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Nikon Coolpix A: First Look


Nikon Coolpix A: First Look

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

Nikon Coolpix A - Image from nikonusa.com

Nikon Coolpix A – Image from nikonusa.com

 

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

Pre-order the Nikon COOLPIX A from B&H Photo – Or get your Coolpix A on Amazon!

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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)

First Thoughts

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

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

Nikon Coolpix A Top Panel - Image from nikonusa.com

Nikon Coolpix A Top Panel – Image from nikonusa.com

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!

Nikon Coolpix A Back Panel - Image from nikonusa.com

Nikon Coolpix A Back Panel – Image from nikonusa.com

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

Nikon Coolpix A Front - Image from nikonusa.com

Nikon Coolpix A Front – Image from nikonusa.com

Yeah…pretty comprehensive, and should be easy enough to use, right? No complaints here, the interface appears to be good

Performance

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

Conclusion

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

Pre-order the Nikon COOLPIX A from B&H Photo – Or get your Coolpix A on Amazon!

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
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Discussion

15 Responses to “Nikon Coolpix A: First Look”

  1. Looks pretty interesting. I agree, it doesn’t quite stack up to the X100s (and definitely not the RX1), although we can’t tell how well it performs in terms of AF and general speed yet. the X100 and S are not the best in this regard either…so if it can trump the Fuji in those terms, and maybe produce something special in terms of IQ, this could be a winner. Don’t write it off just yet

    Posted by Alexander | March 7, 2013, 07:44
    • You’re right, if it performers bettre than the X100S, in terms of speed and IQ, it’s going to be a competitor. If it’s just on par, as I expect, it’s not going to make it too far. Let’s hope that it surprises me when I test it out!

      Posted by pixelogist | March 7, 2013, 12:35
  2. I agree wholeheartedly. Nikon, when it comes to compacts, just doesn’t do anything special. No effort, it seems. I’d say the same about Canon when it comes to mirrorless, and their EOS M, although at least they’ve got some very good compacts in the Powershot series.

    Posted by Hanson | March 7, 2013, 08:54
    • Yeah, it seems a bit of a half-hearted effort. Not as bad as Canon with their EOS M, but yeah, it seems the big boys of the DSLR world struggle when it comes to making quality, smaller products. The Nikon 1 series is pretty ordinary too, if you ask me

      Posted by pixelogist | March 7, 2013, 12:44
  3. Good to hear your thoughts on it. I was rather impressed at first, but reading through the details here, I find it’s nothing too special either. If it were around $800, it would’ve been pretty good value for money, but just a bit less than the Fuji, I think most people will go for the X100. If it were me, I’d put a bit more than that too and go for the Fuji X-E1

    Posted by James | March 7, 2013, 09:51
    • I can’t really say for sure how this thing performs, in terms of AF speed and general operation, as well as its image quality…but unless it’s something spectacular in both those aspects, the X100S is definitely the one to go for. At $800, it would’ve been great value for sure, but not at the current price. The X-E1 is a great option too, absolutely. Interchangeable lenses, better control layout, and so much more flexibility

      Posted by pixelogist | March 7, 2013, 12:45
  4. It’s a pretty good-looking camera, physically and on paper too, but I really don’t see the 28mm f2.8 working for me. A 35mm f2 would’ve been perfect, much like the lenses on both the RX1 and the X100S you’ve compared it to here. I find 28mm a bit too wide, 35mm would’ve been perfect. Not to mention it’s a whole stop slower than the other two. But who knows, I could end up really liking it. For now, I’m sticking to my Fuji

    Posted by Paul | March 9, 2013, 09:00
    • Yeah, I would’ve preferred a faster 35mm lens too…but I guess it’s an effort to bring something new to the market…and I don’t think many would want to buy a fixed lens camera that hand a focal length LONGER than 35mm, so they had to go wider…and I guess 28mm isn’t too wide, and can be used in many circumstances, although you might need a bit of cropping later on. It’s an interesting camera, and I’m hoping it performs very well

      Posted by pixelogist | March 9, 2013, 09:41
  5. Many are fixating on this camera’s slow aperture at 2.8 which is silly. 2.8 is plenty quick enough. This sensor is superb at high ISO. I have the X100 and it’s great but it’s not very good at f2. It’s not bad at 2.8. I do use the X100 for work and it’s reliable but I’m wary of the viewfinder shutter. It’s gotten stuck on my once already and had to be returned. I’m just not entirely convinced that the X100 or s will hold up to rigorous daily pro use in the long term. However, my experience with Nikon suggests to me that the Coolpix A will indeed go the distance. Perhaps the add on VF is a good idea in terms of pure robustness. My main cameras are still Nikon D200s. I’ve come close to upgrading on many occasions but there’s simply no need as it’s so damn good. It gets the job done and done well. I can stretch the files to 50mb and more. However, if I do get the Coolpix A I may have to upgrade the DSLRs to keep pace.

    I think Nikon could be onto something with this camera. A 23mm and 33mm version with matching VFs would make a complete system, as far as I’m concerned. Or two top class converters with matching VFs would round it out. I’d get three cameras then.

    http://paultreacy.com

    Posted by http://paultreacy.com | March 14, 2013, 03:05
    • Hmm, I’m sure f2.8 is fast enough for some, but it might not be for others. It’s definitely not a slow lens, but it’s not as fast as competitors As you say, the X100 or X100S doesn’t perform its best wide open…and i’m willing to bet the Coolpix A isn’t best wide open either, meaning you’re going to have to stop down even more to get the best out of this lens, making things even slower

      The sensor, and reliability, on the other hand, should be where the Nikon wins – definitely. However, the X100S seems to have fixed its issues, as Fuji always seems to be doing. They release initial versions with problems, but they’re quick to read user complaints and fix ‘em, though!

      The focal length is alright, and keeps things different from the rest, although I’m not sure if having different models with different focal lengths will happen. It’ll give you a choice, sure, but in the end, everyone will just be buying the one camera

      Posted by pixelogist | March 14, 2013, 06:53
  6. I actually think the Coolpix A looks fantastic! I’m definitely waiting for it to be released, and after a quick test, I just might dig out and buy it for myself! Although, yes…if it was $100 or so cheaper, it would’ve been even better, a strong contender to the Fuji and Sony you’ve compared it to here

    Posted by Harry | March 16, 2013, 18:17
    • Thanks for your views, Harry! Maybe some of us were expecting too much from it. If any of you guys feel impressed by it, don’t get put off by what people (like myself) say about what we don’t like about it. If it works for you, get it!

      Posted by pixelogist | March 16, 2013, 19:10

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