What better way to launch into a new product sector than by imitating the market leader? That's effectively what Nikon did with the P7000 and P7100, which were pretty clearly based on Canon's G-series expert compacts. The result was a series of black, chunky, boxy-looking cameras that looked like something straight out of East Germany.
Three product generations later, the P7700 is still hanging onto the same basic style. The optical viewfinder has, however, been ditched this time around. Then again, it was so poor quality that its removal isn't likely to bother many people. Build quality is good, and while the camera's body isn't all-metal, the materials used are decent quality. Plus, the big, rubber-finished grip handle makes the P7700 easy to keep hold of. The P7700 is a relatively well-designed camera. It uses the same basic formula as the P7100, but with a few tweaks to make handling easier. The front thumb-wheel, for example, is now more discreet and easier to access with your index finger. On the whole, you have to look pretty hard to find a few minor design flaws in this camera—like the wrist-strap hook that sticks out from the side of the camera right where your hand rests.
The screen is taken straight out of the P7100, with the same qualities (definition, decent enough colour fidelity) and the same faults (light greys overexposed). However, it's now a full swivel screen that flips out from the camera's body, which is handy for lining up shots in all kinds of situations. That said, you shouldn't rely entirely on this display when adjusting the exposure—make sure you activate the histogram.
The interface is standard stuff as far as Nikon expert compacts go, with linear menus and no resounding hierarchy of information within them. There's a good selection of customisable controls too, as you can set the direction you want the settings wheels to spin, customise buttons like the Fn keys and save your favourite settings to three user profiles. The Fn1 button, which falls under the right ring finger, can be used a bit like a Shift key in conjunction with the settings thumb-wheels. You can therefore choose an extra setting for the shutter release button plus the front and rear thumb-wheels. There's no Quick menu here, but a separate control gives direct access to image quality, while balance, ISO, etc.—a feature that's reminiscent of the now-defunct Minolta A-series bridges.
One thing we do regret is that there's no video record button. Honestly—how is that possible in a 2012 camera that films Full HD video? You can't even assign a video record function to one of the customisable keys. The three thumb wheels can also be a little strange to use (see inset).
The glass is either half empty or half full, depending on how you pan to use the P7700. It starts up pretty quickly, the autofocus works well in good light, the burst mode shoots at over 6 fps and photos take 2.5 seconds to save, which is a bit slow but it's not disastrous.
That, however, is all in Jpeg mode. Everything changes as soon as you switch to RAW. Photo-to-photo turnaround takes almost seven seconds (during which time the camera is totally frozen so you can't even change a setting), and while the burst mode still shoots six frames in under a second, the P7700 then freezes for almost 30 seconds while dealing with the shots! That's simply not acceptable.
So for anyone working in Jpeg mode, responsiveness is at four-star level in the P7700. But if you're working with RAW shots, responsiveness drops to one-star standard.
Everything is new in this camera. In fact, the only thing the P7700 has in common with the P7100 is the focal range (28-200 mm). Otherwise, the P7700 has been treated to a lens that's one EV faster (f/2-4) and a 12-Megapixel BSI CMOS sensor that's still 1/1.7" in size.
We were keen to see how this camera handled sensitivity, as the sensor's specs look very similar to those seen in the Samsung EX2F, which wasn't quite on par with the latest models from Canon and Panasonic. Nikon, however, does a better job than Samsung, with images that hold up very well up to 800 ISO. Plus, 8" x 10" prints (20 x 27 cm) will still come out fine at 1600 ISO. However, at 3200 ISO, smoothing and noise will be visible on 4" x 6" prints (11 x 15 cm). On the whole, Canon still does a better job of keeping noise in check (particularly with the G15, the main rival for this P7700), but the difference in quality isn't enormous. The Panasonic LX7, on the other hand, takes a cleaner image but with image processing that isn't quite as natural. You pays your money, you takes your choice.
And, obviously, the Sony RX100 with its 1" sensor still runs circles around all other current competitors.
The new 28-200 mm lens also has a lot to prove, as it's unusually fast for a 7x zoom. The good news is that it's truly an excellent surprise at wide angle! From f/2, images are very sharp over the whole frame—to such an extent, in fact, that a moiré effect is clearly visible in the image above, taken from the edge of our test scene. That's pretty unusual in a compact camera. At telephoto, sharpness drops a little but remains very consistent over the whole shot. The corners of pictures taken with the P7700 are comparable in quality to the Panasonic LX7, which is top dog in the this particular field right now. In fact, the corners of shots taken with both these cameras at telephoto are actually more detailed than images from the Sony RX100. The RX100 may have a 20-Megapixel sensor, but the corners of telephoto shots are still a little hazy.
All in all, this Nikon lens is really quite good. In fact, it ultimately helps the P7700 edge ahead of the Canon G15. Some users may even prefer the P7700 to the Panasonic LX7.
The P7700 films 1080p HD video at 30 fps with stereo sound. Image quality is good, with reasonable exposure and good sharpness levels ... so long as you don't change focal length (i.e. zoom). The P7700 doesn't refocus continuously in video mode—something which is obviously pretty essential if you zoom!
In environments that aren't too noisy, sound is recorded well with a nice stereo effect. However, as the volume increases, quality drops and noises sound metallic. Distinct sounds get mixed up and confused, and picking out or recognising a voice isn't particularly easy.