The Coolpix P7800 is Nikon’s newest large-sensor compact camera. It has an advanced and adjustable control system with numerous dials and programmable buttons. In our in-depth review we’ll discover how the P7800 distinguishes itself from the rest of the advanced compact cameras in the already-saturated camera market of 2013.
The Coolpix P7800 is Nikon’s flagship advanced compact zoom camera, and the successor of the successful P7700. The main difference between the models is the addition of a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) with a decent resolution of 921k pixels, which takes the place of the quick-control dial on the previous model. The two main characteristics of the camera haven’t changed, the 1/1.7” sensor and the 28-200mm Lens. The P7800′s 1/1.7” sensor (which is 50% larger than standard compact cameras) has a resolution of 12.2MP, which isn’t anything special; however, the versatile 28-200mm lens, with a fast max aperture of f/2-4, is the camera’s highlighting feature. It surpasses all other advanced compact cameras within its zoom range (apart from the more expensive Sony RX10 and Olympus Stylus 1). As expected from a camera at the P7800’s level, it has a fully articulating rear 3” display screen with 921k points.
Controls and Design
The P7800 is a bigger and heavier compact to the rest of the advanced compact cameras. Its dimensions are 4.69 X 3.07 X 1.97, and it weighs 0.88 lb (400 grams) with the battery. Although the camera is not small enough to fit in your pocket, it clearly has a high build quality, and the front grip and back thumb grip make it very comfortable and steady to use.
As mentioned before, the 28-200mm lens is rather versatile for the P7800’s category, offering a X7.1 zoom range. Around the lens you’ll find a removable ring that, when combined with various adapters by Nikon, could widen or narrow the lens’ focal length. The max aperture is f/2 at the wide 28mm, and by the telephoto end of 200mm it gets to f/4, quite good considering the lens’ range that allows shooting of distant objects with low light conditions.
The camera has an impressive control layout with 5 different dials. The top plate has two familiar dials, shooting mode and exposure compensation. The shooting mode dials has the standard P,A, S, M, Movie, various effects modes, and three more customizable modes. On the front you’ll find an easily reachable dial, and another one on the back next to the thumb grip. These dials command the different photographic characteristics according to the selected shooting mode. In addition, when combined with the Fn1 button, the two dials enable direct control over numerous settings such as file format, white balance, sensitivity, and much more. The last control dial is the standard rear dial that is mainly used when browsing the different menus.
The Fn2 button is programmable for a single action, and we decided to dedicate it for switching the built-in ND filer, mainly because there is no other simple way to activate it, and during strong daylight it’s quite useful for shooting scenes with shallow depth-of-field.
In case all these dials and buttons confuse you, don’t be mistaken, it took us quite some time to get the hang of it, but after we did, our user experience with the P7800 did not falter from advanced DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
In addition, the Nikon P7800 has a hidden built-in flash that’s releasable from a dedicated button and a Hot-Shoe port, but no built-in GPS or Wi-Fi connectivity.
Electronic Viewfinder – Pros and Cons
The Nikon P7800 has a combination of an electronic viewfinder (AKA EVF) and a high quality articulating rear display screen. Unlike Canon’s G series that has an optical viewfinder, Nikon chose the electronic alternative, and we’ll explain why we think Nikon made a smart choice.
Although many photographers are enchanted with the opportunity to use an optical viewfinder like they are used to on DSLR cameras, the compact version of an optical viewfinder is completely different. It does not contain the mirror and prism mechanism that transfers the light gathered from the lens to the DSLR viewfinder. Compact camera’s optical viewfinders are just a glass window that at best is located at the center of the camera, or in many cases, at its corner. This type of viewfinder is called a “tunnel” viewfinder, rather than a prism viewfinder, as in DSLR cameras. In fact, the image we see through this “window” is not identical to the image the camera will eventually capture, a phenomena called “parallax error.” While shooting distant objects, the parallax error is not significant, but the closer you get, the more enhanced the mismatch becomes, which can be quite frustrating if you’re trying to capture an accurate frame. In addition, in most cases the tunnel viewfinder will not present 100% captured scene (regardless of the parallax error). For example, both the Canon G16 and the Nikon P7100 (which preceded the P7700) have optical viewfinders that cover merely 80% of the lens’ image. Another disadvantage of the cheap tunnel viewfinders is the low amount of technical details they can present to the photographer while shooting; especially when compared to an EVF, that is in fact a small screen, and therefore can present us all the information we’ll see in our camera’s rear screen.
Despite the clear disadvantages of the simple tunnel viewfinder, EVF also have their cons. The main weakness of the EVF is that only in recent years has technology matured enough to manufacture high quality EVFs with sharp images, accurate colors, and a fast response time. At the moment the latest generation of quality EVFs are mostly implanted in high-end compact and mirrorless cameras by Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic and Olympus. These large viewfinder have an amazing 2.4 million pixels and great display quality. On the contrary, the Nikon P7800 viewfinder is rather small, with a resolution of 921k pixels. Although the pixel count is not too bad, you could still notice the pixel themselves while using the viewfinder. Also, the reaction time of the display is very slow (much slower than the rear screen’s), and the image is dark and its colors are dull. Another issue that bugged us is the lack of an eye sensor that automatically switch the display between the rear screen and the EVF, there’s actually a dedicated button for that. Not to mention that the switch itself takes about 2 seconds, much slower than higher quality cameras.
Although here at BestMatch we’re usually a big fan of viewfinders and prefer using them to the camera’s screen, we hardly used the Nikon’s EVF. We recommend potentials buyers experience the P7800’s EVF in the store before purchasing to see what they think.
As opposed to the EVF, the Nikon P7800 boast a high quality rear display screen with a good resolution of 921k. The fully articulating screen lets you comfortably shoot from every possible angle, not a common feature in advanced compact cameras, which mostly have either a fixed screen, or a tilting screen. The screen’s colors are accurate and bright even in direct sunlight, and it has a fast response time.
Although the P7800 is positioned as an advanced photographers` camera, its overall operation and control are rather slow compared to its peers. The slow operation is noticeable in almost every aspect of the camera, wether it’s menu browsing, changing displays, image write time, or browsing images.
Burst shooting speed is about 6fps, regardless of the file format. After shooting six images the camera freezes and starts saving the images. While shooting JPG the freeze lasts 4 seconds, 12 seconds for RAW, and 13 for JPG+RAW. We tested P7800 with a SanDisc Extreme Pro 16GB memory card that can write up to 95 MB\s and still the camera saved the files pretty slowly, considering the modest 12MP sensor.
The battery got a satisfying CIPA rating of 350 shoots per charge. An annoying issue we kept seeing in various cameras is a graphic battery level indicator instead of a percentage indication. After a few hours of use when the battery indicator is still half-full (or half empty, depending on your perception…), the camera often showed a warning for a minute or two before being completely drained.
The Nikon P7800 offers high quality images with a low noise level compared to other compact cameras. Auto white balance is leaning towards the warmer tones, so shooting in RAW is even more appealing with the P7800. The Nikon’s lens enables a large zoom range versus its competitors, and delivers sharp images with good contrast. Our sharpness tests showed that even from the widest apertures the camera delivers sharp images both in the center and corners of the image. Aperture f/4 is the P7800’s optimal value for maximum sharpness. Beyond f/5.6 the images lose sharpness and by f/8 they are rather soft.
In our next test we combined macro and high sensitivity photography.
The P7800 lets you focus from a minimal distance of 2-inch (5cm), and although we reviewed cameras with a smaller minimum focusing distance such as the Canon SX50, the Nikon’s result were much more pleasing thanks to its larger sensor.
Although the P7800 is only a slighter larger sensor than normal compact cameras, is provides excellent results in high ISO sensitivities. In the next images you can see how it maintains low noise level until ISO 400, and then there’s a graduate increase in noise graininess. Even though there is a lot of noise in higher sensitivity images, the noise is mostly grainy and not chrome, and as such it is less destructive and even creates a sharpness side-effect. Take note that these images are a 100% crop, and during normal internet viewing the noise level is definitely bearable.
To conclude the endless debate between JPG and RAW file formats, we wanted to demonstrate how big the difference is while shooting in high ISO. The next image clearly shows that the in-camera processing of the JPG file drastically reduces sharpness, and create an excessive unification of many colors and small details. The image gets a water painting effect, and the difference between the JPG and RAW files (which we did not apply any post-processing to) is quite clear.
It’s hard to put a verdict on the P7800’s image quality, when doing so depends on our expectation, as well as which camera to which we compare the Nikon. Image quality is mostly determined by the image sensor, and the Nikon’s 1/1.7” sensor is 50% larger than a standard compact camera. Up to two years ago there wasn’t a variety in sensor sizes between the 1/1.7” and much bigger sensors such as Four Thirds and APS-C, but it’s hard to ignore cameras such as Sony’s RX100 and Fuji’s X20 with much larger sensors. The RX100 boasts a 1” sensor that is 3 times larger than the P7800. Of course sensor size is not the only thing that matters in a camera – and the Nikon P7800 is way ahead of Sony’s RX100 when it comes to controls, an articulating screen, and an EVF – but the sensor is definitely the most important attribute when it comes to image quality, combined with a quality lens. The reason we mention the RX100 and X20 is that both cameras compete with the P7800 in the advanced compact camera category with similar prices.
When compared to compact and generic compact cameras, the image quality of the P7800 is excellent, and the small pixel count allows the P7800 to deliver great images in high sensitivity. But when compared to the RX100 and X20, it’s simply not enough. You can’t help but think that Nikon’s P7800 is an older generation camera that’s not adjusted to the spirit of the times.
- Fast lens with excellent zoom range
- Advanced control system
- Fully articulating display
- High build quality
- Older generation sensor and image quality
- Slow overall performance
- Low quality EVF