As consumers move away from simple point-and-shoots, many camera makers are developing more exciting compact models to entice photographers back into the fold. This is the case with the new Coolpix A, Nikon's first large-sensor compact.
Design and features
The Coolpix A is only just a tad larger than an average-sized pocket camera, at 11cm long and 6.4cm high. With batteries, it tips the scales at just less than 300 grams. Overall, the camera feels sturdy, but not too hefty in the hands, with buttons and dials within easy reach. At the top of the camera, the mode dial gives access to PASM control, as well as automatic and scene modes, plus two user-preset slots.
From the outside, you wouldn't realise that the Coolpix A has the same-sized sensor as an SLR. That's right — the headline grabber is an APS-C (DX) CMOS sensor, which is the same size as that found in SLRs like the D3200 and D5200. Beyond the obvious size similarities, the sensor on the Coolpix A is completely new. It has a resolution of 16.2 megapixels, and uses the Expeed 2 image processor like the D7000.
The unique selling point of an APS-C sensor in a fixed-lens camera is something that has only been attempted thus far by Fujifilm with the X100s, Ricoh/Pentax with the GR and Leica with the X2. The Sony RX1, though an excellent example of engineering, doesn't really compare with its full-frame sensor. Nikon Australia does not issue official RRPs, so it will be interesting to see where retailers position the Coolpix A to see if it presents a viable alternative to the X100s.
The Coolpix A, like Nikon's D7100 and D800E, has no optical low-pass filter, which means photos should be tack sharp. While the Coolpix A has a small, pop-up flash, it also comes with a hotshoe for attaching external add-on speedlights and an optical viewfinder.
Serious photographers know that the lens element is an incredibly important component of any high-end compact camera. The Coolpix A doesn't disappoint on this front, with a fixed 18.5mm f/2.8 lens (28mm when converted to 35mm equivalent), which is a touch wider than a traditional 35mm street lens. Around the lens element is a manual focusing ring, which provides a smooth feel, and at the back is a 3-inch, 921,000-dot LCD screen.
A switch on the side of the camera flicks between autofocus, macro focus and manual focus.
Unlike some other high-end compacts that come with a ring around the lens element, the version on the Coolpix A can only be used for focusing purposes — not adjusting parameters like exposure.
Fortunately, 14-bit RAW capture is part of the camera's feature set. At the time of writing, third-party programs like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop do have profiles available in Camera Raw for reading the NEF files from the Coolpix A. To make the transition for SLR photographers that little bit easier, Nikon has ported across the same menu system.
There is wireless flash control inside, plus compatibility with the WU-1a wireless controller and GP-1 GPS module.
|Nikon Coolpix A||Ricoh GR||Fujifilm X100s|
|16.2-megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor||16.2-megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor||16.3-megapixel X-Trans CMOS II APS-C sensor|
|28mm f/2.8 lens||28mm f/2.8 lens||35mm f/2 lens|
|Optional reverse Galilean viewfinder||Optional reverse Galilean viewfinder||Hybrid reverse Galilean viewfinder|
|Contrast AF||190-point hybrid AF||Contrast AF|
|3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD||3-inch, 921,600-dot LCD||2.8-inch, 460,000-dot LCD|
|30-1/2000 second shutter||300-1/4000 second shutter||20-1/4000 second shutter|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
Nikon Coolpix A
Sony Cyber-shot RX1
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
Nikon Coolpix A
Sony Cyber-shot RX1
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Using a class 6 card, the Coolpix A can snap an almost unlimited number of JPEG frames in full resolution, high quality, at a rate of 4fps. When shooting RAW, the camera is able to maintain the 4fps shooting speed for 16 frames, then slows the rate to approximately 2fps.
Note that the shutter lag time was measured using autofocus. When shooting in manual focus, there is little to no discernible shutter lag whatsoever.
Nikon rates the battery at 230 shots.
The Coolpix A gives photographers so much more latitude than other compact cameras, thanks to the APS-C sensor. In most situations, you won't find much need to edge above ISO 1600, though the option is there if needed. The native sensitivity is 100-6400, expandable to 25,600 in the high settings.
Offering excellent dynamic range, the Coolpix A copes with pretty much every shooting situation with ease. Colours from JPEG images on default settings are natural, vibrant and accurate. White balance has been tweaked perfectly to give accurate results in outdoor/natural light, as well as indoor light. In low light, there is very little colour casting, so skin tones look natural and warm.
The lens is incredibly sharp, particularly in the centre, though edge to edge, it performs incredibly well. Even when shooting wide open at f/2.8, the lens delivers excellent results. Indeed, optical performance excels throughout the aperture range. There is zero discernible chromatic aberration, which is an incredible feat and a real testament to the engineering design put into this lens.
This lens is sharp. Take a look at the 100 per cent crop (inset) to see just how this lens resolves detail, even in low light.
A small amount of barrel distortion is visible, but easily corrected in post-processing. Lightroom currently doesn't have a specific lens profile for the Coolpix A, instead reverting to the 18-300mm Nikon lens, which corrects these flaws well.
Images stay clean up to and including ISO 400, with only a small amount of noise as you approach 800 and above.
The minimum focusing distance of 50cm can be a bit frustrating at times, especially when presented with a red square on the screen — the only real indication that your photo will not be in focus. Switching into macro mode for closer shots helps quite a bit, with the minimum focusing distance reduced to 10cm. Do note that the AF system slows down significantly when using the macro focusing mode, a setting selectable from the switch on the side of the camera body.
Overall, the focusing system is a little unpredictable. Sometimes it will be quick to lock on and find your desired subject, but other times it will continue to hunt, trying to find an appropriate point. Street photographers who prefer zone focusing can use the Coolpix A without too much trouble, though there are no depth-of-field markers on the screen, only the focusing distance display.
A comparison of the Coolpix A's RAW and JPEG files, with 100 per cent crops inset.
The Coolpix A has plenty of usable detail in its RAW files, though there is more latitude in recovering shadow rather than highlight detail.
To show you just how much scope you have to recover shadow detail with the Coolpix A, the original, unedited version of this image straight from the camera had so much underexposure in the shadow area that it was difficult to see the road beneath. Using the adjustment sliders in Lightroom, the RAW files of the Coolpix A gave us enough latitude to pull out all of this extra detail, without resulting in a noisy image.
There is no dedicated record button on the Coolpix A. Neither is there an option on the mode dial. Instead, you have to change the drive mode to start recording, which is found by pressing the i button and scrolling past options for continuous and self-timer shooting. It's a curious place to hide the feature, made even more annoying by the fact you can't set the function button to have any control over movie recording.
Video quality is decent, but unfortunately limited by the camera's internal stereo microphone. It does the job, but anyone looking to get a bit more serious with recording sound will want the flexibility to mount an external mic.
Once you find out how to start video recording, you have the option to shoot in 1080p (30/25/24fps) or 720p (30/25/24fps) in MOV/H.264 format.
Exposure: 1/2000, f/2.8, ISO 250
Exposure: 1/2000, f/2.8, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/100, f/4, ISO 800
Exposure: 1/400, f/5, ISO 500
The Coolpix A won't be for everyone, especially photographers who are looking for an electronic viewfinder — or any viewfinder at all that isn't an optional extra. It also lacks the retro-inspired look of the X100s, though it is a lot more compact.
What the Coolpix A does have going for it is image and lens quality in spades. The APS-C sensor puts this camera in a league of its own, and the Nikkor lens delivers sharp and detailed images time and time again.
The one thing that stops us from loving the Coolpix A completely is its slower-than-average autofocus times. Hopefully, with a firmware fix issued by Nikon, the AF issue can be resolved, which would make this one amazing imaging device.