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Nikon Coolpix P7700 Digital Camera Review$499.95
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.
Buttons & Dials
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.
Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes
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.