So, vacation season is about here and I was thinking about my camera. I’ve got an 18-200mm zoom for it, but it’s huge, very soft, and the camera hunts a lot in low light (even just under canopy). I’ve got the standard 18-55mm kit zoom and a 35mm f/1.8 as well. They give me a decent range, but that’s a lot to tote around, so there’s a lot of bulk.
I’ve also got my iPhone 4S, and while it takes lovely pictures they’re not really satisfactory in odd lighting conditions: Not great dynamic range, it’s easy to blow out highlights, and it’s not a low-light champ.
I thought about the Canon PowerShot G-series, as I always do, but I was disappointed by the PowerShot G15: Canon’s always screwing around with that line, and this iteration they decided to drop the swivel display. Ergonomically, that puts you in smartphone territory. It’s not as easy to take pictures at odd angles (or close to the ground), it’s not as easy to get candids because you have to hold the camera up at face level instead of holding it at waist level and looking down into the preview. That’s a shame, because they continue to improve the sensor, glass and performance, but it was a Canon G5 that hooked me on swivel displays and I’ve expected that in high-end point-and-shoots ever since.
I’m also not super interested in other exchangeable lens formats just yet (though I’ve seen some lovely pictures coming from them and may consider them some day). So, since I’ve got a Nikon dSLR and a flash to go with it, I went looking for Nikon’s equivalent to the PowerShot G15. That’d be the CoolPix P7700.
Things it has going for it:
- 28-200mm 35mm equivalent. That’s plenty of reach.
- Lens stops to f/1.8 at the widest angle, which is not bad at all. Great for available light shooting.
- Hotshoe that’ll work with my existing flash (so I can bounce instead of using the built-in flash)
- Full control: aperture priority, full manual, shutter priority, program mode, auto mode
- Manually adjustable autofocus point (better exposures and sharper focus than if you lock focus then frame with a center autofocus point.
- Good ergonomics: It’s easy to access a number of controls with a few knobs and an on-screen menu
It can also shoot in RAW mode, which is something I’m sort of waffly about. But a bit more about that.
Comparing to my Nikon D5000
My dSLR is a Nikon D5000. Prior to this one, the last dSLR I owned was a Pentax K100d. The Nikon is pretty nice, especially when I use its 35mm f/1.8 prime lens and the external flash.
I used to be dogmatic about using RAW mode to shoot, but the D5000 takes very nice pictures using its “fine” JPEG mode and there have been very few times I’ve been unable to recover a shot due to the things I usually want to correct using RAW software: white balance and blown out highlights. So for a while I shot in the cameras RAW+JPEG mode (one JPEG exposure, plus one RAW “just in case” exposure) and then I eventually just went to JPEG.
My first outing with the P7700, I shot JPEGs and was somewhat disappointed. I made the mistake of shooting mostly in program mode because I wanted to try out all the setting overrides (so I have to own some of the exposure issues), and that left me with some shots that with blown out highlights that were hard to recover. Didn’t help that I was shooting waterfalls: That’s a lot to deal with and you have to expect to spend some time in Aperture or whatever trying to either pull stuff in shadows back out, or dealing with blown out highlights.
My second outing, I shot in RAW using the camera’s auto mode a lot of the time and got much better results. That was less because the pictures were great out of the box and more because I could use Aperture to do a little retouching. Still not perfect, but as good as I have patience for, and I was very pleased with a few exposures that I think rivaled anything I’d get out of my 18-200mm “walking around” zoom on the D5000.
There was a lot less worry, too. The P7700 is very small (4.7″ by 2.9″ x 2″, think “not as wide as a dollar bill, a bit taller”) so it was easier to push it around to my back on its strap for climbing over rocks or logs, and easier to keep it there. The D5000 with its big zoom is very heavy and bulky and it’s hard to keep out of the way for quick climbs. That makes the P7700 a lot nicer for hikes.
The P7700 isn’t a full replacement for the D5000: It’s definitely slower and its single lens can’t match the full range of the few lenses I’ve got for the D5000. But it takes better pictures than a phone with not a ton more bulk, so it’s a fine walking around camera that’s less obtrusive than a full dSLR.
Black Rapid Snapr 20
I still feel better having some sort of case or cover when I’m out on a hike. With my D5000, I’ve typically used neoprene cases. Shopping around Pro Photo Supply, I found that Black Rapid makes a line of point-and-shoot shoulder straps with integrated cases. I bought the Snapr 20.
It has a novel design that allows you to attach a sliding strap to its shoulder strap, then attach the camera to the sliding strap. You can stow the camera in the case but quickly pull it out of the end when you’re ready to shoot, sliding the camera up into position while the case stays at your side. So you get the availability of a shoulder strap with an extra layer of protection for the camera. Less worries about knocking it against a rock or having it tumble out of the case and fall to the ground if you don’t completely secure the opening. It has two side pockets that are spacious enough to hold an extra battery and the rapid charger, so it’s a great little package for multi-day trips.
So, I’m going to hold on to the D5000. It’s a good camera and I prefer to rely on it when I feel like dealing with the bulk and want to increase the number of keepers in a given set. I’m really looking forward to using the P7700 more for walking around, bike rides, and day/weekend trips.