For many reasons, Nikon never quite established a hold in the advanced compact category, but not for a lack of trying. In the early days of digital, that opposite was true, and the Coolpix line, though not consistent, did meander through a number of well regarded offerings. Cameras like the innovate Coolpix 900 with its swivelling body, the competent Coolpix 5400, which was an early fore-bearer of what we now think of as an advanced compact, and the Coolpix 5700, which we recognize today in cameras like the Panasonic FZ-200. None of these aforementioned cameras were ground-breaking, but they did demonstrate a commitment on Nikon's part to cater to the needs of enthusiast photographers. That was a different time, and in the years that followed "Coolpix" became synonymous with "entry-level consumer."
Times change. The Coolpix P7800 is probably one of the most enthusiast-oriented compacts on the market, but the industry is now chasing after this group of users with 1/1" sensor compacts. This may or may not work, as price points have crept up significantly. At one time 1/17" sensors were considered "large." That is no longer the case, but the trade-off is a difference of $300 USD or more. It might not be leading edge, but the P7800 still has its place.
Body and Design
The P7800 adds an EVF to the P7700 design, and is somewhat large by compact camera standards, but because of that, it is one of the best in terms of hand-holding comfort. The front grip is prominent and the rear thumb rest is ample; both are wrapped in a soft rubber cover. Too often, Nikon compacts feel like they were forced into the role of second-class citizens by the DSLR side of the business, but the way that the P7800 sits in your hand, you would would think that the Nikon's DSLR people had a hand in its creation. Not only is the grip comfortable, but the front and rear control dials meet your thumb and index finger in a way that is comforting and familiar to Nikon DSLR owners.
Though the button placement is generally well laid out, overall operation isn't up to the ideal of Nikon DSLR ergonomics shrunk down to the compact class. The Qual/ISO/WB button is in an odd place, under the hotshoe, and try as Nikon might, Canon's compact cameras menu structure tends to be more intuitive and consistent.
The inclusion of an electronic viewfinder is a almost a unique selling proposition in this segment of the market, as few cameras under $500 USD have them any more. (The Panasonic LF-1 and Fujifilm X20 come to mind.) It's understandable why manufactures leave out EVF's at this price point, but its a feature that consumers would readily pay for. However, you can't have everything when you are on a budget, and the P7800's EVF does not have automatic eye-level detection; you have to manually turn the display on with the button on its right. To be fair, few if any cameras with EVF's that cost under $500 have automatic EVF activation.
Because Nikon is ostensibly chasing the market leader, the P7800 has a flip-out LCD screen, just like Canon G-series cameras of old. Canon has since dropped this feature in the G15 and G16. Both of these design choices make sense when you consider what each camera line has become. The Canon Powershot G16 is a more focused in its design execution, and is a camera to be used when you are on the go and in a hurry. The P7800 is an all-arounder; it does many things when you don't want to bring much in the way of gear. The articulating LCD screen is ostensibly useful for video, but what's also included in the camera is an external microphone jack.
In terms of overall operation, the P7800 is like other Nikon compacts; not as quick to focus, and with slower menu response than the fastest competitors.
What Nikon has done extremely well is with the DSLR line in terms of accessories. It uses the same EN-EL14/14a battery as the D3300, D5300 and Df, as well as the ML-L3 and MC-DC2 remotes. Unfortunately, WiFi is not built into the camera, but is available through the WU-1a wireless adapter.
Image Quality: Lens and Sensor
The lens is a 28-200mm equivalent f/2-4 zoom lens. By normal convention, this would be considered "fast," but the Canon G16 and Panasonic LX-7 are faster still. This is the design constraint placed on the 7X zoom lens; both of the Nikon's competitors use shorter zoom ranges to the increase the maximum aperture. In this regards, the Nikon isn't necessarily a direct competitor so much as it is an alternative. Here is the lens at it's widest and longest positions:
The following is an ad hoc demonstration of the camera's JPEG output quality through the ISO range. Pay attention to the legibility of the soda bottles for detail retention (or lack thereof) as the ISO value rises, speckling in the broad colour patches for overall image noise, as well as the harshness of the reflections and shadows as dynamic range decreases.
Obviously, the expectations of what constitutes acceptable image quality differs according to circumstance. By the standards of large-sensor cameras, the highest ISO rating for carefree shooting (casual use, not intending to clean up the image in post-processing) for the P7800 would be modestly set at ISO 200. Even though the image has a smooth rendition, the effects of noise suppression are obvious. If you let go of the notion of having outright image quality, then ISO 800 would be the upper practical limit; ISO 1600 for emergencies. Anything higher than this would be a waste of time.
What other cameras like the Canon G16 and the Panasonic LX-7 have done to make the most of the1/1.7" sensor size is to pair it with a fast lens. Though Nikon has the most reach, it is also the slowest in terms of maximum aperture. On the positive side, Nikon has generally been the at the front of this group in terms of detail and overall JPEG rendering. Though tastes will differ, Nikon's JPEG output has arguably the best balance of detail, exposure and noise reduction. It tends to exposure meter a little bit better than the Canon, and detail rendering is better than the Panasonic. With cameras of this sensor size, "f/4 is the new f/8." That is to say, you will generally get the sharpest results with the cameras set to aperture priority mode and f/4.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 versus Canon Powershot G16
If you haven't noticed, its hard to talk about the Nikon P7800 without mention the Canon G-series. The problem for the Nikon isn't just this; it's hard to talk about compacts these days without mentioning the Sony RX100. The latter is not a fair comparison, but the former is.
Compared to the Nikon, the Canon is smaller and more compact. It's less comfortable to hold on to and the reach to the control dials from the grip position is not as comfortable. In its favour, the G16 has the lens barrel mounted control ring. The Canon is noticeably the more responsive of the two cameras.
What the G16 is missing is the flip-out LCD screen and the EVF. The optical viewfinder on the G16 is there for emergencies; it is not so much of viewfinder as it is a peephole... and a very small one at that. Wifi connectivity is built into the G16, whereas it isn't with the P7800.
Both are competitively priced, but the Canon is the camera that will more likely be used to in addition to a DSLR kit, whereas the Nikon has a little more appeal to those who just want one relatively inexpensive camera. Both cameras are competent enough to fulfill either role; on paper the G16 is the superior camera, but if you have an opportunity to try either side-by-side, the choice might not be so obvious.
This isn't a cutting edge camera, but it is a competitive camera at its price. That in itself is the worst kind of competitiveness in the internet culture of labelling everything is either "rocks" or "sucks." If you are looking for something in the class of the Sony RX100, then this isn't it, but neither is it a natural direct competitor. The Canon G16 still does the advanced compact segment the best, but there are a lot of positives to be said for the P7800. The majority of hard-core photo enthusiasts will prefer the G16 for its faster aperture lens and faster operation, but for others, the number of tangible features and overall superior holding comfort will make the Nikon P7800 a compact go-anywhere, do-it-all solution. In particular, this is a camera that might do well for two groups of users:
- Those who don't want to invest in a "systems" camera but would like appreciate the versatility of the flip LCD screen and EVF. Even though the least expensive mirrorless cameras (e.g. Sony A5000) sell for only a little bit more, there are many people who don't want the complication of interchangeable lenses.... even if they have no plans to change the kit lens.
- The P7800 is also an ideal first camera for older children and teens. The versatility and features allow for a fair bit of creativity... something important for stimulating a budding interest in photography. The price is not so expensive that a damaged camera would be tragedy, but the smaller size and metal body are activity-friendly.
As a parting thought, one wonders why Nikon didn't use the P7100/7700/7800 body styles for the Nikon 1 series. The answer is obvious in retrospect, as the V1/J1 were meant to appeal to those upgrading from point and shooter cameras. At the same time, Nikon (and to a lesser extent Canon) have been almost paranoid in their product structuring about not even so much as suggesting that a mirrorless camera could be an alternative or backup to a DSLR. This is regrettable but understandable given how heavily invested in DSLR's Nikon is. However, it seems that they were just waking up to the market realities with the Nikon 1 V3, perhaps one of the frustrating launches ever given the astronomical price but obvious nod to serious shooters. One wonders what might have been had Nikon rationalized both lines onto a a more reasonably-priced cameras using the P7800's body shell and the Nikon 1's lens mount.
With thanks to Broadway Camera