The Nikon Coolpix P7100 ($499.95) is one of those cameras that will send the average consumer running for the hills because this badass has more controls, dials, bells and whistles than R2-D2. On the other hand, the Nikon Coolpix P7100 will turn an advanced photographer into a bottle rocket of excitement, thanks to its arsenal of external and internal features. The Nikon Coolpix P7100 goes head to head with the Canon PowerShot G12, though I do believe Nikon has surpassed Canon this time around. The P7100 has a 10-megapixel 1/1.7-inch CCD, just like the Canon G12, though the P7100 benefits from faster EXPEED C2 processing this year. Canon did not release a follow-up to the G12, and I believe the P7100 is now stealing some of the limelight.

An External Powerhouse

Nikon-Coolpix-P7100-Rear-LCD-TiltAlso new on the P7100 for 2011 is a 921,000-pixel vari-angle LCD screen. The screen was a welcome addition, given the fact that the Nikon Coolpix P7000′s LCD was fixed. However, the P7100′s rocking new LCD screen can only flip up and down; not out to the side and 180 degrees like the Canon G12′s. As a result, there was no way to monitor myself for handheld portraits or one-man video segments. On the bright side, the Nikon Coolpix P7100′s external control palette proved the best in all the land of fixed-lens point-and-shoots. Nikon even added a third command dial to the front of the P7100 to compliment the two rear-mounted dials. The P7100 also carried over the two customizable Function buttons, Exposure Compensation dial, ISO/WB/Quality/etc. dial, AE/AF Lock button and a handful of other shortcut buttons. The Nikon P7100 is one of the few point-and-shoot camera to offer a Mic jack for video recording, which allowed me to hook up my Rode VideoMic and say goodbye to craptastic built-in digital camera audio. Toss in the hot accessory shoe, popup flash, optical viewfinder and f/2.8 7x optical zoom wide-angle NIKKOR lens, and the Nikon Coolpix P7100 makes most of the advanced point-and-shoot crowd look like disposable cameras.

Manual Controls Out the Wazoo

Nikon-Coolpix-P7100-Rear

Keep in mind that this thing is big, but exceedingly comfortable to shoot with. And the P7100 had better be, given its bevy of manual controls. We’re talking a full 60-second shutter speed, built-in neutral density filter, digital level meter, wide ISO range with Hi 1 (6400) and highly accurate multi-point Auto Focus. On the downside, the P7100′s manual focus was plagued with a poor LCD resolution due to the focus assist magnification, so AF was the best bet. Using the control dials and shortcut buttons expedited my shooting experience significantly as I rarely had to travel into the main menu to do any dirty work. The P7100 has a few fantastic new filters like Zoom Exposure, Cross Process, Creative Monochrome and Painting, so be sure to check them out on the image samples. Also, several digital filters like Cross Screen, Fisheye, Miniature and Selective Color can be applied in post directly on the camera. The White Balance control on the P7100 is also amazing.

It’s a Pretty Good Shooter Too

Nikon-Coolpix-P7100-Front

So how did that 1/1.7-inch CCD do against the Canon PowerShot G12 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5? Well, I was left in a tough position just like last year. The Coolpix P7100 exhibited a slight improvement in high ISO performance, but I found its bright and normal light performance to equal that of the P7000′s. Overall, I still favor the Lumix DMC-LX5 and think the PowerShot G12 and P7100 are tied in this department. I will say that the Canon PowerShot S100 held an edge over the P7100, and it’s the current point-and-shoot to beat. If Canon took the S100′s sensor and stuffed it into an updated G12 body, creating a G13 (how sexy!), Canon would be winning this match hands down. But the Nikon Coolpix P7100 was still a good shooter. The camera just did not like low light and opted for high ISO levels every chance it got. The P7100 even defaulted to slow shutter speeds in some indoor lighting conditions where the S100 could shoot with quicker shutter speeds.

S100-P7100-Q-ISO-Shootout

Canon PowerShot S100 vs. Nikon Coolpix P7100 vs. Pentax Q

So, in my Pentax Q/Nikon Coolpix P7100/Canon PowerShot S100 shootout, the S100 wins, though the P7100 has the best shooting features and design. The Nikon Coolpix P7100′s 720p HD video mode was fairly stark and did not offer the ability to shoot in fun digital filters. Quality was not bad at all in bright light and the P7100 was surprisingly sensitive in low light. The Nikon Coolpix P7100′s zoom motor could not be heard while recording, which is a great thing.

The Final Word

Overall, the Nikon Coolpix P7100 is a great camera, in fact one of the best advanced point-and-shoot options on the market. Nikon made some significant refinements to last year’s P7000, though I feel the Canon PowerShot S100 has officially stolen the P7100′s thunder. If and when the Canon PowerShot G13 is released, Nikon will have something to fear. But for now, if you crave oodles of advanced controls and could care less about interchangeable lenses or professional image quality, the Nikon Coolpix P7100 is your camera.

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Nikon Coolpix P7100 Still Image Samples

Nikon Coolpix P7100 720p HD Video Samples