Let me make it clear: this is a real-world review, based on my personal opinions (right or wrong) and on visual evaluations of the files. No test charts involved here, no MTF measurements. As for the photographs, they are out-of-camera jpgs (I don't shoot RAW anymore, so I'm not interested) viewed on a calibrated LaCie 321 monitor. This review only refers to the specimen in my possession.
Keep in mind that my approach to the P7000 is deeply biased by my two-years positive experience with the Canon G10. Therefore as soon as I unboxed the Nikon I could't help noticing that it weighs less than it looks. I was expecting a sturdy and rugged unit like the Canon. As a matter of fact most authoritative experts and reviewers have pointed up in the last weeks that the P7000 is almost a clone of its rival Canon G11, since both share the same sensor and size, as well as most features and specifications. Somebody even ironically calls it "Powershot P7000".
The lesser weight is easily explained: whereas the top and the front plates are metal made, the bottom and the back are pure plastic. I know, it should be called "polycarbonate", but I'm totally allergic to all those press-release-style euphemisms, like "globalization" instead of exploitation, "new economy" instead of piecework, "creative finance" instead of fraud or "outsourcing" instead of subcontract. Fact is that despite its semipro-compact ambitions, the P7000 feels slightly plasticky. The three knobs on the top don't click firmly enough and tend to get inadvertently rotated, the wheelpad on the back is flimsier than in a $ 200 point&shoot and the battery/card compartment cover is simply shameful. Briefly a very good design, both ergonomically and aesthetically (the camera is indeed goodlooking), spoilt by inadequate materials and manufacturing. Paradoxically, the P7000 lacks the gorgeous ruggedness of the Nikon pro and semipro DSLRs, and inherits the poor and unreassuring tactile experience of the Canon semipro and entry-level ones.
As soon as the "on" button is pressed, the unit is ready to shoot. And the 921.000 dots lcd monitor is a real treat: big, clear and crisp enough to venture a picture evaluation. Menus are well organized and easily understood, as usual at Nikon's. Nothing to do with the insane and obscure literature found in Canon's G series. The viewfinder is definitely more accurate than the one of my G10, but the latter is bigger and slightly clearer. The three control knobs are clever and very well positioned. Especially the exposure compensation dial: your forefinger and thumb naturally "fall" on it, making the expose-to-the-right job an easy task. By the way, whereas the istogram remains visible after focusing, the (very welcome) electronic spirit level inexplicably disappears. I don't know about you, but I definitely don't have a steady hand, so I'd find a permanent level really helpful. I hope this issue will be addressed in an upcoming firmware update.
Speaking of focus, the P7000 has big troubles in focusing on bright sunny surfaces, even when they are well textured. In my one-day test, I experienced at least one focus failure over eight attempts. Three times the LCD screen got gray and a warning appeared to advice me that the lens was getting re-initialized. I have never seen anything like that before. It's a fault that Nikon MUST take care of. All the more so because, this shortcoming apart, the P7000 would be a fast and reactive camera, very suitable for street photography.
What about picture quality? A camera is all about taking photographs, after all. Well, the Nikon P7000 delivers too contrasty images with a low noise level. In my opinion (I'm not an engineer) the overcontrast is due to an inherent lack of dynamic range. I noticed that the exposure meter has serious troubles in keeping the highlights within the clipping threshold. In other words, to avoid highlights burning, I had to underexpose (up to 1 IL and more) most of the shots I took during the test, whereas the G10 easily managed the same shots with no tweaking. Of course the underexposure caused a severe darkening of the lowlights. As I said, noise is low enough, and has that pleasant Nikon "feeling": it's more luminance than chroma, and looks like film grain. The (optional) geometric distortion in-camera correction is nothing less than effective, and the lateral chromatic aberration is superbly controlled (G10's LCA is inexcusable). The corners too obviously lack crispness.
My conclusion: at its pre-Photokina introduction the P7000 looked very promising to me. Does it match those expectations? Frankly, no. Despite its being two years behind the competition, it's an unaccomplished product. And an overpriced one, too. If a Canon G11 is sold for $ 460, the P7000 is worth no more than $ 350. Too bad for Nikon and, most of all, too bad for buyers.