Nikon P7100 review

In May 2012, I bought a Nikon P7100 after using a Panasonic G3 for a couple of weeks (replacing my A710.). After using the P7100 for a few months (10/2012), I finished this review that I call "the perfect camera":

Actually, no, I haven't found the perfect camera, but I know what it is: my new Nikon P7100 with a few modifications. These are my fantasy specs:

Basically, it's the P7100 with sensor size and capabilities between the Fuji X10 and the Canon G1 X, plus the X10's lens with the P7100's zoom range. (The P7100's bokeh is nice but not very dramatic -- increasing the sensor size and max aperture would bring an improvement.) I've also been persuaded that EVF works better than OVF (particularly because you get the full UI). It would be about the same size as the G1 X (1.2 pounds).

Late note: The new P7700 takes two steps in this direction, with F2.0 and a fully articulated screen, dropping the P7100's OVF (but not replaced with EVF, it's screen-only).

My previous camera was a Canon A710 (35-200mm). Although I don't use the 200mm telephoto much, I do make use of the 120-150mm range and I hate feeling that I'm bumping against the limit. My fantasy camera could reduce the range to 30-180mm (6X) and I'd be fine.

I decided on the P7100 after I bought a used Panasonic G3 and was not very happy with it. There are only 1.5 options for a macro lens in the micro-4/3 line and both are pretty spendy (the new Olympus 12-50 with minimal macro capability and the Panasonic 45mm). (The 14-42 power zoom has decent macro capability, but everyone agrees it's a shitty lens.) I hadn't realized prior to the G3 how limited non-macro focusing distance is; given that I shoot lots of flower porn, macro is pretty much a requirement for me. (I only got into macro after switching to digital with my A710; I'm guessing that previously I just took whatever pictures made sense with a film SLR without macro. Before the A710 I had mostly stopped taking pictures for a decade.)

Note that one thing I really really like about the P7100 is the plethora of dials and buttons. I don't have to go into the menus. In general, the P7100 is just more pleasant to work with than the G3.

I also think the P7100 manual is way better than the Panasonic's -- even when I know exactly what the G3 manual is trying to say, I sometimes find it difficult to read (after reading the P7100 manual, I went back to the G3 manual to check whether lack of recent camera experience was the problem).

I've already used the P7100's built-in 3-stop ND filter a few times, I'm surprised more cameras don't go down to ISO 50 (the G3's minimum ISO 160 is annoying, especially with the 20mm F1.7).

I didn't use the G3 enough to get really used to having a fully articulated LCD, but it adds little bulk over a tilt mechanism, so why not? (The P7100's tilting LCD is definitely useful, I've already needed it for several pictures.)

A number of reviews complain about the P7100's performance in saving RAW files, and it's definitely slower than the G3. It's not slow enough to annoy me, and I can switch to JPEG-only when I want speed, although even that isn't particularly fast. (And yes, I'm using a SanDisk Extreme rated for 45MB/s.) Still faster than the manual film advance on my old cameras.

There are a number of minor annoyances. Probably the biggest one is excessive highlight clipping with the default exposure settings, I end up shooting a lot with -1/3EV to -1.0EV (which lends additional emphasis to having a convenient EV dial). Some others:

Anything bigger than m4/3 is too big for a "carry around" camera (and in fact I think m4/3 is too big for "carry around" unless I'm willing to accept a limited zoom range); if I decide that I need something more than the P7100, I'll get a full-blown APS-C, probably a Pentax because I like in-body IS. (Or maybe the G1 X -- interchangeable cameras instead of interchangeable lenses. ;-)

The P7100 has its best ISO range from 100-400 (I can just barely see some degredation at 400, and the P7100 has a useful AutoISO 100-400 feature), 800 only shows degredation at maximum blowup, and 1600 is fine for casual snaps. 3200 and 6400 should only be used for emergencies. (Contrasted with the A710 where 200 shows some degredation, 400 should only be used for emergencies, and I consider 800 completely unusable.)

The P7100, not surprisingly, takes pictures in between the quality of the A710 and the G3, though closer to the G3. I am not exactly a connoisseur of fine distinctions in photographic quality, and I haven't yet figured out how to do RAW processing. The P7100 lets me take good pictures easily, which is the most important criterion for me.

This whole thing started because my primary wanted a superzoom to replace zir Pentax Optio S1; zie seems to be pretty happy with the Panasonic DMC-FZ35. (Selected for the following features: decent low-light performance, RAW shooting, viewfinder, reasonably small.) That reminded me of the one thing I disliked about my A710: lack of low-light capability. And so I couldn't resist getting a new camera for myself...

In the end, the experience vindicated my earlier decision to get the A710, because the P7100 really is a slightly bigger and better A710. Interesting how Canon ceded that specific feature set to Nikon. (Canon's G-series fails due to lack of zoom range.)

Evidence for my preference in zoom range


Last update: 3/2013
Copyright 2012, 2013 by Aahz (aahz@pobox.com)

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