The Nikon Coolpix P7700 occupies the top spot in the Coolpix line both in terms of quality and price. While most Coolpix cameras are relatively simple point and shoots, made for quick snapshots, the Coolpix P7700 has much more to offer. It has a larger sensor than the other Coolpix cameras, an excellent, fully articulated LCD and a body that's built like a tank. It features full manual exposure controls and manual focus plus it has a host of different methods for adjusting camera functions. It's considered an "enthusiast" camera, similar to the superb Canon "G" series and other high performance compact cameras by Panasonic, Olympus, Fuji, Samsung and Sony. Does the P7700 have what it takes to successfully compete with the other cameras in its elite class?
The Nikon Coolpix P7700 is slightly different than the previous version of the camera, the P7100, released in 2011. Probably the most significant change is that the newer camera uses a 1/1.7 inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor, for better low light image quality and faster continuous shooting speed, compared to the 1/1.7 inch CCD sensor of the older camera. Other important changes are that the newer camera has an LCD that's fully articulated rather than tilting only, though it lacks the previous version's tunnel viewfinder. The Coolpix P7700 has an improved video mode that can record in 1080p and can record at up to 120 frames per second, for slow motion video. It retains the older camera's 7.1x optical zoom (28-200mm, 35mm film camera equivalent), but has a wider aperture throughout (F2.0-4.0 compared to F2.8-5.6) which further improves its low light image quality. Like the older camera, the Coolpix P7700 can also shoot in RAW mode. It has a hotshoe for a separate flash and inputs for a remote control, a stereo microphone and a GPS, all of which are available separately. While the Coolpix P7700 does have an auto mode it's not given much emphasis as the camera is obviously geared towards the more advanced photographer.
The Nikon P7700 is available for around $450.
Build and Design
The Coolpix P7700 has a very solid body which weighs almost 14 ounces (392 grams) including battery and memory card. It's mostly metal, with plastic dials, a rubber-coated hand grip and a three-inch LCD screen which can be turned face-in while the camera is not being used. Its dimensions are 2.9 inches (72.5mm) high, 4.7 inches (118.5mm) wide and 2.0 inches (50.4mm) thick. Its lens protrudes about 3/4 of an inch when the camera is off.
The camera comes with a lens cap (which is not tethered to the camera), lithium-ion battery, battery charger, neck strap, USB cable, AV cable, Quick Start Guide and two CD-Roms, one of which contains the full version of the manual and the other Nikon's photo organizing software, ViewNX2. The camera is available in black only.
Ergonomics and Controls
Although the Coolpix P7700 is not a small camera, it has a rubberized grip on the right side which, along with the thumb rest at the camera's rear, makes it comfortable to use with one hand. The lens is large, compared to the size of the camera, due to the relatively large size of the camera's sensor. The lens contains a removable ring, which allows for the addition of a filter. A lens hood can be attached to the lens ring. The front of the camera also contains a combination self-timer/auto focus assist lamp, two pinholes for the stereo microphone and an infrared remote receiver. There's a popup flash that's activated by a small switch at the camera's rear.
The top of the camera contains a hotshoe for adding a separate flash, an on/off button that's flush to the surface and a shutter button with the zoom control wrapped round it. The rear of the camera is dominated by the large, three inch diagonal, 921,000 dot LCD in a 4x3 aspect ratio. The LCD fully articulates to allow viewing from all angles. Nikon recommends that the LCD be turned inward when the camera is not in use and the camera will not turn on when the LCD is in that position. The camera contains three covered ports - one for a GPS, another for a microphone and a third for a USB cord and an HDMI plug. The camera's bottom plate contains a metal tripod socket and the battery/memory card compartment covered by a solid, plastic door. The camera can use SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards.
The Coolpix P7700 is clearly constructed with the goal of putting as much control as possible in the hands of the photographer, as it has a host of buttons and dials. There are programmable function buttons at both the front and top of the camera. The top plate contains a main control dial, with selections for auto, program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual, movie, custom movie settings, scene modes, effects modes and three user-defined settings. There's also a quick menu dial that allows access to image quality and size, ISO, white balance, auto bracketing, menu customization and image control. A third dial controls exposure settings. In addition, there are two knurled command dials that can be used for navigating both the quick menu and the main menu. The rear of the camera contains buttons for display, exposure/focus lock, playback, delete and menu activation, plus a circular menu control dial. After a short learning curve I found the extra level of control to be very useful. Curiously, the Coolpix P7700 does not have a dedicated movie button, which is present in almost all compact cameras and even in many DSLRs.
Menus and Modes
The main menu is activated by pressing the menu button, though the available selections depend on the mode selected on the main control dial. The quick menu dial activates the shortcut menu, which augments the selections on the main control dial. Various menu functions can be programmed to be called up instantly by the two function buttons and the three user-defined settings on the main control dial.
Here are the shooting modes on the main control dial:
Active D-Lighting Off Active D-Lighting On
Creative Monochrome Painting
Cross Process Soft
Nostalgic Sepia High Key
The Coolpix P7700 lacks the small, tunnel viewfinder that was in previous versions of the camera. While the viewfinder was not accurate it was useful on sunny days when it's hard to view even an excellent LCD screen.
The three inch LCD of the Coolpix P7700 almost makes up for the loss of the viewfinder. It's an extremely sharp screen with 921,000 dots of resolution in a 4:3 aspect ratio with an anti-reflective coating. It can be set to five levels of brightness. I found that it displayed sharp images, realistic colors and, when set at the maximum brightness level, was visible in even in sunny conditions. The fact that the LCD is fully articulated adds greatly to its usefulness. It permits you to see the screen whether the camera is held above your head, low to the ground or on the side. Once you experience it, it's hard to go back to a fixed screen.
The Coolpix P7700 has its quirks when it comes to performance. While it starts up quickly enough, within a second or two, the on/off button sometimes failed to work and a second press was necessary. The camera takes about three seconds to shut down, which is somewhat slow. There's about a two second delay when pressing the shutter button to begin recording a movie. This is not the camera to use when you want to make a quick video of a cute-acting child or pet.
The camera uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, the EN-EL14, which is rated at approximately 330 shots. I found the rating to be accurate and I really appreciated the long battery life when taking the camera out for several hours of shooting.
The Coolpix P7700 gives you numerous focus options, including face priority, nine point auto focus, 99 point manual focus, center, subject tracking and target finding AF, where the camera decides what should be given focus priority. I found the auto focus to be reliable in most situations, even when shooting at a long focal length. However, I sometimes had problems finding focus in low light, despite the fact that the camera has a very bright focus assist beam.
Shot to shot time is fast, about one second between pictures without the flash and about two seconds with the flash activated.
The 28-200mm zoom lens (35mm equivalent) was nice and sharp towards the middle of the image, though less sharp around the edges. The lens can focus as close as 2cm from the subject in close macro mode.
I noticed little difference in sharpness and color intensity between photos taken at wide angle and at maximum telephoto. Chromatic aberration (colored fringing) is well-controlled.
Wide Angle Telephoto
I found minimal barrel distortion in photos taken at wide angle and no pin cushion distortion at extreme telephoto. I suspect the camera's distortion control feature played a role in minimizing any distortion.
Wide Angle Telephoto
As is evident from the video, the Coolpix P7700 shoots excellent movies in its highest resolution movie mode, 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames per second, with good color and stereo sound. The video never lost focus, even when optical zoom was used. Wind noise is obviously present in the video, but it was an extremely windy day.
The Coolpix P7700 for the most part produced sharp, high quality images with punchy colors. The camera did well indoors, principally due to two factors. One is that its low light image quality is very good for a non-DSLR, even through 1600 ISO. Second, the Coolpix P7700, like other Nikons I've had experience with, has very accurate white balance. I used the auto white balance setting, auto 1, though there are other options available including auto 2 (warm lighting), daylight, incandescent, fluorescent 1, 2 and 3, cloudy, flash, choose color temperature and preset manual.
ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800
ISO 1600 ISO 3200
I encountered some problems with the camera when shooting outdoors. I found that it sometimes overexposed the image, especially when there was a bright light source nearby. I occasionally faced the issue of "white skies" where the sky photographed as a featureless white even though it was actually a mixture of clouds and blue sky. When shooting outdoors it's probably a good idea to set the exposure to -1/3 or -2/3.
The camera has numerous flash modes -- auto, auto with red-eye, off, fill (fires all the time), manual (control the strength of the flash), slow synch (slow shutter speed), rear curtain sych (fires before the shutter closes) and commander (controls a separate flash through a wireless remote). Flash range is 1 ft. 8 in. to 32 ft. (0.5 to 10m) at wide angle and 1 ft. 8 in. to 18 ft. (0.5 to 5.5m) at telephoto. The flash performs well, without providing too much illumination.
Additional Sample Images
The Nikon Coolpix P7700 is a very high quality camera that does a lot of things right. Its build quality is impressive, as are its quick shooting performance, sharp, low distortion lens, very good indoor image quality and excellent movie ability. It has every option a serious photographer could want. However there are a few issues I found troubling, especially for a camera of its overall quality and price. Having to press the on/off switch twice to turn on the camera is annoying, as is the three seconds it takes for the camera to shut down. Then there's the two second delay between pressing the shutter button and starting a movie recording. Finally, the camera occasionally overexposed outdoor images.
With all the Coolpix P7700 has to offer it's hard not to recommend it, but potential buyers ought to be aware of its flaws.