We are all greedy bastards! We want the best of everything but don’t want to pay the price.
For us photographers, it means we want big sensor camera which captures fantastic image but we don’t want to carry a big and heavy camera! Maybe that’s why the mirrorless cameras have become so popular these days. But while the mirrorless cameras are smaller than DSLRs, the one with large sensor still aren’t that small. So the camera manufacturers are also putting large sensor into their compact cameras. The Nikon Coolpix A is what Nikon has created for those of us who wants a camera with excellent image quality but compact enough that can fit inside your pocket.
I was quite surprised when I saw the Coolpix A at the Nikon NZ office. Despite the large APS-C sized sensor and the f/2.8 lens, the camera is roughly the same size as a lot of small sensor compact cameras. It is a lot smaller than the P7700 (which has a much smaller sensor) which we played with recently. It is a lot smaller than the other large sensor compact that I’ve seen/used previously, such as the Fuji X100, Sony RX1…etc
The Coolpix A has a metal body, it feels very solid and high quality. No cheap plasticity feeling at all. While the camera doesn’t have a large grip, it still feels reasonably comfy and safe when you hold the camera with one hand.
The camera uses the EXPEED2 processor, not the most powerful EXPEED3, but it is still very responsive. Switch on the camera and you can take photo within a second. The menu and dials responds very quickly, you don’t feel the camera is lagging behind when you quickly press the buttons or rotate the dials. The menu and button layout is very similar to Nikon’s DSLR, so if you are a Nikon DSLR user, you don’t need to read the manual and you should be able to figure out how to use the camera and change most if not all the settings immediately.
The autofocus system is not as fast as the Nikon 1 or Olympus OM-D E-M5 (both are very fast), but I won’t call it slow either. With a 28mm equivalent fixed lens, I don’t think anyone is going to shoot sports or motor racing with the Coolpix A. So for other kind of photos, the autofocus system should be good enough. The camera’s manual focus mode is very simple, but also quite easy to use by rotating the large focus ring on the lens.
The camera’s maximum shutter speed is only 1/2000s. Fortunately the ISO can do down to 100, so very rarely you will overexpose because you are limited by the 1/2000s shutter speed.
Just like the old Nikon 28Ti, the lens on the Coolpix A is simply superb. The camera captures very sharp photos with lots of fine details, even at the corner. That’s partly thanks to the anti-aliasing filter-less sensor design. Traditionally the AA filter was added to minimise the nasty moire effect, interestingly while the Coolpix A doesn’t have an anti-aliasing filter, it doesn’t seem to suffer much from moire effects.
Even without Nikon’s famous Nano coating, there is very minimal lens flare when shooting towards a bright light source and the contrast remains reasonably good. Barrel distortion and CA are also minimal. The 28mm equivalent focal length means the Coolpix A is not really a bokeh machine. But when you are shooing close up objects, the background bokeh is beautiful and smooth. I do noticed there is a moderate amount of vignetting especially at wide open but luckily that’s pretty much the only problem I can find with this 28mm equivalent lens.
With a large APS-C sensor that is very similar to the one from the D7000, there really is no surprise when I tell you the camera’s high ISO is very good. All the way up to ISO 3200 the image quality is still very good, ISO 6400 is not too bad and with a bit of noise reduction and post processing, even ISO 12800 is usable when you are shooting in very dark environment. Definitely don’t try that with your small sensor compact cameras!
The camera’s auto ISO mode is similar to the one on the latest Nikon DSLR. My minor complain is that you can’t adjust exposure compensation when you turned on Auto ISO in manual mode.
While I haven’t done much direct comparison, I believe the image quality from the Coolpix A is at least as good, if not better than an DX DSLR paired with a mid level lens. You can mount a pro level lens on a DX DSLR and get better image quality, but the size and price will both be a lot more than the little Coolpix A.
The Coolpix A has an internal flash, a tiny one but it can be used as fill-flash effectively. It also has a standard hotshoe so you can use the normal Nikon speedlights with the Coolpix A. Just for fun, I tried mounting a SB900 onto the Coolpix A and took some photos at a wedding. The images look pretty good. But it looks really funny and unbalanced as the SB900 is a lot more heavier than the Coolpix A! So if you do want to mount an external hotshoe flash, something like the SB400 or SB600/700 would be the much better choice.
I am a big fan of viewfinder. Whether the camera has a viewfinder or not is one important factor for me when I pick a camera. I was a bit disappointed when I heard the Coolpix A doesn’t have any built-in viewfinder. (But there is an optional external optical viewfinder). Thankfully the 3” LCD screen is probably one of the brightest LCD screen I’ve ever used. Even on a very sunny day, the LCD screen is still highly usable. So after using the camera for about a week, I kind of feel it’s ok to not have a viewfinder on the camera.
I know a lot of traditional photographer may not agree with me on this, but I do hope Nikon can make the LCD a touchscreen. I want to use the touchscreen to change the autofocus point quickly by touching the LCD screen. I think it would be especially helpful for street photography. (Nikon please consider it if you are reading it )
While most of the camera features are quite nicely designed and integrated into the camera, the video mode seems really like a last minute feature. There is no direct video recording button. And there is not even a video mode in the mode dial. You have to go into the menu system to switch the camera to the video recording mode. (and do the same thing to switch it back to photo mode). Also for some strange reason, the manual focus mode is disabled during video recording. But While the video mode really could be better implemented, I don’t think it is a big problem. Most people will buy the camera because of it’s exception image quality and compact size. If someone wants a lot of features, he would have bought a Nikon 1 instead.
Coolpix A is Nikon’s first large sensor compact camera. Nikon designed this camera with one clear goal, exception image quality inside a compact body, and they definitely have delivered that with the Coolpix A.
– Truly pocketable large sensor camera
– Excellent Image quality, as good as your APS-C DSLR! (that is if you are not using your kit lens on your DSLR)
– Very Responsive
– Good build quality
– Excellent LCD screen, makes lack of viewfinder a smaller problem
– Autofocus is not as fast as some other compact/mirrorless camera
– No built-in Viewfinder
– No direct access movie mode buttons/dial.
All sample photos are RAW file converted to JPG (adjusted to taste) using Adobe Lightroom
Reviewer: Richard Wong
Richard is an award winning wedding/portrait Photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo magazine. (www.dphoto.co.nz)
Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard
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