If Nikon had released the P7100 as its new Coolpix camera model a year ago instead of the disappointing P7000, it would have saved everyone a lot of time and money. But alas, that’s how imaging and consumer electronic companies sometimes work. They release a buggy “first” model and then fix the mistakes in the inevitable follow-up. It’s why “early adopters” sometimes feel like guinea pigs.
The 10.1-megapixel P7100 is not a major overhaul from the previous model but it is an improvement in some significant ways. First off, it’s important to note that some of the failings of the previous model, including its glacial start-up and shot-to-shot times, were enhanced with a couple of firmware updates along the way. But who has time for firmware updates when you just want to go out and shoot?
The P7100 answers that with a recognizable speed bump across the board, particularly with its start-up time. The camera powers on and extends its 7x (28-200mm) f/2.8 lens—the same lens as on the previous model—and is ready for the first shot in about two seconds. If this is not particularly impressive for a camera in this class and price range ($499), it’s a great change of pace from the previous model, which took about three and a half seconds to get to the first shot.
Shot to shot, the P7100 is still slower than its closest rival—the 10-megapixel Canon PowerShot G12—but improved from the P7000. I clocked the P7100 as taking two seconds to write a Large/Fine JPEG image to the SD card and be ready to fire again. (The previous camera took about two and a half seconds.) The P7100 is still irritatingly slow when you’re shooting in the camera’s RAW mode, which uses a proprietary NRW format that is somewhat reduced in size compared to the NEF format in Nikon’s DSLRs. I averaged about nine seconds between shots in RAW. That’s a one-second improvement from the P7000, but still unacceptable.
The Good News
That’s all the bad news there is about this camera. It’s a fine upgrade from the P7000, making it a more legitimate contender in the advanced compact category to top dogs such as the Canon G12 and Panasonic LX5. The whole herky-jerky menu thang from before has been resolved on the P7100, and scrolling and selecting options is acceptable if not exactly enjoyable.
The Quick Menu Dial on the top left, where you can adjust some of the most used settings such as ISO, bracketing and white balance, is a nice feature that is more useful now that it’s been amped up. The center button on the dial, which calls up an onscreen menu for adjusting settings, is markedly faster, putting the “quick” back into the Quick Dial.
Shutter response is still quite good with very little lag—about a quarter of a second—and virtually none when you prefocus. All the excellent external control remains from the previous model and there’s even a new command dial added to the front.
Also new: The 3-inch, 921,000-dot LCD on back is now a vari-angle screen that tilts to help you compose shots from unusual angles. There’s still an optical viewfinder (with diopter control) on the camera, but it’s pretty tiny and I prefer composing photos on the tilting screen, which has anti-glare coating that helps while shooting outdoors.
Another somewhat strange—though useful—feature on the P7100 is a button on back of the camera that kind of looks like Pac-Man, but actually triggers the pop-up flash which, while small, has a pretty good range: from a foot to 21 feet on the wide angle; and from two feet to nine feet ten inches on the telephoto. There’s also a hotshoe (iTTL) for an external flash, and in-camera wireless flash control with a commander mode.
Since the 10-megapixel, 1/1.7-inch CCD and lens are the same from the previous model, image quality is pretty much the same, i.e. quite good. Like other high-end compacts with 1/1.17-inch image sensors, there’s only so much these cameras can do at higher ISOs. The most you’re going to want to push it is ISO 1600, which still produces noisy shadow areas. ISO 3200 and 6400 (Hi 1) were quite noisy, while the Low Noise Night mode, which can record as high as ISO 12800, is for emergencies only since it captures images at just 3 megapixel.
I was disappointed that Nikon did not upgrade the HD video function on this camera; it’s still stuck at 720p at 30 frames per second, when many competing models offer full HD. Sound quality from the built-in stereo mic is only so-so but there is a 3.5mm stereo microphone jack for attaching something more professional. There’s also a mini HDMI port for playing your movies directly on an HDTV (but you’ll have to purchase your own cord).
The Bottom Line
Nikon hasn’t changed a lot on the reboot of its flagship Coolpix camera but it has significantly improved it. The new P7100 may look the same and offer essentially the same good image quality from the previous model but it’s much faster and more enjoyable to use overall. I’d still rate it a step down from competing advanced compacts from Canon and Panasonic but the gap is closing.
Pros: Faster to use overall; even more external control with the addition of front command dial; tilting, vari-angle 3-inch LCD is a big plus.
Cons: Shot-to-shot speeds are still slow, particularly when shooting RAW; HD video is still stuck at 720p; style of camera too imitative of Canon G12.
Price: $499; www.nikonusa.com
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