Nikon Coolpix 7900
Review Date: May 2nd 2005
Ease of Use
The Nikon Coolpix 7900 is a very compact, light and well-made digital camera that has a "quality" feel about it. At nearly 9cms long and 6 cms high, the Nikon Coolpix 7900 easily fits into the palm of my large hands and is therefore a pocketable camera that you can carry with you at all times. The Nikon Coolpix 7900 is constructed entirely of metal with a brushed silver finish. There is also a shiny silver metal band that runs around both sides and the top of the camera, presumably there to help keep the overall design rigid and stop it from flexing.
The Nikon Coolpix 7900 strikes the right balance in terms of the number of external controls on the camera, with 10 in total, perfect for its target audience. There are just enough to give you full control over the important aspects of the Nikon Coolpix 7900, but not so many that you're left wondering which one does what. The Nikon Coolpix 7900 instantly feels intuitive to hold and use. There's a traditional dial on the top of the camera that lets you select the different exposure modes; Auto, various Scene modes, Movie mode and also the Setup menu. This dial is a typical feature of SLR cameras, and enables you to quickly change between the various modes. It has a pleasing positive clicking action as you turn it.
The only aspect of the external controls that I found initially confusing was the area around the OK button and arrow pad. For starters, because of the small size of the camera, Nikon's designers have put the symbols for the self-timer and exposure compensation quite a long way from the left and right arrows on the arrow pad that access them. I didn't realise at first that pressing left accessed the self-timer and pressing right accessed the exposure compensation! The self-timer symbol is actually positioned on the black plastic protective frame that surrounds the LCD screen (which is a nice touch that prevents the screen from being scratched when you put the camera down). Secondly, there is a symbol for data transfer when the camera is connected to a computer, represented by OK and a wavey line with two arrows on either end. I'm never seen this symbol on any other camera and am not sure that it is really required, especially as the Nikon Coolpix 7900 automatically connects to a computer anyway.
|Menu Button / Play Button / Arrow Pad / OK Button||Zoom Buttons / Speaker|
Like virtually all digital cameras the Nikon Coolpix 7900 has a Menu button on the rear of the camera which, as you would expect, gives you access to the software menu system. This lets you set various parameters including focusing, sharpness and white balance. The main gripe that I have with accessing the Nikon Coolpix 7900's menu system was that once you are viewing it, you can't turn it off by half-pressing the shutter button, which a lot of other digicams allow you to do. Instead you have to press the Menu button again to turn the menu off. This is fine when you're not in any particular hurry to take a shot, but if the crucial moment is happening in front of you, your first instinct will be to press the shutter button - except on this camera, it won't let you take the shot, instead belligerently displaying the menu system! This is also true of the Play button - if you are reviewing your image onscreen and want to take a shot, you have to press the Play button to cancel out of that mode.
Something else that may initially confuse you is the way in which the Setup menu is accessed. It has its own dedicated setting on the shooting mode dial on top of the camera, rather than being accessed via the Menu button as on most digital cameras. This didn't really bother me once I had got used to it, it's more something to be aware of if you have previously used a digicam from a different manufacturer.
One other aspect of the shooting mode dial that requires further explanation is the way in which the scene modes are accessed. There are 4 icons on the dial, which allow you to select Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night Portrait modes. Pressing the Menu button when any of these are selected displays a number of options on the LCD screen for that particular mode. For example, choosing Landscape and pressing the Menu button displays 5 options, each one for a specific kind of landscape scene (Landscape, Scenic View, Architecture, Group Right, Group Left, plus options to change the image quality and size). There is also a Scene option on the shooting mode dial, which lets you choose from 12 other different scene modes, such as Beach and Snow. Unlike the main four scene modes, these don't have any sub-options via the Menu button. Accessing the Scene Modes in this way is a neat system that works well in practice.
|Exposure Mode Dial||Shutter Button / On/Off Button|
Pressing the Menu button on the Nikon Coolpix 7900 when the shooting mode is set to Auto opens the Shooting Menu, a 3 screen scrolling list that contains 14 different options, including White Balance, Sensitivity and Noise Reduction. A maximum of 5 options is shown onscreen at once, with a large clear font and a useful icon for each option on the right-hand-side. If you are unsure of what a particular option does, press the Help button on the rear of the camera to display a short but helpful explanation. For noise reduction, the Help tells you "Turn noise reduction on to reduce mottling in pictures taken at slow shutter speeds". The Help system on the Nikon Coolpix 7900 isn't as advanced as the system on HP's digital cameras, but it will prove quite useful for less experienced photographers who have left the manual at home!
The Coolpix 7900 is one of the first Nikon cameras to feature new technologies, which Nikon have been promoting heavily since the PMA show back in February 2005 where they were first unveiled. These are D-Lighting, Face Priority AF and Red-Eye Reduction. Do they actually work?
Face Priority AF is accessed by selecting the Portrait option on the shooting mode dial, pressing the Menu button and then choosing the Face Priority AF option on the bottom row. It works well if the subject is looking directly at the camera and quite central in the frame, but in most other situations the camera hunts for focus for several seconds and then tends to focus somewhere other than the subject's face. I suspect that most users will quickly lose patience with this feature, as will the person who is being photographed!
Red-Eye Reduction promises to remove all traces of red-eye in-camera and D-Lighting is similar to HP's Adaptive Lighting technology, in that it lightens under-exposed parts of the image whilst ensuring that correctly exposed parts remain the same (and are not also lightened) - more on these features in the Image Quality section.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The start-up time of the Nikon Coolpix 7900, from turning the camera on to being ready to take a photo, is impressively quick at less than 1 second. Equally speedy is the 3x zoom lens which only takes around 0.50 seconds to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest. The zooming mechanism is a little on the noisy side, but not so noticeable that you will attract unwanted attention. Focusing is very quick in good light and also as good indoors or in low-light situations thanks to the powerful auto-focus assist lamp, taking slightly longer to lock on to the subject at the telephoto lens setting. Shutter-lag is barely noticeable and storing an image is fairly quick at around 0.75 seconds. The 2 inch LCD screen is bright and clear, even in bright sunlight, and the refresh rate is fine. The Nikon Coolpix 7900 has a number of continuous shooting and focusing modes which makes it well suited for fast moving subjects. All in all the Nikon Coolpix 7900 is a very responsive compact digital camera in terms of its general operational speed, both in good and bad lighting conditions.
Once you have captured a photo, the Nikon Coolpix 7900 has an above average range of options for playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails, play a slideshow, and zoom in and out of the image up to a magnification of 10x. You can select which images you want to transfer onto your computer, delete an image, trim an image to a preset small size (with 3 different options), make a copy of an image, protect images so that they cannot be deleted, and set various printing options. There is no histogram available during playback, and you can only view a small histogram during shooting by pressing the exposure compensation button. Unfortunately this also displays the large exposure compensation menu, which makes framing the scene and using the histogram to evaluate the exposure very difficult.
The Nikon Coolpix 7900 is a very advanced compact digital camera in many ways, with features such as white balance bracketing, 4 different metering options including spot, multiple focusing and continuous shooting modes, plus a number of image adjustments. All of this advanced functionality only made me wish even more that that Nikon Coolpix 7900 offered control over the fundamental aspects of photography, namely shutter speeds and apertures. Being unable to control these when so many other options are available was very frustrating in a way - all the different scene modes in the world can't make up for not being able to select a specific shutter speed or aperture. Consequently the Nikon Coolpix 7900 feels unbalanced in terms of what it offers to the creative photographer. It also left me wondering if the kind of photographer that buys this camera, someone who essentially wants a point and shoot model, will actually ever use features like white balance bracketing.
Overall the Nikon Coolpix 7900 is a very compact, stylish and well-built digital camera that impresses with its fast operation. Some aspects of the design are a little puzzling and the camera does seem to be unbalanced in terms of the features that it offers - it is crying out for some more advanced shooting modes.
PhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the Nikon Coolpix 7900 have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.