Nikon provided me with a P7000 to play with prior to the camera hitting retail shelves.* I haven’t had extensive time with the camera, but I can tell you that based on my limited time with the product, it’s certainly a game changer – at least for the Nikon faithful. The P7000 doesn’t piggy back off the P6000. Nikon started over with this camera. And so far, it looks like they made the right call. They have a 10 mp sensor instead of a 13 mp sensor, which offers better low-light performance. They have changed the ergonomics, added features, etc. It’s a whole new camera.
Here at Photofocus, I’ve tested this segment (The $500 pocket camera) extensively. It’s one of the most popular camera segments with good reason. These $500 compacts perform well enough that they can act as a backup camera for the serious DSLR shooter, or simply offer the benefit of being small enough that there’s no reason you wouldn’t carry them everywhere.
A few years ago, I gave the nod to the Panasonic LX3 in this segment because it came with a wider lens than its competition, and it came with a better sensor for low-light photography. Canon won the next year with the improved G11. This year, it’s the LX5 v. the new Canon G12 and the Nikon P7000. The Nikons finished last in the previous Photofocus compact camera trials in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, Nikon is upping their game significantly. No matter which camera gets the Photofocus nod, I feel certain that the differences between the three are narrowing to the point that it almost doesn’t matter which one you pick – you’re going to get a great camera. But there are some differences and nuances that will make one more or less attractive than the other to each individual photographer, depending on taste.
Accordingly, I plan to spend extensive time shooting with all three cameras over the next six to 12 months. First, the P7000.
The P7000 has some of the same technology Nikon puts into its DSLRs. Including and beyond that fact, there are some very cool new features that I have been calling on manufacturers to make for years that Nikon has added to the Coolpix line.
Let’s start with a built in neutral density filter. This is very nice. You have up to three stops of ND filter built right into the camera. If you’ve worked with these compacts, you know they typically don’t stop down as far as DSLRs. This means on bright days, it can be hard to get the shot you want, even with ISO 100. Enter the built-in ND filter than knocks down three stops of light. This lets you make images you would otherwise miss.
There is a brilliant auto-ISO feature that at first blush, may be written off as an amateur feature. But it’s a pro feature in my opinion. You can set two different auto-ISOs on the P7000. You can select auto 100 to 200 or auto 100 to 400. What that means is that when you are in certain modes like Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, etc., the camera will select the best ISO possible for any given shooting situation within the parameters you’ve chosen. So I have my test camera set to 100-400. In my initial tests, that’s the cleanest ISO range for the P7000 I can make sure the camera never strays from the high quality those ISO settings deliver. Again – brilliant.
The bracketing mode is easy to engage, offers a full five-stops of latitude (HDR shooters rejoice) and works in such a manner that you can fix your shutter speed and aperture where you want it, then the bracketing will change the ISO – not the shutter speed or aperture. This is a superb idea in my opinion.
I love the fact that the P7000 has old fashioned dials! The mode, feature and exposure compensation dials are on top of the camera. That means less time hunting through nested menus to find common functions. I particularly like having the exposure compensation dial placed prominently on top of the camera. This is something I use often. So having it readily available is a real plus.
The LCD is big, and easy to see but doesn’t articulate. This is an oversight in my opinion. There is also an optical viewfinder. I almost never buy a camera that doesn’t have an optical viewfinder (or an electronic viewfinder that works independently of the rear LCD) because in the sunlight, looking at the back of an LCD is a worthless experience. Unfortunately, the optical viewfinders on point and shoots as well as compacts are usually very small, and not overly effective. In my opinion, the optical viewfinder on the P7000 is indeed too small, but it is bright. Unfortunately, it’s not an exact representation of what the camera sees, but it’s close. This is often the case in even lower priced DSLRs. But I do wish that someday, the camera manufacturers could improve these viewfinders. They’ve improved just about everything else.
I am not going to give you a complete breakdown of every feature on the P7000. That’s available from Nikon and other places. Instead, over the next week or so, I am going to use the camera daily and write a series of posts on how the real-world features I care about (and that I think you’ll care about) work.
In my very limited testing so far – the 10MP CCD performs very well. At ISO 100, the camera is utterly noiseless. The zoom range is phenomenal at an EFL of 28-200mm, F/2.8 – 5.6. The shutter lag is acceptable. The color balance true. I will test all these features further as I make my way to the Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico.
For now I can tell you that the camera feels good in the hand. It’s very light weight and small enough to fit in the pocket of a jacket or a pair of cargo pants. It performs like an inexpensive DSLR at low ISOs, and it is certainly worthy of your consideration if you’re shopping for a camera in this price range.
I will post additional articles here regarding the Nikon P7000 as I continue to test it at locations in Arizona and at the Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico.
*NOTE: I am returning this test unit to Nikon after the final test shoot I do at the Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico in early October. I am being hosted at that event by Nikon. This is not typical of how I review cameras. I usually don’t get much pre-release access and I usually don’t get this much help reviewing a camera from the manufacturer. In 99% of cases, I buy the cameras reviewed here on the day they are available retail. I wanted to fully disclose how I came to access this unit early and the fact that Nikon is hosting me at the Balloon Fiesta. I have their assurance that I will be allowed to candidly share my feelings about their products during the event.