Nikon Coolpix 7900
At a Glance
Nikon Coolpix 7900 Digital Camera (7.1MP, 3072x2304, 3x Opt, 13.5MB Installed Memory)
Small but easy to hold, the stylish 7900 combines an intuitive menu system, many scene modes, and a few advanced features.
Small and attractive, the Nikon Coolpix 7900 combines an extensive array of scene modes with two very useful advanced settings--exposure and white-balance bracketing. The 7900's 3X optical zoom is relatively pedestrian, but its 7-megapixel imaging helps keep shots sharp after rounds of cropping and blowing up. The camera has a pleasing feel: Though small and light enough to carry in a shirt pocket, it's easy to grip and operate with one hand.
The 7900 produced impressively high-quality photos. It rendered most of our test shots nicely; the one exception was the flash portrait of our test mannequin, which was underexposed. I took the 7900 out into the field and shot a variety of close-up and scenic photos. The Coolpix's white-balance bracketing was very effective, producing a detectable color shift in each shot, and its white-balance calibration worked well in a city scene of buildings, water, and blue sky.
Not all of my shots were successful, however. The daylight white-balance preset gave my photo a blue cast. And though the 7-megapixel CCD helped the camera produce sharp details for close-ups, sharpness fell off noticeably with distant subjects. The 7900's startup speed is relatively good--3 to 4 seconds--and there is very little shutter lag.
The Coolpix 7900's easy-to-navigate menu structure makes changing settings fairly simple. The camera also has two display modes: a text-based list of menu commands that you have to scroll up and down through; and an icon-based mode that is a bit more difficult to interpret, but lists all options on a single screen, so you can more easily pick the command you're looking for.
The camera's design has a few oddities. The control for shutting off the LCD, for example, isn't a button, but an option buried in the camera's setup menu. That complicates the task of switching the LCD on and off quickly when you want to save battery power. I also wish that the camera displayed the shutter and aperture settings to be used for a shot. But Nikon may have considered the exposure information unnecessary, since there are no aperture- or shutter-priority modes.
The camera setup is versatile, with 18MB of internal memory and an SD Card slot (but no included SD media). I saved five shots to the internal memory at the camera's highest resolution. A menu command lets you copy all images or selected ones from the internal memory to an SD Card (or within the limits of the internal memory, from the SD Card to internal memory). I couldn't, however, find a way to switch between the two types of memory, either when shooting or during playback. So with an SD Card installed, I could view shots in the camera's internal memory only by copying them to the card or by removing it.
Nikon's PictureProject 1.1 software, bundled with the 7900, is a capable, general-purpose image management package. Its one-button Auto Enhance tool effectively improves color saturation and image sharpness. The collection also includes tools for sharing and backing up photos. For creating panoramas, Nikon bundles ArcSoft's Panorama Maker 3--currently my favorite application for stitching photos together.
The Coolpix 7900 is a great, general-purpose snapshot camera. Now-and-then photographers will find it easy to use; and its array of controls, great image quality, and high resolution will make it attractive to advanced shooters as a backup camera.