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If you’re dithering between a mirrorless and a DSLR camera for serious, down-to-earth photography, this one from Nikon fits exactly that role.
Sure, the lens is fixed but it is a Nikkor that equates to 28-200mm as a 35 SLR equivalent: a 7.1x enlargement in fact. Very cleverly, Nikon has also installed an optical viewfinder: tiny but useful.
Agreed, the CCD captures only 10.1 megapixels, meaning you can snare a maximum image size of 3648×2736 pixels or as a 31x23cm print. But note: the CCD measures a largish 15mm across the diagonal. Compare the Nikon V1, with a diagonal of 16mm.
One negative: you have to forgo Full HD video with the P7100: max res is only 1280x720p, although I did find the AF and exposure control worked effortlessly while shooting video. A downer is that you can’t shoot stills while recording video: and it interrupts the video run.
However, Nikon describes the P7100 as “the top model in the COOLPIX series.”
After only five minutes with the new camera, fiddling with the controls and scanning the copious viewfinder menus, I have to agree.
This one sits in the same territory as Canon’s well-regarded G-series of fixed lens compacts — but IMHO the Nikon does it better.
With camera in hand, the first thing you notice is the articulated screen that can be lowered 81 degrees from the vertical or upward by 105 degrees. But no sideways swing!
I particularly liked the external controls, especially the smallish knob/button at left: this gives direct control of ISO setting, bracketting, image quality/size/file format, custom picture control and white balance. After many years reviewing cameras that call for endless digging into viewfinder menus to access these features, this method has to be the pick of all the approaches.
Look across to the right of the top deck and you find the mode dial that takes you into auto, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority plus manual — and another button that gives direct access to exposure compensation, scene modes, effects. There are also three interesting positions on the mode dial that effectively give you three custom user settings.
It’s worth noting that there are four new special effects: zoom exposure, defocus during exposure, cross-processing and creative monochrome.
These are fascinating. Take ‘creative monochrome’: you can vary the degree of graininess or you could even render the image as a solarised one. With ‘cross-processing’ you can simulate the effect of processing a colour negative in chemicals intended for reversal film … or vice versa!
I have to admit that the method of selecting special effects and scene modes left a little to be desired: you begin by rotating the mode dial to either, then you must hit the menu button to make your specific choice. Surely a better way would be to present the choices on screen immediately the mode is selected.
The interesting zoom memory is operable with the use of the Fn1 button, sited on the front surface. Not sure in my own photography how I could use this but possibly a useful feature when you have to match angles; up to three focal lengths can be logged.
There is a panorama mode, along with supplied software (Win and Mac) to stitch the images together: sure, it’s not as elegant as Sony’s approach where the images are stitched within the camera … but at least it’s there.
Other niceties: a neutral density filter that can apply an exposure cut of three f stops. With this you can enjoy slower shutter speeds and shoot those dreamy, motion blurred images of breaking waves and other movement.
The big plus for many people is RAW capture (Nikon calls it NRW and it has to be converted), giving image files free of compression artefacts present in JPEG capture.
About a second and a half from startup In could shoot the first shot; follow-ons about a second apart.
I was surprised to find there was obvious barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom but negligible pincushion distortion at the tele end.
The image noise only became noticeable at ISO 3200 but, even then, shots of some subjects could still be useful.
Why you’d buy the P7100: multiple external control points; pocketable.
Why you wouldn’t: you want Full HD; the 7.1x zoom range is not enough for you.
Having waded through a mountain of DSLRs, mirrorless models and piles of boring point-and-shooters this one shines out like a beacon on a foggy night.
A black note: the battery must be charged while in the camera, so you can’t go shooting while charging a second battery. Bummer!
Well done Nikon!