Nikon Coolpix P7700 Digital Camera Review$499.95
The P7700 is on the large side for an advanced compact camera. It's not in the same ballpark as the mammoth Canon G1 X, but it's larger than any of its other primary competitors, including the Canon G15, Olympus XZ-2, Samsung EX2F, Panasonic LX7, and Sony RX100. This size differential, as you might imagine, has both its pros and its cons. The biggest con is that it's not pocketable—there's simply no way this camera will fit into the average jeans pocket. Jacket pockets? Sure, but even there it's pushing it. The truth is, though, none of the advanced compacts on the market today are pocketable in the jeans sense except the Sony RX100 and perhaps the Panasonic LX7. It's definitely the exception rather than the norm.
Perhaps the biggest pro is the camera's ergonomics—particularly its comparably massive front grip. Here at DCI we've handled a lot of advanced compacts, and typically we find them to be better than most small cameras but a far cry from the handling joy of a well-designed DSLR or superzoom. The P7700 breaks out of this mold: it simply feels good. Even the most cynical among us caved to the P7700's physical charms almost instantly when hands met leatherette. Holding the P7700 feels like sinking into the leather chair in your dad's study—at least, compared to its rivals. The grip is chunky, curved in exactly the right place to cradle your fingertips, and covered in a soft leathery coating that makes it feel like it's glued to your hand.
Button placement is well thought out, too. All but the Quick menu dial can be reached with the right hand alone, and Nikon has done a great job of putting the most-used controls in the easiest-to-access places on the body. All of the buttons have a pleasing tactility, and they're smartly elevated where they need to be a flat where they ought to be. For example, the playback, menu, and OK buttons are domed for easy blind-feel, because you want to be able to find them no matter what the lighting situation. The trash button, on the other hand, is mounted flush on the body (though with a raised lip around it), because it's not a function you want to invoke accidentally.
The dials also provide extremely precise feedback, and once again they're smartly designed. The mode and Quick menu dials turn easily (though not too easily), with obvious click-stops. Meanwhile, the EV compensation dial produces a lot more resistance (though it can still be manipulated with one hand) because it's not a setting you want to change without knowing it.
Including a fully articulating LCD undoubtedly adds some bulk, but given the P7700's general form factor it's much more of a plus than a minus. The ability to shoot from any angle in a 270-degree radius, and to take self or group portraits, will be of value to all kinds of photographers.
Buttons & Dials
You want buttons? The P7700's got 'em. A lot of them. Let's start with the top plate, which is home to the mode dial, on/off switch, zoom ring and shutter release, and the exposure compensation dial—_de rigeur_ for advanced compacts these days, and always a welcome addition. Also up top is a Fn2 button, which can be customized to display a virtual horizon, histogram, or framing grid. It can also be set to toggle the built-in neutral density filter. Moving further left you'll find the hot shoe, which can play host to Speedlight flashes, an optional GPS unit, and an external microphone accessory. Way over on the left side are the pop-up flash and the "Quick Menu" dial, which gives you one-click access to several vital settings. It's a great idea and well-implemented here.
On the front there are the sub-command dial (aka front e-dial) and the Fn1 button, which can have three separate custom functions when used in concert with the shutter release, command dial, and selector dial.
The rear face of the P7700 is similarly packed. Below the flash and Quick Menu dial is the flash release lever. On the other side of the hot shoe you'll find the Display toggle, and moving further right and down a bit is the AE-L / AF-L button. The playback mode selector is under that, just above the rotary dial/four-way selector/directional pad/OK button. Yeah, that's a lot of stuff packed into one area, but that's just the way digital cameras tend to roll. In the P7700's case, the rotary selector can be used to page through menus, but you can alternatively press up or down to accomplish the same thing. The four-way pad also serves to bring up vital settings while shooting. Moving from the top counterclockwise, these are: flash, self-timer, AF mode, and AF area. Below this cluster are the Menu and Trash buttons.
In terms of screen technology, Nikon seems to be taking the opposite tack of Canon. Where Canon dropped articulating LCDs entirely with their new G15, Nikon has moved from the P7100's tilt-only implementation to a full flip-out and swivel design on the P7700. This is by far the best and most versatile screen configuration, and we're pleased to see it here, even if it does add to the bulk of the camera. The screen itself is 3 inches on the diagonal, offers a resolution of 921,000 dots, and is not touch-sensitive. Again, this is par for the course in this segment. The screen is very bright, clear, and sharp during image playback. While shooting, the live view picture is similarly clear in good light, though the framerate can dip in dimmer situations.