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Nikon Coolpix P7100 First Look Review: P-Series Overhaul
by Howard Creech -  1/3/2012

Canon has dominated the top spot in the high-end point-and-shoot wars since the introduction of the G1, but last year's Samsung TL500 was a significant competitor and Nikon's P7000 was meant to end Canon's dominance of the high-end compact camera market niche. Unfortunately for Nikon, the P7000 didn't quite make the grade. While the P7000 was easily competitive with the G12 in terms of image quality, it was noticeably slower in operation than the G12 (and the TL500) and its menu system was unnecessarily complex. Nikon's product development engineers returned the P7000 to the drawing board. The result of that re-engineering project is the new improved Coolpix P7100.

Nikon Coolpix P7100

Here's a brief comparison of the G12 and P7100.

Canon G12 Nikon P7100
Resolution 10.1 mp 10.1 mp
Lens f/2.8-4.5 28-140mm f/2.8-5.6 28-200mm
HD Video 720p @ 24 fps 720p @ 24 fps
LCD 2.8-inch 460k Vari-angle 3.0-inch 920k flip-out
Optical Viewfinder Yes Yes
Exposure Full Auto and Manual Full Auto and Manual
RAW Yes Yes

Since I've used the G12 extensively and I reviewed the TL500 (for this website) I may be uniquely qualified to reveal whether the P7100 has the goods to bump the G12 out of the top spot. First things first, G12 sounds kind of cool - like the name of a super secretive spy agency or the model designation of the newest super-fast Ferrari. P7100, on the other hand, sounds like a new computer virus or the designated parking space for some huge corporation's least important employee.

Nikon Coolpix P7100

Here's some advice for Nippon Kogaku Corporation's marketing folks. Nikon dropped the ball when they introduced the "not ready for prime time" P7000 - why hold on to the legacy of a failed product? The P7100 should have been the first of a new model series. Nikon should have called the P7100 the Nikon Coolpix F15 - the first Coolpix worthy of the venerable "F" model designation.

The two cameras not only have very similar specifications, they also feature very similar designs. Both are chunky and relatively heavy P&S digicams. The G12 weighs in at 357 grams (12.5 ounces) with battery and SD card and the P7100 weighs in at 395 grams (13.9 ounces) with battery and SD card - so neither is really pocketable - unlike the nifty little TL500. Both cameras have similar ergonomics and both were clearly designed for photography enthusiasts.

Nikon Coolpix P7100

I've only had the P7100 for a bit more than a week, but so far I'm quite impressed with just how easy this camera makes it to capture the image you visualized before you pressed the shutter button and with more than forty years experience as a photographer I am not easily impressed.

Here's an example - most point-and-shoots permit only limited user input into the exposure process - the P7100 takes the single most important exposure control that P&S users have, the exposure compensation function, and links it to a dedicated knob on the camera's top deck that permits immediate adjustments (to incrementally lighten or darken the image) in any shooting mode except full manual. Most digicams bury the exposure compensation function in the menu somewhere or allow indirect access via the compass switch, both of which are time consuming and distracting. With the P7100 users can view composition and if a problem with the ambient lighting is detected, then the right thumb falls directly on the exposure compensation knob which can be turned right (plus) or left (minus) until the lighting is balanced. This is a brilliant design that puts more control in the hands of the user.

Nikon Coolpix P7100

Some folks will say that this idea was stolen from the G12 and its predecessors, but Canon put the control on the left end of the top deck which means that the exposure compensation function must be accessed by the shooter's left hand or the camera must be shifted, altering the composition at least momentarily. The P7100 locates this control on the same end of the top deck as the mode dial and shutter button/zoom control meaning the exposure compensation function can be used (by right handed shooters) without shifting from the composition of the image - much better ergonomics.

Here's another example of the P7100's dedication to user input - in review mode shooters can crop (using the zoom control and the compass switch) and then save the cropped version of that image (just as it appeared on the LCD) by simply pushing the menu button and then selecting yes.

I really liked the G12 and the TL500 and now I really like the P7100, too. If I were in the market for a high-end point-and-shoot I would have a seriously tough time deciding which of those three cameras I would buy and that is a really good position for consumers to be in - for five hundred bucks consumers should get the very best camera that current technology is capable of producing. The G12 is the latest in a long series of exceptional P&S digicams, the TL500 is quite compact when compared to its rivals, but it doesn't skimp on features and it has a very fast f/1.8 maximum aperture Schneider-Kreuznach zoom. The P7100 has the best ergonomics and the broadest zoom range of the three.

I'll go into more detail in my full review of the P7100, but at this point I would be willing to take the P7100 (or the G12 or the TL500) along as my sole camera on a once in a lifetime trip. As for the P7100 bumping the G12 out of the rankings - that's unlikely, but the top rank is noticeably more crowded than it was before.

Sample Images
Nikon P7100 Sample Image Nikon P7100 Sample Image
Nikon P7100 Sample Image Nikon P7100 Sample Image