Published: August 22, 2012 12:21 PM
By Franck Mée
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
It seems like 2012 is shaping up to be the year of the expert compact. After Canon, Sony, Samsung and Panasonic, Nikon is the latest firm to present a compact camera aimed at advanced users. The P7700 couldn't be more different from the P7100 either, as it gets a new sensor, a faster lens and a swivel screen. What's more, the optical viewfinder has been ditched.

Nikon Coolpix P7700
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The arrival of expert compacts with large-format sensors two to five times bigger than those used in standard expert compacts (14 x 18.7 mm in the Canon G1 X  / 8.8 x 13.2 mm in the Sony RX100) has changed the game in this particular corner of the camera market. With improved sensitivity, less diffraction and reduced depth of field, image quality has taken a giant leap forwards.

Other camera-makers have been forced to react. And seeing as they don't all have large-format sensors readily available, they've turned to using faster lenses to make up for the fact they're still using small ones (around 6 x 8 mm). We've therefore started seeing the likes of the Samsung EX2F (aperture f/1.4-2.7) and the Panasonic LX7 (aperture f/1.4-2.3)—remember that the lower the "f" numbers, the more light the lens lets in.

However, very fast lenses have one downside: they don't zoom much. Nikon has traditionally prioritised the zoom in its expert compact, using a 28-200 mm lens in the P7000 and P7100, with aperture limited to f/2.8-5.6.

The Middle Way

Nikon p7700 lens
Nikon has therefore had to think long and hard about whether to prioritise the zoom or the aperture in the Coolpix P7700. But, in the end, the firm has compromised on a middle way, with a 7x zoom (equivalent to 28-200 mm) but with aperture at f/2-4. It therefore lets in twice as much light as the previous model in both wide-angle and telephoto modes.

And that's a pretty good strategy, as there are already plenty of firms making expert compacts with ultra-fast lenses (don't forget last year's Fuji X10 too), but there aren't many models with powerful zooms. In fact, anyone looking for an advanced compact that zooms more than the 4x in Fuji, Samsung and Panasonic models will have no choice but to pick up the Nikon.

The P7700 has been treated to some new electronics—about time too! The sensor is the same size (5.7 x 7.6 mm) but is now a 12-Megapixel CMOS like the Samsung EX2F and the Canon S100. While we'll be keen to see what effect that has on sensitivity, the faster data processing speeds bring a welcome boost to the burst mode (8 fps) and the video mode, as the P7700 films in Full HD. Like its predecessor, it has a stereo mic entry, which could make this expert compact a decent camcorder replacement for occasional filming.

The controls remain quite similar to the previous model, even if the screen now has a handy swivel function rather than a simple tilt mode. You'll find a settings thumb-wheel and two dials for direct access to loads of functions—one dial for exposure options and one very Minolta-style dial for image settings. There's also a flash hot-shoe.

The only slight surprise is that the optical viewfinder has gone. Then again, given the quality of those seen in previous models, we won't be shedding too many tears over its departure. But still, a viewfinder can be a real selling point in this market and it's surprising to see Nikon give it up.

In any case, as the only expert compact capable of zooming past 120 mm, the Nikon P7700 is an interesting new arrival in the market.

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