For a while, I’ve been looking for a camera that will fit in my bag so I can take it anywhere, is inexpensive enough to leave in a car glovebox without fear of theft but is capable enough to replace my DSLR in certain scenarios (so, not a mobile phone camera…).
Then, on a photography trip to Cornwall last September, I broke one of my lenses, rendering my D700 next to useless (my 80-200 f2.8 is a good lens, but a bit long for everyday use and without my 24-85 f2.8-4 I was pretty lost). Lacking the funds to replace the lens (I’ve since repaired it and can wholeheartedly recommend Dave Boyle’s Camera Repair Workshop), I decided to purchase the camera I’d been waiting for – a Nikon Coolpix P7100, which competes with Canon’s G12 to replace the earlier Coolpix P7000 (adding a pivoting screen, although not the flip-out type found on camcorders – which is, arguably, a good thing).
Why the Nikon? Well, I have a Nikon D700 DSLR and a Canon Ixus 70 point and shoot (correction – had a Canon Ixus – as my son has claimed it as “his” camera) but the P7100 has a longer zoom range than the G12 (28-200 35mm equivalent) and a better LCD screen. Ultimately the longer zoom is what clinched the deal for me – although I would like to have gone down the Canon route. Offering full control over images (e.g. aperture priority, shutter speed priority, manual ISO selection, raw capture and even a flash hotshoe) but also fully-automatic mode (and video), it’s a chunky “little” camera/video camera but still small enough to slip in my coat pocket.
The retail price for this camera is £499 and I originally paid around £423 on Amazon but, the day it arrived, I found the price had dropped to closer to £371. I was just about to return it (unopened) and repurchase but instead, I got in touch with Amazon, who refunded the difference (saving shipping costs) although they did claim this is not normal practice. Since then, it’s dropped a little further but I think I paid a fair price, given that it was a newly-released camera at the time. Although I’ve yet to find a case to keep the camera in, it’s pretty substantial and should be able to withstand everyday knocks but I did decide to get a screen protector to cover the LCD panel. Ebay came up trumps here with some protectors from Protection 24 Films.
So, is it any good? Well… that’s one of the reasons this post has taken so long to write (the comments on this DPReview post are worth reading). It is good, but I can’t quite make up my mind as there have been a couple of disappointments. I’m glad I didn’t get one of the new Nikon 1 series cameras - I don’t need to mess around with interchangable lenses on something for this purpose – but an entry-level DSLR costs about the same as the P7100 and that has no shutter lag/focus delay/ (the P7100 does – and that’s inconvenient when taking pictures of moving objects). Also, the noise levels are not great with noticeable grain at ISO 400/800 worsening rapidly above that (although they do look like grain, rather than the digital noise I used to get with my old D70) but I’d expected better in a camera from this day and age.
Even so, I was looking at my Flickr stream last night and realised just how many of my recent shots were taken on the little P7100. These two were taken last weekend in London and, considering I was holding the camera in the air and using some slow shutter speeds, have come out remarkably well:
These were taken in Lincoln just before Christmas:
And these were taken early one morning in October just after I got the camera:
The grain is noticeable in the full-resolution versions of the dawn shots, and there is some distortion (particularly obvious on the buildings in Lincoln) that I haven’t been able to correct in Lightroom (I need to work out the appropriate settings). I also had to update my Adobe software to use Camera Raw 6.x which meant a new copy of Lightroom (thank goodness for educational discounts) and that I can’t edit my P7100 raw files in Photoshop CS4 (that will be the subject of another blog post, I think).
Given that I don’t want to lug a heavy (and expensive) DSLR rig around everywhere – its unlikely I would have taken some of these if I hadn’t bought the P7100, so it’s clearly a useful tool (I use it with my Joby Gorillapod too) but it’s worth bearing in mind some of the limitations before shelling out some cash. Those looking to expand their photography might prefer to get an entry-level DSLR and those looking for a point and shoot may well be happy with a cameraphone – the Coolpix P7100 attempts to fill a very small niche between these two form factors.