When Nikon overhauled its system compact camera, the glorious result was the outstanding P7000, which has already gained a growing fan base among serious and even some pro photographers. Can it work as a street camera?
Every year a small group of compact cameras in the $500 range vies to be the poor photographer's Leica, and most, for various reasons, fall short. I will show my bias here: I have used the M9, and among digital cameras, it is the gold standard for street photography. I literally cried when I had to send it back.
Some compacts don't even come close, even though they are clearly marketed to the street shoting crowd. Some cameras, such as the Canon G12 and its predecessors, have already been embraced by street photographers whose main goal is to display their images online. The Panasonic Lumix LX5 is another example. But Nikon in the past has fallen short due shutter lag issues. With its recent overhaul, can the Nikon P7000 break in to this club? After writing up a full Camera Review of the P7000, I took it for a spin at the annual Highland Park, NJ street fair in May to find out.
But, you may say, most photographers don't do street photography. Why is the street photo stress test relevant? The answer is simple: Street photography is a great way to quickly determine if a camera can capture action and decisive moments—be they sports, children or pets—and so the lessons learned can be applied to other forms of photography that push a camera's envelope. With that in mind, let's hit the streets!
When I do a street photography stress test, I look for manual control and a camera whose performance doesn't get in the way of the spontaneous, reflexive act of photographing fast-breaking moments. Split-second timing is everything. Cameras that hesitate are lost.
Most compact cameras' downfall is lag time while they focus, and indeed when in AF mode the P7000 did hesitate for a about a quarter to half a second. That's not bad, but it is unsuitable for street photography in autofocus. The good news? The shutter went off almost instantaneously when I put the camera in manual focus mode. It was even faster when I switched from auto to manual exposure. So, with the ISO set to 400 and exposure set to around 1/400 sec at ISO 5.6, I focused the camera to around six feet and let hyperfocal distance take care of the rest. I estimated that at this aperture with the lens at its widest setting of 8mm (the equivalent of 28mm on a 35mm camera), I could get just about everything from about three feet to almost infinity in focus, and that covers my typical working range.
After shooting approximately 150 photos at the fair, which had several thousand people walking around and plenty of candid photography opportunities, I can say that the P7000 passed the test when in manual-everything. I'd give it a “B,” which is quite good. The only time the camera hesitated was if it had stood idle for a few minutes and powered off. I frequently pressed the shutter release partway down to keep it active and if I did that, it shot instantly.
I was able to capture both dramatic, fast-disappearing moments and more subtle expressions and gestures, which to me is the joy and challenge of street shooting. As would be expected with a small camera, rapid image transfer was limited to a couple of shots; after that the camera would lock up for a few seconds while the buffer was emptied. (Actually, the Leica M9 did this too!)
A note about color: I had the color intensity dialed down to low, so if the color in the photos that I didn't convert to black and white seem kind of pale, that was intentional. When shooting on the street, I find bright, gaudy colors to be distracting so I minimize them.
Image quality (I shot with low noise reduction on) was surprisingly good for a small-sensor camera, although it was not as tack-sharp as you would get with, say, a Canon 7D or a Sony NEX-5. It was a bit better than what I've seen from a typical compact camera, however. I would feel comfortable making 8x10-inch prints, especially if I'd converted images to black-and-white, my personal preference for street shooting. Image quality results were on par with other flagship small-sensor compacts.
Overall, I would put the P7000 in the same overall street-worthiness range as its main competitor, the Canon G12 although for the absolute fastest performance among this category and price range, I still think the Panasonic Lumix LX5 has an edge and I hope to give the Olympus XZ-1 a workout soon. Surprisingly, though, the Nikon P7000 is a bit less expensive (as of this writing) so if you're looking for the most bang for the buck, the Nikon P7000 is your best buy!
Welcome to the club, Nikon!
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