A small but ergonomically curved grip provides just enough real estate to comfortably hold the camera, leaving sufficient wiggle room to position your fingers without blocking the AF-assist lamp, the tiny optical viewfinder, or the flash. Though it technically falls into ultracompact territory, the chunky grip makes it a little difficult to comfortably cram the 7900 into a pants pocket. The power button (which uses a blinking green light to notify you when the camera is in standby mode), the shutter release, and the small mode dial all lie within easy reach atop the camera.
The 2-inch LCD takes up about three-quarters of the back, and the camera has a number of untraditional features that you access via external controls. The dedicated delete button is above the LCD, which can be a little inconvenient.
More significant, control buttons that serve double duty can be confusing. For example, both the question mark icon, which initiates help, and a magnifying glass, which operates the zoom when your review your pictures, clearly relate to the telephoto-zoom button. But unless you're in one of the menus, all the button does is zoom. Another case in point is the D-light icon (more about this feature later) next to the four-way controller. Unless you read the manual, you'll never figure out that you need to press the center OK button in playback to access the feature. This camera is designed to make taking pictures easy for the uninitiated, and while it ultimately achieves that goal, understanding how to actually use all its features requires some research. Thankfully, all the menus are straightforward and logical, with help a mere button-press away. Targeted at the snapshot crowd, the Nikon Coolpix 7900 has both standard and novel ease-of-use features, including the requisite scene modes, such as Portrait, Landscape, Party, Museum, and Underwater (for the camera's optional underwater housing). Of the 16 scene modes, four offer Scene Assist, which displays an outline on the LCD to help you accurately position subjects for optimum focus. The Portrait mode, for example, has a handful of options such as Left, Right, Couple, and Close-Up. There's also Nikon's Face-Priority Autofocus, which--most of the time--identifies the face in the scene and locks in focus.
Beyond the Face-Priority Autofocus feature, Nikon includes others to help ensure sharp photos. The company's Best Shot Selector chooses from as many as 10 of the most sharply focused pictures, and if the one you've just shot isn't in focus, a message appears with the option to forgo saving the image. The ability to select the focus point helps for off-center subjects. Unfortunately, the 7900 doesn't display shutter-speed information, so it's difficult to gauge whether or not you can hand-hold the shot. Also, the camera's blinking red warning should appear at higher shutter speeds than it does.
The Coolpix 7900 also boasts D-lighting, which automatically brightens underexposed pictures at the touch of a button. Just review the image, press the OK button, accept (or reject) the adjustment, and the camera saves a copy of the corrected image. It works pretty well, too, although we weren't surprised to see an increase in noise in the resulting photo. In addition, Nikon offers built-in red-eye removal. Ironically, we tried very hard to shoot a photo with red-eye so we could test this automatic fix, but the camera simply wouldn't cooperate, even without the flash's red-eye reduction enabled.
Custom white balance, metering and focusing options, exposure bracketing, noise reduction, and control over contrast and color saturation all add to this camera's versatility. The Coolpix 7900 also offers a good set of playback options: if you use the simple PictureProject image-editing program that comes bundled, you can resize a picture in-camera for e-mailing and mark images for automatic transfer to your computer.
At 640x480 and 30fps, the Movie mode on the Coolpix 7900 is a step above most of the competition in terms of resolution, clarity, and sound. Our test clips looked good and benefited noticeably from the camera's vibration reduction. Powered by a proprietary 1,100mAh lithium-ion battery, the Nikon Coolpix 7900 also accepts Duracell CP1 batteries in a pinch. Battery life was quite good, more than doubling Nikon's estimated capture of 220 images on a single charge. A battery icon appeared when there were about 200 shots left on a charge, but the indicator didn't seem to move much after that, so you may be taken by surprise when the battery exhausted message appears.
Overall performance was quite good, with fast start-up, decent continuous shooting, and generally fast autofocus. In extremely low-light conditions, however, even the AF-assist lamp couldn't coax the focus to lock in without a struggle. Shot-to-shot time was respectable, although flash recycling could slow it to a crawl. The 3X optical zoom, with a focal range of 38mm to 114mm (35mm equivalent) was responsive, although a bit noisy. That said, the Coolpix 7900 felt more responsive than it looked on paper.
The 2-inch LCD was very usable indoors and gained up nicely in low light. Outdoors, however, the image seemed to fade under even average sunlight, and the monitor adjustment didn't help much. The tiny optical viewfinder is slightly distorted; not surprisingly, it shows only a fraction of what you're actually shooting.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Shutter lag (typical)||Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Frames per second|
Other than the purple irises and the indoor shots without flash, the Camera's auto white balance worked well. Of course, we got better results when using the custom setting.
Detail capture was above average in most cases, although we noticed minor loss of fine detail in close-up portraits. Purple fringing was decidedly absent, with the exception of some very minor halos along the edges of flower petals. Noise levels were generally acceptable.