Serious shutterbugs tired of lugging around giant DSLRs have lots of options in 2011. There are Olympus PEN interchangeable lens cameras that cost anywhere from $450 to $700. Then there is the Canon PowerShot S95 or G12 style of digicam with built-in wide-angle zooms that cost less than $500. All have tweaks galore, and better-than-average picture quality. Now we’ll see if the P7000 digicam is worth the money, or is the picking greener elsewhere?
Features and design
Do a quick look at the Canon PowerShot G12 and the Nikon Coolpix P7000 and you’ll think they’re twins. Both large, black-bodied cameras have a decided rangefinder vibe and very similar specs. They both cost $499 and feature 10-megapixel CCD imagers measuring 1/1.7-inches, much larger than the typical 1/2.3-inch sensors of mainstream cameras. A bigger sensor means larger pixels, which usually equates to better photos. We’ve reviewed the G12, and liked it. Yet the digital camera landscape is constantly changing as the popularity of compact interchangeable lens models continues to grow. In this category, the Sony Alpha NEX-5 is another fave, just like the Olympus PEN, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves…
The Nikon Coolpix P7000 has a bit of a throwback look and clearly won’t be mistaken for another cheapo camera. Hardly pocketsize, it measures 4.5 x 3.1 x 1.8 (W x H x D, in inches) and weighs 12.7 ounces with battery and SD card, almost the exact specs of the G12. Don’t try to read anything between the lines about this — the Nikon is made in Indonesia while the Canon is built in Japan. They are definitely not “badge engineered” like older GM cars, even though many similarities exist. One of the critical differences is zoom power. The P7000 has a 7.1x zoom that’s equivalent to 28-200mm; the G12 has a 5x zoom equivalent to 28-140mm. If you’re looking for a more potent lens, the Nikon gets a check mark. Another plus is the grip on the right with its faux leather surface. A similarly textured thumb rest is nicely placed on the back so the camera feels solid and secure overall.
The front of the P7000 is thankfully free of text (unlike the Coolpix S8100) and is very clean and understated. Along with the lens, you’ll find an AF Assist/self-timer lamp, a porthole for the optical viewfinder, Function key and another that releases the lens ring so you can add optional conversion lenses. There are also pinhole stereo mics and a remote sensor.
A quick peek at the top immediately shows the P7000 is designed for those who really want to take control of their images. Sure there’s Auto on the mode dial, but there are two other dials photographers will appreciate: one for exposure compensation (+/- 3 EV compared to the usual 2) and another that offers quick access to key parameters (quality, ISO, white balance, bracketing, My Menu and tone level information). This Quick Mode Dial is very cool. You just turn to the category you want to adjust, press the button in the middle of it, then use the scroll wheel on the back to zip through them. This is very nicely done and the onscreen graphics are quite good.
The main mode dial next to the hot shoe has the usual choices including PASM, Auto, three customizable user settings, Low Noise Night mode, Scene (18 options) and Movie (720p at 24 fps). Unlike many new models, it does not have a dedicated red-dot video button. With the Low Noise setting, resolution drops to 3 megapixels or less, and ISO can hit 12,800. More on this in a bit. Next to the shutter and zoom toggle switch is another button (Av/Tv) that lets you customize the camera even further. We used it to enable the virtual horizon histogram, a handy tool for keeping your horizons straight and a feature typically found on DSLRs like the Sony alpha SLT-A55V. In keeping with the idea this camera is for those who want total control, the flash has to be manually popped up using a button on the back left (for the record, this icon looks like Ms. Pac Man). The flash offers six different output levels, again something far beyond the usual.
The rear of the P7000 is dominated by a fixed-position, 3-inch LCD rated 921K pixels, and it’s a good one. We had no troubles in direct sunlight or dark rooms, but if there were, the optical viewfinder with diopter control was at the ready. Now for another key difference with the Canon G12: The PowerShot has a 2.8-inch vari-angle LCD rated 461K pixels you can twist into a variety of positions in order to shoot at different angles. Just with this difference alone, a hands-on test between the two is definitely in order. Other rear P7000 controls include the jog wheel, AE-L/AF-L button, Display, Playback, Menu and Delete. The controller has a rotary wheel and the four points give access to metering, macro, self-timer and flash options.
The right side has a compartment with USB and mini HDMI outs, while on the left is a mic-in option if you decide to upgrade your audio recording.
Surprisingly the built-in speaker is on the bottom, next to a metal tripod mount. In other words, you can’t rest it on the counter to review your movies as the sound will be muffled. Not a deal breaker, but unusual. You’ll also find the battery and memory card compartment here. The P7000 only accepts SD, SDHC and SDXC cards, not MMC, which really isn’t a big deal since SD cards are so affordable. Use Class 6 or better to handle the HD video.
What’s in the box
You’ll find the camera, rechargeable Li-ion battery rated 350 shots per CIPA, plug-in charger, accessory shoe cover, strap, USB and A/V cables and a 226-page printed User’s Manual. The supplied Coolpix software CD-ROM has ViewNX2, a solid, free editing package.