Nikon COOLPIX P7100: Something Relevant
In the age of mirrorless cameras, does an advanced compact camera still make sense? Shridhar Kunte tests the Nikon COOLPIX P7100 to find out.
Nikon’s P series and Canon’s G series have always had a large fan following, considering the number of advanced features that are packed into these sturdily built compact cameras. But then, the market has undergone a drastic shift in the past few years.
Mirrorless cameras are now a lot less expensive, and one can get a large-sensor camera for a price that is almost the same, or even lesser than some of these compact cameras. How then, would these cameras compete? Is it worth buying them anymore?
Nikon has tried to work out a simple solution to this problem that has been threatening the very existence of this class of cameras—simply slashing the price. Cameras of this nature would cost almost Rs. 30,000 till a few months ago, while the Nikon COOLPIX P7100 has a price tag of Rs. 22,950.
It is not just about the price. The new P7100 has several new improvements over its predecessor, the P7000—some visible, some more subtle. The improvements are not only in terms of electronic upgrades, but also in the interface and the external controls of the camera.
The camera has a similar 10.1MP CCD to the P7000, but is fitted with the new EXPEED C2 image processing engine. The big difference that differentiates this camera from similar cameras from other brands is the large zoom range. It has a 7.1x lens that covers a very useful 28–200mm focal length. Along with its f/2.8 capabilities at the wide end and optical VR, the lens is one of the reasons you may want to pick up this camera. There are optional lens adapters available as well, that let you extend the wide angle capabilities to 21mm.
One feature I liked is the built-in Neutral Density filter. This allows the camera to use slower shutterspeeds or wide apertures, even in extremely bright light. For those who wish to experiment with creative effects, especially while shooting water bodies, this is a great mode to have in a compact camera. Interestingly, the camera also allows you to use a shutterspeed as slow as 60sec—a rarity in cameras at this price point.
In addition to this, the P7100 offers some fun Special Effect modes, such as Creative Monochrome (punchy black and white with simulated film grain) and Cross Processing (which gives a variety of looks). The video recording is only restricted to 720p, which is disappointing, but the camera allows you to attach an external microphone.
Just like the P7000, the camera has a hot shoe and is compatible with the company’s Creative Lighting System. It can record RAW images, though unfortunately, it uses a special NRW format, instead of the NEF format that Nikon DSLRs use.
Do not be misguided by the term ‘compact’ camera. This is a bulky machine, which is certainly not pocketable. At first glance, it is very similar to the Canon G12, especially because of certain ergonomic changes that this camera brings. I welcome the fact that the camera now has a tilting LCD, unlike the P7000, which had a fixed screen. However, unlike the G12, the LCD only tilts up and down, instead of swivelling as well. There is one feature in which it races ahead of the Canon though. The LCD has a resolution of 9,20,000 dots, which is class leading in this category of cameras.
The camera looks well constructed with a magnesium alloy chassis. This gives it a robust and professional finish. The rubberised handgrip is small in size but provides a secure grip when you rest your thumb on the pad at the back of the camera. With photographers who have large palms, the rotatory multi selector tends to change its position on its own, which can be quite an irritant, while shooting on field.
I carried the camera on the streets, in trains and also made pictures at the local vegetable market. As the camera is very light, it keeps dangling from the neck strap and feels a little insecure.
The number of buttons may seem scary to the first-time user, but the target audience of the P7100 would enjoy the extensive control that is at their hands. Going through the user manual will also help you appreciate the camera more, as you will understand the various ways in which you can customise the controls, including two Function buttons and three User Modes. That said, I was disappointed to see that Fn1 gives you access to only a few settings.
The camera has three dials to control exposure. The dial on the left provides handy shortcuts to key features such as image quality, ISO, WB, bracketing, Picture Controls and the customisable My Menu screen. However, to operate this dial, I need to use the left hand that is otherwise supporting the lens, during which there is always a chance of losing the shot.
The functions of the two command dials can be interchanged as per the convenience of the user. I liked the fact that there is a separate dial for adjusting Exposure Compensation. This dial offers good resistance while operating and does not get changed accidentally.
I was happy that Nikon has retained the optical viewfinder. But using it for a long time is a pain, as it is too small and puts strain on your eyes. Also, at close distances, it shows quite a bit of parallax.
I was pretty happy with the AF speed on a majority of the occasions. Tracking AF also does a commendable job, which is not something we are used to, in compact cameras. To test whether the camera improves upon the sluggish nature of the P7000, I used a SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC UHS-I memory card. The P7100 captures three RAW + JPEG frames and then freezes for a while, which is still quite slow.
The built-in flash is slightly under power. The lens handles chromatic aberrations very well. At the wide end of the lens, there is visible barrel distortion.
The out-of-the-box JPEG images shows good tonal reproduction. The overall sharpness is very good, but slightly drops at the telephoto end. In-camera noise reduction is quite aggressive, which is why I was happy to switch it off. The camera gives very good results up to ISO 800, after which there is a slight colour shift. Metering is quite good, but there is a slight bias towards overexposure, which you particularly notice because the highlight detail captured by the camera is not that great.
As mentioned upfront, the attractive pricing of the P7100 is what it makes it an interesting option. If you spend around Rs. 5000 more, you will be able to buy an entry-level mirrorless camera with superior image quality, but the ergonomics and zoom range of the P7100 would win.
If the above two factors are important to you, also consider the superb Olympus XZ-1. It has a more conservative zoom range, is slightly more expensive, but has a superbly fast lens that gives a maximum aperture of f/2.5 at the telephoto end!
These are arguably two of the best small-sensor compact cameras in the market today, and the only ones that give a stiff competition to the mirrorless world. The fast lens of the Olympus makes it a more compelling option, but for the reach of a 200mm lens and its several ergonomic advantages, the Nikon COOLPIX P7100 is an interesting option.
Good zoom range, RAW, hot shoe, 720p video
Very good sharpness, narrow dynamic range, slow shot-to-shot time
Durable metal body
Complex controls, two Fn buttons
Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, six master service centres
Value For Money: 4.5/5 stars
Who Should Buy It?
Those who want a lot of customisation at a relatively low price.
The P7100’s small sensor is nowhere near as good as mirrorless cameras and its lens is not as fast as the XZ1’s, but if you need zoom, it is good value for money.
Tags: Neha Mutreja, Olympus XZ-1, Advanced Compact Camera, shirdhar kunte, april 2012, nikon coolpix p7100, raw and hotshoe, bridge camera