Nikon Coolpix P7700 review

The Nikon Coolpix P7700 has the longest zoom lens of any point-and-shoot camera in its class, but the lens should be stopped down to increase sharpness.
Photo of Nikon Coolpix P7700

The Nikon Coolpix P7700 ($499.95 direct) is the follow-up to last year’s P7100. It’s a streamlined version of that camera’s design—it omits the optical viewfinder, so it’s not as tall, and integrates the front control wheel into the grip. The lens covers the same 28-200mm field of view—but it starts at f/2 and only closes to f/4 at the telephoto extreme, a full stop faster on both ends of the spectrum. The 12-megapixel camera maintains the excellent control layout of its predecessors, although images aren’t quite as sharp with the lens wide open at f/2. The P7700 is a very good camera, but even with a fast lens and larger-than-average 1/1.7-inch image sensor, it can’t compete with our Editors’ Choice high-end compact—the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100—which features a 1-inch sensor and a sharper lens.

Design and Features
The P7700 measures 2.9 by 4.7 by 2 inches (HWD) and weighs a bit shy of a pound at 13.9 ounces. It’s not that far off in size from the Olympus XZ-2—that camera has a similar image sensor but a shorter zoom range, and measures 2.6 by 4.4 by 1.9 inches and weighs 12.2 ounces. It also features a hot shoe, although one that can accommodate an optional electronic viewfinder accessory—you’re limited to using the rear LCD to frame shots with the P7700.

Most 1/1.7-inch cameras offer a fairly limited zoom range; starting at 24mm or 28mm and extending only to about 100mm is the norm for this class of camera. The P7700 has a lens that zooms from 28-200mm with a f/2-4 aperture range. The only similar camera that comes close to covering this field of view is the Canon PowerShot G15, which has a 28-140mm f/1.8-2.8 optic.

The rear LCD is a vari-angle design that swings out from the body to tilt up or down, and can be closed flat against the camera to face out or in. It is 3 inches in size and extremely sharp at 921k dots. Obviously there’s no viewfinder built in and there’s no EVF available, so folding it flat against the body won’t leave you with any way to precisely frame an image—it’s more to protect the LCD during transport. The P7700 won’t even turn on to take a shot when the LCD is closed against the body. The only other cameras in this class with an optical viewfinder are the G15, the Canon PowerShot G1 X, and the Fujifilm X10. The latter will be replaced by the just-announced Fujifilm X20, but is still available at retail.

The P7700 features a control layout that will be familiar to anyone who has shot with the P7000 or P7100 before, but has one wrinkle that might throw you off if you are new to the series. Standard controls include front and rear control dials, just like an SLR, as well as a Mode dial, EV Compensation dial, Exposure Lock, and control buttons to adjust Flash output, the Self Timer, the Focus Area, and Macro focus. There are also two programmable Function buttons—one on top and one on the front of the camera.

The oddball control is a top-mounted wheel that lets you adjust certain settings with the press of its integrated activation button—it has detents for Image Quality, ISO, White Balance, Exposure Bracketing, My Shooting Menu, and Color adjustment. The My Shooting Menu gives you quick access to the Metering mode, Drive mode, and autofocus settings. If you’re not familiar with the camera you may hunt for these controls in other locations, but once you train your mind to utilize this dial you’ll find it to be a bit quicker than scrolling through the typical on-screen display that controls these functions on other cameras.

Despite a rather high asking price, there aren’t many non-imaging functions built into the camera. The Samsung EX2F has built-in Wi-Fi, which isn’t even an add-on feature for the P7700. You can use an Eye-Fi memory card with the camera, and there is also an add-on module for GPS available for Nikon to satisfy the needs of geotaggers—but it costs $265.

Performance and Conclusions
The P7700 starts and takes a photo in about 1.8 seconds, records a burst of 6 shots in a second, and records a 0.3-second shutter lag. These aren’t the best marks in the world—a 6-shot Raw+JPG burst requires a 14.6-second wait for all of the photos to be written to the memory card, a figure that drops to 5.5 seconds when shooting only in JPG. If you’re shooting in single-shot mode, there is a 3.4-second wait for a Raw+JPG to write to a SanDisk 95MBps memory card and a 1.8-second wait for a JPG file to write to the card—you won’t be able to use the camera during this interval. The Olympus XZ-2 is faster—it starts and shoots in 1.6 seconds, shoots continuously at 3 frames per second, and its shutter lag is only 0.2-second.

I checked the sharpness of the new 28-200mm f/2-4 lens using Imatest. The P7100 was incredibly sharp at its widest aperture and focal length, 28mm f/2.8. The P7700 lags a bit behind, recording only 1,755 lines per picture height at 28mm f/2—just a smidge shy of the 1,800 lines required for a sharp photo. This was largely due to edge performance, as scores were good towards the middle of the frame—we use a center-weighted algorithm. If edge-to-edge performance is important, you can stop down to f/2.8 when the light allows—the lens notches a more impressive 1,935 lines at that setting. The Canon PowerShot G15 also has a fast lens—f/1.8 at 28mm—but doesn’t suffer from the same issues. It manages 1,918 lines at that setting. There is a noticeable 2.9 percent barrel distortion at the widest zoom setting, but this can be corrected via software or in-camera by enabling Distortion Control in the Shooting Menu.

Image noise is also measured by Imatest. Noise can harm image quality by making photos appear grainy and by reducing the amount of fine detail captured—it increases as you increase a camera’s sensitivity to light, measured in ISO. The P7700 keeps noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 3200, but image detail does suffer at that setting when shooting JPG. At ISO 1600, JPG files are excellent in terms of noise control and detail. Shooting in Raw at ISO 3200 does a better job at capturing detail, but introduces an incredible amount of noise. Regardless of which format you shoot, the P7700 is best kept at ISO 1600 or below. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 has a sensor that is physically larger, and that does a better job keeping noise in check—that camera is noticeably better than the P7700 in terms of noise and detail at ISO 1600 and 3200, but they perform similarly at ISO 800 and below.

Video is recorded at 1080p30 quality in QuickTime format. By default, the camera doesn’t autofocus during recording without manual intervention, but you can change this behavior via the menu system. It is quick to reacquire focus, and overall the video quality is excellent; it’s sharp, smooth, and colors are accurate. Audio leaves a little bit to be desired, as you can hear the lens move in and out while zooming on the soundtrack—but there is a standard mic input port, allowing you to connect an external microphone if desired.

The P7700 is a very good camera with a few flaws. Its control layout is excellent, its image sensor performs well through ISO 1600, and it features the longest zoom lens in its class. It’s not as speedy as similar cameras—the wait time between taking photos in single-shot mode is a bit disconcerting—and it doesn’t have an optical viewfinder like the Fujifilm X10. Its lens is fast, but not the sharpest optic wide open, making the Canon PowerShot G15—which has a slightly less ambitious 28-140mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom—a more attractive option for anyone who doesn’t need a 200mm reach. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, which features a larger 1-inch image sensor, is still our Editors’ Choice for enthusiast compacts, but it lacks a hot shoe and articulating LCD, and its 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 lens doesn’t match the P7700 in terms of range, or in speed at the telephoto end.

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Specifications
Dimensions 2.9 x 4.7 x 2 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, mini HDMI, Mic
Sensor Type CMOS
Megapixels 12 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.17 seconds
LCD dots 921000
LCD size 3 inches
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 6400
Type Compact
GPS No
Optical Zoom 7.1 x
Boot time 1.7 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 28 mm
Weight 13.9 oz
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Lines Per Picture Height 1755
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Image Stabilization Optical
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 200 mm
Shutter Lag 0.3 seconds
Sensor Size 7.6 x 5.7 (1/1.7") mm
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
The Nikon Coolpix P7700 has the longest zoom lens of any point-and-shoot camera in its class, but the lens should be stopped down to increase sharpness.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc