HandlingThe P7000 is quite different to the P6000. The P6000 was rather too compact for an expert model, in spite of all its built-in gadgets, which meant all the controls were bunched up on the right-hand side of the screen. The P7000 looks more like the market-leading Canon G-series cameras. In fact, side by side, the G12 and P7000 are very similar in size and design, as both are square, bulky and have a viewfinder just above the screen.
The camera body has been very well made. The buttons and controls offer precision handling, giving a sharp click when you press a button or move round a dial. The rubber grips make the P7000 easy to keep hold of and the camera feels sturdy and hard-wearing.
The P7000 has plenty of direct-access buttons to the main camera settings. It has a dial for the exposure modes (like the Canon G12), a nice smattering of buttons, as well as a thumb wheel and a click-round control wheel for adjusting settings. There's also a button-and-wheel combo for access to the ISO settings, white balance, bracketing etc., which is quite similar to that found in the Minolta A series (see photo, P7000 on the left next to the A2 on the right).
One nice touch is that the Nikon P7000 has a microphone socket, so you don't have to make do with the built-in microphones when shooting videos.
So does the P7000 tick all the boxes in this field? Not quite. The lens has a disturbing wobble to it, which sets alarm bells ringing about the quality of the optics and the product's lifespan. Similarly, the flash sways around by a few millimetres when it pops up out of the top of the camera. Another downside is that there are very few custom options. You can assign various functions to the Fn and Av/Tv buttons, but it's not possible to choose what values the control wheels change when you scroll them (you can only swap their functions round), unlike the Canon G12 and S95. It's a bit of a shame too, as apart from that, the P7000's three custom modes allow you to save a whole load of settings, including the initial focal length!
ResponsivenessThe P7000 is a mixed bag in this field. The autofocus is effective in decent light but isn't quite so good when the light starts to fade. The start-up time and the time required to save a picture are quite unspectacular. Plus, the camera is noticeably slow in the menus at times, which can be really quite annoying. Just make sure you're not in the main menu when the action starts to happen, as it'll take you three whole seconds to take a photo from there.
In Raw mode, the camera takes an almost unbearable six seconds to turn around between two shots!
The P7000's internal software is particularly irritating because it's not possible to assess any settings or options while the camera is saving one or more photos. After taking a burst of images (1.5 fps), the camera can be out of action for several seconds while emptying its buffer memory. Plus, if you happen to notice a setting you should have changed right when you hit the shutter release, you'll have to wait for the camera to finish saving the shots, then change the setting, then take your snaps all over again.
Picture QualityThe P7000 uses a well-known sensor that's already been seen in expert compacts such as the Canon G11 and Samsung EX1. The P7000 falls somewhere in between these two models for picture quality—it's better than in the Samsung, but doesn't handle noise as well as the Canon and Panasonic models. It's very good up to 800 ISO, but things go downhill from there really, with visible smoothing and speckling noise.
We didn't really hold out much hope for the P7000, largely due to the wobbly lens we mentioned above. However, picture quality in the middle of the shots is actually excellent and is certainly comparable to competitors' models. Unfortunately though, quality is lost in the corner of the pictures. They may to be look more accentuated, but the actual level of detail doesn't live up to the G12. With the zoom maxed out (200 mm compared with 140 mm on the Canon) this becomes even more striking, as the image lacks sharpness across the whole frame and the corners just look blurred.
Barrel distortion is typically visible in wide-angle, but the equally visible pin-cushion distortion in telephoto mode is actually even more annoying. This is almost certainly brought on by the 7x zoom lens. The P7000 does have a distortion control system but, strangely enough, this isn't activated by default—Nikon obviously wanted to avoid slowing the camera down any more, as with this option activated you can add an extra half-second to the photo-to-photo turnaround time.
The white balance is worth mentioning. Even under very warm halogen lighting, the teddy bear still looks totally neutral—to such an extent that it's almost surreal. Some of you may prefer the warmer effect of the Samsung EX1 or Panasonic LX5, or the yellow tinge of the Canon G12.
VideoThe P7000 films in 720p HD at 24 fps with an active optical zoom and stereo sound. The image is sharp and there's really not too much noise. The sound, however, isn't perfect, and although you can definitely hear the stereo effect, it lacks detail on the whole. An external microphone socket is on hand if you want to get round that problem.
It's a real shame that there's no separate video record button, as this means you have switch to video mode using the mode selection dial before you start shooting. Note that the P7000 cuts the final video at around one second before you press the shutter release button to stop recording. In other words, you'll have to remember not to stop recording at the crucial moment!