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||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
- 220.127.116.11.4Nikon Coolpix A
- 18.104.22.168.5Sony Cyber-shot RX1
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
- 4Nikon Coolpix A
- 3.2Sony 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.