The CoolPix 8800 may look like a pretty similar successor to the 8MP 8700 model, but the styling similarities are deceptive because this is quite a different camera.
The first thing you notice is that it's altogether larger than the 8700. It's still a comparatively compact camera for an 8-megapixel model, especially one with a zooming range as long as this one, but the increased zooming range (10x versus 8x) and the vibration reduction system add to the camera's overall depth.
The lens offers a focal range equivalent to 35-350mm, and the VR image stabiliser system enables you, Nikon says, to shoot at shutter speeds up to 3x slower than normal. This will be a big advantage for the longer-range telephoto shots this camera is capable of, where the effects of any camera shake are magnified considerably.
These specifications would appear to make the Nikon perfect for action and sports photography, but it's not quite that simple, alas. No doubt because of the sheer size of the 8-megapixel files and the processing power they require, the Nikon can only shoot at 1.2fps at full resolution, or 2.3fps with the display blacked out.
There are other problems. Higher resolutions mean smaller pixels, which means lower signal-to-noise ratios. The result is that the Nikon, like other high-resolution compacts, suffers from increased noise levels even at what today we'd consider modest ISO ratings. At ISO 50 or ISO 100, the 8800's images are super-smooth. At ISO 200 or ISO 400, however, noise levels are becoming obtrusive and image definition is reduced.
You'll be glad of the 8800's vibration reduction system, then, because it will enable you to shoot at lower shutter speeds and, as a result, lower ISO ratings. But then the maximum aperture of the lens drops to f5.2 at its longest zoom setting.
This dampens the 8800's appeal somewhat. It'll be good for long-range wildlife shots, but action photography isn't its forte. Indeed, the camera's responses overall are on the leisurely side. A three-second start-up time, average AF speeds and unhurried zooming mean that it's more likely to suit photographers who've got time to consider and compose their shots rather than those who like to shoot from the hip.
There's no shortage of photographic control for those people who need it. A full set of PASM exposure modes can be accessed from the main mode dial, and there's also a selection of scene modes to keep snapshotters happy. A control wheel on the back of the camera helps you adjust shooting settings quickly, though a second wheel would have been useful for manual mode - as it is, you have to press the Func button on the top of the camera to swap control from lens aperture to shutter speed.
Unusually, the CoolPix's mode dial also has settings for white balance, ISO and image size/ quality. This makes these settings much easier to get to, which is welcome since white balance and ISO especially are two options you often want to change.
This means you'll need the main menu system less often, though this too has benefited from a creative design rethink. By default, pressing the menu button displays a singlescreen 'My Menu' screen with specially-selected menu options - you can choose what these are via the camera's Setup menu.
To access the full menu system, you have to scroll right to the bottom and activate that option. It seems fussy and confusing at first, but makes a lot of ergonomic sense later on.
As we said at the start, the 8800 is bigger than the 8700, but it's still not big in absolute terms. This camera falls into that awkward territory occupied by so many compacts where it's not quite small enough to be fitted in a pocket, and not big enough for easy handling.
The image quality is quite superb, and about the best you'll see from any of the 8MP models on the market. Detail rendition is excellent, but so is the colour fidelity, saturation and contrast. There's slight fringing round highlights and high-contrast detail near the edge of the frame, but it's less prominent here than in most non-SLR models and you have to look for it to find it.
The CoolPix 8800 is a very impressive long-range zoom model, and it's flexible and photographically powerful, too. But it needs to be quicker at processing images (saving RAW files takes several seconds, during which time the camera is unusable) and to have a better continuous-shooting speed to realise its full potential. Rod Lawton