Nikon has opted for quality over quantity here, pinning the P7100's resolution at a conservative 10.1 megapixels. Don't let that put you off. Pure pixel counts are rarely the defining factor when it comes to judging a camera -- a fact proved by this chunky, accomplished snapper.
With versatile controls, a sharp lens and a keen price -- you can pick one up for £379 -- it's a winner on every front.
A serious upgrade
The P7100 positively bristles with buttons and dials. Indeed, it's so well endowed in this respect that trips to the menus are comparatively rare. It has the best implementation of exposure compensation we've seen, and a wider than normal range, too. A dial beside the shutter release runs the full gamut of +/-3.0EV (exposure value) in 1/3EV steps, with the effect updated in real-time on the LCD.
At the other end of the body there's a similar dial for accessing the most common shooting options, including quality, ISO and white balance. Each takes you directly to the relevant on-screen control, so you don't need to trawl the menus to find them, while a small button in the centre of the selector quickly steps you into and out of the control for on-the-spot adjustments.
There's a wheel on the front to adjust aperture, and another on the back for shutter speed, which together make the P7100's full manual mode one of the easiest -- and quickest -- you could ever hope to use. If you're looking to step up from a bog-standard compact, these two wheels on their own make the P7100 one of the best choices you can make. Our only criticism of its handling is that the effect of tweaking the aperture isn't displayed in real time on the 3-inch LCD. The only way you'll see how it affects the depth of field is to half-press the shutter to set the focal point.
The LCD itself is articulated, tilting up and down through 180 degrees, so you can hold it above a crowd or down by your feet and still see what's coming through the lens. This is a boon for more creative photographers, and makes up for the woeful optical viewfinder. We won't criticise Nikon for putting to good use what would otherwise have been dead space below the flash hotshoe, but we can't see many users choosing to frame their shots this way. The view is small, suffers from considerable barreling and manages to split the incoming light so that some sharp edges are fringed and unsharp.
The P7100 bears more than a passing similarity to the year-old P7000. They share a common native resolution, a 7.1x zoom equivalent to 28 to 200mm in a 35mm camera, and an aperture range that sets out at f/2.8 wide angle and f/5.6 in full telephoto. The P7000, though, was missing the articulated screen, and ran a slower underlying system overall. So, while the P7100 may look -- on paper at least -- like a fairly conservative upgrade, ambitious photographers should find it more responsive in daily use.
Speed and controls count for nothing if a camera can't shoot good photos. Fortunately that's not something Nikon needs to worry about here. The P7100 holds its own against the very best, with perfectly focused light, bright colours and good crisp edges.
It may only have 10 megapixels under its belt, but it puts them to great use. The skin in the portrait shot below is smooth and accurate, with gentle gradations between areas of very similar tone, and a great level of detail retained in the eyebrows and eyelashes.
Looking closer, there's also significant detail captured in the reflection in the eye, and slight fall-off in the focus either side of the sweet spot on those parts of the image both further from and closer to the lens. This draws the eye back towards the subject thanks to the bright f/3.2 aperture.
Skin tones were very well handled in general, making this camera a great choice for anyone who wants to do mid-range portrait work without stepping up to a dSLR.
Neither could we fault the P7100 on the detail front. Throughout our tests it maintained a consistently high level of performance, rendering fine subject matter with great clarity. When set to macro, it had no trouble getting a steady -- and very quick -- fix on the seed heads below, despite their highly irregular lighting and the bolder background colours that might otherwise have distracted the autofocus system.
Minimum focusing distance in macro mode is just 1cm, which makes it easy to isolate your subject and throw its surroundings out of focus.
It wasn't just in macro mode that it captured such high levels of detail, though. Most of our shooting was conducted at less close quarters, using a mixture of the full auto and aperture priority modes. The results showed remarkably consistent levels of detail at all levels of zoom, and accurately focused tones across the full colour spectrum.