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My how the game has changed. A few months ago everyone was agog (and still are!) with maxi zoom cameras. Now it seems a few major makers seems to be intent on feeding the market with large aperture, fixed focal length cameras. Among them: Ricoh, Sony, Fujifilm, Sigma.
I’ve used quite a few of these and have to admit their effective use demands quite a bit of restraint and understanding. There’s no point in venturing out to a sports event with the desire to catch superb, close up on-field action; similarly, there’s no joy in banging away on animal and kiddie shots as they duck and weave in an attempt to foil the photographer’s intent; likewise, water-borne subject matter where you have little control of the camera-to-subject distance.
These specialist cameras come into their element where the photographer has complete control: portraits, people shots in general, landscapes, interiors and so on. Another use for them is to go ‘commando’ and hold the camera out from your body, roughly aiming at your target, banging away when you think you’ve caught a ‘live’ one!
Their main attraction is that the photographer can work with fewer concerns to distract him or her: no zoom to worry about (or be distracted by!); just set the aperture and shutter speed … and go shoot!
Where they really sing and dance is where the sensor is on the large side, as with this camera. Another factor (hopefully) is where the camera maker has installed an above average quality lens.
The Nikon Coolpix A has a largish CMOS sensor, in DX format, sized as 23.6×15.7mm, or nearly half the original 35mm frame.
The lens has a seven-blade iris diaphragm which avoids the artefacts captured by odd-shaped lens irises, capturing natural out of focus blurs and highlights.
The 16.2 megapixel capture creates a maximum image size of 4928×3264, enough to make a 42x28cm print. You can capture in JPEG or NRW (RAW) images at 14-bit depth.
Video? Full HD MPEG4 video at 1920×1080 pixel resolution. Due to the unusual video recording arrangement (see below), you can’t shoot stills mid video.
The magnesium and aluminium alloy body is accompanied by a small leather speed grip patch at the right edge of the body and the rear corner.
The camera is without an optical low-pass filter, so expect superior rendering performance and images with superior resolution.
The ISO range runs up to 25600, thanks to an expansion routine.
The camera has in-camera movie editing and you can save a single frame as a still JPEG image.
Nikon has taken an unusual route to external control points, some of which may take a bit of getting used to.
First up, there is a function button tucked away beneath a corner of the lens; to this can be assigned such functions as AE and AF lock, RAW capture, AF etc.
The lens itself has a focus ring which comes in to play when you select manual focus from a three position selector (other positions: AF and macro). The camera includes autofocus with manual override: when the shutter button is held halfway down and the focus ring is turned the camera focuses automatically.
Top deck: at left is the flash pop up trigger; further right is the mode dial with auto, PASM positions, scene modes (portrait, candle light, silhouette etc), U1 and U2 custom settings.
The shutter button also stands in as the power button; you swing the lever and power turns on, then you shoot, then swing the lever again to turn off the power.
Flanking the above is the command dial to cycle through menu choices.
Rear: at left of the LCD screen is the exposure compensation button, ISO access, screen zoom, screen enlargement in playback, among other options.
To the right of the screen is replay, menu, four way jog dial, an ‘i’ button which takes you into an information display of current settings.
I have to say I did not find the whole arrangement intuitive. To get my head around some of the functions took a careful study of the manual.
For example: there’s no red video record button. To shoot video you tap the ‘i’ button and choose that mode. To get out of it you enter the menu and choose single frame shooting. Far from an ideal arrangement!
The viewfinder menu is extensive and one that I had no quibble with.
To me, one of the joys of a fixed focal length lens is simplicity of use. The menu and options arrangement make life unnecessary difficult on the shooting front.
Some nice new add-ons could well heighten your experience with the Coolpix A.
One of these is an optical viewfinder DF-CP1, with a high eye point, approximately 90% frame coverage and 0.52x magnification.
The camera further supports accessories for Nikon SLRs, such as Nikon Speedlights and the GPS Unit GP-1. The wireless mobile adapter WU-1a can also be used, for easy uploading and sharing of captured images and movies to a smart device.
A good result all the way to ISO 6400. It was only when we reached above that level and the camera resorted to ISO expansion did we see evidence of noise and loss of definition.
At ISO 25600 equivalent the shots would be ‘acceptable’, depending on subject. But plenty of noise!
It took about two seconds from power on to first shot; follow-ons came in at a little over a second apart.
Very slight barrel distortion was evident at frame edges.
Quality: above average in resolution and colour quality but notice the edge vignetting in the beach shot.
Why you would buy the Nikon Coolpix A: you like the idea of a fixed focal length lens.
Why you wouldn’t: fiddly control points; I have encountered better stabilisers when shooting video.
Nothing more to say except that this one would make an excellent camera, especially when paired to a fully accessorised Nikon DSLR.
Image Sensor: 16.2 million effective pixels.
Metering: Multi, centre-weighted and spot.
Sensor: 23.6×15.7mm CMOS.
Lens: Nikkor f2.8-5.6/18.5mm (28mm as 35 SLR equivalent).
Exposure Modes: Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual.
Shutter Speed: 30 to 1/2000 second.
Continuous Speed: 4fps.
Memory: SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): 4928×3264 to 2464×1632. Movies: 1920×1080, 1280×720, 640×480.
Viewfinder: 7.6cm LCD (921,000 pixels).
File Formats: JPEG, NRW (RAW), MPEG4.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 25600 (with boost).
Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI mini, accessory.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, AC adaptor.
Dimensions: 111×64.3×40.3 WHDmm.
Weight: 299g (inc battery and SD card).
Price: Get a price on the Nikon Coolpix A at Amazon.