This is a great period to be in the market for a compact camera, isn’t it? With the way the smartphone has been creeping up and replacing the regular point-and-shoot camera, camera manufacturers know that it is rather obvious no one’s going to pay money for a basic compact that isn’t capable of doing anything that a smartphone camera can’t. Which means that basically every camera maker out there has developed, in addition to a bunch of regular (cheap) compacts, some form of advanced, specialist, out-of-the-ordinary compact camera, to stay in the game. Whether it’s a true compact with a larger-than-average sensor, manual controls, and RAW capability, or a chunky-bodied one with an optical viewfinder and an even larger sensor, or one with a DSLR-sized sensor inside a compact body, they’re all making ’em! Prices keep getting more and more affordable too! And as a photographer, this is heaven!
The advanced point-and-shoot has been around for a while – ever since the Canon S90, I’d say – but the different, game-changing style of compacts delivered by Fujifilm with their X100, and now Sony, in the form of their RX1, has brought on even more diversity in the compact camera market today, and it is this bracket that I will be talking about today, with the newest member of this ‘club’: the Nikon Coolpix A
Like the X100 and the RX1, the Coolpix A comes with a built-in, fast, fixed focal length lens, albeit not as fast as the other two, along with a APS-C sensor (the RX1 is full-frame, believe it or not!), has all the manual controls you’d expect from a camera that aims to deliver what it does, and manages to pack all this into a pretty compact body. It’s not for everyone – not many people would like a non-changeable, fixed focal length lens, and definitely not with a $1000+ price tag – but if you’re a true photographer, and especially if you enjoy shooting street life, this sort of camera will definitely catch your eye. Alright, let’s have a look at the Coolpix A a bit closer
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Specifications You Want To Know
- Body: Compact (seems to be made of metal)
- Resolution: 16.2 mega pixels
- Sensor Size: APS-C
- Sensor Type: CMOS
- Lens: Nikkor 18.5mm f2.8 (28mm equivalent)
- Image Stabilization: No
- Shutter Speed: Max 1/2000 sec, Min 30 sec
- ISO Range: 100-3200 (expandable to 25600)
- Video: 1080p @ 30fps
- Video Format: MPEG4/H.264
- Metering Modes: Multi, center-weighted, spot
- Exposure Modes: P, A, S, M, Auto, Scene, Custom (2)
- Built-in Flash: Yes
- Hot-shoe: Yes
- Autofocus: Contrast Detect
- AF Modes: Face Priority, Normal Area, Wide-Area, Subject Tracking
- Manual Focus: Yes
- Macro Range: 10cm
- Screen: 3” LCD (920k dots)
- Articulation: None
- Touchscreen: No
- Optical/Electronic Viewfinder: No
- Max Drive Speed: 4fps
- File Formats: JPEG, RAW
- Connections: USB 2.0, HDMI Mini
- Memory Card Type: SD/SDHC/SDXC
- Dimensions: 111 x 64 x 40mm
- Weight: 299g (including battery)
When you hear about a large-sensor compact, the first comparison you’re going to make is with the Sony RX1 and the Fujifilm X100 (or the updated X100S), right? Yeah. And compared to those, feature-wise, the Nikon seems about average. It’s got the APS-C sensor, which puts it on par with the X100 but below the full-frame RX1…which is nice…but its f2.8 lens puts it behind the competition, as both the RX1 and the X100 sport f2.0 lenses, which are quite a bit faster. Anyway, I’ll stop with the comparisons for now, and try to focus on the Coolpix A (hate the name, by the way) and go through the specifics – and since it’s not really fair to compare the RX1 which costs more than double what the Coolpix costs, if I make any comparisons from here on, I’ll try keep it to the similarly priced X100S
Alright, so it’s compact. It’s not a lot larger than the Sony RX100 – which means it is pocketable. To a fair extent, at least. Something that you can’t quite say for the X100. It’s even a bit smaller than the RX1, I’d say. Considering the fact that it packs an APS-C sensor in there – one of Nikon’s famed 16MP APS-C sensors, found on their awesome DSLRs – that’s impressive. The body also looks fairly cool. If not as cool as the X100S, then at least as cool as the RX1. Nice
The controls, which I will go through in detail below, look useful. A couple of control dials, lots of dedicated buttons, and the entire thing looks pretty customizable, and I like how it looks. The dials look pretty high-quality, like the ones found on the Fuji X-series, which is awesome. It lacks a control ring around the lens, though…which would’ve made it even better, and stand out more from its completion, but that’s not too big a deal, I guess
Then there’s the viewfinder. Or lack of it. Yeah, the Coolpix A decided to go in the way of the RX1 in this regard, and not in the X100S direction, meaning that it traded any sort of viewfinder for a more compact body. Fair enough, I guess. The LCD is a pretty high-res one, so I guess you shouldn’t have to worry about composing your shot – and I know there is an optical viewfinder accessory to attach via the hot-shoe if you really want one
And yeah, that’s what I got from having a quick look at this camera. I mean, there’s a lot more features and stuff, but it’s all pretty regulation stuff, right? Nothing seems glaringly amiss, nothing else seems spectacularly unique. It seems a solid camera, and on first impression it seems to sit under the Fujifilm X100S, and quite a bit below the Sony RX1. And seeing the price of just over $1000, I think that’s just as things should be
However, I’m still disappointed by Nikon’s inability to produce a fantastic compact. This one looks impressive, but is still lacking that wow factor. It’s just doing what other cameras have done, in a rather uninspired way, without making any effort to stand out, or to revolutionize. Good but not great
Controls on this camera seem fairly extensive, as I mentioned before, spread out over the top and back panels. Here’s how it looks:
The top panel has the mode dial, the shutter button, On/Off switch, and one of the control dials that appears to sit nicely where your thumb can reach it. It also has the pop-up flash on the left side of things, and the hot-shoe in the middle
The back has the rest of the controls. On the left of the LCD are four buttons: Exposure Compensation, an ISO button (which doubles as a customizable Fn2 button if you wish to change it), two other buttons which appear to be to zoom in and zoom out. I’m not sure if that’s what they do, but if so, it seems to be rather a waste of two whole buttons. Sure hope they’re customizable!
On the right side of the screen, there’s the Menu button, the Playback button, the [i] button (which loads the Settings menu), and a Delete button. There’s also a four-way directional controller which doubles as the main control dial, and a central OK button. Just below the pop-up flash is the flash-release button. That’s it
Oh, and on the front of your camera, in typical Nikon-compact fashion, is the Fn1 button. And yes, of course this is a customizable Function button and can be programmed to one of many settings. And one more control: the side of the body has a three-position switch to select your AF mode: AF, Macro, MF. And that’s about it
Yeah…pretty comprehensive, and should be easy enough to use, right? No complaints here, the interface appears to be good
Again, when I write about performance in these First Look posts, it’s about how this camera should perform based on its specs on paper, and from what I’ve read about it, and not how I actually found this camera to perform in real-life: I haven’t had the opportunity for thorough testing yet, so that would be impossible!
AF performance is something that is critical in any camera these days, isn’t it? I think so. And the Coolpix A, with its contrast detect AF system, doesn’t inspire too much confidence. Then again, contrast detect systems have been known to be getting pretty fast these days – just look at the RX100 and X20 compact cameras – and besides, the RX1 and (especially) the X100S are not known to the best AF performers either. However, I feel that this was a chance for Nikon to take a step up ahead of the competition in some way, at least…and maybe pop in a phase detect AF system or something out of the box…but no, again they seem to be happy just being on par, or thereabouts. Anyway, I can’t say just how well this AF system performs just yet. It might even perform better than the competition, but we’ll have to wait and see about that! Until now, it seems acceptable
Burst shooting is decent, at 4fps. You don’t buy this sort of camera for super-fast continuous shooting, so I have to say 4fps is adequate. By comparison, the X100S and RX1 do 6fps and 5fps respectively, so again, on par
General operation on this camera should be slick, going by Nikon’s usual standards, so I’m expecting no surprises here. In general, it’s not going to be a speed demon, and to be honest, that’s not what these specialist compacts are about. If you want pure speed, get a large DSLR – those are built for this purpose. These cameras are not. This sort of compact isn’t meant for sports photography in low light. Get one of these for discreet street shooting, where you want to get the perfect, high quality image, without being seen. That sort of thing. This camera should perform perfectly well for this sort of work. In other words, it should perform well enough to do what it is meant to do. It’s up to you to know what that is
In conclusion, this camera seems pretty good overall. If you love this large-sensor, fixed focal length compact camera concept, and you can’t afford the RX1, this is a very good option. At $1099, it’s about $200 cheaper than the X100S too.
Alright, so that means it’s a value camera. But then, take a look at the Sony RX100. A different kind of camera altogether, but just compare it with the Coolpix A for a moment. Sure, the Coolpix has an APS-C sensor, while the RX100’s 1” sensor is about a third as large. But look at the images produced by the RX100 – look at some of the images in my gallery. Can’t complain at all, can you? Not unless you pixel-peep and really make an serious effort to discover the difference in resolution and detail. No, the RX100 is an excellent performer and produces superb images – so when you put aside pure image quality based on the sensor, you realize the advantages all point in the way of the RX100. The RX100 is smaller. It’s got a zoom lens. It’s got a faster lens. It shoots faster. Its AF performance is as good or possibly better. AND…it’s around half the price of the Coolpix A
So that’s my conclusion. Is it really worth it? I’m not going to make any major statements until I actually get one for full testing, but I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with this camera at the moment. With the X100S, you’re paying for that amazing X-Trans sensor, and that wonderful hybrid viewfinder. With the RX1, you’re paying (a ridiculously large amount) for a stunning full-frame sensor in the body of a compact – as compact as the Coolpix A, in fact. With the Coolpix A, you’re paying quite a lot simply for the large sensor in a compact form. The sensor should be excellent, yes…but that’s all that I find special about this camera. So while it’s a good option if you can’t quite afford the X100S – the RX1 is out of the budget of many of us – at the moment, I’d recommend you save up the extra $200 and go for the Fuji, even though it’s a bit larger in size
I’ll try to get you a more comprehensive review of this camera as soon as possible, and there I can do away with my ifs and buts on the Coolpix A, but after checking this camera out for the first time, and after doing a bit of reading, that’s what I think about it. Good, not great. Decent value, but not superb value. Unfortunately, that’s typical of Nikon compacts, it seems
It’s up for pre-ordre now, so if you’re already convinced this is right for you, please use my links above to get one for yourself. Thanks!
Leave a comment if you have any thoughts, questions, or anything of the sort, on either the Nikon Coolpix A, or the Fuji X100S or the Sony RX1. Until next time
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By Heshan Jayakody All content in this post is my own, except images, which are from nikonusa.com