It has a 921,000-dot EVF and articulated LCD screen alongside its 12.2-million-pixel sensor and premium build body, so is the Nikon Coolpix P7800 the best P-series compact camera yet? Read the Nikon Coolpix P7800 review...
Nikon Coolpix P7800 at a glance:
- 12.2-million-pixel, 1/1.7in CMOS sensor
- ISO 80-6400
- 921,000-dot EVF
- 3in LCD with 921,000-dot resolution
- 1/4000sec maximum shutter speed
- Street price around £495
- See sample images taken with the Nikon Coolpix P7800
- See product shots of the Nikon Coolpix P7800
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – Introduction
This series of Nikon Coolpix cameras – the first of which was released in February 2007 – were originally flagship models in the company’s compact camera range, and were often widely regarded as among the best compact cameras on the market. However, the rise in smartphone photography has seen overall sales of compact cameras decline sharply year on year. For this reason, many other manufacturers have turned to developing premium compact cameras – a market that was previously dominated by Nikon and Canon – and their proliferation means that the Nikon Coolpix P7800 will really have to fight its corner.
The P series has changed over the years with the release of each model. For instance, the P7600 featured an optical viewfinder, while the P7700 did not – perhaps to make room for the improved lens, although many P-series fans didn’t appreciate this trade-off. The latest addition to the P series, the P7800, has a similar specification to the P7700, including a 12.2-million-pixel sensor and the same bright 28-200mm (equivalent) f/2-4 lens. However, this time the P7800 benefits greatly from a new electronic viewfinder while still having an articulated LCD screen.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – Features
At the heart of the Nikon Coolpix P7800 is a back-illuminated 1/1.7in-type (7.6×5.7mm) CMOS sensor with a 12.2-million-pixel resolution. This sensor is the same size and resolution as its predecessor in the P7700. An ISO sensitivity range of ISO 80-6400 is available, and both raw files and JPEGs can be captured, with images processed by Nikon’s own Expeed C2 processor. A continuous H mode is capable of shooting full-resolution images at 8fps, but only to a maximum of six shots. Other burst shooting modes allow 60fps or 120fps shooting at a reduced resolution of 1 million pixels.
Also inherited from last year’s P7700 is the lens. This is a Nikon 6-42.8mm (28-200mm equivalent) 7.1x optical zoom lens. The maximum aperture is f/2 at 28mm and f/4 at 200mm. Inside, seven aperture blades make up the iris of the lens, which gives nice bokeh when photographing subjects up close. The lens also has a built-in 3-stop ND filter and lens-shift VR (vibration reduction) technology.
As already mentioned, many users didn’t approve of the decision to remove the optical viewfinder from the Coolpix P7700, which meant it has to rely solely on its LCD screen. Although not an optical viewfinder, they should be pleased, then, with the return of a 921,000-dot electronic viewfinder in the P7800 alongside a 3in, 921,000-dot articulated LCD screen.
On the top of the camera sits a hotshoe compatible with Nikon flashguns, and to the left of this is a built-in flash. This stays inside the body until raised and is capable of acting as a wireless commander for Nikon’s Creative Lighting System lights. The SB-910, SB-900, SB-800, SB-700 and SB-600 Speedlight flashguns are all compatible, which allows the camera to offer the same wireless flash features as a DSLR. For those who already own Nikon flashguns, this is a big bonus.
Disappointingly, there’s no integral Wi-Fi functionality, but there is an optional Nikon WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter that can be bought separately for around £45. This will allow the P7800 to be paired with an iOS or Android smartphone/tablet via Nikon’s free Wireless Mobile Utility app, and images can then be uploaded, shared online and transferred.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – In-camera processing
One very useful feature on the Nikon Coolpix P7800 is its in-camera raw-file processing. This allows some adjustments and changes to be made to improve or correct the raw file.
Once a picture is taken, select Playback>Menu>Raw (NRW) processing. This will allow the user to select the picture that is to be processed. To the right is a menu where it is possible to change the white balance to any of those featured in the shooting mode, and alter the exposure by ±3EV in whole steps.
Below that is an option to select different picture controls, including standard, neutral, vivid and monochrome. These can be adjusted to add sharpening, contrast and saturation. On top of this, picture quality can be altered, as can image size, while distortion correction and control of the intensity of Nikon’s D-Lighting is also possible.
Once the image is adjusted according to preference, selecting the EXE menu and pressing OK will allow users to export the image as a JPEG. This function was of great use when I didn’t have time to change my settings before taking the shot. It’s also good for fine-tuning images and is a lot less hassle than loading them onto a computer and editing that way. Of course, this is never going to be a complete workflow, but it is a handy addition for a quick photo fix.
Image: Using the in-camera raw file processing. I was able to bring back more detail from the sky
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – Build and handling
Due to the lens, EVF and large LCD screen, the P7800 isn’t as pocketable as a typical compact camera. With dimensions of 118.5×77.5×50.4mm, the body is quite large. Its height is a 5mm increase over the P7700 and its 399g weight makes it 7g heavier than its forerunner, largely due to the magnesium-alloy body. While not particularly heavy, it cannot be described as light, either. This a camera that should be carried in a large coat pocket or used with a shoulder strap.
A small indented thumbgrip allows the thumb to sit comfortably around the back of the camera, while on the front there is a chunky rubberised grip. This offers great support and, pairing the thumb and handgrip, makes the camera easy to use with just one hand.
Above the front grip is a scroll wheel to control the aperture, with one for the shutter speed above the thumbgrip. This DSLR-like control system means quick changes are easy, providing the user understands which setting each wheel changes. However, in aperture mode, whenever I used the wheel above the thumbgrip to try to change a value, nothing would happen.
The button layout is very similar to the P7700 and the menus are nearly identical. Anybody familiar with Nikon menu systems will find it easy to navigate through, but others may take a while to get used to them. Most of the adjustments are made using the scroll wheel, which also has directional controls. Occasionally, changing settings such as ISO speeds can be difficult because it isn’t always clear if selecting/changing something is controlled with a scroll gesture or a touch of the directional pad.
A function button found on the rear of the camera just above the LCD allows users to control picture style, quality, ISO, white balance and to turn bracketing on and off. This is where most adjustments are made to the settings. However, for customisation the Fn1 custom-function button, located to the left of the lens, can be personalised to quickly access raw, white balance, ISO, D-Lighting, picture control and metering.
An additional Fn2 function button is located next to the shutter button and controls show/hide info, virtual horizon, view/hide framing grid and turn off built-in ND filter. Overall, the camera is very open to personalisation.
One significant weakness of the P7800 is its processing time. Shooting the maximum six frames at 8fps with full-resolution raw and JPEG images the burst took more than 25secs to process using a Class 10 memory card. On a Class 4 memory card it was over 45secs. While processing the images, camera operation is frozen.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – Metering
The P7800 has a 224-segment metering system that I found performs well in evaluative metering mode. Like most compacts with a sensor this size, the more challenging high-contrast scenes will need a slight adjustment to the metering in order to optimise the highlight or shadow detail. Thankfully, an exposure-compensation dial with ±3EV, stepped in thirds, is located above the thumbgrip, making it very easy to tweak should the metering be fooled by a tricky scene.
Spot metering is linked to the AF point, which allows better exposures of subject matter, although on occasion this can work against you. Sometimes I found that, with a scene the camera should have metered for correctly in its entirety, the resulting image would be overexposed. However, this wasn’t so consistent that I had to alter the EV dial, as the evaluative metering was usually very accurate.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – Dynamic range
Image: Using the supplied Nikon Raw software, I was able to pull back a lot more detail in the highlight areas to create a better image
The sensor in the P7800 is a 1/1.7in unit that, at 7.6×5.7mm, is bigger than the typical 1/2.3in sensor (6.17×4.55mm) found in most consumer compacts. It is, however, smaller than the APS-C (23.6×15.6mm) or 1in-type (12.8×9.6mm) sensors we have seen in many recent premium compacts. The dynamic range is good considering the sensor size. However, highlight detail is often lost in JPEGs, although some can be salvaged from the corresponding raw files.
I found that not much shadow detail is lost and even in very dark areas information can be brought back in Photoshop or using the supplied Nikon raw software. Also, with the active D-Lighting feature turned on, a decent level of detail can be lifted from the shadow areas in-camera. To achieve the best results with D-Lighting, I had to marginally underexpose the images to maximise the dynamic range appearance. However, using this function at higher ISO sensitivities means noise is present in certain areas and appears smudgy with less detail.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – Autofocus
Image: Using the articulated LCD screen allowed me to shoot street photography in a subtle way to achieve natural-looking shots
Like most compact cameras, the P7800 uses contrast-detection autofocus, which is reasonably speedy in optimum conditions. Focus is slower when compared to other recent compact cameras, but the speed will still be sufficient for the majority of enthusiast photographers. For street photography, I found that the AF is at times sluggish, particularly when the light begins to fade.
Overall, with a total of 99 different points spanning a reasonable portion of the frame, focusing is very accurate. It is only while shooting macro subjects when the focus is very precise that it had a tendency to be inaccurate and overshoot the point of focus.
For most situations I used the automatic focus point selection or I used the mode that allows users to manually define one of 99 different focus points across the screen. This increased the speed of the autofocus particularly in low light. Inside, in dim conditions with automatic focus point selection, the camera would take roughly 3secs to find focus. This is aided by the orange AF assist beam emitted from the front of the camera.
Over the course of the test I shot with various focal lengths between 40mm and 90mm, and I was impressed that the AF speed didn’t decrease rapidly the further the lens was zoomed, as can often be the case.
Many different options are available in the AF area mode menu. These include auto, manual, center, center wide, subject tracking, target finding AF and face priority. Manual focusing is also possible.
Image: The lens has good sharpness even at the longer focal length, allowing objects at distance to be photographed without sacrificing image quality
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity
Image: Brightening shadow areas on shots that are taken above 1600 will introduce a considerable amount of noise
The P7800 offers an ISO sensitivity range of ISO 80-3200 in PASM modes, which is extendable to ISO 6400 using the H1 high ISO setting. In auto modes, the ISO range is ISO 80-1600. Luminous noise is only slightly visible between ISO 80 and ISO 400. Any setting between this shows only a comfortable level of luminance noise that does not detract from the image unless significantly magnified. Thankfully, the P7800 has an automatic ISO setting that will allow sensitivity to peak at either ISO 200, ISO 400 or ISO 800. Until ISO 800, the P7800 performs better than most cameras with a similar-sized sensor and resolution. Beyond ISO 800, fine detail starts to smudge and this gets progressively worse as the ISO sensitivity is pushed higher. This deterioration culminates at ISO 3200, at which point in-camera noise reduction produces smudges with solid edges.
The lens does suffer from some purple fringing in expected areas – mostly on high-contrast edges close to highlight areas, such as branches against a bright sky. It’s surprising that this is not removed in-camera in JPEGs. Some curvilinear distortion is also a problem in the form of barrelling at the widest and pincushioning at the telephoto end. However, there is a menu setting that allows the user to correct the distortion, and it can also be done via the in-camera raw-processing menu.
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 6-42.8mm lens set to 60mm at f/5.6 . 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 is at the specified sensitivity setting.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – White balance and colour
Image: Inside the colour menu is a monochrome setting that can be tweaked in sharpening, contrast and it can also be toned in either sepia or cyanotype
All the white balance modes you would expect are available inside the P7800’s menus. These include three manual presets, three different fluorescent-light white balance modes, custom Kelvin balance, cloudy, sunny, tungsten, incandescent and Auto1 and Auto2. These settings can all be tweaked and corrected inside the menu.
I found that for most situations, Auto1 was accurate and consistent, giving true-to-scene colours. However, it was occasionally thrown by conflicting light sources. Auto2 is another automatic white balance setting, but it is intended to achieve a warmer appearance than Auto1 by keeping the warmer tones shown inside the scene. Primarily, these are the rich warm tones created by tungsten light, but Auto2 is particularly good for overcast days, woodland shots or landscapes.
The P7800’s built-in raw processing has a white balance option. So, should the white balance be off, the user can simply access the image in the raw processor and alter it. (see In-camera processing).
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video
A 921,000-dot, vari-angle TFT LCD monitor with anti-reflection coating is featured on the P7800, as it was on the P7700. This 3in articulated screen is now RGBW instead of just RGB. The addition of a white pixel has made the screen brighter than that of the previous model and helps to extend the battery life as the power consumption of the LCD is reduced. This added brightness makes it better in tricky situations such as bright sunlight, while the non-reflective coating covering the monitor also helps. Overall, the LCD screen has a great resolution with good colour rendition and high contrast. The ability to position the screen at different angles is also of great benefit to those wishing to use it in bright conditions, or to shoot photographs from high or low perspectives.
The primary addition to the P7800 is the electronic viewfinder which, like the LCD, also has a resolution of 921,000 dots. Although this is respectable on paper, its performance fails to live up to expectation as colour rendition is washed out, and it suffers from a strong blue cast and lacks definition. Levels of contrast are also a letdown, with highlight areas such as skies often rendered completely white. Next to the EVF is a button that switches between the LCD and the EVF. It is disappointing to see no proximity sensor for this electronic viewfinder as it can be frustrating trying to review pictures, especially in conjunction with the slow processing time.
Video capture in 1080p at 30fps or 25fps is possible, as well as at lower resolutions of 720p and VGA. Also, the P7800 includes three high-speed movie mode settings, which film at 120fps (640×480 pixels), 60fps (1280×720 pixels), and 15fps (1920×1080 pixels). While in video mode, the built-in ND filter can be used and various filter effects can be applied. Audio is recorded via a built-in microphone that can be altered to help reduce wind noise.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – The competition
Nikon’s P series has always faced competition from Canon’s PowerShot G-series compacts. However, further rivals now exist in the form of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II, Fujifilm XF1 and Ricoh GR, all of which offer larger sensors. The RX100 II (currently around £399) features a 1in sensor capable of producing highly detailed images, and has a larger dynamic range than the 1.1/7in sensor used in the Nikon Coolpix P7800.
That said, the Canon PowerShot G16 (around £530) remains the chief competitor, with a similar 12.1-million-pixel CMOS sensor and slightly brighter 28-140mm f/1.8-2.8 lens. The P7800 has the advantage of a longer focal length and EVF, but the G16 has built-in Wi-Fi, 9.3fps shooting, faster processing and an ISO range of ISO 80-12,800.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – Our verdict
The Nikon Coolpix P7800 is great as a travel camera for users who wish to shoot mostly JPEGs at low sensitivities. It offers a wide zoom range, great build quality, a good maximum aperture and excellent resolution in the lower range of ISO sensitivities. However, push ISO speeds to higher thresholds and detail starts to deteriorate. Not only that, but the processing of burst or raw shooting is painfully slow. This was a complaint with the previous P7700 and it is surprising to see it has not been addressed.
Given that the EVF is the only significant change from the previous P7700, it is unfortunate that it doesn’t have better contrast, saturation or good colour reproduction.
The dynamic range is decent considering its small 1/1.7in sensor, and the colours produced are bright and punchy without being oversaturated. Also, when shooting raw, should there be any issues with the colour – or anything else for that matter – in-camera raw processing can be used for corrections. I found this feature quite useful.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 review – key features
A large dioptre-adjustment dial allows precise adjustment to match the users eyesight when using the built-in electronic viewfinder.
EV indication light
A small orange light is located by the exposure-compensation dial, which illuminates when the value is not set to zero.
To protect the LCD screen, the monitor can be folded backwards and inwards so it is not exposed.
A 40.5mm thread accepts screw-in filters around the base of the lens housing. This can be used for wideangle adapters and various filters.
With a street price of around £199.99, the Nikon GP-1 GPS Module can be attached to the GPS port on the camera to allow geotagging.
A standard microphone
jack for an external microphone is located on the side of the camera, protected by a plastic flap.