Coolpix 7900 Low light problems

filbert

New Member
I'm interested in the Nikon Coolpix 7900 but at least 3 of the reviews that I have checked claim that this model has serious problems in focussing indoors under lowish light conditions. It would seem that the 7900 does have a problem here and as I take a fair number of indoor pictures of my grandchildren, I'm afraid that it is moving to the bottom of the my list of candidate cameras. Are there any comments on this?
 

lnbolch

Well-Known Member
A D2X with a f-1.2 lens will certainly focus a lot faster and more positively than any compact - it also costs ten times as much. However in many cases, low light focus speed is not much of an issue, as long as it does not lock up the camera until it decides it is in focus, before tripping the shutter.

These are tiny sensors and very short focal length lenses, even compared to 35mm. With large format cameras, we routinely shoot at stops of f-22 to f-64, and some lenses even have f-128. We do this just to get usable depth of field with these very large lenses.

When shrunk to compact digital size, the problem becomes being able to blur ANYTHING! For someone used to isolating a head in a crowd via a long lens and large aperture, it is a bit discouraging to find everything from the dust on the front element to the horizon sharp and clear.

My CP8400 allows me to over-ride the auto-focus, and it will take a shot every time I press the shutter release whether it thinks it is in focus or not. I don't recall every having an out of focus picture with either of the two preceeding cameras either - a CP990 and CP5000. I simply rely upon the extreme depth of field.

I have had many people send me shots where the user blamed the camera for lack of focus - specially the CP5700. In every case it was a matter of camera movement.

With their tiny size and minimal mass - well under 200 grams in this case - it is very difficult to hold these cameras still at low shutter speeds. Even your pulse can generate motion blur. Of course there is almost always something to rest the camera on, or steady your hand, but it does not occur to most to do so. It seems a bit counter to put a minute camera on a huge tripod, but that is the best solution.

Coolpix cameras do have a unique feature that really helps - Best Shot Selector. It is of no use for decisive moment photography, but can be a real picture-saver in other situations. It shoots a burst of up to ten shots, compares edge contrast and picks the sharpest. It really works. I recently did a series of street and interior shots in low light using ISO50 for maximum quality. Shutter speeds were very low and people were walking through the scenes. Very few images needed to be deleted due to motion blur.
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I might add that even at the telephoto end of the zoom, depth of field covered any focusing errors. I simply ignored it. At the wide angle end, depth of field is enormous. See "From Pansy to Infinity" well down the page at
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This was using the wide angle component with the old CP5000, and you will see that everything from a flower about an inch and a half from the lens to the trees in the background is tack sharp.

The best way to shop for one of these cameras is in person - hands on in a camera store. Most of the complaints I have read in the forums could have been avoided had the buyer actually handled and compared cameras. Buying on line may save a little money, but the cost in frustration can more than nullify the savings.

The CP7900 and its competitors are good cameras, but some may fit your hands and way of working better. The user interface is far more important than low light focusing speed. Can you learn the camera in a couple of hours with manual and camera in hand, or is it going to take days of practice and reading? Are the controls convenient, do they lend themselves to being accidentally changed? Do they have so much fail-safe protect-you-from-yourself that the camera becomes a real hassle to use?

larry! ICQ 76620504
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tomh1958

[I have had the 7900 since Mid July. It does have a focus assist light for low light/contrast photography. It has taken some beautiful pictures, indoors and out but you have to use the Nikon software or possibly someone else's to really bring it out. My other digital, an Olympus 3030 was more straight-forward, what you shot you got. But the 7900 with the software is much sharper and vibrant. The only out of focus shots I have had are scenes where the center of focus was not where it should have been locked and low contrast scenes at night with movement. Niagara Falls for ex&le. But a tripod would of help there. Good luck with whatever you choose.]
 
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tomh1958

[Larry, What camera were the Las Vegas scenes taken with? I saw them on a previous visit to your site but did not realize they were made with the best shot selector. I haven't used that feature yet; hadn't gotten far enough in the manual to want to put off using the camera. Lol As always, excellent shots. Tom]
 

lnbolch

Well-Known Member
They were taken with my CP8400. On the interiors, I used the WC-E75 lens component - 18mm equivalent. The stuff on Fremont street at night was shot with the bare built-in lens.

I used a monopod wherever possible. BSS is neat in that it will spot both camera movement and subject movement. Of course, I could have just set the camera on continuous, shot a series and the eliminated all but the sharpest, squandering great quantities of card space. However, after using the feature on the previous cameras as well, I have learned to trust it. The shots were generally between 1/10th and half a second, so it certainly did its job.

The other feature that gave the Las Vegas images and edge was knowing how to process RAW effectively. It forms a partnership with Photoshop, allowing you to bypass the camera's processing. Photoshop's Camera RAW loader is a superb selection of tools that lets one extract the most out of RAW's 12-bit per channel format.

All were exposed to preserve all significant highlight detail, and at first glance look severely under-exposed. RAW allowed me to hold the highlight detail in my processing, while pulling up all the shadow detail that the extended bit depth provides. Where I shot in mixed light, I was able to colour balance each area individually, and layer the resulting images together to provide an ideal overall balance.

In essence, exposure and processing are a single act when using RAW - there is no line dividing where one lets off and the other begins. I knew precisely what my approach was to be well before I began my journey. The exposures were done to provide the best possible material to start with, and I believe the images show it well. The CP8400/RAW/Photoshop symbiosis provides a level of control that I could not have dreamed of in film and fume-room days.

On any of these cameras, it is well worth your time to go through the manual from start to finish, with camera in hand, trying the stuff on each page. Review it again a couple of months later to find what you missed. They are complex digital devices, loaded with good stuff. The only way to find and exploit these features is by reading while practicing.

larry! ICQ 76620504
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tomh1958

[Larry, you have certainly got me to go back to the manual. Also, I guess I need to get Photoshop and learn it as well. I have Photoshop lite and do not know half of the stuff in there really.]
 

lnbolch

Well-Known Member
Photoshop is more expensive in time than in money. It is an industrial-strength program of vast power, and after nearly two decades of image processing, I am still learning. If I lost access to Photoshop, I would probably stop shooting.

A less drastic step might be to consider Photoshop Elements. I have not seen the last two versions, but I understand that they do most of the essentials. The learning curve may not be quite so formidable, and the price is certainly a bunch lower. In any case, either camera or software is only as smart as the person using it.

This is not to say that it takes years before one can do anything productive in Photoshop. It is in fact just a tool box, with a simple place to work. I doubt that anyone knows ALL of Photoshop, and it is not necessary to even know much to get started. Most of the tools can be mastered just by playing with them to see what they do and how they do it. I did an introduction to image processing some years back on my site.
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I really need to redesign it to be more in the style of the rest of the site, but the information from back then is every bit as valid today. It covers the basic tools that one uses on every image.

larry! ICQ 76620504
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