By Stan Sholik
By way of disclosure I must say right upfront that I bought a Nikon Coolpix P7000 as a Christmas present for myself in 2010. I had never picked up the camera, never read a review, nor talked to anyone that owned one. I saw the specs on the Nikon site, saw the photos of the camera body there, and bought one.
Unfortunately this review has been delayed because the camera spent a few weeks in March at Nikon service replacing the internal battery. Yes, the bloggers are right, there seem to be various manufacturing issues with the model. However, the repair hiccup with my camera has not dampened my enthusiasm for the P7000 in the least.
Every professional photographer needs a camera close by. My Nikon digital SLRs are never far from me, but I do feel silly (or “over accessorized”) at times walking around with four pounds of camera and lens on my shoulder. For years my solution was a pocketable Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3. I put up with its lack of RAW files and miserable battery life because I loved its wonderful Leitz 10X Vario-Elmar lens. When it came time to buy another round of batteries for the Panasonic late last year, the P7000 became available and I bought it.
Why not a Canon G series? I have reviewed four different models, including the G1 and the G12, and I was never really sold on any of them. It was mostly the ergonomics. There was always a button where I wanted to place my thumb, and I never felt I had a solid grip on them.
I saw from the photos of the P7000 that Nikon had left a space on the back for my thumb that was clear of buttons, and the front had a nicely raised rubberized grip. The minute I picked up the P7000 I immediately knew I had made the right ergonomic choice.
Besides the handling, I like Nikon’s philosophy of putting dials on the camera so you don’t need to go fishing through menus to change settings. The dial on the top left of the P7000 gives you control over ISO, white balance, image quality, size, bracketing and tone level information. Rotate the dial to the setting you want to adjust, press the button in the center of the dial and adjust the settings with the rotary dial on the camera back, which is quick and intuitive.
The tone level information setting calculates the tonal distribution in the shot and displays a ten-step gray scale alongside the image. You can navigate through the gray scale and the matching tonal areas of the image are highlighted. Once I discovered what it does I used it often.
I also use the bracket setting a lot, which is made for HDR imaging. You can bracket through three or five time settings in increments of 0.3, 0.7, or 1EV over a range of –4 to +4 stops. When you hold the release down, the P7000 can capture five RAW exposures in less than five seconds. You can also bracket through ISO settings for HDR images. For non-HDR purposes you can bracket through white balance.
I used the exposure compensation dial on the far right of the top too. Have a backlit subject? Just spin the dial with your thumb to dial in two stops of exposure compensation and shoot. A tiny LED next to the dial remains lit to remind you that you have dialed in exposure compensation.
The Mode dial is sort of centered on the top of the P7000. It has the P, S, A, M settings found on lower-level cameras, along with a slew of useful scene modes for when you don’t feel like thinking a lot but still want to be in control. For example, the Close-up mode, which is my favorite Scene mode, switches the focusing setting to close-focusing Manual allowing you to pan around the scene with the rotary dial on the back to choose the point you want to focus on. The Food mode gives you the same manual close-focusing ability along with a color temperature adjustment that is very slick.
The Mode dial also has a setting for capturing night scenes without flash and a setting for 720p at 30fps video. The video capabilities are better than the G12 in that there is a 3.5mm microphone jack in the P7000 with the ability to optically zoom at two different speeds. However, video in the P7000 as well as the G12 seems to me to be more of an afterthought/marketing talking point than it does a useful feature.
Talking about useless features, I need to mention the three user presets on the Mode dial. I was hoping that I could set one for my close-up settings and another with my HDR settings so I could switch to them faster. Not a chance. The settings you can store in a user preset are so limited that I find them to be useless.
The P7000 comes with a 200 plus page manual describing the other trick settings that the camera includes. It’s likely that you’ll compile your own list of useful and useless features if you take the time to make your way through the manual.
But ultimately what counts is the image quality, and the P7000 has no shortage of that. The 7.1X Nikkor Vibration Reduction (VR) lens with ED glass is a major contributor. With 35mm equivalent focal lengths of 28mm–200mm, and apertures ranging from f/2.8 to f/5.6, it doesn’t have quite the reach of my old 28–280mm Panasonic, but image quality through the middle of the focal length range is on a par with the Leitz design. There is visible barrel distortion at the 28mm setting and the edges are soft at both extremes of the range, but not objectionably so for a system that costs 25% of the cost of a Nikkor pro lens.
The 3-inch, 921,000-pixel LCD screen is usable in bright sunlight and the image quality is superb—and far superior to the competition. Although the screen extends out slightly from the rear of the camera, it doesn’t swivel on the P7000. Pressing the button on the back of the P7000 with a screen-shaped icon removes all information from the LCD, providing you with an unobstructed image for shooting or review.
There is also an optical viewfinder that zooms at the same speed as the lens, and at the same speed as the image on the LCD. And the viewfinder is unobstructed by the lens even with the lens at full extension. There is no information in the viewfinder and it only covers about 80% of the actual field of view, but force of habit has me using it a lot of the time and it works fine.
I have only used the pop-up flash a couple of times, but like all Nikon flash systems, it does what it’s designed to do and the exposures are right on. I did attach my SB-900, which works in i-TTL mode with the P7000, and exposures again were excellent. You can also use SB-400 and SB-600 Nikon flash units on the camera with a remote cord or as remote flashes with an SB-900 as a commander. Nice, but if you’re hauling all that stuff, haul a DSLR too.
The P7000 introduces a new RAW file format—NRW. Naturally Nikon Capture NX2 supports it, and Lightroom, Bridge and Camera Raw were quick to follow suit. Aside from Nikon Capture software, I found the best conversions came from DxO Optics Pro 6.5, which provides a P7000 module that you can download. DxO Optics Pro is particularly good with noise reduction of high ISO images from the P7000.
With all these features and capabilities in a compact digital camera, it raises the question of where does the P7000 fit into the equipment universe? My friend and fellow Rangefinder contributor John Rettie sees cameras like the P7000 and its competition as a dying breed, remnants of an older time—the time before iPhones. For many people that is surely true.
But for me, I like the feel of a camera on my shoulder and the knowledge that I won’t be disappointed with the quality of my images when I see them on my monitor, layer them in an HDR or stitch them into a panorama. I don’t expect any point-and-shoot camera, no matter how sophisticated, to match the frame rate of a professional digital SLR, or even to approach it. What I want is a camera that is portable, that feels good in my hands, and that delivers excellent image quality and will place as few limitations as possible on my taking the types of pictures I enjoy taking. If it looks cool, that’s even better. For me, the Nikon P7000 is the perfect answer.
MSRP of the Nikon P7000 is $449.95. More information is available at www.nikonusa.com.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still life and macro photography. He is currently writing his fifth book, Nik HDR Efex Pro, for Wiley Publishing.
Sensor 1/1.7-in. CCD
Bit Depth 12-bit NRW RAW
File Formats Still Images: JPEG, RAW
Movies: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
Max Resolution 10MP: 3648 x 2736 at 4:3
Other Resolutions 3648 x 2432 at 3:2
3584 x 2016 at 16:9
2736 x 2736 at 1:1
Aspect Ratio 1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9
Image Stabilization Optical, 3-Way
Color Spaces Not Specified By Manufacturer
Lens NIKKOR ED VR
(35mm equivalent: 28–200mm)
Aperture: f/2.8 (W)–5.6 (T)
Zoom Optical: 7.1x
Focus Range Auto: 1.66-ft. (0.51m)–Infinity
ISO Sensitivity 100–6400
Shutter Type: Electronic & Mechanical
Speed: 60–1/4000 in Manual Mode
Type: Electronic & Mechanical
Speed: 4–4 Sec in Fireworks Mode
Exposure Metering Center-weighted, Matrix, Spot
Exposure Modes Modes: Aperture Priority, Auto, Manual, Shutter Priority
Compensation: -3EV to +3EV (in 0.33EV steps)
White Balance Modes Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent (3), Cloudy, Flash, Kelvin, Preset Manual (3)
Burst Rate Up to 1.3fps at 10.1MP for up to 45 frames
Self Timer 2 Sec, 10 Sec
Interval Recording Yes
Remote Control ML-L3. (Optional)
Effective Flash Range Wide: 1.66–21-ft (0.51–6.40 m)
Telephoto: 2.66–9.83’ (0.81–3.00 m)
External Flash Connection Hot Shoe
Built-in Memory 79MB
Memory Card Type SD
Still Images per GB Not Specified By Manufacturer
Video Recording Yes, NTSC/PAL
Video Resolution 720p: 1280 x 720 at 30fps
Audio Recording With Video + Voice Memo, Stereo
Viewfinder Type Optical
Viewfinder Coverage 80%
Screen 3-in. LCD (921000 pixels)
Connectivity USB 2.0
Operating/Storage Temperature Operating
32–104° F (0–40° C)
Battery EN-EL14 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack
AC Power Adapter EH-5a (Optional)
Dimensions (WxHxD) 4.5 x 3.1 x 1.8-in. / 114.30 x 78.74 x 45.72mm
Weight 12.7-toz / 360g