Nikon P7100 Preview

August 26, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Digital Compact Cameras | Comment | |
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Nikon build on the success of the Coolpix P7000 with the release of the P7100, featuring a 10.1 megapixel 1/1.7 inch CCD sensor, EXPEED C2 processor, 7.1x (28-200mm) optical zoom through a NIKKOR ED lens, 3 inch tilting screen, Raw shooting, twin control dials and more buttons than you can shake a stick at. The Nikon Coolpix P7100 has an RRP of £499.99 (580 Euros) and will be available in late September 2011.

The Nikon Coolpix P7100 is designed to span the gap between a compact camera and a DSLR. It provides the features and functionality of a DSLR without the bulk. In profile, it looks a simple camera with the lens and optical viewfinder on the front but with the addition of a control wheel which will operate the aperture in manual mode. Another wheel on the back will operate the shutter speed.

The improvements come from Nikon listening to feedback from users of the P7000 and adding all the bits that they asked for.

In fact, the main part of the P7100 that has remained the same is the lens and zoom. Nikon were told that the P7000 while image quality is good, the speed is too slow, so Nikon have fitted the P7100 with an EXPEED C2 processor, straight out of the DSLRs. They say shutter lag is reduced and focusing is faster. They’ve also improved the start up time which is noticeably quick.

On the top plates, the P7100 bustles with buttons, wheels and switches. Normally, we’d frown on the amount of clutter, but the camera doesn’t actually look bad at all. Everything has its place and there’s space for main command, exposure compensation and quick function dials as well as 2 function buttons and the usual line-up of buttons that adorn a compact camera.

The wheels work nicely, they click comfortably into place without the looseness that indicates it may move if nudged. The quick function wheel on the left shoulder has a locking button, though. While we think the amount of buttons is not only a good idea, but also necessary on a camera of this calibre, it’s possible that new users who simply want the best compact they can buy will get confused. It could be argued that this is their own fault, but if anyone does get confused or they simply don’t want to worry about the settings, there’s an auto mode for shooting simplicity.

One area that Nikon have improved on the predecessor is with the screen. It’s a 3 inch tilting version that the company have fitted after users of the P7000 said that they wanted the same flexibility that users of the Canon G series enjoy. It flips out 90 degrees up and 45 degrees down which is ideal for low level and high level shooting. Fans of self portraiture may not appreciate the lack of 180 degree swivelling, but the P7100 has a face detection self timer for taking pictures of yourself.

The build quality is top notch, despite being slightly slimmer than the P7000, the P7100 still has a bulk to it that says quality. The casing is coated in a mottled paint effect to resemble a DSLR and all the doors feel secure.

The optical viewfinder on the P7100 isn’t going to be perfect because of parrallax error and because it will just never be as good as a DSLR. But it’s useful to use if you’re not the type to stick a camera out at arms length and helps the camera maintain that connection with DSLRs.

The P7000 was the first step into this market for Nikon and the company are happy with how it’s performed. It’s been a struggle against the Canon G series, but Canon have been making this style of camera for longer. However, Nikon are confident that with each new model they produce, more Nikon fans who had no option than to buy a Canon, can now switch back to their beloved brand. That sounds sarcastic, but it’s fair to say that Nikon have a hardcore following that isn’t seen in many other manufacturers.

When planning the Coolpix P7100, Nikon haven’t simply sat back, put their feet up and decided that they know what’s best to put in a camera. They’ve gone to the end user and asked them what they want to see improved on the P7000. They asked and then, more importantly, they listened.

James Loader, Product Manager for Consumer Products, Nikon UK said that the thing they noticed about the feedback was that customers were more than happy with the image quality. That’s why the P7100 has the same sensor, zoom and lens elements fitted. What the customers want is a faster performance in focusing, shutter lag and image processing. That’s why the upgraded processor has been fitted. That’s why there’s so many buttons and dials – so users don’t have to drill down into menus – and that’s why it has UHS-I memory card compatibility.

The P7100 certainly looks like an impressive camera. The unit we got to see was pre-production so taking pictures with it wouldn’t yield final results. However, when we used it, the picture quality looked good. Noise performance seems to be positive thanks to the slightly larger sensor and it certainly seems to be fast. The screen is bright enough and the tilting aspect makes it much easier to see in bright light.

Keen photographers who need all the features of a DSLR such as Raw recording, fully manual modes, control wheels, fast focusing and everything at their fingertips will be happy with the features. If you’re a new-comer, you may want to think about looking at a camera lower in the range but if you have your heart set on it, there is an auto mode for when it all gets too much. There’s also some digital effects to have a bit of fun with.

The main problem that Nikon could have in this economic climate is the price. It’s £499 for the P7100 which is a lot of money. It’s the same as a beginner DSLR and if the P7100 is supposed to be a step down, it shouldn’t be the same price, it should be less. Yes, the features are impressive and yes it has a good build quality but does it really cost the same to make a P7100 as it does to make a DSLR? The price should drop when the camera is actually released, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Review samples should be available early September so keep looking out here for the full review.

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