The Nikon Coolpix P7700 had a bright lens, plenty of manual control and excellent image quality to recommend it, and with the P7800 things only get better. Josie Reavely takes a closer look in her Nikon P7800 review.
Following on from the success of the Coolpix P7700, the replacement for the flagship model of Nikon’s advanced compact range of cameras comes equipped with a raft of high-end features aimed at discerning users.
Previous top-end P-series compacts from Nikon have all featured advanced controls, robust build quality and versatile new technologies, and in these respects the P7800 is no different. While the newcomer inherits many of its predecessor's features, there are a few key changes based on consumer feedback, the most noteworthy of which being the addition of a brand new electronic viewfinder (EVF).
The inclusion of a viewfinder brings the camera in line with its Canon G-series rivals and other high-end compacts such as Fujifilm's X20, and should broaden the camera’s appeal among the wider photographic community.
The Nikon Coolpix P7800 shares many of the same high-end specifications as the P7700 it replaces. The 12.2MP, 1/1.7-inch sensor remains unchanged, and the same goes for the 7.1x optical zoom lens (28-200mm in 35mm-equivalent terms), with its bright maximum aperture of f/2.0-4.0. The user interface and tried-and-tested menu system also remains largely the same. While all of this may sound like a cop-out on first inspection, it’s worth bearing in mind that the P7700 was – and still is – an impressive and well-specified performer.
Nikon has, however, responded to displeasure from some at the loss of the built-in optical viewfinder included in the P7700's predecessor, the P7100 (a move that was necessary to accommodate a bigger, brighter lens). The new model now incorporates its very own built-in viewfinder, although this time it’s of the electronic – rather than the optical – variety. Don’t let the fact that it’s an EVF put you off, however; the 921k-dot resolution mini-screen is nicely detailed, bright and responsive, displaying plenty of shooting information and providing a live preview of any special effects you may be employing to boot.
The LCD retains its fully-articulating design, together with its 3-inch dimensions and 921k-dot resolution, but it’s been revamped with a new RGBW design. This incorporates white dots among the red, green and blue ones in order to maintain a bright display in sunlight and to help reduce the strain placed on the camera's battery. The P7800 also offers Wi-Fi connectivity options when using the optional WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter, which enables users to control the camera remotely and to transfer and share images between compatible devices.
Aside from a few tweaks to the design of the camera, to allow for the inclusion of the new viewfinder, the remainder of the P7800’s feature-set looks familiar. At its heart is Nikon’s EXPEED C2 image processor that allows the camera to shoot at 8fps for a maximum of six frames. The camera also features the same full HD (1080p) video mode as the P7700, complete with stereo sound recording, and maintains useful features such as manual adjustments to camera settings, zooming and in-camera special effects while filming is in progress. Furthermore, images can be captured in either Raw or JPEG formats (or both at once), with a full array of automatic and manual exposure modes on hand to help you get as creative as you desire.
Design and handling
As with previous P-series models, the P7800 is primarily aimed at advanced enthusiasts and professional users. To that end, the familiar interface incorporates an array of physical controls that allow for quick manual adjustments to be made to the most important camera settings, without the user needing to delve into the camera’s menu system. In addition to physical controls used to adjust settings such as image quality, ISO and white balance, it's possible to make quick alterations to the level of exposure compensation and features such as AE/AF-lock. Two useful programmable Fn buttons also allow for customised storage of frequently-used modes or functions, which enable users to customise the way the camera works in order to suit their personal style of shooting.
While the design of the P7800 may not be worlds apart from that of its predecessors, the inclusion of the new EVF has necessitated a slight reworking of the control layout. The top panel of the camera sees some marked changes, with the removal of the Quick Menu Dial and a slight shift of the remainder of the controls towards the right-hand side to make space for the EVF. There’s also a newly added Display button to the right of the viewfinder, allowing users to quickly toggle between the EVF and rear LCD - a useful addition, but we still can’t help but hanker after something more akin to an automatic eye-sensor design which would maximise ease of use. The camera overall remains roughly the same size as the P7700, although it's a shade taller in order to accommodate the viewfinder.
Otherwise, all the controls are well placed and simple to operate, with a raft of manual, automatic and creative options available via the well-stocked mode dial. The dual-control dial design remains practical and intuitive to use when adjusting settings, although we did find the menu system a little awkward, with the more advanced exposure modes coming equipped with several screens of options to scroll through. This could be easily improved through the incorporation of the simpler tab-style layout seen on Nikon’s other cameras.
Quick to start up, the P7800 is ready to shoot in under a second. The lens quickly protrudes to assume its default wideangle position, with a gentle push or pull of the zoom lever that surrounds the shutter release button enabling fast, fine control over the focal length. AF acquisition is speedy and precise, in both bright and dark conditions, while the fairly wide spread of AF points across the frame means that the camera copes pretty well with off-centre subjects too. For moving subjects, the AF Tracking mode does a decent job of keeping up with more unpredictable ones, which will no doubt please those intending to use the camera for capturing sports or for wildlife photography.
Focusing while filming HD movies is quick and quiet, although the sound of the zoom does tend to get picked up by the camera’s internal microphone if you choose to alter the focal length while recording. Manual focus can be employed using the scroll wheel on the back of the camera, with an on-screen distance scale and magnified portion of the frame displayed in the centre of the screen helping to fine-tune your focus.
Continuous shooting is pleasingly nippy, with the top rate of 8fps proving useful for capturing moving targets, although it goes without saying that a larger buffer would have increased the appeal of this feature even further.
The P7800’s LCD is nicely detailed and, as promised by the incorporation of that new RGBW design, is bright enough to enable shooting under most daylight conditions. The 921k-dot EVF is also very usable, offering a pleasingly detailed display with a fast refresh rate and a good level of brightness. The previously mentioned facility to preview the effects of any creative filters or other enhancements on your final image is also welcome, and something that wouldn’t be possible were this an optical viewfinder.
The controls with which the P7800 is endowed means that you have all of the key functions you need at your fingertips, making for a pleasurable, streamlined shooting experience for the most part. The ability to program the Fn1 and Fn2 buttons (located on the front and top of the camera respectively) makes the camera even more versatile, as do the three user-definable exposure modes on the mode dial.
The main menu system the one area where we can see some room for improvement. The number of options available for fine-tuning grows and shrinks according to the complexity of the exposure mode you happen to be using at the time, making the system more manageable when you’re shooting on Auto than in Manual. In the latter option there are several pages of options to explore, which is great from the perspective of user control, although a little more organisation here would improve usability even further.
With the P7700, the price you paid for top-notch image quality was write speed, particularly when shooting Raw files. And, with the same sensor and processor on board the P7800, this niggle is still present, although you can minimise the lag by investing in a fast SDHC or SDXC memory card. If, however, you’re happy to remain patient while the camera works its magic in the Raw mode, you'll be richly rewarded. Raw files are, on the whole, accurately exposed, with extra detail ready to be pulled out of deeper shadows and brighter highlights in high-contrast scenes. Images are faithfully coloured under a range of indoor and outdoor lighting situations, although there are plenty of white balance options on board if you do happen to encounter some tricky mixed lighting.
Like its predecessor, the P7800 is a star performer when it comes to maintaining detail and clarity throughout its native ISO sensitivity range, with perfectly usable images produced right at the top end of the scale and pleasingly clean results at lower settings. Colour fidelity is also well preserved across the board, making the camera a good choice for photographers that prefer to avoid using the on-board flash under low-light conditions. The light-gathering ability of the fast f/2.0-4.0 lens also comes in handy when working in dim locations, plus the built-in VR system helps to compensate for mild camera shake.
The camera's Effects modes, which are accessed via the mode dial, provide some scope for in-camera creativity. There’s a decent range of options available, including Painting, Zoom Exposure, Defocus During Exposure and Cross Process to name a few, although our favourite has to be the Creative Monochrome option. This doesn't simply desaturate the scene; users have a high degree of control over a range of parameters, from the size and prevalence of the grain to the level of contrast. Although it’s possible to achieve good results with each of the settings, we found the P7800’s ability to emulate the look and feel of black and white film particularly endearing.
Close-up shooting is another strong point with the P7800, with a regular macro mode joined by a super-close-focusing option that lets you fill the frame with smaller subjects and interesting details. The built-in flash is also useful when the situation calls for a little extra illumination, with a respectable range of modes on hand to help maximise the quality of flash-lit images. That said, the ability to couple the P7800 with an external flash unit is certainly a bonus for particularly discerning strobists looking to get the very best out of the camera.
Like the model it replaces, there’s a lot to love about the Nikon P7800. Aesthetically it may be something of an acquired taste, but the same could be said of its similarly-specified rivals from other manufacturers. There's a certain charm about the chunky design of this no-nonsense camera, with the control layout and comfortable front and rear grips making this little powerhouse a pleasure to shoot with.
The range of automatic and advanced shooting modes on offer mean that the P7800 easily satisfies the needs of novices and enthusiasts alike. And, with user-friendly styling and top-notch image quality on top of that, the P7800 proves to be a real contender in the advanced compact arena.
- Good ergonomics
- User-friendly controls
- Good range of automatic and creative modes
- Plenty of manual functionality
- Superb image quality
- Well controlled noise at high ISOs
- Manual video mode (Full HD)
- Good quality EVF
- Menus in the advanced modes could be more streamlined
- A little slow when processing large amounts of data
Nikon P7800: Key Specifications
- Sensor: 1/1.7-in. type CMOS, 12.2MP
- ISO: 80-3200 (exp. to ISO 6400-equivalent in PASM modes)
- Processor: EXPEED C2
- Video: Full HD 1920 x 1080 (25p, 30p), 1280 x 720 (30p); high-speed: 1920 x 1080 (15 fps), 1280 x 720 (60 fps), 640 x 480 (120 fps) / Stereo sound
- Autofocus: AF, Manual, Face Detection, Centre, Multi, Tracking, Single, Continuous
- Metering system: Multi, CW, Spot
- Flash: Yes, pop-up, plus hotshoe
- Viewfinder: 921K-dot eye-level EVF, 100% coverage
- Display: 3-inch, 921,000-dots, Vari-angle
- Burst mode: 8fps full resolution
- Storage: SD/SDHC/SDXC / 86MB internal
- Weight: (inc. batt.): 399g
- Dimensions: 119 x 78 x 50 mm
About the Author
Josie Reavely is a Hampshire-based technical journalist. You can view more of Josie’s work on her website.