can do much with photos taken at that sensitivity.
Since many people are comparing the Coolpix P7700 against the Canon PowerShot G15 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7, I put together a comparison of how those three cameras compare at ISO 1600 and 3200 back when I reviewed the G15. Here it is again:
It's pretty obvious that the PowerShot G15 was the winner here, at least when using the JPEG format. The other two cameras may be able to match or exceed the image quality of G15 by using RAW, but using that format opens up a whole other can of worms due to all the variables in image processing. The Coolpix P7700 isn't bad by any means, but the Canon does a bit better.
Overall, I think that the Coolpix P7700 produces the best image quality of any compact Nikon camera on the market today. The camera's biggest flaw is related to exposure: it frequently overexposes by anywhere from 1/3 to 1 stop. Good thing the P7700 has that handy exposure compensation dial. As with most compacts, the P7700 will clip highlights at times, though you can use the Active D-Lighting feature to reduce that. While colors were relatively dull in our studio, they were more vivid in real life. Naturally, you can use the Picture Control feature to crank up the color saturation if you want photos with more "punch". Subjects were nice and sharp, from one edge of the frame to the other. As you saw in the preceding tests, the P7700 keeps noise levels low through ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in good light -- both better than average. Purple fringing was moderate at times, though it was not frequent enough for me to knock points off of the P7700's score.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at the photo gallery for the Coolpix P7700, and then decide if its photo quality meets your expectations!
The Nikon Coolpix P7700 is a premium compact camera that holds up well against the best cameras in its class. It's a mid-sized camera with a solid, magnesium alloy body that feels good in your hands. While it has a lot of buttons and dials, I didn't find them to be overwhelming. Something I definitely did not like is the Quick Mode dial, which is much more cumbersome than the shortcut menus used by everyone else. Two other design annoyances include an exposure compensation dial that's too easy to accidentally turn, and the lack of a dedicated movie recording button. One of the biggest improvements since the Coolpix P7100 is in the lens department. The P7700 sports a fast F2.0-4.0, 7.1X optical zoom lens with a focal range equivalent to 28 - 200 mm. As you'd expect, the P7700 sports an image stabilization system, which Nikon calls Vibration Reduction. On the back of the camera is another new feature: a 3-inch LCD that flips out to the side and rotates 270 degrees. The screen is sharp (thanks to its 921k pixels) and both outdoor and low light visibility are good. Something that got axed on this latest Coolpix is the optical viewfinder, which is a shame. The P7700's flash is fairly powerful and can serve as a wireless controller, which is rare for this class. The camera supports both wired and wireless remote controls, an external flash, stereo microphone, and GPS receiver.
The Coolpix P7700 has a broad set of features which should satisfy both the beginner and enthusiast. If you want a point-and-shoot experience, then you'll be able to choose from a standard auto mode or the handy auto scene selector. And since every camera in 2012 must have special effects, Nikon has equipped the P7700 with ten of them. There are also HDR and sweep panorama features, though the former could be better. The enthusiast crowd will really dig the Coolpix P7700. You'll find the usual manual controls: shutter speed, aperture, white balance (with fine-tuning and bracketing), and focus. An Active D-Lighting feature will reduce highlight clipping, and an electronic level (single-axis) will prevent your horizons from being crooked. You'll also get two customizable shortcut buttons, a menu you can create yourself, and three spots on the mode dial for your favorite settings. And yes, the Coolpix P7700 can shoot RAW files, too. The P7700 has a capable movie mode, with 1080/30p resolution, stereo sound recording, and manual controls. Unfortunately, you need to switch the mode dial to one of two spots in order to use it, which makes spontaneous video recording difficult. Something else that slows things down is a 1 second lag between the time you press the shutter release button and when the movie starts recording.
Camera performance is a mixed bag. The Coolpix P7700 starts up quickly enough, taking just one second to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. Autofocus speeds are about average in most situations, except in low light, where it's on the slow side. I noticed a tiny bit of shutter lag at slower shutter speeds, though you should be using the flash or a tripod in those circumstances anyway. Shot-to-shot speeds ranged from 1.5 seconds for JPEGs to a sluggish 4 seconds for RAW images. The P7700 has a ton of continuous shooting modes, though only three shoot at full resolution. The camera was able to shoot at well over the advertised 8 frames/second number, though only for six photos. However, since the LCD is blacked out during shooting, tracking a moving subject is nearly impossible. There are also lengthy 15 second write times when shooting RAW in the faster continuous modes. While its battery life has dropped a bit since its predecessor, the Coolpix P7700 still produces numbers that are above average in the premium compact class.
The Coolpix P7700's photos definitely left a positive impression. The only real flaw is that the P7700 overexposes (by 1/3 to 1 stop) pretty consistently. Thankfully that's easy to work around, using either exposure compensation or bracketing. Highlight clipping can also be an issue at times, though it's no worse than other cameras in this class, and it can be reduced by the aforementioned Active D-Lighting feature. While colors were a bit dull under our studio lamps, they were a lot more pleasing in the real world. Sharpness is very good, with minimal corner blurring. Noise is kept under wraps until you hit ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in good light, which is better than on your typical compact camera. You will be able to shoot at sensitivities one stop higher by using the RAW format and performing some easy post-processing in Photoshop. Purple fringing popped up at times, though it was never horrible. Much to my surprise, redeye was not an issue, so hat's off to Nikon for that.
Overall, the Coolpix P7700 is arguably Nikon's best flagship compact in a long time. It takes great photos and has a host of features that enthusiasts will appreciate. That said, it's not my favorite camera in this class, due to its sluggish RAW write times, clunky Quick Mode dial, and movie mode annoyances (namely lag and the lack of a dedicated recording button). Despite these issues (and a few more), the Coolpix P7700 is still well worth your consideration.
- Very good photo quality, with better-than-average noise performance
- Impressive F2.0-4.0, 28 - 200 mm lens
- Sharp 3-inch rotating LCD has good outdoor/low light visibility
- Tons of manual controls, including RAW support
- Continuous shooting at over 9 frames/second (though not for long)
- Customizable buttons, menu, and spots on mode dial
- Active D-Lighting reduces highlight clipping
- Handy HDR and sweep panorama features
- Built-in ND filter
- Electronic level (though only single-axis)
- Full HD video recording w/stereo sound, continuous AF, and manual controls
- Redeye not a problem
- Nice playback mode, complete with RAW editing
- Wireless flash control (a rarity on compact cameras)
- Above average battery life
- Stereo mic input + support for GPS and wired/wireless remotes
What I didn't care for:
- Frequently overexposes
- Low light focusing can be sluggish
- Lengthy write times when using RAW
- LCD is blacked out when shooting continuously (at medium/high speeds)
- Quick Mode dial not so quick; a traditional shortcut menu would be a lot better
- No more optical viewfinder
- One second lag before movie recording begins; no dedicated movie recording button
- Can't access memory card or battery when using a tripod
- Full manual on CD-ROM
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Coolpix P7700 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the Coolpix P7700's photos turned out? Then check out our gallery!