A pared-down version of the Coolpix 7900, this 7-megapixel, 3x optical-zoom model squarely targets the snapshot set with many of the same hand-holding features as its slightly more sophisticated sibling. The 145g Nikon Coolpix 7600 is a little chunkier and doesn't have the same aesthetic appeal, but it delivers where it really counts: helpful features and very good picture quality.
Controls on the Coolpix 7600 have a much roomier layout than on the 7900, thanks to the extra real estate provided by its smaller 46mm (1.8-inch) LCD. The mode dial is on the back of the camera next to the zoom lever and is easy to ratchet through with your thumb.
As with many Nikon snapshot cameras, the 7600 provides a broad selection of scene modes. Framing guidelines are available for the more common scenes, such as Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night Portrait. However, the 7600 falls a couple of options short of the 7900 -- there's no underwater mode, for example.
The company's Face-Priority autofocus is available in Portrait mode, and red-eye correction and Nikon's D-lighting exposure adjustment are part of the 7600's in-camera postprocessing features. As with the 7900, however, we couldn't summon up any demon eyes in our subjects, making it impossible to test the in-camera fix. D-lighting, which brightens the image after it has been shot, worked reasonably well on underexposed and backlit subjects.
Perhaps the most user-friendly aspect of the camera is its built-in help system. Activated from within any of the menu sets, it describes the purpose of each feature and scene. There's little need for it, though -- with a nod toward simplicity, there are few imaging options on the 7600. Other than white balance, exposure compensation, colour (natural, vivid, black-and-white, sepia or cyanotype) and picture size, there simply aren't any parameters to adjust. The camera even determines ISO sensitivity automatically.
You can run the 7600 from two alkaline, lithium or rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride AA batteries. Oddly, Nikon has a menu setting to switch among the battery types, ostensibly to optimise performance for each chemistry's power-drain characteristics.
Overall, the 7600's performance is slightly above average for its class. Shutter lag ranges from 0.7 seconds to 1.1 seconds, depending upon scene contrast, but low-light autofocus is hit or miss, even with the AF-assist lamp, and flash recycling felt sluggish. The camera starts up in a sprightly 2.3 seconds, however.
Image quality is quite good, with naturally rendered colours, accurate exposures and reasonably sharp focus. We saw little purple fringing or other chromatic aberrations. Noise levels were relatively low and, overall, the auto white balance worked well outdoors. Movie mode -- especially with vibration reduction enabled -- and macro focus delivered above-average results.
For what it is -- a basic, easy-to-use snapshot camera for beginners -- the 7600 does a very good job. But if you suspect that it might be a little too lightweight on features, you should check out its slightly more expensive sibling, the Coolpix 7900, before clicking that Submit button on your order.
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Edited by Lori Grunin
Additional editing by Nick Hide