The prosumer camera is a niche if you ever saw one. It’s all about the in-between, riding those lines that separate simple, compact point and shoots from big-sensor DSLRs. It’s hard to get this segment just right because you have two target customers: amateurs moving up into the big leagues and pros who need a smaller model for their collections. Either one needs to be convinced this thing is worth $500.
The Nikon Coolpix P7100 is as good an argument as any. While its sensor isn’t breaking any records and speed is something of a pain point, the camera’s impressive overall image quality and incredible amount of control and customization will make prosumer shooters feel right at home.
Look and feel
The Nikon P7100 is difficult to miss. It’s a chunky camera with all the bells and whistles in the world, and it’s got the heft to prove it. That said, it’s not so oversized that it won’t fit in larger jacket pockets or purses and bags, so don’t fear the P7100, even with its intimidating amount of buttons, switches, and thick body. For all its bulk, it’s a pretty slick-looking camera.
The front of the chassis has a distinct grip and small dial control. The fixed lens looks like it might also control manual settings with a twist, but it does not. The top of the camera has a hotshoe port and a bevy of buttons – the power button is very nearly hidden among them. It’s a fraction of their size and rather sunken into the body of the P7100. Thankfully, this doesn’t hurt its function at all. The main mode dial is the center of attention, exposure control and the zoom toggle get second billing, and there’s a small control to the left hand side for white balance, ISO, bracketing, and a few other secondary settings.
While the layout makes sense, the controls feel less than satisfactory. They aren’t all that smooth, and switching from one mode to the next is pretty stiff, requiring a little more push than we’d like. It’s a really small complaint, of course, compared to the larger look and feel of the P7100 – which is overall, quite good. But button stick is annoying, and the P7100 definitely has it.
On the back of the camera, you’ve got – surprise – more buttons. Nikon uses a more typical setup here, with a menu dial and OK button for in-camera navigation, a menu, trash, and playback button, and then two more dials for manual settings, the pop-up flash control, and viewfinder toggle. There is no dedicated video capture control, which is disappointing. We know, it’s a lot, and the sheer mount of stuff here to work your way through might be one of the P7100’s weaknesses. Buttons upon buttons upon buttons can be offsetting, but it’s part of the pain that comes with a full-featured fixed-lens camera. Nikon’s P7100 does as good a job as any laying it all out in a way that’s as approachable as possible.
What’s in the box
In addition to the P7100, you’ll get a neck strap, USB cable, rechargeable Li-ion battery, battery charger, reference manual CD, and NikonView CD ROM.
The Nikon P7100 isn’t really a features powerhouse; that is to say it doesn’t offer a superzoom lens, or tough cam durability, or interchangeable lenses. It doesn’t have touchscreen or Wi-Fi. When you look at the features most camera manufacturers boast, this thing is comparably simple.
But don’t mistake simple for poor quality. Buried beneath that simplicity is a very capable camera.
The P7100 has a 3-inch vari-angle, anti-reflective LCD display, which holds up really well in all conditions. Like the button stick, this thing feels rather stiff, but in general it’s really easy to see and playback is nice and clear. The P7100’s optical viewfinder is probably supposed to be a more noteworthy feature, but it’s so small and that you can’t really effectively use it, and you’ll find yourself reverting to the LCD display instead.
While the P7100 might not have much in the way of eye-catching hardware or flashy built-in features, the main draw here is the sheer amount of customization and detailed control. On top of the manual settings, Nikon has outfitted the point and shoot with an almost shocking variety of filters and scene settings. Full manual, aperture priority, and shutter priority go beyond the basic settings to give you very specific access to controlling white balance, hue, exposure, bracketing, and AF tracking. Your favorite combinations will find a home in one of three empty spots for user settings, or a front-facing function button you can assign a control to.
You could spend infinite amounts of time perusing the menu and the mode dials, perfectly setting up a photo to your heart’s content — and on the flip side, Nikon was smart enough to also include a Smart Scene selector, which lives up to its name. Given that there are so many options and controls available, this camera desperately needs some sort of quick solution, and Smart Scene does a great job of reading the setting, and even switching to macro when need be.
With all these shooting customization features, it’s important that the navigation be… navigable. Luckily, Nikon rises to the task and has made what could be an intensely complex experience fairly friendly. At first, it’s daunting to dive into the controls, but the menu is very user friendly. Even those who don’t consider themselves camera buffs will be able to learn something and step up to the challenge, thanks to the helpful interface.
Performance and use
The P7100 has a 10.1-megapixel CCD sensor, which isn’t anything to write home about — but for this size, the P7100 returns excellent image quality. As with most of the Nikon lineup, hue and color saturation are very natural and you won’t get that overly contrasted, hyper-warm look that many point and shoots can often give off.
You can push ISO impressively far. Most shots taken at 1,600 — and some even past, coupled with good lighting — fend off noise well. As previously mentioned, you can adjust so many settings (not to mention shooting in RAW) that fighting low light or backlighting is well within your capabilities.
While AF was fast and subject tracking accurate, the camera doesn’t break any speed barriers, which is a little disappointing. With a camera like this you want to get all the mileage possible out of it, and action shots will suffer. Shutter lag is fine, but frame-to-frame refresh speed is just a little too slow. Unless you really bottom out the shutter speed and sacrifice light and clarity, you won’t be able to capture fast-moving subjects well without excellent lighting. That said, you can push the camera to its max with its 60-second shutter speed option and vibration reduction function, which are great coups for night photography.
Video capture is fine… but that’s all it is. The camera only shoots at 720p HD, which means you’re obviously going to sacrifice some image quality. You do have manual controls and can also operate the camera’s zoom during recording, without a terrible amount of shake or any loud whirring, but you cannot apply any of the P7100’s filters to the shots, so it’s a bit limited.
The Nikon Coolpix P7100 and cameras like it represent a quirky in-between-breed — even more so than the mirrorless, interchangeable lens models taking over the market. You’re buying a point and shoot without the convenience of fitting it in your back pocket, and most of the complications of a DSLR without the benefit of a large sensor. Yet with all that in mind, Nikon has managed to make the P7100 a really attractive option.
Nikon’s P7100 is simple where it should be and complex where it needs to be. Those who prioritize image quality, customization and fine shooting controls will find exactly what they’re looking for. And nothing more: No waste on flash-in-the-pan features like GPS or touchscreens. The handful of buyers looking for that rare combination will be impressed with what the Nikon P7100 offers.
Best buy for: Prosumers, past the point-and-shoot buyers, DSLR users looking for a smaller fixed-lens option
- Impressive image quality — you can push ISO and hues are natural
- Advanced customization options
- Nice hardware and UI setup
- Only 720p video capture
- Burst mode is disappointing; frame to frame refresh also laggy