Nikon Coolpix P7700 Review
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The Nikon Coolpix P7700 is the new professional model in Nikon's extensive range of Coolpix compact digital cameras. The Coolpix P7700 is the successor to the one-year-old P7100, the main additions being a back-illuminated 12-megapixel, 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor, faster lens, vari-angle LCD screen and full 1080 video recording. The Nikon P7700 features a mechanically-stabilized 7.1x optical zoom with a focal range of 28-200mm and maximum apertures of f/2.0-4.0, built-in neutral density filter, sensitivity range of ISO 80 to 6400, RAW file support, 8fps burst shooting, external flash hotshoe, PASM shooting modes, 1080p HD video recording with stereo sound and a microphone jack, GPS support and a 3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD screen. Designed to appeal to the keen enthusiast photographer, the Nikon Coolpix P7700 is available in black for £499.99 / $499.95.
Ease of Use
The Nikon Coolpix P7700 is a relatively thick and heavy compact camera, measuring 118.5 x 72.5 x 50.4 mm and weighing 392g including the battery and memory card, closely resembling the popular Canon Powershot G-series in terms of both dimensions and weight. It doesn't fit in either your palm or a trouser pocket, instead being much more at home stored in a spacious coat pocket or small shoulder bag. The P7700 has a 7.1x zoom lens with a focal range of 28-200mm, making it a realistic alternative to lugging around either a 'super zoom' bridge camera or actual DSLR without having to compromise too much on features or handling. As with its predecessor, the P7700 feels at once solidly constructed yet at the same time reasonably lightweight, with a magnesium alloy chassis and similarly high levels of build quality that you find on the company's DSLR range.
The front of the Nikon Coolpix P7700 features the aforementioned 7x zoom lens surrounded by a metal ring that can be unscrewed to allow for supplementary Nikon attachments such as wide angle or telephoto converters. The 200mm maximum telephoto setting is a key difference between the P7700 and its main rivals, bringing candid and detail shots within reach, while the 28mm wide-angle setting makes it easy to shoot subjects like buildings in narrow streets or a group of your friends in a confined space. The maximum apertures of f/2.0 at 28mm and f/4.0 at 200mm are a big improvement on the f/2.8-f/5.6 apertures of the P7100 and more in keeping with the serious nature of the camera.
Bottom left of the lens is the Fn1 button, just one of the ways in which the P7700 can be customised to suit your shooting style. One of six different settings can be mapped to this button - RAW, ISO, White Balance, Picture Control, D-Lighting and Metering - which therefore provides one-touch access to some of the more commonly used functions. Either side of the lens are two single bulbs, one that doubles as a self timer plus AF assist lamp, and another that acts as an infra red receiver for use with the optional ML-L3 remote control.
Also on the front of the P7700 is the rotary multi selector, now more logically positioned at the top of the handgrip and predominantly used for changing the aperture in the advanced shooting modes. In conjunction with the rear thumb dial, it makes it quick and easy to shoot in the fully Manual mode, although its functionality is otherwise very limited. Top-right of the lens is the small built-in flash, which pops-up above the lens and therefore provides more clearance and less chance of unwanted red-eye in your photos. The pop-up flash can now the be used to wirelessly trigger a group of Nikon Speedlight flashguns, further expanding the P7700's versatility. Completing the front of the P7700 is the hand-grip, which bigger and nicer to use than the P7100's, with a tactile rubberised coating and enough room for three fingers.
Moving to the top of the P7700, Nikon's design team has implemented an initially complex but quickly second-nature system of not one, not two, but three circular dials. Starting on the left when viewed from behind, the first dial provides quick access to six commonly used functions - Quality, ISO, White Balance, Bracketing (including exposure, ISO sensitivity, and white balance), My Menu (which effectively allows you to register your favourite menu options and then quickly access them) and Picture Controls. Simply set the dial to your desired option and press the small button in the middle to change it. To the right of this dial is a hot shoe for an optional Nikon Speedlight flashgun, expanding the P7700's flash capabilities. We found that the built-in flash unit was fine for a bit of fill-in, with respectably quick recycle times and adequate range.
The large shooting mode dial is again similar to what you'd find on a consumer-level DSLR. Ranged around this we find the usual suspects of Auto, Program Auto, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual, plus Movie and Movie Custom modes, and an array of Scene modes. The Effects mode offers a variety of 10 creative options, including a mechanically controlled Zoom exposure, Defocus during exposure and Cross processing. Completing the mode dial are three User settings which essentially allow you to configure the camera in different ways and then access those key settings with a simple turn of the dial. The action of the wheel itself is slightly stiff, meaning that you reach each chosen setting with a definite click and avoid accidentally shooting past the one that you wanted.
The P7700 shoots 1080p movies (1920x1080 pixels) at a rate of 30fps, plus 720p and VGA modes. The new Movie Custom mode allows you to shoot in either Aperture-priority or full Manual mode and or apply one of seven Special Effects, as well as apply a Custom Picture Mode, use the built-in ND filter, choose the auto-focus mode and enable wind noise reduction. You can employ the full range of the 7.1x zoom lens during recording and also autofocus on your subject. Before recording, you can set the white balance, and during recording the AE Lock button sets the exposure at any point. A gain-up function is included to adjust the optional external microphone. There are also three High Speed movie settings - 120 fps at 640x480 pixels, 60 fps at 1280x720 pixels, and 15 fps 1920x1080 pixels.
The P7700 has a springy shutter button with a definite halfway point, with the camera taking a very brief moment to determine focus and exposure but with no discernible shutter delay thereafter. This is surrounded by a pleasingly tactile zoom lever. The zoom is pretty quick to respond, sound-tracked by a mechanical gnat-like buzz. Just behind the shutter release button is a small but clearly marked on/off button which is encircled by a green LED which briefly lights up to signify the power is indeed on. Give it a press and the P7700 powers up in around 0.5 second, the lens barrel extending to maximum wide-angle setting and the rear LCD blinking into life. There's also a tiny but bright green adjacent lamp which provides a visual indication when the camera is busy processing files. The Fn2 button allows an even greater degree of customisation, and next to this and completing the P7700's top-plate is another clever feature, a dedicated dial for setting the exposure compensation - if only it was this easy to change on all cameras.
|Front||Tilting LCD Screen|
The P7700 has a couple of innovative optical features. It's equipped with a built-in neutral density (ND) filter which provides a three-stop decrease in the shutter speed, enabling you to use a slower shutter speed in bright surroundings and achieve exactly the creative effect that you want. The P7700 also offers a number of set focal lengths - 28, 35, 50, 85, 105, 135 and 200mm - with the Zoom Memory function quickly switching to one of them, mimicking having a bag full of prime lenses.
Nikon have also included their VR (Vibration Reduction) image stabilisation system to help prevent camera-shake, an increasingly de-facto feature on a lot of high-end compact cameras. Annoyingly there isn't a dedicated button to turn it on and off (it's somewhat buried in the Setup menu). In practice we found that the VR system makes a noticeable difference to the sharpness of the images, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. It didn't seem to adversely affect the battery life either, so we'd advise you to turn it on and then forget about it.
The P7700 is a snappy performer, only taking around a second until a RAW+ Fine JPEG file is written to memory, quicker than the previous P7100 model. Continuous shooting has been similarly improved, with the P7700 now capable of capturing 8 frames per second in the Continuous H mode, albeit only for 6 frames. Even better, this rates applies to both JPEG and RAW file formats, although the camera completely locks-up while it takes around 15 seconds to write them to the memory card. The P7700 can also shoot 6 JPEG or RAW images at 4fps, or 30 images at 1fps. Other modes worthy of mention include Continuous H: 120 fps which takes 60 frames at a speed of about 1/125 seconds, and Continuous H: 60 fps which takes 60 frames at a speed of about 1/60 seconds. BSS (Best Shot Selector), Multi-shot 16 and an Interval Timer complete the P7700's extensive range of burst shooting modes.
The rear of the P7700 has a switch for popping up the built-in flash and the button for controlling the screen display – either displaying all settings, providing a 'clean' screen or switching it off entirely, but irritatingly still no live histogram (although this button does call one up in playback mode). Alongside is an unmarked control dial. Immediately lending the camera a proper 'grown up' feel, this falls readily under the thumb, and allows you to quickly set the shutter speed or browse through a sequence of images in playback, amongst other functions. In conjunction with the front rotary control wheel, this dial provides a neat solution that is great to use, especially if you are a regular DSLR user. Another DSLR-like feature is the AE-L / AF-L button which now falls readily under your right thumb and makes it easy to lock either the exposure or the focus point (or both at once).
Below is a 3-inch LCD screen with an impressively high 921,000-dot resolution, providing more than enough detail for you to be able to determine whether you have a sufficiently crisp image. You can also turn on the Virtual Horizon feature to help ensure that your horizons are perfectly level. The P7700's screen is now side-hinged, very useful when holding the camera over your head or down at waist level and more versatile than the P7100's top-mounted screen. It also folds away against the back of the camera body to protect the screen when not in use.
To the right of the screen is a self-explanatory playback button. Next is the familiar four-way navigation pad, which allows you to set the flash, focusing, macro and self-timer options, in addition to moving through menus and selecting options, with an 'OK' button at its centre being the means via which changes can be implemented. Surrounding this is a circular wheel, which performs the more mundane tasks of moving through menus and selecting options.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The familiar Menu button underneath the navigation pad accesses the Nikon P7700's menu system, which is clear and easy to navigate. Press this when in Auto capture mode and there's just two menus, Playback and Settings. Turn the dial to Program or one of the advanced shooting modes and press again and you also get the Shooting menu, which offers 15 different additional settings.
The Picture Control option allows you to tweak the look and feel of your images, with 4 presets and a Custom option on offer. The contrast, saturation and sharpening level of each preset can be individually adjusted too, so you should be able to find a setting that suits you. Distortion control automatically corrects barrel distortion, useful for all those 28mm shots of close-up architecture with converging verticals, but it does have to be turned on before you take a picture. D-Lighting is a long-standing Nikon technology that brightens the shadow areas of an image, with three different strengths available.
In playback mode, pressing the same menu button affords access to rudimentary image editing, including Nikon's exposure adjusting D-Lighting function, Skin Softening and a range of Filter Effects, image slide shows, plus the ability process a RAW file in-camera if required. The Tone Level function displays a brightness histogram in an unusual vertical orientation, to the right of which is a tone scale. you can move up and down the nine levels and as you do so, the current tone range is displayed as a flashing area in the main image, allowing for more precise verification of the exposure. A button to the right features the familiar trashcan icon for deleting images on the fly and completes the rear of the P7700.
On the right flank of the camera – if still viewing it from the rear – there's an eyelet for attaching the supplied shoulder strap and a plastic cover protecting the A/V out / USB and HDMI ports. On the left hand flank is an identical means of threading on the strap, plus the MIC port which accepts an optional external microphone, the new GPS port which accepts the optional GP-1 GPS Unit accessory, and the built-in speaker. On the bottom of the camera is a centrally positioned, metal tripod mount. The P7700 is powered by a 7.4v lithium ion battery, good for around 330 shots, that slots into the base alongside the SD / SDHC / SDXC card compartment.