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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Nikon Coolpix 7900


Nikon Coolpix 7900 Review

Review Date: June 6, 2005

Category: Point-and-Shoot

Nikon Coolpix 7900

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2005 Award 


The Nikon Coolpix 7900 is a digital camera targeted to point-and-shoot photographers. It has 7.1 megapixel resolution on a 1/1.8 in. CCD image sensor, and a 7.8-23.4mm (38-114mm, 35 mm equivalent) 3x optical Zoom-Nikkor ED lens, with a maximum aperture of F2.8(W)-F4.9(T).

Though the Nikon 7900 is Point-and-Shoot, its default exposure mode is not Auto but Programmed Auto, which is more powerful than Auto in that it allows you to decide on some of the most important exposure settings, such as ISO, exposure compensation and metering modes to use.

3x Optical Zoom
Wide-angle 38mm Telephoto 114mm
Wide-angle 7.8mm
(38mm, 35mm equivalent)
Telephoto 23.4mm
(114mm, 35mm equivalent)

The Nikon 7900 has a 3x optical Zoom-Nikkor ED (Extra-low Dispersion) lens for very clear and detailed images. In the above pictures, we show the coverage for 38mm, and then 114mm.

Macro using Best Shot Selector
7.8mm, Programmed Auto, Multi-Pattern, 1/82.5 sec., F4.8, ISO 50
Macro, Sharpening Auto

Macro can be as close as 4 cm (1.6 in.). The AF indicator dot turns solid teal colour (blue-green) to indicate successful focus; a blinking red dot indicates focus has not successfully locked.

AF is fast and works very well even in low-light. In extreme low-light, the AF Illuminator automatically (if you've set it on in the menu) kicks in to help achieve focus. Nikon engineers seemed to have gone out of their way to ensure you do not get blurred images. In addition to actually being able to see the image snap into focus on screen, and obtaining a solid teal AF dot to indicate focus has been successfully achieved, and show a hand symbol to warn against possible camera shake -- the Nikon 7900 also has Blur Warning that displays a warning message if it decides that the image it just captured is blurred. This is a great feature come to think of it. Even though the camera might have achieved focus lock, any camera movement during the actual exposure will result in a blurred image, hence the warning message.

But the Nikon 7900 does not just warn you of blurred images, it goes one step further with a feature unique to Nikon digital cameras. The above shot was hand-held, but I "cheated" by using one of the Nikon 7900's unique feature: Best Shot Selector (Menu - BSS - ON). BSS works by taking 10 shots in a row (as long as you keep your finger pressed on the shutter release button) and then discarding all except the one that comes out the sharpest. Very cool feature!

The Nikon 7900 provides two Auto Focus modes: Multi-area AF will automatically locate the main subject in the frame; and Manual AF allows you to manually move the AF Area to anywhere in the frame (a choice of 99 areas).

Manual AF Area Mode Off-Center Focusing

Manual AF area helps tremendously for off-center subjects, especially in macro photography. Once you set this option in the menu, it stays out of the way until you call for it. Nikon has implemented a very intuitive way to do that: anytime you wish to invoke manual AF area mode, simply press the OK button and use the arrow keys to move the AF area around the screen to one of 99 possible positions. When you're done, press OK to set it at its new position. Some camera manufacture makes you go thru hoops to do what the Nikon 7900 does elegantly.

Metering Modes

There are four metering modes: Matrix (Multi-Pattern), Center-weighted, Spot and Spot AF area. The latter is interesting because it will meter at the spot that you have manually moved the AF area to on the screen. Makes sense!

Face-Priority AF
Face-Priority AF Face-Priority AF Face-Priority AF
Found Allegra's face bottom left Correctly focused on Bamm-Bamm who is in front of Allegra... ...though sometimes favoured Allegra's more contrasty face

In addition to Multi-area AF and Manual area AF, Face-Priority AF is available in Portrait scene mode where the camera attempts to automatically find, then focuses on, people's faces. This face recognition capacity is, of course, limited depending on the shooting condition. We decided to do a little experiment on our willing models, Bamm-Bamm and Allegra, and the results are above (red square is where the camera indicates it found a "face" and will focus on). Bottom line: it works but it's not perfect, and so perhaps many users will find that using Manual area AF to position the AF frame where they exactly want the camera to focus is a much better option.

White Balance Indoors
AWB Preset WB
AWB Preset WB

As the above two pictures show, the auto white balance (AWB) indoors under normal tungsten bulbs is just about perfect! The Nikon 7900 allows WB to also be set manually via the Menu: Preset WB allows us to correct the colours to real white. AWB works very well in natural light.

ISO Comparisons
ISO 50
ISO 50
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400

You can set the ISO on the Nikon 7900 from 50 to 400. The 100% crops above (area delimited by the white square) demonstrates that noise at ISO 50 and 100 are under control. Noise starts to be visible at ISO 200 but is usable. At ISO 400, the presence of noise takes the form of coloured splotches.

Chromatic Aberrations

Thanks to the Extra-low Dispersion (ED) element in the lens, CA is minimal in everyday shots, though it can sometimes be present in extremely high contrast shots. In the above photo, the corner delimited by the red square at middle, and reproduced at 100% crop at bottom right, showed some purple fringing.

Long Shutter Speed
Long Exposure
14.9mm, Programmed Auto, Multi-Pattern, 2 sec., F3.7, ISO 50
Manual WB, Macro, Self-timer, Tripod Used

The Nikon 7900 allows the use of a moderately long shutter speed of up to 4 sec. Generally, with CCD image sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent at slow shutter speeds.

We decided to take a low-light indoors shot. Light is from two normal tungsten bulbs on the ceiling. To obtain a long exposure, I place Bamm-Bamm under my desk in the shadows. I obtained focus lock easily since the Nikon 7900 has an AF Assist Illuminator. [Editor's note: some reviewers have reported difficulty obtaining AF lock in low-light. I would guess it may have something to do with subject contrast and/or perhaps being too close to the subject. Anyway, take their views also into consideration. I found the AF Assist Illuminator worked quite well.] The noise reduction works well. Since there is no manual mode, the camera makes the exposure decision, which is a bit underexposed.

14.9mm, Programmed Auto, Multi-Pattern, 2 sec., F3.7, ISO 50
Manual WB, Macro, Self-timer, Tripod Used

And that is where another unique feature of the Nikon 7900 comes into play: D-Lighting control allows you to "rescue" images that come out too dark. There are three levels of brightness that you can apply: Low, Normal and High. We choose "Low" and the result is above. Pretty impressive, eh?

Exposure Compensation and Histogram

You can view a live histogram by pressing the right arrow key. At the same time, Exposure Compensation is automatically invoked. Again, this makes great sense [someone has his/her thinking cap on at Nikon] because you would want to adjust the exposure compensation if you decide the histogram is indicating over- or under-exposure. No need to press another button, you are already in exposure compensation mode!

We find the overall image quality of the Nikon 7900 to be very good. The only aspect of the colours I was just a little disappointed with is the sky, which sometimes seems to be washed out and looking quite artificial. Otherwise, if you dial in Vivid colour and Auto Sharpening, you get great images right out of the camera!

The pictures in the Nikon Coolpix 7900 Photo Gallery page provide a good sample of what the camera is capable of. I have provided samples at 800x600 pixels (compressed to Quality 60/100 in Photoshop Elements) as well as the 3072 x 2304 pixels original size (click on the image for the original version).

You can safely assume that most macro shots and slow shutter speed shots required the use of a tripod (though I "cheated" quite a number of time by making good use of the Best Shot Selector feature). Any image that is adjusted for levels in Photoshop has "_adjusted" appended to the file name (though the original sized image is, of course, not adjusted).

I have defaulted the image size to 800x600 pixels. For those who have their monitor resolution set to 1024x728 pixels, everything should snugly fit and you should not have to scroll to see the whole image. If your monitor is set to 800x600 pixels resolution, start the slide show and then scroll to the right to position the image within your screen width. Then, press F11 (if you are using Internet Explorer) to switch to full screen mode, and the image should fill your screen nicely. Press F11 again at any time to switch your monitor display back to normal mode.

To return to this page from the Photo Gallery, click on the animated graphics of the camera.

Please open and download the original size version only if you need to and only once to your hard drive -- and save me some precious bandwidth. Thanks!


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