BUILD AND DESIGN
The Nikon Coolpix P7000 features a metal body and the look of a classic rangefinder camera - materials, fit and finish seem good and in keeping with the camera's price point. From a distance one would be hard pressed to differentiate a P7000 from a G12 - besides MSRPs, these two contemporaries share general shape and virtually identical dimensions with the Nikon weighing in about an ounce less. The P7000 may be a "compact," but you don't slip this compact into a shirt pocket - a larger jacket pocket is required.
Ergonomics and Controls
The P7000 has a modestly built-up grip area on the right front of the camera body, covered with a rubberized material - another patch of similar material designates the thumb rest at the rear of the body. Single-handed shooting feels secure, although I'd like the rubberized stuff to feel a bit more tacky.
The camera top and back are covered with controls. Aside from the thumb rest, the rear is taken up by the monitor, viewfinder, an assortment of buttons, the rotary multi-selector and a command dial. The top is filled with the pop-up flash, quick menu button, mode dial, shutter button/zoom lever, power button, exposure compensation dial and Av/Tv button. Somehow, Nikon has filled every square inch with something yet managed to very effectively minimize conflicts.
The shooting finger falls naturally to the shutter button and overlays the Av/Tv button with minimal contact with the exposure compensation dial, and that dial seems to require enough force to turn that inadvertent activations should be rare; I had none during my time with the P7000. The thumb lays naturally with no real contact to any other controls.
An Av/Tv button? On a Nikon? I never cared for Canon's designating aperture priority on their cameras with "Av" (aperture value) and shutter priority with "Tv" (time value), and why Nikon should choose to introduce this nomenclature on the P7000 is unclear. The P7000 uses the traditional P, A, S and M designations for the manual shooting modes, so where does "Av/Tv" fit in?
The default purpose of the button is to select whether the rotary multi-selector or command dial changes aperture/shutter speed in the P, A, S or M shooting modes. Or, it can be customized to view or hide the virtual horizon, histogram or framing grid, or to change settings on the built-in ND filter. Sounds more like a "function" button to me, but the P7000 already has one of those (which can be customized to perform certain functions when pushed in conjunction with the shutter release button) so why not something like "A/S" ?
The P7000 allows for a fair number of image settings to be set on the fly in the manual modes via external controls - the quick menu dial offers access to ISO, WB, auto exposure bracketing, image quality/size, my menu (which allows quick access to six frequently accessed user-specified menu items) and tone level information. Manual exposure compensation is available via the exposure compensation dial, and available in auto modes as well.
Menus and Modes
There are three main menus in the P7000: shooting, playback and setup. Depending on the individual shooting mode selected, not all may be available. For example, all three are available in the manual modes, but there is no shooting menu in the auto mode and shooting menu becomes scene menu in scene modes (and is used to select the individual scene, nothing more). As you might suspect, there's a movie menu in that mode, but it consists of only single or continuous AF options and a wind cut enable/disable setting.
Once you enter any menu, they're fairly simple and intuitive. The format command for memory media and internal memory is located in the setup menu.
There are nine major shooting modes in the P7000:
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor has a 921,000 dot composition and is adjustable for 5 levels of brightness. We measured peak brightness at 306 nits and the contrast ratio was 900:1. Values over 500 nits and contrast ratios with at least a 500-800:1 ratio tend to describe monitors that do better in bright outdoor conditions for image composition, capture and review. The three Nikon products I've reviewed since we began measuring these values (D7000, D3100, P7000) have all had peak brightness on the low end of the scale, but contrast on the high end - and each has done pretty well outside, although very bright conditions could overwhelm any of them. The high contrast seems to compensate for the relatively low brightness. Monitor coverage is about 97% for shooting functions and approximately 100% for playback.
The optical viewfinder offers about 80% coverage and features a diopter adjustment for varying eyesight acuity. That 80% means all kinds of detail not apparent through the viewfinder will find its way onto the final capture, so viewfinder use is best limited to shots where things showing up on the edges of the frame are not a concern. There's no shooting information displayed in the viewfinder. I mentioned at the outset of the review that the P7000 has the look of a retro rangefinder camera, and it serves up some classic rangefinder parallax error for folks who use the viewfinder to compose macro images.
Parallax error refers to the change in view of the captured image that occurs because the viewfinder is separate from the lens - on the P7000, there's about 1.5 inches of offset between the centerline of the viewfinder and the lens, and the closer you get to a subject, the more this variance in what you see through the viewfinder versus what the lens sees can impact images.
Here are shots of a rock on the beach and a piece of seaweed - the first shot of each was composed through the viewfinder at macro distances, the second through the monitor. In each case the subject was centered in the viewfinder or monitor, but the viewfinder images are well off-center thanks to parallax error.
And here's the most extreme case - a quarter shot at a distance of about an inch or so. Using the viewfinder with the quarter centered in the frame missed the coin altogether due to the small size of the quarter relative to the 1.5-inch offset of lens and viewfinder!
Parallax error is not P7000 specific, it's just a byproduct of the general design - Canon's G12 does the same thing, and twin-lens reflex cameras as well. If you're shooting macro with a P7000, use the monitor for composition.
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