Monday, October 18, 2010

Nikon Coolpix P7000 Review

Nikon Coolpix P7000
(Based On A Retail Unit, with Firmware Version 1.1)
Nikon issued firmware update version 1.1 Dec 14/2010, for more info click here

Introduction:
The Nikon Coolpix P7000 is Nikon's latest attempt to go head to head against the Canon G series of premium compact cameras from Canon. While the last attempt, the P6000, was considered to be somewhat of a failure, at least by some reviewers, Nikon is boldly claiming that the P7000 is a "G series killer." Nikon has not just gone head to head against Canon in terms of looks, but also in the controls and more importantly image quality. The Nikon P7000, Canon G11, G12, S90 and S95 all share the same 1/1.7" 10MP CCD sensor, which is larger than the ones found in most compact cameras. Although the P7000, G11, G12, S90 and S95 do share the same sensor, that does not mean the end results will be the same, as there are many factors that determine the final image quality. Results are affected by the lenses and in camera image processing. Since I do not have access to a Canon G12 or S95 I wont be making any direct comparisons.

To make the P7000 more competitive than the P6000, Nikon had to make some changes, first of all in terms of design. Although some people liked the smaller size of the P6000, the P7000 is better ergonomically, taking ideas from the Canon G series and improving on them. As a result the P7000 has a very similar look and feel to that of the recent Canon G11 and G12, although the later two have a swiveling 2.5" rear LCD screen. In it's favor the P7000 has a wider zoom range, from 28-200mm F2.8-5.6 vs, 28-140mm F2.8-4.5 for the Canon cameras. The G12 may have swiveling rear LCD, but the P7000 has a larger, higher resolution 3" rear LCD. The Nikon P7000 drops the built in GPS unit of the Nikon P6000, which was a bit of a disappointment to some, as the GPS was one of the major marketing tools Nikon used to sell the latter. You can stack up the specs any way you like, but real world performance is what counts. One question that remains to be answered is, did Nikon make a camera that can go toe to toe with the Canon G series, or was all the boasting for nothing?


Build Quality and Handling:
The P7000 is made of industrial strength (polycarbonate) plastics, similar to entry level DSLRs like the Nikon D3100 or D5000. As a result the overall feel of the P7000 is very similar to said cameras in terms of build quality. There are no creaking noises made when you hold onto the camera and it feels solid in your hand. The port covers are made of a stiff plastic and fit into camera body in an unobtrusive manner. One thing on the P7000 that does feel cheap is the lens cover, which seems to be fragile and may be why there have been reports of the cover operating slowly or not opening at all. I haven't had any issues with the lens cover, but I can see how it could get damaged easily. All of the dials and buttons feel well made. The rear LCD has an anti-reflective coating and seems to be very bright, thus usable in most shooting conditions.  The LCD becomes unusable in direct sunlight, but there are very few LCDs on the market today that are.


Handling the camera is comfortable, as long as you take off the strap lugs, particularly on the right side of the body (right side from the back). The rubber covers on the hand grip, and between the two command dials, make holding the camera almost effortless. Even after holding the camera for 10-15 minutes there I have little or no hand cramping. As noted before, the one issue ergonomically is that the right lug falls where your hand needs to grip the camera. If you are wearing the strap around your neck it wouldn't be as much of an issue. Your right hand falls onto all the primary controls when you pick up the camera, including the shutter button and mode dials. Short of using the secondary controls, on the left side of the body, you could operate the camera with one hand. I wouldn't recommend operating the camera with one hand, but it is possible.


The bottom of the camera has one door, which contains the battery and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot. An 8GB SDHC card will hold approximately 499 NRW (RAW), 462 NRW + Basic JPEG, 432 NRW + Normal JPEG, 382 NRW + Fine JPEG, 6303 Basic JPEG, 3232 Normal JPEG, or 1626 Fine JPEG files. If you reduce the resolution of JPEG files you can get more images than that; NRW files are fixed at 10MP. The tripod socket is not lined up with the center of the lens, so you have to keep that in mind if you are shooting panoramas. Another annoying thing about the placement of the tripod socket is that you cannot open the door to change SD cards/the battery, if you have the camera on a tripod or have a quick release plate attached.

As noted on the bottom plate the P7000 is made in Indonesia, which is a little disappointing considering the quality of products that come out of Nikon's facilities in Thailand. The Thailand factory seems to be limited to DSLR production and prosumer lenses. I mention this because there has been some suggestions that the P7000 production line is suffering from quality control issues, although there is no way to confirm that. I haven't had any issues in terms of build quality or reliability with my P7000.


The battery is held in place by a small orange clip, which you lightly press to release the battery. The clip is nice to see, because it means that you can swap SD cards on the go and not have to worry about dropping the battery. Just behind the battery bay is the card slot. The door that protects the battery bay and SD card slot is held in place by two plastic pins, which keep the door firmly shut. Since the battery is held in place by the clip there is no pressure on the door. As a result of this retention method, the door is unlikely to break, unless you drop the camera. To unlock the door you simply push the small tab in the middle door, and do the reverse to secure it in the locked position.


On the right, grip side of the camera there are two ports under a small flip out door. Behind the door there is a mini HDMI port, for viewing images and video directly from the camera onto an HDTV (cable no included). The second port is a dual purpose USB2 port. The USB2 port can be used to export images off the cameras built in memory or an SD card. I recommend using an external SD card reader, as downloading images will be faster. You can also output images and video in standard definition via the included video cable.

The P7000 has two IR receivers, one on the front beside the hand grip, and the second is located on the back of the camera body, near the lower left side of the rotary dial. These receivers are used to wirelessly fire the shutter when using the option Nikon ML-L3 (or equivalent) remote.

Battery and Charger:
The P7000 uses a wall based charger rather than USB, like some modern Nikon compacts. Using a wall charger means that you can have a backup battery charging without loosing the use of the camera. The MH-24 wall charger is new and charges the EN-EL14 battery, which is also used by the D3100. The battery is rated for 350 images in the P7000, although that number is reduced if you use the built in flash. Don't expect to get that many shots with the first few charges though, like most lithium ion batteries it is only after 5-10 charges that it reaches peak operating condition.


As with any compact point and shoot camera, the biggest draw on battery life is the large 3" rear LCD. The P7000 does have an auto off mode, set to 1 minute by default, which means that after 1 minute of inactivity the P7000 will power itself off to save battery life. As a result you do not have to worry about accidentally leaving the camera on and running down the battery. The auto power off time can be changed to 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes or 30 minutes. Unlike some DSLRs the P7000 doesn't give you a battery performance menu, so you cannot check the charge percentage and shots per charge the way you can on a D90, or D700 for example. I've been pleased with battery performance so far, but I think it would be wise to have a spare battery if you plan on doing extensive shooting, more than a few hundred shots in a day. Another scenario where I would be a good idea to have a spare battery is if you are going to be somewhere that recharging the battery is not possible for more than a few days.

As for charging the battery, it takes just over an hour from being depleted to fully charged.


Controls: 
The control layout of the P7000 is excellent, one of the nicest I've seen on a point and shoot camera. Nikon is know for putting buttons in just the right place, and that holds true for the P7000. Your fingers fall onto the primary controls when you pick the camera up. The ON/OFF button is well placed, and flush with the top panel, making it hard to accidentally turn the camera on when taking it in or out of a bag. The ON/OFF button lights up when the camera is first turned on, or when the rear LCD is off. The light blinks when the camera is in standby or getting ready to power itself down. From the time you turn the camera on until you can take the first shot is around 3.8 seconds. That is not fast, but isn't exactly a long delay, for a point and shoot camera.

First control feature that will be covered is the mode dial, which gives the user the ability to change the basic shooting controls of the camera. The auto mode (Green Camera) does all the work for you, although you are seriously limiting what the P7000 can do by using that mode. Next you have what Nikon calls the creative shooting modes, P,S,A and M, which give the user more control over what the camera does while taking photos. P is program auto: In this mode the camera operates similarly to the auto mode, but you have the ability to override the set aperture and make some settings changes that you cannot in Auto mode. S is shutter priority: In this mode you use the command dial to change the set shutter speed. This mode is ideal for shooting action, or if you want to slow down the shutter speed for a longer exposure. A mode is Aperture Priority: In this mode you use the rotary dial to change the set aperture. At 28mm you can change the aperture from F2.8-8, while at 200mm from F5.6-8. In P, S and A the exposure compensation dial allows you to override the cameras suggested exposure. M is manual mode. In manual mode you set both the shutter speed and aperture, giving you full control over how the camera exposes the scene.

Next on the dial is the movie mode, which allows you to record video in 720p (1280x720) at 24FPS. I have more to say about the movie mode, but that will be covered later. After the movie mode you'll find the scene mode, which leaves the camera in full auto, but tells the camera more about what you are shooting. The P7000 can be set to automatically select the scene mode, or you can set the scene mode manually in the menu. The High ISO night setting is next (Candle with moon), while using this mode the resolution is reduced, files are only 3MP in size. At this setting the camera operates in full auto mode, but the IS0 range tops out at ISO 12800, rather than ISO 6400. After that you have the three user configurable modes (U1, U2 & U3). In the user configurable modes you can make custom settings, including the shooting mode, that allows you to quickly set the camera for changing shooting situations without diving into the menu system at all. For example, you could have U1 set for Aperture Priority with manual ISO, single AF mode and preset White Balance, and then have U2 set for Shutter priority with continuous auto focus and auto ISO. The possibilities for these modes is only limited by the user.

Beside the mode dial is the zoom rocker and shutter release. The zoom rocket moves smoothly in either direction. Turn left (W) to go wider to 28mm and right (T) to zoom out to 200mm. When you turn the camera on it defaults to the widest position, 28mm. The shutter release has a nice, smooth feel, more like a prosumer DSLR shutter release than that of a point and shoot camera. There is a soft smooth click with a half press and another gentle click upon fully depressing the shutter. The shutter itself is nearly silent, once you turn off the in camera sounds, which are annoying at best.

Next to the shutter and zoom rocket, farther to the right, is the Av/Tv button. I cannot figure out why Nikon called this a Av/Tv button, as that is Canon speak for Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority. This button would better have been called the Function button, considering what it can do. By default the Av/Tv button is used to swap the functions of the two command dials on the back of the camera, but thankfully the button is programmable and can do far more useful things. You can set the button to Toggle Av/Tv setting, turn on and off a virtual horizon, view or hide a live histogram, view or hide a framing grid or turn on and off the built in 3 stop ND filter.

Behind the Av/Tv button is the exposure compensation dial, which you can easily adjust with your right thumb while holding the camera normally. The dial allows you to adjust the set shutter speed by +/- 3 stops in .3 stop increments. In what I consider to be a brilliant move, the Nikon engineers placed a small orange LED beside the dial, which tells you whether or not exposure compensation has been dialed in or not, this light makes it hard to forget to zero out compensation. I wish some DSLRs had this feature, as from time to time I still forget to zero out exposure compensation.


On the top left side of the camera you find the flash hotshoe, which fully supports all modern Nikon Flash units. With an external flash, an SB-800, SB-700 or SB-900, you can run one "A" group of CLS flash units wirelessly. On the front of the top is the pop up built in flash and the Quick Menu dial and the Quick Menu Button. The Quick Menu dial is one of the best features of the P7000, because it allows you to quickly change numerous settings without diving into the main menu system. Through this dial you can change ISO, White Balance (WB), Image Quality (Qual), Bracketing (BKT), i (Tone Level Information) and My Menu, which allows you to quickly access a few commonly used settings. You can choose which settings are listed in the My Menu list, but I'll get back to that later. To access these controls, simply select the setting you want to change and press the Quick Menu Button in the center of the dial.


The back right side of the camera hosts many buttons, which give you access to many shooting controls of the P7000, not to mention menu access and controls. On the top you'll find a command dial to the left of the thumb rest, with this dial you control shutter speed in Shutter priority and manual shooting modes, or you can flip through settings or pictures in the menu and playback modes. On the other side of the thumb rest is the AE-L/AF-L button. This button by default locks focus and the exposure, allowing you to focus and recompose easily.

Under the command dial is the monitor button, which allows you to have different settings for what is displayed on the rear LCD, or to turn it off completely to save power. Directly under the monitor button is the playback button, which allows you to review images and videos that you have captured with the P7000. It can take several seconds after a photo has been taken before you can view it, and longer than that if you are recording NRW+ RAW files.

Next is the Rotary Multi Selector, which has several functions. In shooting mode, by default, you turn the dial to change the selected Aperture in Aperture Priority or Manual modes. To change focus modes click the dial nearest the [+] and you can select Face Diction AF, Auto, Manual Point Selection (from the 12 AF points), Center (Wide, Normal or Spot) and Subject Tracking. On the bottom of the dial the Flower position gives you access to different focus settings: Normal, Macro (from 28-42mm), Infinity and Manual. Pressing near the Timer gives you access to several different settings, 10 or 2 second self timer, remote or remote with 10 or 2 second delay, Smile Timer (only takes photo when everyone is smiling. This works rather well by the way) and off. The top section with the lightning blot gives you access to flash controls when the built in flash is up, or if an external flash is attached. You can set auto, auto with red eye reduction, fill flash, manual (with various power selections), slow sync and rear curtain mode as well. The rotary multi selector also allows you to switch images in playback mode.

Under the multi selector are the Menu and Trash buttons. The Menu button gives you access to the full menu system, which will be covered later in the review. The trash button only works in playback mode. You press the button once and a dialog comes up asking if you really want to delete the image, and you use the multi selector to chose yes or no.


On the back left side there is one button, which manually release the built in flash and a small dial beside the optical viewfinder, for adjusting the diopter (useful for people with poor eyesight or who wear glasses). Also beside the viewfinder are two small LEDs, the top one tells you if the built in or external flash is powered and the other tells you if the camera has achieved focus or not.

On the front of the camera there are two buttons, on the front right side the button is used to release the wide angel lens accessory (sold separately) or the ring that is in place when no accessory is attached. On the front left side is the Fn (Function button), which can be programed to change various settings, but only when the button is being pressed.  The button can be set to shoot in RAW (NRW+) change ISO, White Balance, Picture Control, Active D-Lighting or Metering. So far I have only found turning on RAW or Metering to be overly useful, because it only works while pressing the button.

Menu System:
The main menu system of the P7000, which is accessed by pressing the menu button, is broken down into three parts. Some parts of the menu system are locked when the camera is in Auto mode, so if you want to unlock all of the camera's abilities you need to be in P,S,A,M or one of the user customizable modes. Shooting Menu, this menu allows you to change shooting specific settings of the camera. Playback Menu, in this menu you can make changes to images that you have taken, such as quick retouching, applying D-Lighting, Straightening and in camera RAW processing. Thirdly is the Set Up Menu, this menu has settings for thing such as date and time, TV output, HDMI settings, controls for the built in ND filter, Vibration Reduction and more. In auto mode there is a panorama assist feature, which seems helpful.  

One important feature of the Shooting Menu of the P7000 is picture controls. If you shoot RAW (NRW) and don't use Nikon's ViewNX 2 or Capture NX2, this section may not be relevant to you. Picture Control's are extremely relevant if you shoot jpegs, whether you post process them or not, as the set picture controls effect the default sharpness, contrast, and saturation. The P7000 comes with four picture controls, Standard, Neutral, Vivid and Monochrome.


You can adjust each one of the picture controls to better meet the effect you desire. When you do make changes, you'll see a * beside the adjusted Picture Control.


Under the Monochrome Picture Control you can make different adjustments, such as changing sharpening, contrast, applying colour filters, and changing the tone.


The other menu item I'm going to touch on is the Continuous shooting section of the Shooing Menu. From this panel you choose whether you want to take a single shot, continuously take shots at 1.3FPS for as long as you hold down the shutter (up to 45 shots). Next is BBS (Best shot selector) which takes the best of 10 shots, as long as the shutter is held down, and then the camera automatically selects the sharpest and most detail image. From my testing of this setting, it seems to work just as advertised. Next is continuous flash, which works for up to 3 shots (normal JPEG only). Next is a somewhat gimmicky feature, Multi-shot 16. Holding the shutter down in this mode the camera takes 16 5MP images at 30FPS and then combines them into one image. Last is the interval timer, which can take photos every 30s (600 images), 1 minute (300), 5 minutes (60) or 10 minutes (30). To start shooting you press the shutter, during the time the timer is active the screen stays off between shots, and turns on just before taking the photo. To stop the process simply press the shutter button again.

The menu system of the P7000 is very simple, and as a result there aren't a lot of options,  at least it might not seem like there are very many options for someone coming from a DSLR like the D90/D7000, D300s, D700 or D3s/x. Part of the reason for the simplified menu is that there is a secondary menu system on the P7000 via the Quick Menu Dial, which is where you make changes to White Balance, ISO, Bracketing, Image Quality and more that you would normally find in the main menu system of a DSLR, or most point and shoot cameras for that matter. I did find it odd that some of those features cannot be accessed via the main menu, but I think Nikon made that decision for the sake of keeping the menu simple for less advanced users and to reduce clutter.

The Quick Menu of the P7000 is accessed by selecting an option on the Quick Menu dial and then pressing the Quick Menu Button. Once you have done that you can make changes to the selected setting quickly by pressing the rotary button on the left or right side (or by turning the dial) until the desired setting is selected, then press the OK button. If you want to make more adjustments to other settings, make changes and then turn the Quick Menu dial to the next section. The My Menu section of the dial you can is a powerful tool, and the user can set a 6 items from the main menu system to be quickly accessible. This is a great feature allowing you to go into the main menu far less often, especially if you use the Custom User modes on the main dial.

Auto Focus:
The quality of a cameras auto focus system can make or break it in terms of usefulness, and in the case of the P7000 it is somewhere in the middle of making and breaking the camera. As noted in the controls section of the review there are a number of auto focus controls that determine how the system functions. First is the auto focus mode, Single, which means the camera focuses once when you half press the shutter release, and Full Time, which means the camera continues to auto focus as long as you half press the shutter. Those basic settings can make a big difference, not only in how the camera focuses, but also on battery life. Full Time AF will drain the battery more quickly, so it is best used when focusing on moving subjects.

Secondly is auto focus point selection, which is broken down into several controls, Face Detection, Auto, Manual, Center (Wide, Normal, Spot) and Subject Tracking. Each one of these modes work well based upon my testing, expect for subject tracking. Subject tracking is not good for much, from what I saw in testing. It locks on for a few seconds and then drifts off. Reflections or objects with similar colours easily distract the focus tracking of the P7000, so it isn't something I would trust to get shots of wildlife consistently. Don't expect it to magically lock and and track everything that moves, such as your kid at a football game, is what I'm getting at. Subject tracking works much better as a focus and recompose tool than anything else. I would say that subject tracking works, but I think the name is a little deceptive.

Thirdly is Focus Menu, (the flower) allows you to select Auto Focus (For normal use), Macro (close subjects), Infinity (tries to make everything in the image in focus) and manual. In the manual mode the camera automatically zooms in on the center of the frame, making it easier to manually focus. You press the rotary dial up and down to change the focusing distance. Through these various controls you have a lot of power over how the camera focuses, which is commendable if the auto focus system works well.

The P7000 focuses quickly in contrasty and well lit situations, but as contrast and light starts to fall off the camera will struggle to achieve focus. This is normal for a contrast based auto focus system, so don't expect to get DSLR like performance. When the camera achieves focus the focusing box will turn green and the AF light beside the optical viewfinder will also be green. If the camera fails to achieve focus then the box will turn red, and the light by the viewfinder will also be red. At times you'll be trying to auto focus on something and the camera will repeatedly bring up the red box, in situations where you would think that the P7000 should be able to achieve focus, but it cannot. For example, in a lower contrast setting, with bright light.

Despite the problems that I have encountered with the P7000's auto focus system, overall I am pleased with how well it performs. When the green box comes up does show, focus is right on 99% of the time. This has improved with the 1.1 firmware update, and find that the camera is achieving focus more often than with the original 1.0 firmware. Based on what I have seen from testing, auto focus works well 80% of the time, but that other 20% of the time can be very frustrating, as it is a little higher than I would like. I still think that Nikon could fix some of the focusing issues with a firmware update, and bring down the error rate closer to 15% of the time, if not less. Keep in mind that many of the user conclusions about the auto focus system, including mine, are coming from the perspective of higher end DSLR users who are used to extremely fast and responsive auto focus systems. If I compare the auto focus system of the P7000 to that of other point and shoot cameras that I have used, I'd say the P7000's auto focus is average, but not anything close to being the best in it's class.

Under some conditions the auto focus assist light can actually hinder the auto focus system of the P7000. I've found that under standard indoor lighting the auto focus system beam can actually cause focus failure (red box). In a very dark room the auto focus assist light can be helpful though, so turn it off only if it continually is causing problems. Other solutions for auto focus failures include using infinity focus or the wide center area focusing modes. Note that I found this to be less of an issue after installing firmware update version 1.1.

Metering:
Metering is also one of the most important aspects of a camera, if the camera meters the scene wrong it can lead to loosing detail in important parts of an image. The Matrix meter of the P7000 does a good job of metering most scenes, but there are times when you will want to use the other metering modes for more control over exposure. Indoors the Matrix meter does a very good job, as long as the lighting is not mixed, but that is no surprise since all pattern (multi-zone) meters have trouble in mixed lighting conditions. If you find yourself in such a situation you can make use of the center weighted or spot metering modes. Spot metering on the P7000 has two options, simply a spot in the center or linked to the selected auto focus point(s).

When the meter of the P7000 does not provide the results you are looking for, you can use the exposure compensation dial to quickly force the camera you over or underexpose at any time, as long as you are using one of the creative shooting modes (P,S,A,M & U1,U2,U3). Overall I found that the Matrix meter does a decent job, it is comparable to most entry level DSLR cameras, and there were only a few situations where I needed to use other metering modes. The use of different metering modes depends on how and what you shoot though, what works well for how I shoot may not be true for someone else.   

Nikon has included the Active D-Lighting (ADL) feature in the P7000, which can be useful in extremely contrasty situations. ADL works just as it does on any other Nikon camera, although the P7000 does give the user three settings to choose from (Low, Normal, High) unlike entry level DSLRs like the D3000 or D3100 where the only choice is on or off.

The 1.1 firmware update has fixed the issue where liveview on the rear LCD screen looses contrast when half pressing the shutter, when active D-Lighting is turned on.

ADL - OFF

ADL - Low

ADL - Normal

ADL - High

The difference between the different ADL settings is small, but can help expand the dynamic range of your JPEG files without post processing. The use of ADL can introduce noise into your image, so keep that in mind if you want to use the feature.

White Balance:
Auto White Balance on the P7000 works well outdoors, but like every other digital camera that I have used it has issues when under some indoor lighting conditions. Thankfully the P7000 has plenty of ways for you to adjust white balance, plus you can see the results right away on the rear LCD before you even start shooting. Each of the seven presets can be fine tuned, and if that is not enough you can use the colour temperature adjustment (K) menu to get just the right white balance. There are also three presets that can be added as well.

Flash:
The built in flash on the P7000 offers a small light that is helpful for close subjects indoors, or for fill flash in back-lit conditions. There are several settings that you can use with the built in flash, Auto, where the camera figures out the exposure using standard Nikon iTTL metering. Next is auto with red eye reduction, and fill flash. After that you have manual flash settings, you can manually dial in how much flash power you want, although you do have to go back into the flash menu each time you want to make adjustments. After manual there are slow and rear sync flash settings as well.


The P7000 also has a flash hotshoe, once you mount an external flash you need to input manual or flash exposure compensation settings into the flash unit itself, unless you are using the SB-400. The P7000 is listed as being fully compatible with the SB-600, SB-700 and SB-900. Another advantage of using an external flash is that an SB-700, SB-800 or SB-900 can be used to control one group (A) of wireless flashes as part of the Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) while mounted on the P7000. For full understand how the Nikon CLS system works with the P7000 and various flash units refer to the P7000 user manual.

In my experience the Nikon SB-800 works just fine as well, although I have read some reports that Nikon's ViewNX 2 and Capture NX2 software has issues editing with RAW files when the SB-800 is used. I haven't seen many reports of this, so it might just be a bug that was present in the software at one time.

Image Quality:
All of the good or bad points of the P7000 that have been covered so far would be meaningless if the camera produced poor images, thankfully that is not the case. When I say that the P7000 produces good images, I mean that the camera is able to capture extremely sharp, contrasty and realistic images without a lot of effort. Unless of course you have no photographic vision at all, in which case it wont matter what camera you use. Image quality in this case comes down to the performance of the 28-200mm F2.8-5.6VR (vibration reduction) equivalent zoom lens, and the 10MP CCD sensor. Sharpness is highest between 28-94mm, after which point there is a slow drop off, but even at 200mm the image quality is acceptable. Words really cannot tell you how well the P7000 performs in terms of image quality, so I'll point you towards the Nikon Coolpix P7000 Image Sample Gallery.

Another tool that the P7000 has to help you get great images is the vibration reduction element within the lens. This lens stabilization technology has improved a lot since I last used a point and shoot camera. I have been able to get extremely sharp images at slow shutter speeds, even down to 1/15s and sometimes even lower than that a 1/5s. I found the VR to be most effect towards the wide end of the zoom range, but it is also helpful when zoomed all the way out to 200mm. The P7000 also has software based image stabilization that is applied while the camera processes an image, but considering how good the VR is, I haven't found any need to turn it on. Just a quick note on vibration reduction, remember to turn it off if you are shooting from a tripod.

ISO Sensitivity and Noise Performance:
ISO noise performance of the P7000 is very good for a compact camera, thanks to the 1/1.7" CCD sensor. The P7000 has a native ISO range from 100-3200, with ISO 6400 as a high setting (Hi 1)Images are almost completely clear of noise at ISO100-200, and starts to show itself from ISO400 and up, which is common for a camera with a sensor this small. Performance is very similar to that of a 10MP CCD that was used in a APS-C sensor DSLR 4 years ago, until you hit ISO1600 where the latter wins easily. Since Noise reduction cannot be turn off on the P7000, all images have low NR applied in camera.(Click on images for better view)

ISO 100 (Clean)

ISO 200 (Still Clean)

ISO 400 (Starting to see some noise in the shadows)

ISO 800 (Noise in shadows and showing slight loss of detail)

ISO 1600 (Noise and some detail loss apparent across almost all of the frame)

ISO 3200 (Noise is very apparent, some colour noise, and loss of detail)

ISO 6400 [Hi 1] (Colour noise very apparent, as is loss of detail)

One thing I found interesting in testing was that ISO 6400 (Hi-1) actually shows more detail that ISO 3200, although there is more colour noise in the former. I wouldn't recommend using ISO 3200 or higher unless you really need to do so, or if you are shooting in monochrome. From my point of view, ISO100-800 is usable, with ISO100-400 being the best range. ISO 12800 can be used in the low noise mode (candle with moon), but in this mode the P7000 is in full auto, ISO sensitivity is set to Auto, plus you get jpg files that are only 3MP.

ISO 12800 (For memory sake only, as the loss of detail and noise levels are high)

Video Mode:
Video quality of the P7000 at 1280x720 (720p HD) is extremely good for a compact digital camera that is aimed at still photographers. The same comments that I had about still image quality at different focal lengths also applies to video quality. Generally speak the video quality is superior to that of a dedicated compact camcorder in the same price range that recorded at 1920x1080 (1080p Full HD). Part of that has to do with the size of the image sensor, and considering that to get a camcorder with a sensor the size of the one used in P7000 it costs a few hundred dollars more, you get a lot for your money with the P7000. That being said, a dedicated camcorder gives you far more control over how the camera shoots video.

The P7000 gives you very little control over video, the frame rate at all recording sizes is fixed at 24FPS. The only options you have is what auto focus mode (Single or Full Time) and whether to apply a wind reduction filer or not on recorded audio. You can adjust white balance, but ISO and the my menu options are not are not adjustable. Video on the P7000 is not a major feature, but the quality is good enough for shot clips, which is all I suspect anyone would be using it for anyway.

Auto focus in video mode, as noted earlier works in two modes, single or full time. When the camera is set to single you focus by half pressing the shutter as you would before taking a still image, then you press the shutter to start recording. You cannot refocus while recording, although you can still zoom in and out. If you want to be able to refocus while recording you must use Full Time AF mode, in which the camera will continue to focus during the enter recording. The problem with using full time AF is that you will hear the auto focus system focusing if you use the built in microphone. I'll have more on that in a bit. The full time auto focus in video mode works well as long as there are well defined, contrasty subjects in the frame. From time to time you might find your subject going in and out of focus, but it is no better or worse than what you'll see from a consumer camcorder from what I have seen in testing. Full time AF is best used if you are on the move or if your subject is, otherwise you are better off using single AF mode to prefocus on the area the subject will be in.


The P7000 has a 2.5" microphone port on the left side of the body, which can plug in an external microphone into and prevent the sound of in camera noises such as the zoom and auto focus motor from being captured while recording. Not only does it reduce the noise from the camera, but also from noise created by the user holding the camera, if it isn't on a tripod and used hands free. Speaking of hands free, you can start and stop recording using the same wireless remote (ML-L3) as you would for taking a still image.

To see video samples, visit the video sample page: Nikon P7000 Video Samples

Optical Viewfinder:
Unlike many compact point and shoot cameras today the Nikon P7000, like the Canon G series of cameras, have an optical viewfinder which is useful in several situations. Firstly when using the camera in lighting conditions were the rear LCD isn't bright enough to be viewable. This would happen mostly when the sun is directly behind you. There are other occasions, such as at a play where having the bright screen of the P7000 on would be distracting to others around you. Another reason to only use the viewfinder would be to save battery life. You can turn off the rear LCD by pressing the display button twice, at which point the On/Off Button will glow green to remind you that the camera is still on. Of course you wont be able to make any changes to settings when the display is turned off. If you want to change settings the screen will come on, allowing you to make changes and then turn off again afterwords.

The viewfinder itself offers 80% coverage, which means you are not getting what you see through the viewfinder, but that is par for the course with this kind of camera. The finder itself  is very small, and shows a great deal of distortion and colour fringing on the edges. Unlike some point and shoots that have optical finders the P7000's finder does zoom in and out as the lens does, giving you a better idea of what the final results will be.

Comments and Conclusion: (Based on firmware version 1.1)
First of all, I just want to mention that I have not given a full overview of every single feature and menu option of the P7000, but what I did do was cover what I consider to be the most important ones. Secondly, I'd like to say that I've had what I would call a mixed experience with the P7000. There are times when I am extremely happy with how the camera is performing, and then there are other time when I get a little frustrated with it. I'm going to comment on exactly what I like the most, first and then move on to what bugged me.

Outstanding image quality for a compact camera has to be the first thing that pops into my mind when I think about the P7000. I'm willing to bet you could get similar results with any compact using this sensor, but as I noted at the start of the review there is more to getting good image quality than just the sensor. The lens of the P7000 is sharp and contrasty through almost the enter range, only at the long end do image start to feel a little soft. Stopping down the lens from wide open at most focal ranges solves any softness that I noticed. The next things that stands out to me are controls and ergonomics, the designers at Nikon laid out the controls in a comfortable and thoughtful manner that makes it easy to change settings on the go. I would have liked to have an ISO dial like on the G12, but the Quick Menu dial access to ISO and other important shooting settings is the next best thing.

The P7000 can be a little hit and miss with auto focus, but there has been an improvement in performance with the 1.1 firmware update. If I focus on a given subject in low light, the chances of the camera achieving focus lock is about 50/50. This can be frustrating, but keeping the minimum focusing distance of the lens at a given focal length does lessen focusing errors. Focusing errors are common on subjects with low contrast, whether it be in low light or extremely bright conditions. On a few rare occasions the camera back-focuses for seemingly no reason, but often refocusing fixes the problem.

The other thing that bugs me about the P7000 is a hint of sluggishness, although less so with the 1.1 firmware update. There are delays in entering the menu system, for seemingly no reason, and frankly I've not seen with other high end point and shoot cameras. RAW image recording is a little sluggish, it takes 3 seconds to record an image. Fine JPEGs take 1.5-2 seconds, which is acceptable. Speed issues, along with the poor Subject Tracking feature, make this camera a poor choice for anyone who wants to shoot a lot of action, like sports or wildlife. To be honest though, if you want to get consistently good results in those areas you really need to consider a DSLR.

The Nikon Coolpix P7000 is a camera that leaves me with mixed feelings. The controls and image quality are outstanding for a compact camera, easily tied neck and neck with the likes of the Canon G11 and G12. The possibility of the auto focus system missing or back-focusing leaves a slightly bad taste in your mouth at times though. So with all the things that have been covered in this review, is the Nikon Coolpix P7000 a Canon G series "killer" as Nikon hoped that it would be? As things stand right now, I would say no, even after the 1.1 firmware update. There are still a few issues at the moment, but the potential is still there. I do wonder if the processor on the P7000 is underpowered, which leaves the camera feeling a little slow at times.

Who is the P7000 For?
I think the Nikon P7000 would be a good fit for photographers who want a small backup to a DSLR, or someone who wants the controls of a DSLR, but doesn't want to carry around a big camera body and a bag of lenses. 

Who is the P7000 Not For?
People who just want a simple point and shoot camera that will never be taken out of auto mode. If you want to get better image quality than a standard point and shoot in low light there are better options, like the Canon S95 that also have 1/1.7" image sensors.


Pros:
* Great image and video quality for a compact camera
* Good high ISO performance for a compact, like other cameras with 1/1.7" 10MP CCD sensors
* Controls are well thought out and easy to use
* Good ergonomics (well designed for easy handling)
* Auto Focus is extremely fast in good light
* Good outdoor auto white balance performance
* Longest zoom range (28-200mm, 35mm equivalent zoom) in it's class
* VR (Vibration Reduction) is extremely effective
* Large, clear and bright 3" rear LCD
* Can control one group of wireless speedlights via a hotshoe mounted SB900, SB800 or SB700
* Manual Flash Settings for built in flash
* 2.5" microphone port allowing sound to be recorded by an external microphone while recording video
* The Optical Viewfinder is usable, although not great

Cons:
* Somewhat slow RAW (NRW) recording speed (3 seconds on average for a single shot)
* Auto Focus Errors are common in low light/low contrast conditions
* Grip side camera strap lug is poorly positioned
* Can be slow to respond at times when switching between shooting and playback mode, although performance is better with firmware 1.1 update installed.
* Poor white balance performance under indoor lights (not uncommon for digital cameras)