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Nikon Coolpix P7000 Review
by Jim Keenan -  2/16/2011

The Coolpix P7000 joined its D3100 and D7000 big brothers in reaching market in the late third quarter of calendar year 2010. Nikon describes this latest high-performance Coolpix as ".... the perfect complement to an advanced photographer's D-SLR, and it inspires the entry-level consumer to explore the boundaries of their photographic capabilities and fulfill their creative vision."

Nikon Coolpix P7000


The Coolpix P7000 packs the hardware to complement a DSLR, notably a RAW shooting capability and zoom lens covering the 28 to 200mm focal range in 35mm equivalents, with a fast f/2.8 maximum aperture at the wide end of the lens. Here's the view at each end of that zoom:

Nikon P7000 Sample Image
Wide Angle, 28mm

Nikon P7000 Sample Image
Telephoto, 200mm

It also carries a $500 MSRP that borders on entry-level DSLR territory, but that money buys you a laundry list of features: face detection and a shutter that can fire automatically when it detects a smile or warn you if someone blinks, 720 HD video with autofocus, zoom and stereo sound, a full mix of automatic and scene-specific shooting modes along with full manual controls, a built-in neutral density (ND) filter and electronic virtual horizon, and a fairly comprehensive in-camera image editing suite. The camera has a 100 to 3200 ISO native sensitivity range (expandable to 6400 manually and up to 12800 when shooting in Low Noise Night Mode) with its 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor, and the processing technology is Nikon's latest EXPEED C2. There's a built-in flash, hot shoe, optical viewfinder with diopter adjustment, 3.0-inch LCD monitor with high resolution and about 79MB of internal memory; the camera uses SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media and class 6 or better speed is recommended for video capture.

Nikon includes a Lithium-ion battery and charger, camera strap, AV and USB cables, quick start guide, user's manual and CD-ROM software with each camera. Users should be aware that Nikon has issued a firmware update for the P7000 - our review sample had not been updated when it was received - that deals with issues related to image recording time with RAW captures, lens focus, zoom and monitor highlight loss with D-Lighting enabled. The update is available on Nikon's website and is simple to install - it took only a few minutes to load it before beginning shooting for this review, so I have no baseline performance with which to judge the update's impact on camera operations.

Our Nikon P7000 is now up to current spec, so the only thing left to do is get out and shoot it.

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.

Nikon Coolpix P7000

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.

Nikon P7000 Sample Image

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?

Nikon Coolpix P7000

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.

Nikon P7000 Sample Image

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:

Display/Viewfinder
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.

Nikon Coolpix P7000

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.

Nikon P7000 Sample Image Nikon P7000 Sample Image
Nikon P7000 Sample Image Nikon P7000 Sample Image

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!

Nikon P7000 Sample Image Nikon P7000 Sample Image

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.

PERFORMANCE
Nikon's Coolpix models with the "P" designation are the performance models, and as you'd expect from a performance oriented machine, the P7000 can shoot in RAW. But all Nikon RAWs are not created equal - Nikon has used NEF (Nikon Electronic Format) as its RAW standard for years, but the P7000 (and the P6000 before it) uses a new variant, NRW.

Nikon's Capture NX2 software can handle NRW files, and Nikon includes View NX2 software with each P7000 that does as well, but my Adobe Photoshop CS4 doesn't recognize it, and the Adobe fix to recognize NRW only works with CS5. Adobe CS4 works fine with NEFs, but if you're shooting NRW with a P7000 plan to convert to JPEG or TIFF in one of the Nikon software programs before trying to work the images in Photoshop CS4 or earlier.

Shooting Performance
The P7000 is about average in startup time - the monitor comes on in about a second, but you don't get a focus point displayed until over two seconds have passed. I was able to get off a first shot in about 2.7 seconds. Single shot-to-shot times run about 2.75 seconds, due in large part to an almost 2 second write time for a single fine quality JPEG image. The camera made its advertised "approximately 1.3 frames per second" continuous shooting rate, but when those shots were of RAW/JPEG fine quality, we got 5 shots and a 21 second write time with a 16GB class 10 card. Recording 8 JPEG fine shots took about 8 seconds to write after the last shot was taken.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Samsung TL500 0.01
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 0.01
Nikon Coolpix P7000 0.01
Canon PowerShot G12 0.04

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix P7000 0.24
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 0.40
Samsung TL500 0.43
Canon PowerShot G12 0.50

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 3 3.3 fps
Canon PowerShot G12 2.1 fps
Samsung TL500 1.5 fps
Nikon Coolpix P7000 26 1.5 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Continuous shooting is difficult with the monitor - there's an initial blackout period after the first capture, and shorter blackouts between shots, so you're always a frame behind on the monitor and tracking moving subjects can be difficult. The viewfinder doesn't suffer from the blackouts so that's the way to go, assuming you can shoot without worrying about the 80% coverage and what's getting into the frame that you don't see. There's virtually no shutter noise in the continuous shooting mode so it's hard to keep track of how many shots you've taken by sound alone.

The P7000 may be a bit on the slow side to write images, but it scoots right along in acquiring focus (in most cases) and shutter lag, which we measured at 0.24 and 0.01 seconds, respectively. The camera seemed to perform better at AF acquisition when set for full time AF versus single servo AF - acquisition times were quicker and more consistent across a range of lighting conditions at the full time setting.

In single shot mode, the P7000 displays a red focus point(s) while acquiring focus which then turns to green and is accompanied by the typical compact digital camera "beep" when focus is acquired. On a number of occasions, the icon would change color and the "beep" would ensue, but the image on the monitor was clearly not in focus. A split second later the monitor would come into focus, but if you pushed the shutter to capture at the beep, the shutter wouldn't fire. Once the image on the monitor comes into focus, the shutter fires, but most of the time the P7000 acquires focus and shoots without the delay. I have no idea why it sometimes drags its feet.

P7000 ad copy talks about 5-way stabilization, but that's counting things like the ability to manually select a 6400 ISO sensitivity to keep shutter speeds up in dim light, or Nikon's BSS (best shot selector) which takes up to 10 images while the shutter is held down, then saves the sharpest one and discards the rest. The two that matter most are vibration reduction and motion detection, and both are found in the setup menu. Vibration reduction involves mechanical stabilization with the sensor being moved to combat camera shake; motion detection raises ISO sensitivity to produce faster shutter speeds to accomplish the same result. If you're going to use stabilization, enable vibration reduction but not motion detection (unless there's no other way to get the shot). You don't want to be ramping up ISO sensitivity any more than you have to.

Flash range is listed as out to 21 feet at wide angle and auto ISO, and recycle times were good with a fresh battery - 2 to 5 seconds from best to worst case scenarios.

Battery life is listed as about 350 shots, and the battery is the same used in the D3100 (which gets 550 shots out of a charge).

Lens Performance
The 28 to 200mm focal range of the P7000 offers a nice mix of fairly wide to modestly long, and the f/2.8 maximum aperture at the wide end is decently fast. Corners are a bit soft at the wide end, and edges and corners a bit soft at telephoto, but the lens is fairly sharp overall. There's barrel distortion at wide angle and pincushion at telephoto, but the P7000 has a distortion control setting that, when enabled, really minimizes these conditions. The trade-off is that the frame may get cropped a tiny bit. I shot most of this review with distortion control enabled.

Nikon Coolpix P7000

There is some chromic aberration (purple fringing) throughout the focal range in some high contrast boundary areas, although the effect is usually fairly hard to detect in enlargements below 200 to 300%. Still, there may be occasions when the effect is apparent under close scrutiny at 100%, but the P7000 isn't too bad overall.

Video Quality
Video quality at 720 HD is pretty good, on a par with the G12. Video capture requires setting the mode dial to movie, acquiring focus with a half push of the shutter and then initiating capture with a full push. The full time AF (single servo AF is the default) setting does a pretty good job of adjusting when you zoom or change the scene - I acquired focus on a distant ridgeline then panned down to a bush only a few feet away, and the AF kept up pretty well. The full time AF is noisy in videos - the camera records it and zoom noise during video capture, and the built-in microphone is wind sensitive. The wind noise reduction setting helps with wind and still allows a fair amount of external audio to come through (but doesn't have an impact on the zoom or AF noise). There is a microphone jack to permit use of an external microphone.

Image Quality
When I shot the P7000 for the First Look teaser my initial impression was that still image quality was on a par with the Canon G11/12 cameras I felt had the best image quality of any compact I'd ever reviewed. Nothing's changed and the P7000 now joins the list.

Nikon P7000 Sample Image Nikon P7000 Sample Image
Nikon P7000 Sample Image Nikon P7000 Sample Image

Default images out of the P7000 were pleasing as to color fidelity and sharpness, although I increased in-camera sharpening settings for the manual modes. Lately, I've been turning up the sharpening in review cameras and I think it's probably got something to do with the fact that I've been using a sharpening program on my personal NEFs (and really liking the results); I'm trying to get the review camera output closer to that look right out of the camera. Most folks will probably be happy with the default images. The good news for manual mode shooters is that the P7000 provides lots of setting possibilities and access is readily available to many via external controls.

Nikon's Picture Control color palette offers four main selections, and here's a look at the standard, neutral, vivid and monochrome settings.

Nikon P7000 Sample Image
Standard
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
Vivid
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
Neutral
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
Monochrome

There are also yellow, orange, red and green filter effects that may be applied to the monochrome setting, as well as black & white, sepia and cyanotype versions of monochrome with seven levels of saturation.

Nikon uses Active D-Lighting to enhance the apparent dynamic range of the camera, and in the P7000, this is available as an in-camera setting that may be disabled or set to low, normal or high in the shooting menu for the manual modes. D-Lighting is available for post processing images in the playback menu. I typically shoot with Active D-Lighting disabled and then post-process if needed. Here are a couple shots of the mission walkway with Active D-Lighting disabled and then set for high.

Nikon P7000 Sample Image
No D-Lighting
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
High D-Lighting

Auto white balance was used for many of the captures in this review and did a fairly good job with the exception of incandescent light, which shot warm. Only auto WB is available in the monochrome picture control setting, but for the others there are daylight, incandescent, three fluorescent, cloudy, flash, Kelvin temperature and three user-defined custom settings available in addition to auto.

Nikon P7000 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

Matrix metering is the default and did a pretty good job in most cases, but it could lose some highlights in bright, high-contrast conditions in the manual modes. The camera seemed less prone to lose highlights in auto mode and I shot a far higher percentage of images in auto mode with this camera versus my customary aperture priority. There are center-weighted, spot and spot AF area options as well in the manual modes.

The P7000 uses the same physically-sized sensor and resolution as the G12, and if you're jumping ahead and guessing that ISO noise performance might be similar, you're correct (unless my eyes are deceiving me). Both cameras are following the same path philosophically regarding ISO noise by using larger than typical sensors and holding resolution to the 10 megapixel level. This helps achieve noise performance that's a bit better than the average compact digital.

ISO 100 and 200 in the P7000 are quite similar and hard to tell apart. ISO 400 begins to lose some fine details compared to 200, but is still quite good and usable for large prints. ISO 800 picks up some graininess and loses a bit more fine detail, but is still usable for small prints.

Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 100
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 200
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 400
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 800
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Nikon P7000 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

ISO 1600 is the tipping point for the P7000, with a fairly marked loss of fine detail and increased graininess. ISO 3200 experiences another major drop off, with grain becoming very prominent and fine details lost to smudging for the most part. The photos are usable (along with 1600) for internet small images, but print at your own risk.

I've alluded to the G12 on several occasions in this review, so I know some of you are wondering which has the better ISO performance. Looking at the shots from both cameras I'd say noise performance is about equal through 400, and the P7000 does just a tiny bit better at 800 through 3200 - primarily a bit more detail and a bit less artifacts and grain. The difference isn't major and certainly not enough to be a deal-breaker if you have your sights set on one camera or the other.

Additional Sample Images
Nikon P7000 Sample Image Nikon P7000 Sample Image
Nikon P7000 Sample Image Nikon P7000 Sample Image
Nikon P7000 Sample Image Nikon P7000 Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
The Coolpix P7000 slots into Nikon's compact line directly opposite the Canon G12, a wonderful camera that has the best image quality of any compact I've ever reviewed and which this site awarded an "Editor's Choice" designation. Tough neighborhood for any compact, and this review isn't meant as a direct comparison of the two, but let's face it: the G12 is the obvious yardstick for high-end compacts right now.

Nikon P7000 image quality is as good as the Canon G12's and high ISO noise performance might just be a hair better. A very fine hair to be sure, but a hair nonetheless. The Nikon generally acquires AF quicker and video quality seems comparable. The Nikon offers a wider focal range with lens speed that is comparable at the wide end of the zoom, but 2/3rds of a stop slower at telephoto. Game, set, match to the P7000, no?


No. While the P7000 generally acquires focus promptly, there are times when it says it's acquired focus, but hasn't, and you wait a split second longer to capture the image. It doesn't happen often, but just enough to be annoying, and all the more so because the P7000 is so quick most of the time. RAW still image write speed for the P7000 seems on the slow side, even with class 10 SDHC media, and things are really slow if you shoot a burst of RAW/JPEG fine captures. Nikon produced a firmware update for the P7000 to address focus issues and RAW image write speed, and while I never shot the P7000 before installing the firmware, the AF, while quite good, still throws you a glitch now and then. RAW write speed is reportedly improved with the firmware, so it must have been molasses-in-January slow before.

If you're in the market for a high-end compact and are wedded to either the Canon or Nikon brand, you can safely go with the product of your choice and know the other guy isn't going to outshoot you because of hardware. And if you're not brand oriented and just want to get the best images out of this class of camera, you can go either way and if the images aren't great it's not the camera's fault. The P7000 joins the G11/G12 on my best compact digital image list, and that's pretty select company.

Pros:

Cons: