Nikon Coolpix P7700 Digital Camera Review$499.95
- Low Light Performance
- Noise Reduction
- ISO Options
- Focus Performance
- Video: Low Light Sensitivity
Low Light Performance
The P7700 is an able low-light performer thanks to its very good Vibration Reduction system, excellent low-light sensitivity, and a wide aperture. Up through ISO 1600, shots look very nice, and if you shoot RAW to avoid the in-camera noise reduction algorithms you can probably get something usable out of ISO 3200 and even ISO 6400 as well. In general, we think it's right there with the Canon G15, putting it significantly ahead of much of the advanced compact pack.
The Coolpix P7700 has three noise reduction settings: low, normal, and high. There is no option to disable noise reduction entirely, at least in JPEGs. You can always shoot RAW, which should leave the noise reduction entirely in your hands. By default, the camera is set to normal NR.
Noise reduction is plainly being applied even at the base ISO setting of 80, where measured noise levels are at about 0.62%. The NR doesn't really ramp up significantly until you hit ISO 400, where noise levels actually dip lower than what they were at ISO 200 before resuming a very gradual climb to the 1% mark. The P7700 doesn't cross that barrier until ISO 1600, where it hits 1.17%. It tops out at 1.73% at the maximum ISO setting of 6400 (Nikon calls this "Hi1").
Visually, we find Nikon's NR implementation to be fairly conservative, though the P7700's tendency to avoid oversharpening combines with a certain lack of contrast in our studio crops to make them look less detailed than they really are. The Canon G15 and Olympus XZ-2 certainly produce more appealing results at high ISOs in those crops, with their more aggressive JPEG processing, but we actually think the P7700 hangs in there quite well. As usual, the top two ISO settings aren't really useful for more than resized web use, but they'll do in a pinch. More on how we test noise.
The P7700 lets you choose between full-stop or 1/3-stop ISO settings, giving you a potential for 18 discrete ISO choices. On top of this, there are four automatic ISO options. The first, simply called "Auto," lets the camera use the entire ISO range as it pleases. The others use specified ranges: 80-200, 80-400, and 80-800. For each of these, you can set a minimum shutter speed, from 1 second up to 1/30 second. We're not sure why the minimum shutter speed options don't go higher, since 1/30sec is still pretty slow if you're at full zoom, but we suppose Nikon is counting on good Vibration Reduction performance to make up the difference.
In all but the darkest and lowest-contrast situations, the P7700 locks focus reliably and accurately. We experienced very few failures to lock when we'd selected the appropriate focusing mode, despite the fact that the camera was hesitant to use its AF assist lamp.
The focusing modes were a source of occasional frustration, though we understand why Nikon has chosen this path. As with nearly every other aspect of the P7700's design, there are several different focusing modes available. The default autofocus mode (AF) will focus on any subject between 50cm and infinity (or 80cm and infinity at full telephoto). Change to the macro mode (Macro close-up) and you can shoot objects as close as 10cm or 2cm from the lens, depending on how much zoom you're using, and all the way to infinity. Select the secondary macro mode (Close range only) and focus is limited to the macro range, with the upshot being that it should be a bit faster. Some might be happy to exchange the slightly quicker AF for automatic use of the full macro-to-infinity focusing range, but others will surely be happy with the decision Nikon made here.
There are also Infinity (only focuses on the horizon) and manual focus modes. Manual focus is controlled using the rear rotary dial or the up and down buttons, and includes a magnified focus assist window at the center of the LCD display.
Video: Low Light Sensitivity
Using our standard low-light video sensitivity testing rig, we determined that the P7700 required just 7 lux of illumination to achieve 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. The 50 IRE mark is an industry standard (used by the BBC, among others) that serves as the minimum image brightness acceptable on broadcast television. A result of 7 lux in this test is outstanding, though not the best we've seen from a compact camera (that honor belongs to the Canon G15 at just 3 lux).