Advanced point and shoot is a camera category that is slowly but surely gaining significance, not only for those who are looking at a second camera body but also those users who want a compact camera with all the manual functionality. Nikon came out with its annual update to the advanced point and shoot category with the Coolpix P7800. Although on first glance it does resemble the P7700, Nikon has added in an electronic viewfinder on the P7800. Most other aspects have remained the same including the 7.1x optical zoom, the maximum aperture, the sensor and so on. So what is it that stands out for the P7800? Let us find out.
Design and Build
The black coloured Nikon P7800 has a solid metallic build and the surface is neatly demarcated with rubberised finish at just the right spots. For instance, the palm grip has a nice heft around which the fingers wrap around with ease. The rubberised finish gives a good grip. Around the region where your pinky or ring finger rest, you have a one of the two dedicated Function buttons which can be programmed based on your preferences. On the rear side, at the top right hand corner you have a thumb rest which also has a rubberised grip. Together the palm-grip and the thumb-rest allow you to hold the camera with ease, with a good grip. Thanks to the total weight of just around 400 gm, it does not feel that heavy when held.
The P7800 has a populated top portion with majority of the dials present on the right hand side. Going from left to right, you have a pop-up flash unit, an electronic viewfinder, an accessory port, mode dial, shutter button with a zoom lever and an exposure dial. A power button is present between the mode and exposure dials and a function button above the exposure dial. The dials are all metallic and have a nice clicking mechanism to ensure that they aren’t accidentally rotated. The placement of the exposure dial is a bit too much on the right hand side, which may make you stretch your thumb in an awkward position when you are increasing the exposure. There are two more control dials present: one placed horizontally on the rear side and one placed vertically on top of the palm grip, both of which are relatively easier to rotate than the mode and exposure dials.
On the rear side you have a tiltable 3-inch LCD screen occupying the major portion. On the right hand side you have a circular directional pad which works as a button as well as a rotary dial. It has a central OK button and is surrounded by four buttons - Menu and Delete below it and AE-L/AF-L and playback buttons above it. Above the screen you have a button to switch between the EVF and the LCD screen and beside it a quick menu button. All the buttons and the dial are well-built and have decent feedback.
You need to manually activate the EVF using the screen switching button, which switches between the EVF and the LCD screen. We would have much rather liked a sensor near the EVF, which activates the EVF as you bring the camera to your eye. It is quite annoying to have to get the camera to your eye just to realise that you haven’t activated the EVF.
Overall, it is a well-built camera. But we felt that Nikon should have included a lens ring for controlling focus or zoom, a feature which is seen in a lot of high-end point and shoot cameras. The ergonomics are quite good and apart from the placement of the exposure dial, everything else is within easy reach. We really liked the presence of the function button Fn1, on the front just beside the palm rest, as it is within easy reach of your pinky or ring finger.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 comes with a 1/1.7-inch 12.2MP BSI CMOS sensor which is the same one that was seen on the P7700. The maximum aperture range has also remain unchanged - f/2.0 to f/4.0. The equivalent focal length is 28-200mm which equates to 7.1x optical zoom. ISO range goes from ISO 80 to 3200 with an equivalent ISO 6400 being activated in the Hi 1 mode which is available only in the Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual modes. A 3-inch 921k-dot vari-angle LCD screen is present on the rear side which allows you to compose frames over your shoulder or low-angle shots.
The Menu button leads you to more features within the camera. The first thing you should check out under the setup menu are the customisable function keys (Fn1 and Fn2). You can set the Fn1 key to functions such as metering, flash exposure compensation, ISO, white balance and so on. This will involve a minor learning curve, but once you get used to it, it will make things quicker while shooting. Just beside the EVF you will notice a button which is titled QUAL/ISO/WB, which is another way to quickly access functions such as image/video quality, ISO, WB, bracketing, colour modes and other features. This method is slightly more time consuming than using function buttons, but saves you the trouble of getting to Menu, every time you want to make changes.
Apart from this, the P7800 has the Effects and Scene mode which has become a staple in most advanced point and shoot cameras. Under the Effects mode, we particularly liked the Creative Monochrome which allows you to select the grain size and the various monochrome looks. Another Effects mode we like is the Zoom exposure which works great at night, if you want to emphasize a particular object or typography. There are 18 different scene modes and one scene auto-selector mode. The scene modes include Fireworks, pet portraits, portrait, food, night landscape, snow, night portrait and so on.
Apart from a regular video mode, you have a Creative mode which allows you to choose between Aperture priority and Manual modes. You can also add special effects such as painting, cross process, nostalgic sepia, etc., while shooting videos.
The flash mode is quite detailed on the Nikon P7800 including modes such as Auto, auto with red-eye reduction, fill flash, rear-curtain flash and even a manual mode and a commander mode. You have an HDMI and an AV out port on the right hand edge whereas on the left hand side you have the GPS port below and a microphone port on top.
The presence of an electronic viewfinder makes shooting convenient, but we found the EVF to be troublesome while shooting at night. Despite forcing the White Balance to a custom temperature, we noticed minor shifts in the hues as you moved the camera around to compose. Changing levels of exposure is understandable, but shifting colours is strange. This is quite annoying specially when you are composing your photographs in low light situations.
It comes with the EN-EL14 1030mAh Li-ion battery pack which is rated for 350 shots. We could get around 280 shots on a single charge. It all depends on your usage pattern. The camera has a lens cap which you need to be very careful with as it does not have any string to hold it to body, so there are high chances of misplacing it.
Absence of WiFi is a bit strange considering this is an advanced point and shoot released in late 2013. When it comes to ease with manual focussing, we really hoped to see a manual focus ring - a feature that has become quite common of advanced compacts such as Sony RX100 II or the Canon Powershot G15. Even a touch screen would have been nice.
Studio ISO performance
Base ISO performance is quite good and you will barely notice any noise at ISO 100 and ISO 200. Till ISO 800 images are clean and there is no loss in the image quality. ISO 1600 onwards, noise starts becoming noticeable. Although the noise is luminance noise, it is still quite prominent and fine details, such as the circuitry on the motherboard, the strands of the thread loose their definition. Use ISO 1600 and higher levels only in cases of emergency. The Hi 1 mode is useless and is best avoided.
(Please Note: Images below have been resized. To view full resolution images please click on the images below)
More sample images are on our Nikon P7800 Flickr set.
Nikon P7800 comes with a contrast-detect AF. You can toggle between auto-focus (AF), macro closeup, close range macro, infinity and manual focus by clicking on the downward key of the D-pad. The [+] key on the right hand side of the D-pad allows you to select the focus selectors such as face priority, auto, manual, centre normal, centre wide, subject tracking and target-finding AF. The target finding AF tries to guess the object in your frame and this feature is also seen in some of its more entry level compacts.
While the focus acquisition is quick under daylight, the same cannot be said while shooting at night where we noticed the camera hunting for focus. Things get progressively bad when you zoom in under low lights. Manual focus selector is your best friend here as it is quicker to point where you want to focus, if you are in the AF mode. There are around 99 points in the centre of the frame which you can focus on using the manual focus selector. Manual focus mode could have been much better implemented as in its current avtaar, where you click on the up/down buttons to get things in focus, it feels aged specially for an advanced point and shoot.
Within the manual focus mode, the central portion gets magnified to help you focus more accurately. Even in the manual mode, you can let the cameras AF lock the focus in the magnified area once you decide where you want to focus. We quite liked the close-range macro mode which lets you get very close to the object and still keep it in focus.
We found the P7800 to be a bit slow when it came to operations. The power off to first shot time is around 3 seconds. While there is minimal lag between shots as long as the format is JPEG, the moment you go into RAW+JPEG format, you will have to wait for at least 5 seconds between two shots. So if you are into street photography where every second counts, the RAW+JPEG mode is a nightmare. If you shoot in RAW+JPEG with the burst mode activated, you need to wait at least 10-15 seconds before you can fire the next shot. You might have to invest in faster SD cards to get a better performance, but despite using a Class 10 card, we were not impressed with the speeds offered.
On a couple of occasions we also noticed that we had to press the screen switching button more than once, to go from LCD to EVF and vice versa. And if you card is filling up, then even shot to shot time between JPEGs is more than 5-10 secs. So as far as operational speed goes, the P7800 is not as impressive.
Image quality is one area where Nikon hasn’t disappointed as much as its speed of operation. The Matrix metering is accurate in most situations and gives good exposures. We did notice chromatic aberration or purple fringing around the edges of objects shot in bright sunlight around the corners. Sharpness around the edges isn’t bad at all. Straight out of the camera, the RAW images looks comparatively washed out. Noise appears as fine grain in the RAW images. Using the View NX2 utility, which is bundled with the P7800, you can make minor tweaks to your RAW images. Of all the colour modes, we quite liked the Vivid mode which makes the colours pop out as compared to the standard mode. Colours are rendered well.
For more sample images, check out our Nikon P7800 Flickr set.
Video quality is decent as long as you are just intent on shooting home videos. There is surprisingly little rolling shutter issue as you pan, but you can notice the focus-shifting. Videos shot using manual focus tend to record the noise of the buttons you are using as you adjust the focus. This is annoying, and is another indicator that Nikon should have gone with a lens control ring mechanism. Image stabilisation while shooting videos is not that great. Shooting at night with street lights gives bad results and is best avoided.
Verdict and Price in India
Nikon Coolpix P7800 comes at a price of Rs 27,950, which is considerably less than the Sony RX100 II and Canon Powershot G16, who are its closest competitors. The Sony RX 100 II is certainly a much better low light and overall performer than the Nikon P7800, which can be attributed to its larger sensor size and faster lens (f/1.8 maximum aperture). Apart from cost, the only advantage P7800 has over the Sony is its zoom range and the fact that it has an electronic viewfinder. Image quality is certainly good, but we would have really liked it if the P7800 was speedier in terms of operations and had a better manual focussing implementation. Absence of Wi-Fi, when its contemporaries support it, is a big chink in Nikon P7800's armour.
So you can see, that recommending the Nikon P7800 is no easy task. At the moment, the only reason to go for the Nikon P7800 is if your needs fulfill ALL these criteria: longer zoom range, an EVF and relatively affordable price. We will be testing the Canon Powershot G16 soon, so can only give the final verdict between these three cameras post that. Another thing worth considering is that at Rs 28,000 price point, you also have a lot of entry-level DSLRs. Certainly this is a different category altogether, but for someone looking to get their first advanced camera, DSLRs are still a consideration.
At the moment, we would ask prospective buyers to wait it out. Let us see how the Canon Powershot G16 performs against the P7800.
PS: Don't forget to check out our Nikon P7800 Flickr set for more sample images.