The Nikon Coolpix P7700 is available now, in black, at a MSRP of $499.95.

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Though most of its competitors atop the compact digital camera market have opted for f/1.8 or brighter zoom lenses, the P7700 is equipped with a lens that maxes out at f/2.0. That's getting to be mundane in today's world, but it appears to have been a conscious (and perhaps brilliant) tradeoff. Most advanced compacts don't offer more than a 4x or 5x zoom ratio, but the P7700 has a 35mm-equivalent zoom range of 28-200mm—that's 7.1x. Even better, it's able to open up to f/4.0 at the 200mm-equivalent telephoto end. The P7700's predecessor, the P7100, also had a 7.1x zoom, but that model's aperture range was just f/2.8-f/5.6.

The P7700 uses a 1/1.7-inch CMOS imaging sensor capturing 12.2 megapixels. In this respect, it falls squarely in line with the competing models from Olympus, Canon, and Samsung. Though there are larger sensors on the market today—Fuji's 2/3-inch sensors, the Sony RX100's 1-inch unit, and the Canon G1 X's super-large 1.5-inch piece—1/1.7-inch models are the standard for advanced compacts. It's a big upgrade from the 10-megapixel CCD sensor employed by the earlier P7100.

In terms of screen technology, Nikon seems to be taking the opposite tack of Canon. Where Canon dropped articulating LCDs entirely with their new G15, Nikon has moved from the P7100's tilt-only implementation to a full flip-out and swivel design on the P7700. This is by far the best and most versatile screen configuration, and we're pleased to see it here, even if it does add to the bulk of the camera. The screen itself is 3 inches on the diagonal, offers a resolution of 921,000 dots, and is not touch-sensitive. Again, this is par for the course in this segment. The screen is very bright, clear, and sharp during image playback. While shooting, the live view picture is similarly clear in good light, though the framerate can dip in dimmer situations.

The built-in flash pops up from the left shoulder of the camera's body via a manual release switch. It's small, not very powerful (32-foot range at wide angle and 18 feet at telephoto), and not all that high above the lens, but it should get the job done in most day-to-day shooting situations. More serious strobists will enjoy the fact that the P7700 has a full hot shoe and is compatible with Nikon's Speedlight flashes in both hotshoe-mounted and wireless configurations.

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The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

Like most of its rivals, the P7700 includes a mini-HDMI port and a proprietary USB 2.0 connector that can output audio and video as well as transfer data files. These are found under a sturdy hinged flap on the right side of the body. However, it goes a step further and also offers a microphone input and a connector for the accessory GP-1 GPS unit, both found on the left side under individual covers.

The P7700 is powered by Nikon's EN-EL14 lithium ion cell, which also ships with the P7000 and P7100, as well as the D3100, D3200, and D5100 DSLRs. According to CIPA testing, you should be able to get about 330 shots on a charge. That's not really a great number, but it's roughly in line with its competitors. (It's worth noting, however, that the Canon G15 can substantially increase its battery life by relying on the optical viewfinder rather than the rear LCD for composition—a luxury that neither the P7700 nor any of its other competitors enjoy.)

Battery Photo

Image quality is a complex equation incorporating many factors. Some cameras get some of these factors right, others fail in those areas and excel in different ones. We haven't found a camera yet that gets everything right. But the P7700 does a lot of things very well. Sharpness is very good, and more importantly it achieves its results here without resorting to excessive software-based JPEG sharpening. Color accuracy is historically good, distortions are minimal, and noise and dynamic range performance are among the best in the class. Of course, there are still areas to improve: automatic white balance is a mess, and video performance has a long way to go.

The Coolpix P7700 is not the sharpest camera we've tested, but it is a very good performer in general. At full wide angle, images are very sharp in the center—the sharpest this particular lens/sensor combo gets, actually—and remains quite sharp for the majority of the frame, but then sharpness drops off substantially as you get toward the extreme edges. At middle focal lengths, peak sharpness isn't as high, but it's much more even across the frame. When you zoom in to full telephoto (200mm effective), overall sharpness is at its lowest, but it's also the most evenly distributed.

Out in the real world, the P7700 simply produced great-looking shots with excellent apparent sharpness, when shot in its default configuration. Well-modulated contrast levels play a big role here, as does the generally very consistent resolution performance throughout the entire frame. Also important is the camera's refusal to oversharpen its output. While we've seen oversharpening scores up to 150% of ideal recently, even from enthusiast-oriented cameras like the Canon PowerShot G15, the P7700 never gets above 105%, and is more often below 102%. The result is incredibly natural looking sharpness, without any of the harsh haloing we see from oversharpened JPEGs.

As with most cameras in this class, users can adjust the JPEG sharpening on each color mode on a sliding scale (7 total options). The Neutral color mode, which we used to run our resolution tests, is set to one click below the "standard" sharpness setting by default. Standard and Vivid color modes each use higher sharpness settings, by one and two clicks respectively. Users can also shoot in RAW to avoid the in-camera sharpening question altogether and apply their own in post-production. More on how we test sharpness.

The P7700 is one of the most accurate cameras we've ever tested when it comes to color error and saturation. Its uncorrected color error score of 2.22, when using the Netural color mode, is simply superb, though the low saturation levels (92.17%) used in this mode are unlikely to win it many fans. But wait! Switch to the Standard color mode and the uncorrected color error only jumps up by a tenth of a point, to 2.33, and the saturation levels rise to a simply outstanding 99.48%. The results, both in the lab and the real world, are gorgeous. As you'd expect, the Vivid mode eschews such perfectionism and allows the uncorrected color error score to rise to 4.03, with saturation at 119.3% of normal. But, impressively, even this score is better than many compact cameras do at their best.

Generally speaking—at least for the Neutral and Standard color modes—color accuracy is at its worst in the blues and cyans, though Neutral does much better in blues than Standard does. Bright yellows can also be an issue, but they're an outlier as far as the warmer colors go. Reds are handled remarkably well, considering so many cameras screw them up. But again, consider shooting RAW if you want to have the most control possible over your colors. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The P7700 simply spanks most of its direct competition with regard to JPEG color accuracy, with only the Olympus XZ-2 coming close. We rarely see cameras with an uncorrected color error of less than 2.5, so the P7700's 2.22 is extremely impressive.

White balance performance is a decidedly mixed bag for the P7700. Automatic white balance is simply bad, even with two AWB modes to choose from, while custom white balance accuracy is actually quite good. Unfortunately, most casual photographers don't walk around with an 18% gray card on their person at all times, so we strongly suggest shooting RAW if you need to rely on AWB under artificial light. This will give you the ability to change white balance after the fact, which may be crucial in some shots. Daylight AWB performance should be a-ok.

Automatic White Balance ()

It's not uncommon to see terrible auto white balance accuracy under incandescent/tungsten light, even from cameras that are otherwise excellent. That said, the P7700's white balance under tungsten light is particularly poor. Its average color temperature error under these conditions was 2289 kelvin, giving everything a distinctly orange cast. Compact white fluorescent (CWF) auto white balance performance from the P7700 is also among the worst we've seen recently, with an average error of 855.7 kelvin. This means images have a sickly yellow-green hue. Daylight AWB peformance is the camera's best achievement, averaging an error of just 206 kelvin—similar to its custom white balance performance.

We should note that the P7700 offers two different AWB modes: one provides standard AWB, while the other attempts to "perserve warm colors if they are shot under an incandescent light source." This is a bit ironic given the camera's already very warm rendering in the default AWB mode, but who can fathom the wisdom of Nikon's engineers? The result is indeed a little warmer—about 200-300 kelvin further off under tungsten lighting. The difference under CWF light was negligible, but there was actually a notable improvement (~50 kelvin) under daylight conditions.

Custom White Balance ()

Custom white balance temperature errors hover around 200 kelvin, with CWF being the furthest off at 292 kelvin. Oddly, the P7700 does best with custom white balance under tungsten light, diverging just 165 kelvin from ideal. All of these results—even the CWF score—are well within an acceptable range of error, though, producing generally natural-looking shots in most situations.

The P7700 offers nine white balance presets, including AWB1, AWB2 (warm), Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent FL1, Fluorescent FL2, Fluorescent FL3, Cloudy, and Flash. All of these can be fine-tuned on a 13x13 grid, with the two axes being amber-blue and green-magenta. Also present are direct kelvin color temperature entry (very handy if you know exactly which lights you're using) and three custom white balance presets. Setting a custom white balance is a simple four-click process that shouldn't take more than a few seconds once you've mastered the menus.

The Coolpix P7700 has three noise reduction settings: low, normal, and high. There is no option to disable noise reduction entirely, at least in JPEGs. You can always shoot RAW, which should leave the noise reduction entirely in your hands. By default, the camera is set to normal NR.

Noise reduction is plainly being applied even at the base ISO setting of 80, where measured noise levels are at about 0.62%. The NR doesn't really ramp up significantly until you hit ISO 400, where noise levels actually dip lower than what they were at ISO 200 before resuming a very gradual climb to the 1% mark. The P7700 doesn't cross that barrier until ISO 1600, where it hits 1.17%. It tops out at 1.73% at the maximum ISO setting of 6400 (Nikon calls this "Hi1").

Visually, we find Nikon's NR implementation to be fairly conservative, though the P7700's tendency to avoid oversharpening combines with a certain lack of contrast in our studio crops to make them look less detailed than they really are. The Canon G15 and Olympus XZ-2 certainly produce more appealing results at high ISOs in those crops, with their more aggressive JPEG processing, but we actually think the P7700 hangs in there quite well. As usual, the top two ISO settings aren't really useful for more than resized web use, but they'll do in a pinch. More on how we test noise.

The P7700 lets you choose between full-stop or 1/3-stop ISO settings, giving you a potential for 18 discrete ISO choices. On top of this, there are four automatic ISO options. The first, simply called "Auto," lets the camera use the entire ISO range as it pleases. The others use specified ranges: 80-200, 80-400, and 80-800. For each of these, you can set a minimum shutter speed, from 1 second up to 1/30 second. We're not sure why the minimum shutter speed options don't go higher, since 1/30sec is still pretty slow if you're at full zoom, but we suppose Nikon is counting on good Vibration Reduction performance to make up the difference.

In the lab, the P7700 recorded slightly lower dynamic range numbers than its direct competitors, including the Canon G15 and Olympus XZ-2. At base ISO, it captured 6.79 stops of "high-quality" dynamic range, which is about 1 stop less than we've seen from the best performers in this test. However, it maintains its DR longer, almost staying above 6 stops all the way through ISO 800, where it dips to 5.96 stops, and ISO 1600, where it hits 5.8. It drops off significantly at ISO 3200 and 6400, but this isn't terribly surprising since those are "expanded" (i.e., software-based) sensitivity settings that produce exponentially higher noise levels.

And there's the rub. Our lab-generated dynamic range numbers are created by measuring signal-to-noise ratios, which means that they are affected by noise reduction algorithms. On the Noise Reduction page of this review, we mentioned that with the normal NR setting in use, noise reduction kicks in at ISO 400. So it's no surprise that in our dynamic range results, the P7700 actually records more stops of dynamic range at ISO 400 than it does at ISO 200 (6.19 to 5.88). For this reason, we like to supplement our lab-based DR testing with real-world observations.

How does the P7700 perform in the real world? Quite well, thank you very much. Comparing it to two other advanced compact cameras we've tested recently, we'd put the P7700 on a level with the Canon G15, a little ways ahead of the Olympus XZ-2. The P7700 generally does a great job of preserving highlights (though its metering can occasionally miss in very challenging situations), but it doesn't lose control of shadows, either. Images with difficult lighting and bright-dark transitions actually look very, very good on the whole.

Like most other cameras these days, the P7700 also includes a HDR (high dynamic range) mode, here called "Backlighting." This mode takes three exposure-bracketed shots in a quick burst and merges the exposures to brighten the shadows and rescue the highlights, providing a more even exposure across the frame in challenging lighting situations. This mode has three levels, letting you determine how aggressively you want the camera to blend the shots. In our testing, we liked Level 1 best, but also found Level 2 to be acceptable at times. Level 3 tended to produce unnatural looking colors more often than not.

More on how we test dynamic range.

The P7700 is an able low-light performer thanks to its very good Vibration Reduction system, excellent low-light sensitivity, and a wide aperture. Up through ISO 1600, shots look very nice, and if you shoot RAW to avoid the in-camera noise reduction algorithms you can probably get something usable out of ISO 3200 and even ISO 6400 as well. In general, we think it's right there with the Canon G15, putting it significantly ahead of much of the advanced compact pack.

The Coolpix P7700 has three noise reduction settings: low, normal, and high. There is no option to disable noise reduction entirely, at least in JPEGs. You can always shoot RAW, which should leave the noise reduction entirely in your hands. By default, the camera is set to normal NR.

Noise reduction is plainly being applied even at the base ISO setting of 80, where measured noise levels are at about 0.62%. The NR doesn't really ramp up significantly until you hit ISO 400, where noise levels actually dip lower than what they were at ISO 200 before resuming a very gradual climb to the 1% mark. The P7700 doesn't cross that barrier until ISO 1600, where it hits 1.17%. It tops out at 1.73% at the maximum ISO setting of 6400 (Nikon calls this "Hi1").

Visually, we find Nikon's NR implementation to be fairly conservative, though the P7700's tendency to avoid oversharpening combines with a certain lack of contrast in our studio crops to make them look less detailed than they really are. The Canon G15 and Olympus XZ-2 certainly produce more appealing results at high ISOs in those crops, with their more aggressive JPEG processing, but we actually think the P7700 hangs in there quite well. As usual, the top two ISO settings aren't really useful for more than resized web use, but they'll do in a pinch. More on how we test noise.

The P7700 lets you choose between full-stop or 1/3-stop ISO settings, giving you a potential for 18 discrete ISO choices. On top of this, there are four automatic ISO options. The first, simply called "Auto," lets the camera use the entire ISO range as it pleases. The others use specified ranges: 80-200, 80-400, and 80-800. For each of these, you can set a minimum shutter speed, from 1 second up to 1/30 second. We're not sure why the minimum shutter speed options don't go higher, since 1/30sec is still pretty slow if you're at full zoom, but we suppose Nikon is counting on good Vibration Reduction performance to make up the difference.

In all but the darkest and lowest-contrast situations, the P7700 locks focus reliably and accurately. We experienced very few failures to lock when we'd selected the appropriate focusing mode, despite the fact that the camera was hesitant to use its AF assist lamp.

The focusing modes were a source of occasional frustration, though we understand why Nikon has chosen this path. As with nearly every other aspect of the P7700's design, there are several different focusing modes available. The default autofocus mode (AF) will focus on any subject between 50cm and infinity (or 80cm and infinity at full telephoto). Change to the macro mode (Macro close-up) and you can shoot objects as close as 10cm or 2cm from the lens, depending on how much zoom you're using, and all the way to infinity. Select the secondary macro mode (Close range only) and focus is limited to the macro range, with the upshot being that it should be a bit faster. Some might be happy to exchange the slightly quicker AF for automatic use of the full macro-to-infinity focusing range, but others will surely be happy with the decision Nikon made here.

There are also Infinity (only focuses on the horizon) and manual focus modes. Manual focus is controlled using the rear rotary dial or the up and down buttons, and includes a magnified focus assist window at the center of the LCD display.

Using our standard low-light video sensitivity testing rig, we determined that the P7700 required just 7 lux of illumination to achieve 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. The 50 IRE mark is an industry standard (used by the BBC, among others) that serves as the minimum image brightness acceptable on broadcast television. A result of 7 lux in this test is outstanding, though not the best we've seen from a compact camera (that honor belongs to the Canon G15 at just 3 lux).

Atypically for a compact camera, the P7700 lets you shoot with distortion control on or off. Most point and shoot models simply apply such corrections without asking, since lenses designed for tiny sensors tend to produce monstrous distortions. While we want to give kudos to Nikon for giving us the option, we still shot our tests with corrections turned on in order to level the playing field.

Chromatic aberrations weren't a notable problem for the P7700, never exceeding one pixel width in our lab testing and generally going completely unnoticed. In this regard, it bested all of its direct competitors, if only slightly—really, they're all quite good, though the Olympus XZ-2 could probably stand to do a little better. Out in the real world, the results matched our lab testing, except in the most extreme cases. Occasionally, such as when shooting foliage against a bright blue sky, the P7700 would produce relatively thick blue/purple halos around leaves, but this was about the worst we could find.

Geometric distortion is also exceptionally well controlled, displaying just -0.37% barrel distortion at full wide angle. This flips to very mild pincushion at middle focal lengths (0.13% at 14mm), before returning to a very, very slight barrel distortion at full telephoto (-0.11%). Getting barrel distortion at telephoto focal lengths is pretty rare, which leads us to believe that the P7700 is doing some pretty serious correction here, but the results look good so we don't really mind.

We're used to seeing Nikon outperformed by the competition when it comes to video (though their latest DSLRs have taken strides to narrow the gap), so it's no surprise to see that the P7700 lags behind here. In our bright light motion test, there is fairly obvious artifacting and trailing, and the motion could certainly stand to look a bit smoother. This comes as a bit of a surprise since the P7700 goes to the effort of including different full-HD bitrate options, but we suppose that as in the case of the camera's dual AWB modes, more options doesn't necessarily mean better performance.

One bright spot for the P7700 was in its resistance to frequency interference—it showed pretty good resistance to rolling shutter (the "jell-o" effect common to most CMOS-sourced video), particularly with vibration reduction enabled. While there was obvious skew during fast panning motions, it stabilized quickly when panning ended, and there wasn't any "tearing" of mid-pan freeze-frames. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Sharpness was also lower than we'd like to see, but still quite good—certainly better than the majority of compact cameras and far, far better than its predecessor. While recent models like the Canon G15 have set new high water marks for video sharpness, the P7700 treads water with 575 to 600 lw/ph of horizontal and vertical sharpness in good light and a constant 575 lw/ph on both axes in low light. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Using our standard low-light video sensitivity testing rig, we determined that the P7700 required just 7 lux of illumination to achieve 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. The 50 IRE mark is an industry standard (used by the BBC, among others) that serves as the minimum image brightness acceptable on broadcast television. A result of 7 lux in this test is outstanding, though not the best we've seen from a compact camera (that honor belongs to the Canon G15 at just 3 lux).

The biggest of the current crop of advanced compacts, the P7700 is also the most comfortable, thanks to its chunky grip and excellent ergonomic design. It's also a true photographer's camera, from its button and dial-encrusted external design to its deep internal feature set. The build is sturdy as you could hope for, and the fully articulating LCD is a great help when composing shots in tight spaces. Nikon's menus aren't exactly cutting-edge, but here they mostly function as a backup for the plentiful physical controls.

On its crowded main mode dial, the P7700 offers both Program (P) and full automatic shooting modes, as well as an array of special effect and scene mode selectors. Choosing full auto mode basically lets the camera do all the work for you. When you're in this mode, you don't have access to some shooting settings (AF area, shutter and aperture, etc), and the camera will try to intelligently pick from among its scene modes to find the settings most appropriate for your composition. Program mode, on the other hand, gives you access to all the same shooting options you get in Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority, except that it sets the shutter speed and aperture for you. The P7700 does include a program shift function ("flexible program" in Nikon parlance), so you can force a higher or lower shutter speed even when in Program mode.

You want buttons? The P7700's got 'em. A lot of them. Let's start with the top plate, which is home to the mode dial, on/off switch, zoom ring and shutter release, and the exposure compensation dial—_de rigeur_ for advanced compacts these days, and always a welcome addition. Also up top is a Fn2 button, which can be customized to display a virtual horizon, histogram, or framing grid. It can also be set to toggle the built-in neutral density filter. Moving further left you'll find the hot shoe, which can play host to Speedlight flashes, an optional GPS unit, and an external microphone accessory. Way over on the left side are the pop-up flash and the "Quick Menu" dial, which gives you one-click access to several vital settings. It's a great idea and well-implemented here.

On the front there are the sub-command dial (aka front e-dial) and the Fn1 button, which can have three separate custom functions when used in concert with the shutter release, command dial, and selector dial.

Traditionally, scene modes and art filters haven't exactly been Nikon's strong suit. However, the P7700 has a surprisingly large number of both, and some of them are quite impressive.

In total there are 19 scene modes, covering a huge range of potential shooting situations from portraiture to landscapes to indoor parties to sunsets to fireworks. There are even more specialized "scenes" included, such as black and white copy (for reproducing text), in-camera panoramas, in-camera "3D" photography, and more.

There are also 10 special effects, ranging from creative monochrome to cross processing to typical soft-focus and sepia options. But there are a few oddballs, too: zoom exposure (which takes a shot while zooming for a sort of warp-like effect) and selective color (which lets you choose a single color to preserve and renders everything else in monochrome). Most of these effects—most notably creative monochrome—can be customized to get precisely the look you're going for.

Nikon isn't known for flashy, cutting-edge menus, and you certainly won't find one on the P7700. Its menus are simply utilitarian, with clear white and grey text on a black background and occasional splashes of color to spice things up. They can be navigated using the rear rotary dial, the four-way pad, and front and rear command dials (or some combination of all of the above). In the end, we feel that their simplicity will probably be a benefit to most shooters.

The main menu itself is broken up into just two tabs: "Shooting menu" (3 pages) and "Set up" (5 pages). The former contains settings relating to exposure, autofocus, and other vital shooting characteristics, while the latter focuses on button customization, memory card setup, audio settings, and so on. On the whole the menu items are broken up logically, though some may wonder why "Vibration reduction" is under Set up, for instance, rather than Shooting menu.

A secondary menu is brought up whenever you turn the Quick menu dial or push the button at its center. This dial includes positions for ISO, white balance, bracketing, My Menu, color modes, and image quality settings. Each of these features a submenu where you can choose the desired setting, again using any of the three available control methods.

Since it includes this dial, the P7700 lacks a traditional quick menu overlay or control panel, as we've seen on virtually every other advanced compact and DSLR in recent years. We've gotten used to having that sort of one-stop shop, so it was slightly jarring to go without it as we tested the P7700, but we found we quickly adjusted and found ourselves enjoying the P7700's unique configuration.

Like other cameras in its class, the P7700 ships with a Quick Start Guide of some 32 pages. The full 264-page manual is available in .PDF format and can be retrieved either from the included CD-ROM or from Nikon's website. It's exhaustively thorough, and its index is fairly all-encompassing.

The P7700 is on the large side for an advanced compact camera. It's not in the same ballpark as the mammoth Canon G1 X, but it's larger than any of its other primary competitors, including the Canon G15, Olympus XZ-2, Samsung EX2F, Panasonic LX7, and Sony RX100. This size differential, as you might imagine, has both its pros and its cons. The biggest con is that it's not pocketable—there's simply no way this camera will fit into the average jeans pocket. Jacket pockets? Sure, but even there it's pushing it. The truth is, though, none of the advanced compacts on the market today are pocketable in the jeans sense except the Sony RX100 and perhaps the Panasonic LX7. It's definitely the exception rather than the norm.

Perhaps the biggest pro is the camera's ergonomics—particularly its comparably massive front grip. Here at DCI we've handled a lot of advanced compacts, and typically we find them to be better than most small cameras but a far cry from the handling joy of a well-designed DSLR or superzoom. The P7700 breaks out of this mold: it simply feels good. Even the most cynical among us caved to the P7700's physical charms almost instantly when hands met leatherette. Holding the P7700 feels like sinking into the leather chair in your dad's study—at least, compared to its rivals. The grip is chunky, curved in exactly the right place to cradle your fingertips, and covered in a soft leathery coating that makes it feel like it's glued to your hand.

Handling Photo 1

Button placement is well thought out, too. All but the Quick menu dial can be reached with the right hand alone, and Nikon has done a great job of putting the most-used controls in the easiest-to-access places on the body. All of the buttons have a pleasing tactility, and they're smartly elevated where they need to be a flat where they ought to be. For example, the playback, menu, and OK buttons are domed for easy blind-feel, because you want to be able to find them no matter what the lighting situation. The trash button, on the other hand, is mounted flush on the body (though with a raised lip around it), because it's not a function you want to invoke accidentally.

The dials also provide extremely precise feedback, and once again they're smartly designed. The mode and Quick menu dials turn easily (though not too easily), with obvious click-stops. Meanwhile, the EV compensation dial produces a lot more resistance (though it can still be manipulated with one hand) because it's not a setting you want to change without knowing it.

Including a fully articulating LCD undoubtedly adds some bulk, but given the P7700's general form factor it's much more of a plus than a minus. The ability to shoot from any angle in a 270-degree radius, and to take self or group portraits, will be of value to all kinds of photographers.

Handling Photo 2
Handling Photo 3

You want buttons? The P7700's got 'em. A lot of them. Let's start with the top plate, which is home to the mode dial, on/off switch, zoom ring and shutter release, and the exposure compensation dial—_de rigeur_ for advanced compacts these days, and always a welcome addition. Also up top is a Fn2 button, which can be customized to display a virtual horizon, histogram, or framing grid. It can also be set to toggle the built-in neutral density filter. Moving further left you'll find the hot shoe, which can play host to Speedlight flashes, an optional GPS unit, and an external microphone accessory. Way over on the left side are the pop-up flash and the "Quick Menu" dial, which gives you one-click access to several vital settings. It's a great idea and well-implemented here.

On the front there are the sub-command dial (aka front e-dial) and the Fn1 button, which can have three separate custom functions when used in concert with the shutter release, command dial, and selector dial.

Buttons Photo 1

The rear face of the P7700 is similarly packed. Below the flash and Quick Menu dial is the flash release lever. On the other side of the hot shoe you'll find the Display toggle, and moving further right and down a bit is the AE-L / AF-L button. The playback mode selector is under that, just above the rotary dial/four-way selector/directional pad/OK button. Yeah, that's a lot of stuff packed into one area, but that's just the way digital cameras tend to roll. In the P7700's case, the rotary selector can be used to page through menus, but you can alternatively press up or down to accomplish the same thing. The four-way pad also serves to bring up vital settings while shooting. Moving from the top counterclockwise, these are: flash, self-timer, AF mode, and AF area. Below this cluster are the Menu and Trash buttons.

Buttons Photo 2

In terms of screen technology, Nikon seems to be taking the opposite tack of Canon. Where Canon dropped articulating LCDs entirely with their new G15, Nikon has moved from the P7100's tilt-only implementation to a full flip-out and swivel design on the P7700. This is by far the best and most versatile screen configuration, and we're pleased to see it here, even if it does add to the bulk of the camera. The screen itself is 3 inches on the diagonal, offers a resolution of 921,000 dots, and is not touch-sensitive. Again, this is par for the course in this segment. The screen is very bright, clear, and sharp during image playback. While shooting, the live view picture is similarly clear in good light, though the framerate can dip in dimmer situations.

In addition to the usual PASM and full auto options, the P7700's mode dial has three user-customizable modes, separate settings for special effects and scene modes, and two movie settings—one of these is for fully automatic video recording, while the other allows for manual control of video settings.

The P7700 is a delight when it comes to manual control of vital shooting settings. Three command dials, a physical EV compensation dial, and the unusual Quick menu dial make it dead simple to change any setting you want to get at, and having what amounts to four customizable buttons (with the Fn1 button's three functions) is a great help as well.

In all but the darkest and lowest-contrast situations, the P7700 locks focus reliably and accurately. We experienced very few failures to lock when we'd selected the appropriate focusing mode, despite the fact that the camera was hesitant to use its AF assist lamp.

The focusing modes were a source of occasional frustration, though we understand why Nikon has chosen this path. As with nearly every other aspect of the P7700's design, there are several different focusing modes available. The default autofocus mode (AF) will focus on any subject between 50cm and infinity (or 80cm and infinity at full telephoto). Change to the macro mode (Macro close-up) and you can shoot objects as close as 10cm or 2cm from the lens, depending on how much zoom you're using, and all the way to infinity. Select the secondary macro mode (Close range only) and focus is limited to the macro range, with the upshot being that it should be a bit faster. Some might be happy to exchange the slightly quicker AF for automatic use of the full macro-to-infinity focusing range, but others will surely be happy with the decision Nikon made here.

There are also Infinity (only focuses on the horizon) and manual focus modes. Manual focus is controlled using the rear rotary dial or the up and down buttons, and includes a magnified focus assist window at the center of the LCD display.

Both JPEG and RAW recording are available on the P7700, and JPEGs can be saved with either Fine or Normal compression. You can also shoot RAW+JPEG with either JPEG compression level, giving you a total of five different image quality settings.

Images can be captured at full 12.2-megapixel resolution, or downsampled to 8 megapixels, 4 megapixels, 2 megapixels, or VGA resolution (640x480px). You can also shoot in 3:2, 16:9, or 1:1 aspect ratios, but only at the largest possible resolution for the chosen format. In total, this gives you eight resolution choices.

The P7700 is a curious mix of high ambition and modest success when it comes to burst shooting. It offers a total of eight burst modes, including an interval timer option. Virtually every option under the sun is assembled here, and they all work—if not quite as well as we might hope. There is a full suite of self-timer options, as well, though we would have liked to see a customizable setting.

Continuous shooting is broken up into three primary modes: Continuous H (8fps, 6 shots), Continuous M (4fps, 6 shots), and Continuous L (1fps, 30 shots). While we found the camera to meet and at times exceed its stated speeds, and while 8fps is pretty good, 6 shots is a paltry number for an advanced compact camera these days. Worse yet, the camera essentially locks up while it's clearing the buffer, meaning you can't use the camera for a good few seconds after shooting a burst. This is doubly sad considering that the P7700 has a longer zoom range than its competitors, and thus would probably be the best-in-class solution for sports shooting, etc.

Nikon throws in all kinds of extras on top of these three continuous modes. First among these is BSS aka Best Shot Selector, which shoots up to 10 photos and then picks the sharpest among them automatically. (Nikon recommends using this option in dim lighting situations.) Also included are Muti-shot 16 (takes 16 shots and arrays them in a single-frame mosaic), Continuous H: 120 fps (shoots 60 frames at about 1/125sec or faster, at a 1280x960 resolution), and Continuous H: 60 fps (captures 60 frames at about 1/60sec, at 1280x960 resolution). Finally there's an interval timer option, which allows the P7700 to automatically take a shot every 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 10 minutes.

Basic self-timer options are 1, 2, or 10 seconds, but the P7700 also offers remote-control shooting with all three timer options (or no delay), as well as a "Smile timer" that will be ever vigilant for a smile in your field of view and automatically start shooting whenever it detects one.

In all but the darkest and lowest-contrast situations, the P7700 locks focus reliably and accurately. We experienced very few failures to lock when we'd selected the appropriate focusing mode, despite the fact that the camera was hesitant to use its AF assist lamp.

The focusing modes were a source of occasional frustration, though we understand why Nikon has chosen this path. As with nearly every other aspect of the P7700's design, there are several different focusing modes available. The default autofocus mode (AF) will focus on any subject between 50cm and infinity (or 80cm and infinity at full telephoto). Change to the macro mode (Macro close-up) and you can shoot objects as close as 10cm or 2cm from the lens, depending on how much zoom you're using, and all the way to infinity. Select the secondary macro mode (Close range only) and focus is limited to the macro range, with the upshot being that it should be a bit faster. Some might be happy to exchange the slightly quicker AF for automatic use of the full macro-to-infinity focusing range, but others will surely be happy with the decision Nikon made here.

There are also Infinity (only focuses on the horizon) and manual focus modes. Manual focus is controlled using the rear rotary dial or the up and down buttons, and includes a magnified focus assist window at the center of the LCD display.

The P7700 never shies away from giving you three or four options where one or two would do. From its white balance to its special effects, from its customizable controls to its articulating screen, this is a camera geared toward those who like to make their camera adjust to them, rather than the other way around. If they get intimidated by the massive feature set, newbies can choose to remain in the fully automatic shooting modes forever if they so desire. But the array of physical controls will take some time to master, no matter how you're shooting.

While the P7700 does not give you multiple video framerate options for HD recording, it does provide different bitrates and resolutions. For HD recording, your options are 1080/30P* (18.8mbps), 1080/30P (12.6mbps), and 720/30P (8.4mbps). VGA recording is also available (at 30fps), as are a bevy of high-speed video options. These include 120fps (1/4-speed slow motion), 60fps (1/2-speed slow motion), and 15fps (2x-speed fast motion). Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

The P7700 has two movie settings on its mode dial: one is a fully automatic movie mode, and the other (labeled "CSM") gives you some options. Here you can enter the main menu to choose from three shooting modes: Aperture-priority auto, Manual, and Special effects. Aperture-priority auto lets you choose the aperture and allows the camera to do everything else. In Manual, you can set the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, but only before you begin recording—once you've started rolling, you can't make any adjustments. Special effects does what you'd expect: lets you apply (some of) the special effects from the stills shooting section to videos. Unlike some rivals (lookin' at you, Olympus XZ-2) these special effects don't cause framerate drops. They're also fully automatic (in terms of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO), so it's a bit baffling why they're in the custom movie bucket rather than automatic.

While in CSM mode, you can also use the main menu to choose between single or full-time autofocus, activate or deactivate the camera's built-in neutral density filter, and turn wind noise reduction on or off.

Auto Controls

In the other, fully automatic movie mode, you can only toggle wind noise reduction and autofocus mode from the main menu. Otherwise, everything is done for you.

Focus

When recording video you can choose between one-time AF, which focuses just before recording begins and remains locked there, or full-time AF, which attempts to focus continuously as you record. You can also opt for manual focus, which is controlled via the rear rotary dial or up and down buttons. This works pretty well, except that pressing the buttons or turning the dial inevitably jostles the camera, and the sound is picked up by the onboard mic.

In addition to an onboard stereo microphone, the P7700 includes a standard microphone input jack for external mics. In the Setup section of the main menu is an "External mic sensitivity" submenu, where you can choose between Auto, High, Standard, and Low sensitivity settings.

Mic Photo

What makes a great advanced compact camera? Image quality is probably the first thing that springs to mind: What good is a camera that takes bad photos? But it's not the only concern. Handling and user interface is another major element, as the Sony RX100 illustrates. All the image quality in the world might not sway a buyer if the camera feels like a soap bar in their hands. Room to grow is an important component, too. Consumers buying into this category are typically those who want to learn photography, not ones to stay in the shallow end of the pool with fully automatic shooting. To be a great advanced compact camera, you need to excel in all of these ways and more.

The Nikon P7700 isn't the sharpest camera we've ever tested. It doesn't have the best noise performance or lab-tested dynamic range. But it doesn't need to. It's a solid performer with regard to image quality, and certainly among the best in its class. What matters is that it's best or among the best in virtually every category we test, with automatic white balance being the only real exception. It's the complete package.

Being the complete package comes with some downsides. It's never going to be pocketable, like the RX100 is, because it's the most comfortable compact camera we've ever used. It's never going to get the highest resolution figures because it wisely chooses to leave the sharpening up to you, as it does with many other image-related settings. It's never going to appeal to novices like the Canon G15 does because it's too complicated. But to enthusiasts—to those who want a camera they can grow into, and mold to fit their own preferences—the P7700 is hard to beat.

We have to give extra props to the P7700's physical design, which is simply exquisite. It's a big camera, that's for sure, but the grip is perfectly shaped, perfectly textured, and perfectly sized to fit our hands. (And when we say that, we mean that it suited all of the hands in our rather diverse office.) Buttons and dials are intelligently laid out and respond to your touch with wonderful tactility. The variety of physical controls is also wonderful, and we love the addition of the Quick menu dial for direct access to vital shooting functions. The build is solid and tight, with nary a squeak or creak to be found, but it doesn't feel like it weighs a thousand pounds, either.

We wouldn't recommend this camera to everyone. If you're looking for a point and shoot that's a cut above the rest but won't intimidate with too many control options, we'd suggest the G15 or RX100. If you want something smaller that still packs excellent image quality, something like the RX100 or the upcoming Fuji XF1 might fit the bill. But if you want the complete package, look no further: the P7700 is the best we've seen.

Meet the testers

Ben Keough

Ben Keough

Contributor

@ben_keough

Ben is an experienced industry journalist who formerly served as Senior Editor of News and Features at Reviewed. He now contributes as a freelance writer and editor. Most recently hailing from the vast wilds of the American southwest, he is an avid photographer who is deeply disturbed by the lack of wide open landscapes in Boston.

See all of Ben Keough's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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