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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Nikon Coolpix 8700

Nikon Digital Cameras

   


Nikon Coolpix 8700 Review

Review Date: June 21, 2004

Category: Advanced Amateur - Prosumer

Nikon Coolpix 8700 

IMAGE QUALITY

The Nikon Coolpix 8700 is a digital camera targeted to advanced amateur photographers. It has 8 megapixel resolution on a 16.7 mm (2/3 in.) CCD image sensor and an excellent matrix metering system.

The Nikkor lens is a 35-280 mm (35mm format equivalent) f/2.8-4.2, 8x optical zoom. This is the longest telephoto reach among the 8MP digital cameras (the others stop at 200mm), though it also has a longer wide-angle focal length and the lens is not as fast.

As expected, we find the overall image quality of the Nikon Coolpix 8700 to be excellent.

8x Optical Zoom Range
8.9mm (35mm) 71.2mm (280mm)

The Coolpix 8700 provides a 8x optical zoom, with a maximum focal length of 280mm (35mm equivalent). In the above pictures, we show the coverage for 35mm, and then delienate the area covered by 280mm. This is the longest telephoto of the 8MP digital cameras with an impressive reach in such a compact digital camera. Though you may be able to handhold it using a fast shutter speed, a tripod is necessary at slower shutter speeds.

Another professional feature of the Coolpix 8700 that is directly related to image quality is the ability to record images in RAW file format. It takes about 12-15 sec. (though at times, it took up to 30 sec.) to save a RAW (Nikon NEF) or HI (TIFF) image (using a SanDisk Ultra II 256MB memory card). Unfortunately, the 8700 does not have a RAW internal buffer and you have to wait for the camera to finish writing to memory card before you can shoot the next picture.

Each RAW image is 3264x2448 pixels (about 23MB), so you definitely need a large memory card. The camera indicates space for 64 Fine images or 10 HI or 20 RAW images on a 256MB CF card, but your mileage will vary depending on the images captured.

Interestingly, the JPG images are compressed rather aggressively, resulting in images at around 3MP or less -- with no apparent degradation in image quality!

A very interesting feature is that you can instruct the camera to additionally save all your EXIF info into a text file. This allows you to refer to the image number and find all relevant EXIF info without having to open NikonView.

[The RAW file format records the image as captured by the camera's CCD without further processing, and allows you to precisely adjust white balance, contrast, sharpness and saturation in an image editing software without any loss of quality.]

Macro
Nikon Coolpix 8700 Macro (3 cm / 1.2 in.)
Macro (3 cm / 1.2 in.)

Nikon is famous for the macro capability of its digital cameras and the 8700 allows you to focus as close as 3 cm (1.2 in.) from the front element of the lens.

You can still zoom while in Macro mode and in fact, with my review camera, I find that I surprisingly do need to slightly zoom in for the camera to obtain focus lock in Macro mode. Depending on your subject matter, AF lock is either quick or it may hunt a bit. I find that the AF seems to have a hard time focusing on small areas with the AF locking somewhere else (even when the AF area is positioned right on the spot I want to be in focus, and I carefully measure the 3 cm distance at wide-angle setting). At other times (like in the picture of the spent dandelion above), focus is incredibly precise.

Of course, I use a tripod for most of my macro shots, and I usually also set the 10 sec. self-timer on so as to avoid camera shake. You can also use 3 sec. self-timer by pressing the shutter release twice. Once the picture is taken, self-timer mode is cancelled.

I use Shooting Mode 1 and set the AF Area Mode to Manual. This is not to be confused with Manual Focus; only the AF Area is now manually selected (though it will always default to one of the five focus areas), i.e. I can manually select from five focus areas using the multi selector. I find this especially useful when taking macro shots since the razor thin depth of field means that it is not quite feasible to pre-focus by depressing the shutter button half-way and then reframing; even a slight mm off can throw your main subject out-of-focus.

A feature we are starting to see in more and more prosumer models is Program shift. What I like is that it is the default on the Coolpix 8700: just rotate the Command Dial to shift shutter speed/aperture combinations in tandem while still maintaining the correct exposure. There's no need to press any button to engage program shift.

Auto White Balance
AWB WB = Fluorescent

As the above two pictures show, the Auto White Balance works pretty well indoors under Fluorescent lighting, better than setting it to Fluorescent WB. In our tests, AWB seems to work flawlessly under sunny conditions. Fortunately, the 8700 allows you to set a Preset White Balance, and our best results needed the use of the Preset White Balance (see Long Shutter Speed below). Of course, if you record in RAW mode, you do not need to worry about white balance since you can precisely adjust it after the fact.

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

The 100% crops above (area delimited by the white square) demonstrate the noise at the available ISO Speeds of 50, 100, 200 and 400. At ISO 50, as we would expect, noise is not apparent and barely noticeable. At ISO 100 noise becomes visible but is still acceptable. Upward, noise is noticeably present.

Chromatic Aberrations

We found minimal CA at the corner delimited by the red square at top left (reproduced at 100% crop at bottom right). However, in everyday shots, it's not enough of a problem to bother with.

Long Shutter Speed
15.7mm, Shutter-Priority, Partial, 8 sec., F5.7, ISO 50
Preset WB, Super Macro, 2 sec. Self-Timer, Tripod Used

The 8700 allows the use of a long shutter speed of up to 8 sec. (plus 10 min Bulb) therefore allowing night photography. Generally, with CCD image sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent at slow shutter speeds. The 8700 has special noise reduction algorithms that automatically kicks in at shutter speeds slower than 1/4 sec. and you'll notice a slightly longer processing time before the next picture can be taken.

To test this noise reduction algorithm, we decided to take a low-light indoors shot. Let's make it also a Macro shot so we can more clearly see any noise present.

At only 3 cm (1.2 in.) away from the subject, the camera lens focuses on Bamm-Bamm's eyes. Even though we use a small aperture to maximize depth of field, his nose still comes out blurred. For a cheap DIY backdrop, we use a black fuzzy sweater. Normal fluorescent light bulbs from the ceiling are the only source of illumination. We experiment a bit to obtain the optimum exposure, eventually settling on 8 sec. at F5.7. Even at this long shutter speed, the 8700's noise reduction seems to be working great, producing a nice smooth blurring effect of the background.

The last feature we will mention is the histogram. The histogram can be displayed live during Record Mode. You can see the histogram by pressing the Display button until the histogram displays. The histogram is not transparent on the 8700 so it covers up a small area of the image. The histogram is invaluable to give an indication of under- and over-exposure (don't rely on the LCD/EVF since the brightness is adjustable and may be misleading). You can also display horizontal, vertical and diagonal (what a great idea!) grid lines to aid in composition.

The pictures in the Nikon Coolpix 8700 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).

You can safely assume that most macro shots and slow shutter speed shots required the use of a tripod. Any image that is adjusted for levels in Photoshop has "_adjusted" appended to the file name.

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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