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Nikon Coolpix A review

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It doesn’t unseat Sony’s RX1 as the best point-and-shoot, but it takes darn good pictures with accurate colors and sharp resolution. Users will be pleasantly pleased.

(8 out of 10)

Pros

  • DSLR-equivalent APS-C sensor
  • 28mm fixed focus prime lens
  • Excellent low-light shooting

Cons

  • Difficult to access video mode
  • Battery life of a compact cam, not DSLR

Introduction

Small cameras packed with large imaging sensors are one of our favorite new imaging trends. And digicams with prime (fixed focus) lenses are also very cool. The new Nikon Coolpix A ($1,100) combines both of these features in an extremely compact package. But for a compact-on-steroids that costs as much as a really good DSLR, does it have the chops to dethrone Sony’s Cyber-shot RX1 as the “best point-and-shoot”?

Features and design

The Coolpix A – measuring 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.6 inches and weighing 10.6 ounces – is very similar in size to the Sony Cyber-shot RX1, the best point-and-shoot camera we’ve tested to date. That $2,800 camera has a 24.3-megapixel full-frame sensor that delivers outstanding picture quality. In the case of the Coolpix A, Nikon uses a smaller APS-C sized chip that’s similar to those found in DSLRs and many mirrorless compact system cameras (CSC). In other words, this unassuming camera offers the same quality as some those much bulkier models. Like the RX1, this Nikon has a fixed focus lens but it’s an f/2.8 28mm prime lens versus the Sony’s f/2.0 35mm prime glass. It also doesn’t have the dedicated aperture ring we liked so much on the Sony.

All things considered, we prefer a wide-angle point of view and appreciated the bit of pleasing distortion from the Nikon, but that’s not to suggest the 28mm lens is superior to the RX1’s 35mm. That’s just a personal take, but we strongly urge you to try our either camera before making a final decision, especially given the price. 

In case you missed this bit of text earlier, let us emphasize again – there’s no zooming with this baby other than using your feet. As most of us are used to having a zoom lens in a compact camera, it begs the question, Why would anyone want to give up that convenience? Compact fixed-lens cameras with large sensors are especially appealing to pros and street photographers who want a camera they can carry everywhere to quickly grab superior images, even if it means giving up a zoom lens. For the rest of us, these types of cameras are also great everyday cameras since they’re much lighter than DSLRs and CSCs but deliver the high-quality goods.

On the surface, the Nikon Coolpix A looks like many enthusiast point-and-shoots such as Panasonic Lumix LX7 or Canon PowerShot G15 but those sub-$500 cameras do not have large sensors or prime lenses. The all black (or silver, if you prefer) digicam has a nice raised finger grip on the front and some low-key logos with one indicating the DX (APS-C) chip – a moniker, usually reserved for Nikon’s DSLRs, used to suggest its advanced attributes. The key feature on the front is the retractable f/2.8 28mm lens. Unlike point-and-shoots with zooms, this lens offers a full range of aperture settings from f/2.8-f/22 when you’re in aperture priority mode. Now you can really have some fun blurring backgrounds, if you desire that effect achieved with wide-open settings. The Nikkor lens also has a focus ring to fine-tune adjustments if you use manual focus. Also on the front are stereo mics, an AF assist lamp, and a Function 1 button that can be adjusted to various preferences (flash is the default) but there are many others (burst, self-timer, AE lock, and so on).

On the top deck is a small manual pop-up flash with a tiny switch behind it, a hot shoe, mode dial, combo shutter/on-off switch, and a control dial for making menu adjustments. The mode dial contains Auto, PASM, two user-configurable settings, as well as Scene (19 options). What is missing here and anywhere else on the surface of the camera is a movie mode or dedicated red-dot video button. We know this camera is intended for serious photography but even the most hardcore user wants to take a video on occasion. (To get to video, you have to read the manual [ha!], press the “I” button, then scroll into the release mode, changing it to Movie.) This feature really seems like an afterthought rather than part of the integral design. One would hope this will be rectified when the camera is refreshed. 

The back of the Coolpix A is dominated by a fixed-mount 3-inch LCD (rated 921k pixels). It worked well in most instances but had some issues with direct sunshine until we cranked it up to +3 (0 is the default). On both sides of the display are dedicated buttons for key parameters including exposure compensation and ISO. Here is another head-scratcher: The ISO button is also labeled Function 2, so if you want to use it for another feature such as white balance, you lose direct access to ISO, a feature we imagine many photographers use all the time. Yet you can’t use Function 1 for ISO which would solve this conundrum. Go figure.

Other rear buttons include Playback, Menu, Info, Delete, as well as a jog wheel with a center OK button. Within a relatively short time you should get the hang of it but keep that user’s manual handy during your initial forays, just as we did.

On the right side is an HDMI-out while on the left is an accessory terminal and USB-out. The bottom of the Coolpix A has a metal tripod mount and a compartment for the battery and SD card (be sure to use high-speed, high-capacity media).

What’s in the box

The Coolpix A is supplied with a strap, USB cable, lithium-ion battery rated 230 shots (okay, but not great), wall charger, and a CD-ROM with Nikon’s View NX2 software for handling RAW and JPEG files. Buying a spare battery makes sense if you plan on an all-day shoot since this the battery is clearly point-and-shoot level rather than more robust DSLR or CSC ratings. The camera is also supplied with a 58-page user’s manual; you’ll definitely need it, as there are some perplexing issues with the Coolpix A as we’ve already noted.

Performance and use

We recently reviewed the Nikon D7100, a really fine DSLR. For all its pluses, the camera is very heavy and bulky. The Coolpix A, by comparison, is a featherweight, a digicam you can easily carry around without feeling like there’s an anchor around your neck. We did exactly that over the course of several weeks, during various travels through the Southwest. It was a lot of fun taking out this unassuming camera and firing away.

Nikon Coolpix A flash

Since this is a 16.2-megapixel camera, it captures 4928×3264 pixel files in JPEG and RAW. We did most of our shooting in best quality JPEG with noise reduction and Nikon’s Active D-Lighting (a feature that brings out shadow and highlight details in high-contrast images) off, just to see how it performed without these aids. We took the camera out to the Arizona desert and the faux jungles of Las Vegas. The camera is so easy to carry that at no time did we have a second thought about toting it with us everywhere.

As the lens extends upon powering up, the Coolpix A comes to life quickly and has fairly rapid response. The camera rarely hunted for focus and has pretty peppy performance of 4 frames per second with the flash off. Although it’s fast, you won’t catch a fastball for the cover of SI. The top shutter speed is 1/2000th of second, compared to an enthusiast’s DSLR like the D7100 which reaches 1/8000th. But the Coolpix A is not a pro’s first camera, anyway – it’s probably their third. For everyone else looking for a compact point-and-shoot with excellent image quality and doesn’t want to spend three grand on a DSLR, the Coolpix A goes to head of the list.

The reason we keep mentioning image quality is that we were seriously blown away by the end result. Not every photo was perfect, mind you, but colors were rich in a very natural way. You won’t find the depth you’d get from a full-frame camera but most photographers won’t notice it unless they did a side-by-side with the RX1. The Nikkor lens is very sharp, even without the help of built-in optical image stabilization. We did get a lot of unwanted blur shooting a band in a dark venue but photos taken during a performance of Blue Man Group (legally taken, thank you very much) came out fine since a blazing lightshow helped the exposure. And thanks to the f/2.8 lens we even got some shots of the Vegas Strip at night that were surprisingly crisp.

As with any camera, you’ll get your best results with lots of light and the Coolpix A is no exception. As we reviewed our images, we could clearly see the dust on the hood of an old Chevy pickup, desert sunsets had all the beauty of the original events, and cactus needles looked as nasty as ever. We tried out the Monochrome special effect on some of the aforementioned cacti and enjoyed the results. As noted up top, we like the added distortion of a 28mm lens and by underexposing a bit we grabbed some nice renderings of Vegas skyscrapers in bright sunshine.

The Coolpix A has an ISO range of 100-25,600, and thanks to the large APS-C sensor, noise was well under control up to ISO 3,200. Beyond these numbers, you’ll definitely see speckles galore but this is a solid camera for low-light shooting.

Unfortunately we found noise to be an issue during our movie shooting, even in bright light. There were some problems with jitter as we panned and the stereo mics made a breeze sound like the back-end of a plane. Colors were okay but without the richness of the stills. Now we can understand why Nikon makes it so hard to take videos!

Conclusion

The Nikon Coolpix A is another camera we have no problems recommending. It takes darn good pictures with accurate colors and sharp resolution. Besides lackluster video, our biggest hesitation is the price – especially since you can get the similar 28mm prime Ricoh GR with a 16.2-megapixel APS-C sensor that sells for $799.

You’re probably saying, “Wait a minute, the RX1 is even more expensive for a fixed-lens solution!” But the RX1 is a full-frame camera that captures amazing photos, with few operational flaws – truly a breakthrough. Cost aside, the Coolpix A has just enough issues that prevented it from earning an Editor’s Choice award, but it was close. The Coolpix A doesn’t beat the RX1 for the title, but it deserves a very respectable second place. With that said, anyone with the cash or the desire to own such a camera will be pleasantly pleased.

Highs:

  • DSLR-equivalent APS-C sensor
  • 28mm fixed focus prime lens
  • Beautiful, sharp stills
  • Excellent low-light shooting

Lows:

  • Difficult to access video mode
  • Battery life of a compact cam, not DSLR
  • Video quality isn’t up to par with stills

The post Nikon Coolpix A review appeared first on Digital Trends.

By David Elrich, DigitalTrends

Specifications

Features

  • Features : HD video recording

Release Information

  • Release Date : 3/21/2013
  • Release Price : $799.95

Design

  • Camera Type : Compact
  • Width : 4.4″
  • Height : 2.6″
  • Depth : 1.6″
  • Weight : 10.6 oz
  • Color : Black, Silver
  • Internal image stabilization : No
  • 3D capture : No

Sensor

  • Sensor size : DX
  • Sensor type : CMOS
  • Megapixels : 16.2 megapixels

Exposure

  • Exposure Compensation : ± 5 EV in steps of 1/3 EV
  • Min. ISO sensitivity : 100
  • Max. ISO sensitivity : 25,600
  • AF Points : 5
  • White Balance : Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Preset Manual

Shutter

  • Shutter speed fastest : 1/2000 sec
  • Shutter speed slowest : 30 sec
  • Self-Timer : 2, 5, 10, 20 seconds
  • Remote control support : Yes

Display

  • Size : 3″
  • Resolution : 921,000 dots
  • Touch technology : No
  • Built-in viewfinder : No
  • Articulating/hinged screen : No

Video

  • Video capture : Yes
  • Max. resolution : 1080p
  • Standard framerate(s) : 24, 30 fps
  • NTSC/PAL recording : NTSC, PAL
  • Continuous AF : Yes

Software

  • Supported video formats : MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
  • RAW support : RAW

Lens

  • Interchangeable : No
  • Support Mounts : No
  • Focal length (wide) : 18.5mm
  • Widest aperture/f-stop : 2.8
  • Optical zoom : 1x

Storage

  • Internal size : None
  • Removable storage : SD, SDHC, SDXC

Camera Flash

  • Flash : Yes (built-in)

Connectivity

  • Wi-Fi : No
  • GPS : No
  • Bluetooth : No

Ports

  • Video out : Yes
  • USB : 1
  • HDMI mini : 1
  • Proprietary : No
  • Accessory shoe : Yes
  • AV multi : Yes

Battery

  • Model : EN-EL20
  • Removable : Yes

Audio

  • Built-in speaker : No
  • Built-in microphone : No
  • Microphone input : No

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