Nikon has described the P7000 as 'the ultimate Coolpix', and it certainly feels like the manufacturer has thrown the kitchen sink at it. It's a compact camera that aims to offer the feel of a digital SLR. At around £450, it's about the price of an entry-level dSLR, so is it worth the cash?
Built like a tank
The P7000's competitors include the Canon PowerShot G12 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. Like those snappers, the P7000 is something of a brick. It's too large for slipping into a trouser pocket or handbag, but it would fit into the deep pockets of a duffel coat, or you could hang it trophy-like around your neck.
On first glance, the P7000 looks like a Nikon dSLR that's been squeezed in a vice, such is the tank-like build quality of the camera. This impression is cemented by the dSLR-style control layout. The P7000 feels every inch a tool for serious photo enthusiasts, weighing 360g with its 350-shot battery and an SD/SDHC card inserted.
There are buttons and dials aplenty squeezed into the camera's compact frame. At first, that can make for a bewildering array of options. Photographers will be spoilt for choice as to what to press, prod, twist or spin first. With familiarity, though, such dedicated controls save time otherwise wasted trying to navigate on-screen menus to find identical settings.
There's a retro-looking analogue dial to control exposure compensation, with the option of +/-3EV. You also get a familiar shooting-mode dial with 11 options. These comprise of a point-and-shoot auto mode; program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual settings; three customisable user modes; an 18-option scene mode; a video mode; and a low-light mode.
A third dedicated dial contains key settings governing the likes of ISO, white balance and image quality. In between this dial and its siblings, there's a vacant hot shoe for mounting an accessory flash, while, otherwise, the built-in bulb is sunk neatly and unobtrusively into the top plate.
The P7000's 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor offers a 10.1-megapixel resolution. This acceptably modest resolution is a good thing if you want to avoid image noise at higher ISO settings (a built-in noise-reduction feature helps, too). The basic light-sensitivity range is, as on Nikon's dSLRs, expandable from the standard ISO 100 to ISO 3,200, right up to ISO 6,400 (via a 'hi' setting).
To allow for some variety when framing shots, Nikon has stuck an f/2.8, 7.1x optical zoom lens on the front of the P7000, folded away within the body when not in use. The focal range is an equivalent 28-200mm in 35mm film terms, so, in practice, proves as useful for those wide-angle compositions as it is for getting up close and personal with candid portraits. It takes around 3 seconds for the lens to travel through its range, with a quiet operational noise. Happily, you can use it when shooting video clips, as well as stills.
Very model of composure
JPEG and raw images, as well as 720p video (with stereo sound), are composed via the optical viewfinder or the 3-inch, 920,000-pixel LCD screen directly beneath it. The screen is as sharp and clear as you'd expect, given the high spec. An eye sensor that switches off the monitor if you decide to use the optical alternative would have been another welcome, dSLR-like touch.
The camera has an HDMI output for hooking it up to a high-def TV or monitor. There's also a range of familiar Nikon features, such as the exposure-adjusting and enhancing D-Lighting technology, which is worth exploiting if you're attempting to preserve both highlight and shadow detail in the same shot.
'Picture controls' is another feature that's trickled down from Nikon's dSLRs, allowing in-camera tweaking of images to suit your artistic vision. Nikon has introduced its own take on the spirit level with the 'virtual horizon' function, which makes sure you're holding the camera flat and steady. Those who've used one of Nikon's dSLRs will find the P7000 familiar. It's also as fast and responsive as you could wish for.
The image quality delivered by the P7000 is also impressive. The combination of lens and sensor provides sharp, well-defined results that ping off the screen. Any pixel fringing between areas of high contrast is kept well in check and, in common with other models lower down the Coolpix range, there's a tendency to underexpose shots, if anything, to preserve highlight detail. In terms of low-light photography, up to and including ISO 800, noise/grain is at an acceptable level. Detail softens, though, as you move through the ISO 1,600 and ISO 3,200 settings, with results looking gritty at the top whack of ISO 6,400.
The Nikon Coolpix P7000 will appeal mainly as a second camera for someone who wants a more portable set-up, without sacrificing bells and whistles. Despite its omission of a larger sensor and the ability to change lenses, it's a heavyweight among digital compacts.
Edited by Charles Kloet and Emma Bayly