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DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 8700
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 4, 2004
Last Updated: March 26, 2004

This review has been finalized after testing a production-level camera. Product shots have been re-shot where necessary, and all sample photos are from the production camera.

The Coolpix 8700 ($999) is the 8 Megapixel version of Nikon's very popular Coolpix 5700. Nikon didn't just drop in a larger CCD, though. There's also a larger LCD, AF-assist lamp, VGA movie mode, and support for PictBridge. And don't forget the carryover features from the 5700: an 8X zoom lens, hot shoe, swiveling LCD, and tons of manual controls.

The 8 Megapixel cameras I've tested thus far haven't exceeded my expectations. Will the 8700 do better? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

The Coolpix 8700 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

After including a tiny 16MB CompactFlash card with the CP5700, Nikon's stopped including a memory card altogether on the 8700. Many people upgrading to this camera probably have a few CompactFlash cards already, but if you don't, you'll need to factor this into the purchase price of the camera. I recommend a 512MB card as a "comfortable" size to start with. The camera can use Type I and Type II CF cards, including the Microdrive.

The 8700 uses the same EN-EL1 rechargeable battery as the 5700. This battery has 5.0 Wh of energy, which doesn't look so hot when compared to the batteries in recent Olympus, Minolta, and Sony cameras. Nikon doesn't tell you much about battery life, other than to say you can take around 210 photos per charge (with the flash used once every three shots).

The Coolpix 8700 has only one of the two usual issues with proprietary batteries. That is its price: $35 a pop. However, if you're in a bind, you can pop in a 2CR5 battery (not rechargeable) to get you through the day, which you can't do with most Li-ion batteries.

If you need more juice, consider the MB-E5700 power battery grip ($140). It makes your camera a little larger, but you'll be able to shoot for quite a while (it uses six AA batteries).

When it's time to recharge, just pop the EN-EL1 into the included external charger. It takes two hours to recharge the battery. This isn't one of those nice "plug it right into the wall" chargers -- you must use a power cable.

The 8700 includes a lens cap and strap to protect that nice lens.

There are many accessories available for the CP8700, which I've compiled into this handy table:

Accessory Model # Price Why you want it
Wide-angle lens WC-E80 $170 0.8X wide converter brings wide end down to 28 mm. Requires UR-E8 adapter ($15)
Telephoto lens TC-E15ED $160 1.5X tele converter gives you a 420 mm lens. Requires UR-E8 adapter ($15)
Fisheye lens FC-E9 $260 0.2X fisheye gives you... crazy photos! Requires UR-E12 adapter ($20)
Lens hoods HN-CP11
$30 Great for outdoor shooting; The CP11 can take 77mm filters.
External flash Many $120+ Nikon has many models available
Remote shutter release cable MC-EU1 $90 Take pictures without putting a hand on the camera with this outrageously-priced cable with a button at the end.
Battery pack MB-E5700 $140 Extended battery life + extra shutter release button
AC adapter EH-53 $25 Power the camera without using batteries
Soft case CS-CP11 ?? Protect your camera from the elements

So there you have it -- plenty of accessories!

Nikon includes the latest versions of NikonView with the 8700 (version 6.2). You can use the software to organize and to do basic photo editing (one of the new features in version 6 is redeye reduction). It's not Photoshop, but it's decent, and way better than older versions.

Main screen, NikonView 6 in Mac OS X

Edit screen, NikonView 6 in Windows XP

As you can see, you can edit quite a few properties of your images. You can also make basic adjustments to your RAW images, though only to exposure compensation and white balance. If you want to take full advantage of the RAW image format, or if you want to control the camera from your computer, you'll need to buy Nikon Capture 4.0 ($100).

The camera manual is much like the camera itself: complex, but complete. You'll have to dig a little to find what you want, but odds are, you're question will be answered in the manual.

Look and Feel

The CP8700 is a little larger than its predecessor, though you wouldn't know that by looking at it. Aside from a few color differences, the 8700 and 5700 look identical. Even with a little more bulk, the 8700 is still one of the smaller ultra zoom cameras out there.

It's very well built, with a metal frame (magnesium alloy to be exact) and good quality plastic parts (except for that darn door over the CF slot). It's easy to hold, though a larger right hand grip wouldn't hurt. One thing I don't care for on both the 5700 and 8700 are the tiny buttons scattered all over the body. Maybe you get used to their placement, but when you first start using it, you'll find yourself having to turn the camera to find what you're looking for.

Now, let's take a look at the dimensions of the Coolpix 8700 and its competitors:

  Dimensions (WxHxD) Volume (bulk) Mass
Canon PowerShot Pro1 4.6 x 2.8 x 3.5 in. 45.1 cu. in. 545 g
Minolta DiMAGE A2 4.5 x 3.4 x 4.5 in. 68.9 cu. in. 565 g
Nikon Coolpix 8700 4.5 x 4.1 x 3.1 in. 57.2 cu. in. 480 g
Olympus C-8080WZ 4.9 x 3.3 x 3.9 in. 63.1 cu. in. 660 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828 5.3 x 3.6 x 6.2 in. 118.3 cu. in. 955 g

As you can see, the 8700 is the one of the smaller and lighter cameras in the group. Not pocket-sized by any means, but still easy to carry around.

Let's begin our tour of this camera now, beginning with the front.

The Coolpix 8700 has the same F2.8-F4.2, 8X optical zoom lens as its predecessor. The focal range of the lens is 8.9 - 71.2 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 280 mm. All of the lenses on the other 8 Megapixel cameras start at 28 mm, so keep that in mind if you take photos that require a wider lens. The lens itself isn't threaded, but the ring around it is. So if you want to use conversion lenses or filters, you'll first need to get either the step-up ring (for lenses) or the lens hood (for 77mm filters). The extra-low dispersion lens elements help reduce purple fringing -- often a problem on these big zoom lenses.

Directly above the lens is the pop-up flash. This flash has a working range of 0.5 - 4.1 m at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 2.7 m at telephoto. The flash recharge time was very short. If the built-in flash doesn't fire off enough light for you, you can also attach an external flash to the hot shoe you'll see in a moment. The flash sensor is just below-left of the flash bulb.

To the right of the flash sensor is -- get ready for this -- an AF-assist lamp! All I can say is: it's about time. Obviously, the flash must be popped up in order for this to work, so the camera will open it up when it needs help focusing.

Just below the "Coolpix 8700" label is the camera's microphone. To the left of that is the self-timer lamp, which is also used for redeye reduction.

The good news is that the the Coolpix 8700 has the same flip-out, rotating LCD as its predecessor. As you can see above and below, it can twist and turn in a number of directions. If you turn it toward your subject, the image will be correctly oriented on the screen.

The even better news about the LCD is that it's actually gotten larger, reversing a recent Nikon trend (was 1.5, now 1.8 inches). The screen is beautiful: it's sharp (134k pixels), bright, and motion is very smooth. Not only can you adjust the screen brightness, but you can change the hue as well.

Something else that's been improved a lot is the 8700's electronic viewfinder (EVF), which is one of the best I've seen. It packs a whopping 235,000 pixels onto a screen just 0.44" in size (diagonally). The screen is super sharp, and the EVF is actually useable in low light, since the camera boosts the sensitivity a bit (the same goes for the LCD). There's a slight hesitation when you halfway press the shutter release button, but the image doesn't outright freeze like on some other EVFs.

Benefits of the EVF include the ability to see (almost) what the camera sees (97%) frame coverage, as well as all the menus and displays found on the main LCD. Downsides include increased power consumption, and a view that still doesn't come close to a real optical viewfinder.

To the lower-right of the EVF is the button that switches between the EVF and LCD. To the right of that is the zoom controller, which moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in two seconds. There are actually two zoom speeds: high and low -- the two second measurement was at the high speed setting. For real precision, the low speed is your best choice. In both cases, the zoom seemed a little unresponsive at times.

Below the zoom controller are four buttons, a switch, and the four-way controller. I'll cover the buttons first. Those four buttons to the right of the LCD are for:

That switch moves the camera between record and playback mode. The four-way controller (which Nikon calls the multi selector) is used for menu navigation.

The Coolpix 8700's hot shoe lets you use most modern Nikon flashes, including the SB-80DX/50DX/30/27/23. You can also use a non-Nikon flash, though you'll probably need to manually configure your flash's settings. Do note that the zoom head, redeye reduction feature, or AF illuminator on an external flash are not supported by the Coolpix 8700 (the 5700 was the same way).

To the right of the hot shoe is the LCD info display, which shows things like shutter speed, aperture, battery life, shots remaining, and flash setting. By pressing the little lightbulb button to its right, you can turn on a backlight for the screen.

Next to that lightbulb button is the function button, which, by default, moves the camera among auto, scene, and two custom modes (you can have the button do other things; use the setup mode to do so). In auto mode, the camera is totally point-and-shoot -- you can't get to the menu at all. Custom modes have full menu access, and the camera can store two sets of your favorite settings. Scene mode offers varies shooting situations -- pick the one you want and the camera does the rest. The available scenes are:

Below the function button is the command dial, which is what you'll use for adjusting the manual controls on the 8700.

Above the backlight and function buttons are two more buttons, plus the power switch and shutter release button. The mode button moves the camera between program, aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual modes.

In program mode, the camera chooses both the shutter speed and the aperture. A "flexible program" (AKA program shift) feature is also available. By turning the command dial you can cycle through various aperture/shutter speed combinations -- this comes in handy when you need a faster shutter speed or more depth-of-field, but don't want to mess with the manual modes.

Shutter priority mode lets you choose the shutter speed, while the camera selects the proper aperture. The shutter speed range is 8 - 1/4000 sec. Do note that at 1/4000 sec, the aperture is locked at F7.4 (at telephoto) or limited to F5 - F8 at wide-angle.

Aperture priority mode is just the opposite. You choose the aperture (from a range of F2.8 - F8) and the camera picks the right shutter speed.

In full manual (M) mode, you pick both the shutter speed and the aperture (both ranges are the same). This is also where you'll get to the bulb exposure mode. You can either keep the shutter open for as long as you hold the shutter release down (up to 10 minutes; a remote cable is highly recommended for this), or you can choose how long to keep the shutter open for (30 sec - 10 min).

Back to the tour now. The button to the right of the mode button is for exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments) as well as for adding 20 sec voice clips to your images.

Over on this side of the camera, you'll find four tiny multi-function buttons. These are the buttons that you'll need to memorize... because they're hard to find and they do many things! The buttons do one thing if you press them, and another if you hold them down and rotate the command dial. Here's what each of them do (left to right, top to bottom):

Press button Hold button, turn command dial
Flash setting (Auto, flash off, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, slow sync) ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
Quality (RAW, HI, Fine, Normal, Basic) Size (8M, 5M, 3M, 2M, 1M, PC, TV, 3:2)
AE/AF lock N/A
Focus setting (Autofocus, infinity, macro, self-timer) Manual focus

The RAW quality mode produces unprocessed, uncompressed image data, which you must post-process on your computer in order to convert it to other formats. You can edit the properties of the image (such as white balance, color, etc), allowing for a virtual reshoot of the image. Do note that you'll need something like Nikon Capture to take full advantage of the RAW format (as of this writing, Photoshop CS cannot read the RAW files).

TIFF ("HI") mode is an uncompressed format as well, but it's a standard that most software can read. It takes up much more space than a RAW file, though.

Manual focus

Manual focus lets you use the command dial to set the focus distance yourself. By using the "focus confirmation" feature, the image will be sharply outlined when the camera thinks it's focused. There's no frame enlargement feature like on some other cameras. The meter showing the focus distance on the LCD isn't terribly useful, either -- how about some real numbers. Also, a manual focus ring would've been a nice touch on the 8700.

Over on the right side (next to the strap clip), under a rubber cover, you'll find the 8700's I/O ports. These include DC-in (for optional AC adapter), A/V out, and USB (1.1).

Below those items, you'll find the camera's speaker.

On the other side of the CP8700, you'll find the CompactFlash Type II slot. As I mentioned earlier, the 8700 supports the Microdrive and other high capacity cards.

The plastic door covering the slot feels quite flimsy -- just as it did on the 5700.

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. You can see the metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. The tripod mount is located in the center of the body.

The EN-EL1 battery is shown on the right.

Using the Nikon Coolpix 8700

Record Mode

Finally, a live histogram in record mode!

The Coolpix 8700 takes about 3.5 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.

Autofocus speeds were very good -- comparable to other cameras in this class. Typically it took around 1/2 sec to lock focus at wide-angle, and a little longer at telephoto. If the AF-assist lamp is used, it'll take a second or more. The camera focused well in low light -- a pleasant change from the 5700.

Shutter lag wasn't an issue in most situations, except at slower shutter speeds, where you should really be using a tripod anyway. Turning on "quick response" in the monitor options section of the setup menu may slightly reduce shutter lag, but I couldn't notice any major difference.

Shot-to-shot speed was about average, with a three second delay before you can take another shot (with the post-shot review feature off). As was the case on the CP5400, the camera is locked up while it is finishing saving the image to the memory card. You can't take another picture or enter the menu system while this is occurring.

And speaking of delays, the camera will be locked up for around 16 seconds while a TIFF file is saved. For RAW images, the delay is around 7 seconds.

While previous Nikon's have done it, I couldn't find a way to delete a photo as it's being saved to the memory card. You must enter Quick Play mode.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the Coolpix 8700:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size

# images on 256MB card

(3264 x 2448)
RAW 12 MB 20
HI (TIFF) 23 MB 10
Fine 4 MB 64
Normal 2 MB 126
Basic 1 MB 244

(3264 x 2176)

HI (TIFF) 21 MB 11
Fine 4 MB 71
Normal 2 MB 142
Basic 900 KB 279
(2592 x 1944)
Fine 3 MB 100
Normal 2 MB 195
Basic 650 KB 373
(2048 x 1536)
Fine 2 MB 159
Normal 800 KB 313
Basic 420 KB 602
(1600 x 1200)
Fine 960 KB 252
Normal 500 KB 489
Basic 270 KB 870
(1280 x 960)
Fine 630 KB 391
Normal 330 KB 712
Basic 190 KB 1306

(1024 X 768)

Fine 420 KB 602
Normal 230 KB 979
Basic 130 KB 1567

(640 x 480)

Fine 190 KB 1306
Normal 110 KB 1959
Basic 80 KB 2612

Boy you've gotta catch your breath after reading that! Only thing worth mentioning here is that the RAW mode is only available in 8M mode, and TIFF in the 8M and 3:2 modes.

Images are named DSCN####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

Nikon has taken a page from Olympus' playbook by offering a customizable "My Menu" that is shown before the full menu. You can put whatever you want in this menu. The full menu can be entered by choosing the "show all menus" item on the first page. The menu system is pretty complex, and takes a while to figure out.

The complete menu options are:

Time for some further explanation on some of those.

The Coolpix 8700 has impressive white balance controls. First, you can use the white balance preset feature to use a white or gray card as a reference, for accurate color in any lighting. Also, for all modes except auto and preset, you can fine tune the white balance, from -3 to +3 in 1 step increments. As you lower the number, the colors move toward yellow and red. As you raise the number, images tend to be more blue.

There are also three fluorescent white balance settings: white, daylight/neutral white, and daylight.

Nikon's trademark Best Shot Selector (BSS) has received an upgrade on the 8700. The old BSS feature is still there: take up to 10 pictures in a row, and the camera magically picks the sharpest one, and tosses the rest. But wait, there's more: now there are three exposure-related BSS modes:

Do note that the camera takes five, rather than ten, images in the exposure BSS modes.

The auto bracketing feature will take 3 or 5 shots in a row, each with a different exposure compensation value. You can choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, and ±1.0EV. White balance bracketing works in a similar way. One shot is taken with the currently selected white balance, another with a reddish cast, and one more with a bluish cast.

In the setup menu (which you get to in the main menu), you'll find the following options:

Now, onto photo quality!

Like most Nikon cameras, the CP8700 is a macro-lovers dream. You can get as close to your subject as 3 cm (1.2 inches), but first you need to put the lens into its "sweet spot" (right in the middle of the focal range). To do this, turn on macro mode and adjust the zoom until the "flower" on the LCD turns green. I did a little test to see what the minimum recordable area is -- and I think it's around 37 x 29 mm.

The 8700 did a very nice job with our famous subject. The image is sharp and detailed (you can easily spot dust), and the colors are accurate.

F3.9, 4 sec

The night shot came out fairly well, though it's a little too soft for my tastes. I suppose I could've done a slightly longer exposure as well. There's a bit of purple fringing, but it's really not that bad. With full control over shutter speed, including a 10 minute bulb mode, you can take shots just like this with ease.

Now, let's take a look at how the 8700 performs at higher ISO sensitivities:

ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

Things tended to get noisier quicker on the 8700 than they did on the Canon Pro1 or Sony DSC-F828 (view those reviews to compare).

Hey, it's our brand new, heavy duty distortion test! With our new logo, as well, which will debut sometime this spring. Anyhow, the 8700 shows pretty mild barrel distortion at wide-angle, with no signs of vignetting (dark corners). Barrel distortion is most noticeable in tight quarters, or when you take pictures of things with straight lines (like buildings).

Redeye is pretty mild on the 8700, as you can see.

Two problems have plagued the various 8 Megapixel cameras that I've tested: noise and purple fringing. Nikon has a pretty good handle on the purple fringing (aka chromatic aberrations). I see less purple in the images from the 8700 than the competition. One area that could use some extra work is in the noise department -- it's higher-than-average, most notably in shadows. If you're downsizing or doing smaller-sized prints, the noise isn't an issue. For full-size viewing or large prints, you'll get a nicer image if you post-process in something like NoiseNinja.

Something else that other folks noticed is that colors are little on the neutral side. This personally didn't bother me, but you may feel differently. A simple way to boost the saturation is via the option in the record menu. The color chart below shows you the differences:

Normal saturation

+1 saturation

_+2 saturation

Images are quite sharp for the most part. This extra sharpness is partially responsible for the extra noise in the photos that I took. Overall, though, I do give the 8700 a "thumbs up" for photo quality. Photos are good to start with, and even better with a little tweaking.

Don't just take my word for it -- have a look at the photo gallery and decide if the CP8700's photo quality is acceptable to you!

Movie Mode

The good news is that the Coolpix 8700 can record VGA (640 x 480) movies at 30 frames/second, with sound. The bad news is that the clip length is limited to just 35 seconds, regardless of the size of your memory card.

To take longer movies, you can downsize to 320 x 240, 15 frames/second -- here you can take 3 minute clips.

But wait, there's more. A third movie mode is called time lapse movie. The camera takes a still photo at a set interval, and throws it into a silent movie up to 35 seconds in length (at the VGA resolution). The interval can be 10 sec, 30 sec, or 1, 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes. You can use the AE lock feature to base the exposure on the first shot taken.

And finally, there's a sepia movie mode, which takes up to 3 minutes of brownish video at 5 frames/second.

You cannot use the zoom lens while filming. Movies are saved in QuickTime format.

Here's a large sample movie for you:

Click to play movie (11.2MB, 640 x 480, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Coolpix 8700 has a very nice playback mode. All the basic features are here, including slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you zoom in up to 6X (in 0.2X increments), and then scroll around in the image. This feature is well-implemented on the 8700. Once you're zoomed in, you can crop images into a new file.

Other interesting features include a "hide image" option, the ability to copy images from one folder to another, and a function which marks images for automatic transfer to your computer. Pressing the "small pic" button on the back of the camera will create a 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 image, suitable for e-mailing.

One thing I've always liked about Nikon cameras it their ability to delete a group of images, rather than just one or all. That's still a feature on the 8700.

If you like extra info about your photos, then this is your camera. Above is just a small sample of what is available by rotating the command dial.

The 8700 moves through images at a good pace. It shows a low res version instantly, with the high res image appearing about two seconds later.

How Does it Compare?

The Nikon Coolpix 8700 addressed many of the complaints that I had with the 5700. Where the 5700 had a tiny 1.5" LCD, the 8700 has a beautiful 1.8" screen. While the 5700 had no AF-assist lamp and was notorious for poor light focusing, the 8700 is exactly the opposite. There were other things that did not change, namely full support of Nikon's Speedlites, clunky controls and menus, a cheap plastic door over the CF card slot, and the lack of a manual focus ring. And some things got worse -- noise levels are (understandably) higher on the 8700 than they were on the 5700.

The Coolpix 8700 is a solid performer, though, and it holds up well against the 8MP competition. In terms of size, the 8700 is the lightest camera in the 8MP pack, and you won't tire of carrying it around. Nikon seems to have a decent handle on purple fringing, but noise levels are indeed above average. Performance is about average, except during the period where the camera is locked up while it finishes saving images to the memory card. There are also lengthy delays while shooting in RAW and especially TIFF mode. The 8700 is an excellent choice for macro shooters, with a 3 cm minimum distance to the subject.

Although it has an "easy" mode, I still find the controls and menus to be confusing. While battery life is decent, you'll find that the other 8MP cameras have much more powerful batteries than the CP8700. Also decent is the camera's VGA movie mode, though I was disappointed with the 35 second time limit.

All things considered, I recommend the 8700. Each 8MP camera that I've tested thus far has its own strengths and weaknesses, so they're hard to compare directly. I would take a close look at the 8700 and the competition to see which one you like best. If you have a Coolpix 5700 and have some money to burn, the AF-assist lamp and larger LCD make upgrading a temptation that you may not be able to resist!

What I liked:

What I didn't care for:

Other 8 Megapixel cameras to consider including the Canon PowerShot Pro1, Minolta DiMAGE A2, Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix 8700 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Check out the gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Read another review of the CP8700 over at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

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