Nikon P7800 Review – The Nikon P7800 is the manufacturer's latest advanced compact, featuring a host of improvements on its predecessor. Find out how it gets on in the What Digital Camera Nikon P7800 review...
This latest addition offers a host of new features, so let’s take a closer look and see how it measures up.
Nikon P7800 Review – Features
The Nikon P7800 is aimed at enthusiasts and semi-professionals looking for an advanced compact to use as an alternative to their digital SLR, so it’s no surprise that it’s loaded with features.
The P7800 is, as you may have already surmised, a replacement for and development of the Nikon P7700, which was launched last year. It has the same 1/1.7in 12.2-megapixel back-side illuminated CMOS sensor, and the same 7.1x zoom lens, with focal length equivalent to 28-200mm and a maximum aperture of f/2.0 – f/4.0, which is exceptionally fast for its zoom range.
This is undoubtedly the camera’s main selling point – there are advanced compacts that can beat it for maximum aperture, including its arch-rival the Canon G16, but that only has a 5x zoom. The Panasonic LF1 has a 7.1x zoom, but can only manage f/5.9 at the long end.
Another feature carried over from the previous model is the 3in, 921k dot monitor screen. The monitor is fully articulated, with a hinge and pivot on the left.
One new feature is the addition of an electronic viewfinder, presumably in response to user demands and the fact that most of the P7800’s rivals have viewfinders. It’s a quite a nice device, with a 921k dot 0.5in screen, which is just about sharp enough for manual focusing, as well as dioptric correction for spectacle wearers.
The viewfinder is activated by pressing a button, or automatically when the monitor is folded round to face the camera body.
Adding the viewfinder has meant the removal of one nice feature from the P7700; a small dial that was used to select adjustment of ISO, white balance, image size and quality, bracketing settings and a few others. This has been replaced by a button that brings up a new menu on screen, but both the button and the menu are poorly placed, badly labelled, fiddly and needlessly complicated to use. Adjusting any of those settings now takes several menu operations and turning an adjustment dial.
Despite these flaws, the Nikon P7800 does provide a good range of photographic features. It has a full range of exposure options, with shutter speeds of 60 seconds to 1/4000th of a second, and a minimum aperture of f/8, and all exposure settings can be adjusted in 1/3EV increments, with clear on-screen displays as the front and rear adjustment wheels are turned.
The camera offers the usual selection of scene mode programs, as well as a range of digital effects, including a wide range of creative monochrome effects.
Unlike a lot of recent high-end cameras the P7800 doesn’t feature built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. If you want that functionality you’ll have to pay extra for an add-on accessory. The same goes for GPS for geotagging.
The P7800 has a better-than-average video recording feature, with a mode dial settings for both a standard movie mode and a more creative custom movie mode, which includes menu options for manual or automatic exposure control, a limited amount of tone control and a built-in ND filter.
Both modes also offer automatic wind noise reduction for outdoor shooting, however optical zoom is not available while recording, and there is no dedicated video recording button, so starting recording is a bit slow. Movies are recorded in up to 1920×1080 resolution at 30fps, in MPEG-4 with H.264 compression.
Nikon P7800 Review – Design
The previous model in this series, the P7700, was a bit on the large side but still a fairly handsome camera. However the addition of the electronic viewfinder to the P7800 has somewhat spoiled the lines of the body.
The finder looks like it was bolted on as an afterthought – which you could argue it was – with a large raised hump on the top panel to accommodate it. The result is an ugly, lumpy body that looks top-heavy and unbalanced.
The P7800 is significantly larger and heavier than its main rival the Canon G16, despite having fewer features, and the many buttons and dials are scattered over the body with little regard to style or ease of use. In fact the whole control system of the P7800 is rather fiddly and over-complicated; it often feels as though features and their controls have been piled onto the camera at random
Some features cannot be used together, for example long shutter speeds and higher ISO settings, and different shutter speeds are available in manual and shutter priority exposure modes, but there’s no on-screen warning or notification of these seemingly arbitrary restrictions. When this camera is replaced, I hope that some much-needed streamlining and rationalisation will be applied to the next model.
Excellent build quality
Despite these problems however, it must be said that the Nikon P7800’s build quality is exceptional; the camera body is all metal, and thanks to its massive weight it feels immensely tough. The panel seams are all very tight, the controls feel solid and responsive and the hatches and the folding monitor have strong durable hinges.
The handling is also quite good despite the weight, with a nice chunky handgrip on the front and a substantial thumb grip area on the back. The adjustment dials are well positioned, but the rest of the controls, particularly the vital quick menu button, and poorly positioned for one-handed use.
The exposure compensation dial is positioned right on the edge of the top panel, and is easy to jog accidentally while handling the camera.
Nikon P7800 Review – Performance
If you’re spending close to £500 on a high-spec advanced compact, you’ll be looking for something with pretty decent performance, and most of the cameras in this category will not disappoint; unfortunately the P7800 isn’t one of them. From a cold start it takes approximately two and half seconds to start up and take a picture, which is a bit on the slow side, but that’s just the start of its problems.
Shooting in JPEG fine mode with a very fast Class 10 SDHC card it has a shot-to-shot time of nearly two seconds, which is pretty slow, but most photographers using a camera like this will want to shoot in Raw + JPEG mode, and they’re in for a nasty surprise.
With the same Class 10 memory card, the shot-to-shot time in this mode is over five seconds, which is so slow that at first I assumed that there was a problem with the card. There wasn’t; it really is that slow.
In continuous shooting mode things aren’t much better. The Nikon P7800 has three continuous shooting speeds, 8fps and 4fps which shoot just six frames, and a 1fps mode that can shoot 30 frames, but in the first two modes the monitor is blank while shooting, which obviously makes framing difficult, and in the latter mode it only displays the frames after shooting.
If you shoot six continuous frames in Raw + JPEG mode it takes 20 seconds before you can shoot again, during which time the camera is completely frozen.
Nikon P7800 Review – Image Quality
Colour and White Balance
On the whole, while the Nikon P7800’s image quality is good, but it’s not significantly better than most other decent 1/1.7in-sensor compacts. Colour saturation in JPEG mode is a little muted, and landscape photos especially looks disappointing; even in landscape scene mode the greens don’t really pop.
Shooting in raw mode brings up extra colour depth along with better dynamic range and shadow detail as one might expect, and saturation can be increased using the in-camera raw processing, or applied using the custom picture control, but using the default settings the results are unexceptional. Automatic white balance is accurate, but that’s almost universally the case these days, so it’s not much help.
Exposure and dynamic range
Exposure metering is something we tend to take for granted, expecting (usually correctly) that it will be accurate, so I was surprised to find that the P7800 under-exposed many shots by as much as a stop. Oddly it was predominantly low-contrast shots that suffered.
High-contrast scenes were handled much better, with good dynamic range recording a fair amount of shadow detail in my usual test scene, especially with the D-lighting feature active, although blown-out highlights were still present in very high contrast shots. As expected, shooting in raw mode provided about another two stops of shadow detail, but couldn’t do much for the highlights.
Like most manufacturers Nikon has limited the maximum resolution of its high-end flagship, knowing that overcrowding the sensor has drawbacks when it comes to image noise and colour depth.
Recording 12.2 megapixels from its 1/1.7in sensor the P7800 is about par for the course, but unfortunately even at that level of detail the camera loses out to its major rivals, because so much detail, especially in shadow areas, is lost to image noise and processing problems.
Huge strides have been made in noise reduction over the past few years, and it’s not uncommon to find cameras with maximum sensitivity of 25,600 ISO, and that can produce useable shots at 6400 ISO.
Unfortunately however the P7800 doesn’t seem to have received the benefit of these advances. Its maximum measured ISO setting is just 3200, with a “Hi” setting of approximately 6400 ISO, although at this setting noise is very prevalent.
There is image noise visible in the darker areas of images even as low as 200 ISO, and this gets progressively worse, with slight colour distortion appearing at 1600 ISO. At 3200 ISO the image quality is usable, but compared to most modern cameras the results are very disappointing.
Nikon P7800 Review – Verdict
While the P7800’s predecessor, the Nikon P7700, was an impressive camera that mertied a Gold Award, unfortunately the latest version isn’t up to the same standard.
Although it offers a specification that impresses on paper, with the addition of an EVF a welcome one in theory, in practice the camera has more than its fair share of issues.
The control set-up is over-complicated, there are serious concerns over Raw write speed and the RRP has lept by £100 for good measure. So, inspite of the attractive lens and a reasonable standard of imaeg quality you have to say that the P7800 is going to struggle in what is a competitive advanced compact market.
Nikon P7800 Review – Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of images captured with the Nikon P7800. For a full range, along with ISO comparison shots, visit the Nikon P7800 review sample image gallery.