The chunky design of the Nikon Coolpix P7100 may not win it any beauty pageants, but what it lacks in conventional good looks it more than makes up for in functionality.
Like its stocky main rival - the Canon PowerShot G12 - the Nikon Coolpix P7100 sports the same angular, utilitarian design as its former incarnation. Some of the other compact cameras that fall into the advanced category sport more elegant styling, but the Nikon does have its own sense of quirky retro charm.
It's tall, irregularly shaped and covered in all manner of protrusions, including numerous buttons, dials and other controls, as well as an optical viewfinder. Newcomers to the advanced compact camera category might be a little daunted by the sheer number of controls when taking an initial glance.
Admittedly the user interface does take a little longer to grow accustomed to if you're not used to having complete manual control over all of your settings, but practice makes perfect and - once you've got used to how this camera operates - you won't look back.
The solid metal body and plethora of superbly engineered, chunky dials and controls that litter the surface of the Nikon Coolpix P7100 lend the camera a robust, professional finish: it certainly feels like it's built to last. Its larger-than-average dimensions mean that it can happily incorporate generous, ergonomically-shaped front and rear grips which - in conjunction with the tactile rubberised cladding coating them - helps users to keep a firm purchase on the camera.
The top panel features the main set of controls. There's a small illuminated power button sandwiched in-between the well-stocked, chunky mode dial on the left and a slightly smaller, dedicated exposure compensation dial on the right.
The responsive shutter release sits forward of these controls and is encircled by a spring-loaded switch that powers the Nikon Coolpix P7100's 7.1x zoom lens from one end of its focal range to the other at speed. Perched on the right-hand corner of the top panel there's a small Fn2 button, which can be programmed by the user to access one of a number of different settings, helping to speed up operation.
To the left of the mode dial, the top panel slopes upwards to accommodate the porthole-shaped optical viewfinder around the back.
On top, the Nikon Coolpix P7100 features a metal hotshoe for attaching accessories, including any of the excellent Speedlight models that Nikon has to offer in its Creative Lighting System.
A further dial sits behind the camera's small pop-up flash, which sits flush to the camera body when not in use. This dial provides handy shortcuts to key features comprising image quality, ISO sensitivity, white balance, bracketing, Picture Controls and the customisable My Menu screen.
Around the back, the rear LCD remains the same sizeas the P7000's, at three inches, and sports an unaltered - but nonetheless impressive - high resolution of 921,000-dots. However, it does differ in that the Nikon Coolpix P7100's screen is now tiltable, making it more flexible when shooting high or low-angle images, as well as when filming video.
The LCD was one of the high points of the older P7000's design, and it's just as impressive today, offering a clear, detailed display and a wide viewing angle. There is a small optical viewfinder on offer too, for those occasions when conditions make using the screen tricky.
To the right of the screen you'll find AE-L/AF-L, playback, menu and delete buttons, all arranged around a large, textured four-way D-pad. The D-pad itself can also be rotated, for fast scrolling through on-screen options, settings and images in playback, while each of the directional keys offers softkey access to the Nikon Coolpix P7100's flash, focus mode, macro and self-timer options.
Above, there's a rear command dial and a button to toggle the various bits of on-screen information - including a live histogram and virtual spirit level - on or off, as well as a button to activate the pop-up flash.
The front of the camera now features a new control dial that's easy to reach and operate with your index finger, although it does appear to do the same job as the rear command dial, so we're a little baffled by its inclusion in the interface.
A customisable Fn1 button completes the Nikon Coolpix P7100's comprehensive array of controls, save for a button to unlock the metal ring that surrounds the lens housing, enabling accessories to be attached.
The level of control that the Nikon Coolpix P7100 affords over every aspect of the shooting process is second-to-none. Photographers who love to tweak and hone settings a customisable options on their cameras will have plenty to keep them occupied with this highly advanced compact.
Equally, however, when you want to take a break from the technical side of things and simply concentrate on your timing or composition, there's a comprehensive set of automatic shooting modes on offer too.