Nikon’s latest advanced compact, the Coolpix P7700, has some significant upgrades over its predecessor, not least a 12.2-million-pixel CMOS sensor and a redesigned lens. Read the Nikon Coolpix P7700 review...
Nikon Coolpix P7700 at a glance:
- 1/1.7in, 12.2-millon-pixel CMOS sensor
- 6-42.8mm (28-200mm equivalent) Nikkor lens
- f/2-4 maximum aperture
- ISO 80-3200 (extended to 6400)
- 8fps shooting rate
- 118.5 x 72.5 x 50.4mm
- 392g incl battery and card
- Street price around £449
Nikon Coolpix P7700 review – Introduction
With the introduction of the Coolpix P7000 in 2010, Nikon reinvigorated its line of advanced compact cameras, moving away from the small design of the Coolpix P6000 to a camera that looked like a Canon PowerShot G-series model. Although the move was bold, the camera was somewhat slow and clumsy to use. These issues were resolved to some degree with the launch of the Coolpix P7100 the following year, and the latest version, the Nikon Coolpix P7700, has seen even more revisions.
Like most of its competitors, the Coolpix P7700 uses a 1/1.7in (7.6×5.7mm), 12.2-million-pixel CMOS sensor. However, while competing cameras use what is, on paper at least, a similar sensor, there can still be big differences in how images are processed, and don’t forget that the lens is a huge factor when it comes to image quality.
Although the 6-42.8mm (28-200mm equivalent) focal length remains from the P7100, the maximum aperture range of the lens has been increased from f/2.8-5.6 in the earlier model to f/2-4 in the P7700. The lens is therefore 1EV brighter when using the 200mm equivalent setting, which should help to reduce camera shake when shooting telephoto images. The f/2 setting at the widest focal lengths should also prove beneficial when shooting in low light.
Another new improvement to the lens is the adoption of a filter thread. This 40.5mm thread allows optical filters to be screwed directly onto the end of the lens without the need for additional adapters or tubes. There is also a screw thread with a removable cover set around the base of the lens barrel, but Nikon does not list any optional adapter rings to use with this, so there are no conversion lenses either. It would seem this protective cover simply unscrews to ensure the lens is able to retract completely into the camera body when certain 40.5mm filters or step-up rings are attached. There is also no option in the camera menu to select the use of any adapter lenses, so it would seem that Nikon is giving with one hand and taking away with the other. That said, I think that most photographers in the market for this camera would prefer the 40.5mm filter thread to the adapter tube system.
Despite the change in sensor, and unlike some of its competitors, the maximum sensitivity of the P7700 remains at IS0 6400, although the minimum setting has been slightly improved to ISO 80 rather than ISO 100. The decision not to make dramatic changes to the resolution and sensitivity in compact cameras is a sensible one. Smaller, incremental changes are far less likely to affect image quality, which is easy to compromise on cameras with smaller imaging sensors.
Other new features include an 8fps shooting rate, although the processing power could still do with an increase. It takes around 4secs from shooting a raw+JPEG image to being able to take another. That said, the P7700 is still a big improvement over the original P7000, which we found to be extremely sluggish.
Wireless flash control is now possible using the P7700’s built-in, pop-up flash as a commander, and the camera is now compatible with Nikon’s GP-1 GPS unit, which should only add to its popularity as a travel camera.
One feature that is missing, though, is built-in Wi-Fi capability. However, the P7700 is compatible with Eye-Fi cards, and the use of one will make it possible to send images from the camera to a computer or smart device.
A big change that is bound to divide opinion is the removal of the optical viewfinder. Although occasionally useful, the viewfinder on the previous models was so small that I really don’t see it as much of a loss. It is surprising, though, that its removal has not really had much of an impact on the camera’s size and weight, as the Coolpix P7700 is the largest advanced compact camera currently available on the market.
Build and handling
Despite removing the optical viewfinder, the Nikon Coolpix P7700 is still about as large as compact cameras come. In our fast-aperture compacts group test in AP 24 November, we found the P7700 to be the largest and heaviest camera in its class. In itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Its 392g weight is hardly going to cause anybody a sore back, but the camera isn’t so easy to fit into a pocket unless it’s on a big winter jacket.
The camera construction itself can’t be faulted. The body is strong and sturdy, with a good array of buttons and dials. Of these, the most useful are the two function buttons, including one that is on the front of the camera, and the exposure compensation dial, which makes it easy to adjust the exposure.
An unusual dial is the one that controls the image settings. A turn of this dial accesses the bracketing, image style, sensitivity, image quality, white balance and custom shooting settings. Having been more used to using direct buttons to access features such as these, the dial does take some getting used to. However, once mastered, it actually proves to be a neat solution that allows quick access to features that tend to be less accessible.
For those photographers who are more used to handling enthusiast or professional DSLRs, the front and rear control dials also make for excellent handling features. Just as on a DSLR, these allow the aperture or shutter speed settings to be changed with a swift turn of the dial. Alternatively, there is a range of different ways in which the various function buttons and dials can be customised to make the P7700 operate in a way that is more familiar, or at least preferable, to the photographer.
Image: At wide apertures, a reasonably shallow depth of field can be created with the Nikon Coolpix P7700
The contrast-detection autofocus on the Nikon Coolpix P7700 isn’t especially snappy. It is smooth as it quickly finds focus, but it lacks the pace of some of the faster compact cameras and compact systems cameras that we have seen recently.
For travel and documentary photography, the AF speed should be of no concern and, importantly, the P7700 retains most of its speed even when the 200mm equivalent focal length is used.
There are a number of different focusing options found in the P7700’s menu, including the useful centre (wide) AF area mode, and subject tracking. As one would expect, face-detection AF and manual focusing are also available.
Overall, I found that the evaluative metering of the Nikon Coolpix P7700 works very well. I hardly had to adjust the exposure compensation in any of the images that I took, and where I did it was for a high-contrast scene in which I wanted more shadow detail.
As we have seen recently with other advanced compact cameras, the dynamic range has increased slightly with improvements such as backlit CMOS sensors. There is still some restriction compared to cameras with larger sensors, but on the whole, with careful metering in tricky situations, I found the Nikon Coolpix P7700 to have an acceptable dynamic range. Highlights were more prone to burning out, but it is surprising how much detail can be recovered in raw files, in what appear to be very dense shadow areas.
Noise, resolution and sensitivity
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Nikon Coolpix P7700 kit lens set to around 105mm focal length.
We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.
At low sensitivity settings, the Nikon Coolpix P7700 performs well, even slightly above the expectations for a 12.2-million-pixel compact camera. At ISO 80 and 100, the P7700 can almost reach 28 on our resolution chart test. At around 24 some slight smudging occurs, which looks to be the result of moiré patterning, although there is still a degree of definition in at least some of the lines higher up the chart.
Noise is reasonably well controlled at lower sensitivities, but from around ISO 1600 the performance is quite average. There is significant smudging in JPEG files shot at ISO 6400, and through the smudging bruised patches of colour noise are visible. Hints of the colour noise can also be seen at ISO 1600. Below this point, JPEG files show little in the way of colour noise, and luminance noise, although visible if pixel peeping, shouldn’t be a concern.
Raw files captured at low-sensitivity settings look extremely good. A great deal of detail can be revealed with just slight sharpening applied to images, and noise reduction can obviously be really refined.
At low sensitivities the performance of the P7700 matches, if not exceeds, the competition. However, as the ISO setting increases, the camera is not quite able to keep up. Shooting in raw helps, but it is worth considering this if you shoot a lot above ISO 800 and shoot only JPEG images.
The performance of the lens is excellent. Chromatic aberration is kept to a minimum, and edge sharpness is impressive, even at wideangle settings. There is some curvilinear distortion present at either end of the zoom, but again, this isn’t too dramatic and shouldn’t be of concern.
White balance and colour
Image: Colours from the Nikon Coolpix P7700 are good, with blue skies nicely rendered
The colours produced by the Nikon Coolpix P7700 are very good, and I would think that most users will be happy to leave the camera set to its standard setting. While there are only a few image styles, I think most photographers will want to stick to one of the standard, neutral, vivid or monochrome styles that are on the camera. Each of the modes can be fine-tuned to taste, and there are two spaces for custom settings based on your own adjustments.
A selection of creative modes is also available, including creative monochrome, cross process, high key, low key, along with other colour modes. Some of these modes can also be modified, notably creative monochrome, which allows the level of grain and contrast to be adjusted. There is even a pseudo solarised effect that can be used in this setting.
I found no real issues with the various white-balance settings, including the AWB mode. Interestingly, there are actually two AWB settings: one that retains the warmth of tungsten lighting; and another that removes it. Usefully, both of these modes are accessed directly from the white-balance settings, without having to go into a submenu to select which of these AWB modes is used by default.
LCD and video
One of the biggest changes in the Nikon Coolpix P7700 is the switch from a tilting LCD screen in the P7100 to a fully articulated screen in the P7700. This should please Nikon users, given that Canon has removed the articulated screen from its new PowerShot G15.
The 3in, 921,000-dot screen of the P7700 is bright, but with a high contrast and dense blacks. It has also a high viewing angle, although as the screen is articulated this isn’t such a major feature. The articulation also helps the screen to be positioned out of the way of any reflections, which should aid shooting in bright sunlight.
Video is of a reasonably high standard, with full HD 1080p capture possible, and stereo microphone sockets are built in.
Whether you like the size of the Nikon Coolpix P7700 will depend on what you want from a camera. It may be larger and heavier than the competition, but this is balanced with an excellent range of controls that most enthusiast photographers will really appreciate. In bright light the image quality is also impressive, particularly the resolution at ISO 80-200. However, the image quality at higher sensitivities isn’t as good as some of the competition, which hinders its performance in low light.
Optional GPS functionality and wireless flash control are great selling points for the P7700, particularly for existing Nikon DSLR users, but perhaps the biggest advantage over the competition is the 28-200mm (equivalent) lens, which is by far the longest in this class.