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Nikon follows Leica and Fujifilm in delivering a fixed-focal-length lens model with an APS-C sensor, and as I suspected when I first saw it, this camera has a couple of weaknesses given its almost $1,100 price. While it delivers great photos and reasonable performance, the feature set and design leave it in a sort of competitive limbo.
The trend toward larger sensor sizes is important, because all things being equal, larger sensors tend to deliver better quality, and manufacturers tend to surround them with higher quality parts. But the cameras are also necessarily larger and equipped with fixed-focal length, rather than zoom lenses (for better optics). At their higher prices, though, many people find that a camera with a medium-size sensor costing hundreds less is good enough.
(Aside: The Coolpix A is terribly named. "A" is an ignored word in search engines, which means when you search on "Nikon Coolpix A" without quotation marks it returns results for all Coolpix cameras. So always use quotation marks when searching for it. It's the most SEO-unfriendly name since the Pentax *ist.)
Images from the Coolpix A look great. JPEGs are very clean up through ISO 800; there's a noticeable sharpness difference between ISO 800 and ISO 1600. ISO 3200 is usable, especially if you shoot raw, but I wouldn't recommend going higher than that unless you're willing to make some compromises with respect to graininess.
The lens is extremely sharp in center for f2.8 through f8 and reasonable up through f16, but unsurprisingly soft at f22. Edge sharpness isn't quite as good; it's OK at f8 but not great at any other aperture. Its seven-bladed aperture delivers nice bokeh at f2.8, but when you stop it down a little bit. it becomes unattractively polygonal.
Exposures are consistent with no surprises. Colors render accurately, and the default color settings are very good. The Standard Picture Control boosts saturation, but not enough to shift the hues, though the higher contrast does clip the shadows a bit. The Neutral setting has lower contrast and saturation, but doesn't look flat the way you'll frequently see with neutral presets.
|Click to download||ISO 100 ||ISO 800 ||ISO 3200|
While video looks fine for short vacation-type clips, there are lots of edge artifacts and more clipping than I like in the shadows and highlights, plus, of course, there's a need for some form of external stabilization as there's none in-camera.
The camera's performance ranks as typical for this class of camera -- that means a mixture of adequate and annoying. For some inexplicable reason, Nikon defaults the Coolpix A's JPEG settings to Normal (1:8) compression instead of Fine (1:4); there doesn't seem to be any performance differential between the two settings for both individual stills and burst, so I'm reporting the results for Fine (which is the setting you should be using anyway, if you're shooting JPEG).
It takes about 1.6 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot, and about 0.7 second to focus, expose, and shoot under either bright or dim conditions. All are comparable to its competitors, as all of them have lenses and AF systems that hunt or drive slowly. Its shot-to-shot time is very good though -- 0.2 second for JPEG and 0.3-second for raw -- in part because the lens doesn't reset to some home position after shooting. It rises to 1 second on average with flash enabled, but it varies wildly (my results ranged from 0.9 second to 2.15 seconds).
The camera also has zippy burst shooting. It can run for at least 30 frames (with a fast 95MB/sec card) for JPEG at about 4.1fps; raw burst slows from 4.2fps at 17 shots, which is a really nice buffer for a camera in this class.
LCD visibility in bright sunlight is reasonably good, but still, I wish it had a viewfinder. Plus, the battery has a relatively short life.
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
Design and features
Though it's all metal and well built, shooting with the Coolpix A feels very much like a typical point-and-shoot. In fact, the biggest part of the experience was surprise. The first time I was out with it, I was convinced that everything would be poorly exposed and out of focus; I was completely surprised upon downloading the photos to see they were sharp, in focus, and technically quite good.
The grip is a small, raised strip inset from the side. In conjunction with a small, rubberized thumb rest on the back, there's sufficient leverage for single-handed operation.
Despite incorporating a 28mm-equivalent, fixed-focal-length lens, the Coolpix A extends and collapses the lens like a zoom. Although that adds some performance overhead, the trade-off is an integrated lens cover; that's a nice change from models like the X100S.
On the camera top is a standard mode dial with the usual manual, semimanual, and automatic modes, plus two user settings slots, along with an adjustment dial. Though Movie is also a separate mode, you get to it in the Drive Mode menu instead of via the dial. Neither is a terribly convenient place. The popup flash is a fairly unimpressive fixed (as opposed to tilting) version.
The back has a fairly typical layout, with an "i" button to bring up access to frequently-used settings. The multi selector dial is quite nice and easy to control precisely, but seems underutilized; disappointingly, the navigation buttons can't be programmed for direct feature access.
As you'd expect, there's a lens ring for manual focusing which feels reasonably precise for a servoelectronic operator. Though you can call up a magnification window, there's no manual focus peaking.
I like the placement of the three-position switch for selecting focus modes, but find it requires concentration to get to the middle position (macro) without sliding past.
|Fujifilm X100S||Leica X2||Nikon Coolpix A||Sony Cyber-shot DSC- RX1||Sony Cyber-shot DSC- RX100|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||16.3MP X-Trans CMOS II||16.2MP CCD||16.2MP CMOS||24.3MP Exmor CMOS||20.2MP Exmor CMOS|
|23.6 x 15.8mm||23.6 x 15.8mm||23.6 x 15.7mm||35.8 x 23.9mm||1-inch|
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp)||ISO 100 - ISO 12500||ISO 100 - ISO 3200/ 25600 (exp)||ISO 50 (exp) / ISO 100 - ISO 51200 / ISO 102400 (exp, via multishot NR)||ISO 100 - ISO 25600|
(35mm-equivalent focal-length multiplier)
|28 - 100mm|
|Closest focus (inches)||3.9||11.8||4||7.9||1.9|
|Continuous shooting||6fps |
31 JPEG/ n/a raw
(burst available only with focus and exposure fixed at first frame)
(raw + JPEG)
(5 fps with fixed exposure)
(10fps with fixed exposure)
90 percent coverage
0.48-inch/ 2,360,000 dots
100 percent coverage
0.5-inch/ 2,359,000 dots
100 percent coverage
|25-area contrast AF||25-area contrast AF|
|Shutter||20 - 1/4,000 sec; bulb to 60 minutes||30 - 1/2,000 sec||30 - 1/2,000 sec; bulb||30-1/2,000 sec; bulb||30-1/2,000 sec; bulb|
|LCD||2.8-inch fixed |
|3-inch fixed |
|3-inch fixed |
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
|Image stabilization||None||None||None||Electronic (movie only)||Optical|
|1080/60p/ 30p |
H.264 QuickTime MOV
|None||1080/30p/ 25p/24p (max 18Mbps) |
H.264 QuickTime MOV
|AVCHD: 1080/60p/ 50p @ 28Mbps; 1080/60i/ 50i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1080/24p/ 25p @ 24, 17Mbps |
|Manual iris and shutter in video||Iris only||n/a||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Optical zoom while recording||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||Yes|
|External mic support||No||n/a||Optional |
(with WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter)
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||330 shots||450 shots||230 shots||270 shots||330 shots|
|Dimensions (WHD, inches)||5.0 x 2.9 x 2.1||4.9 x 2.7 x 2.0||4.4 x 2.6 x 1.6||4.5 x 2.6 x 2.8||4.0 x 2.4 x 1.4|
|Weight (ounces)||15.5||12.2 (est.)||10.5||17.6||8.5 (est.)|
|Mfr. Price||$1,299.95||$1,995 (est)||$1,099.95||$2,799||$649.99|
|Availability||March 2013||August 2012||March 2013||November 2012||July 2012|
The camera's feature set ranks as sufficient, but not outstanding. It does have an intervalometer, a Nikon-standard feature that few other manufacturers ever include (off the top of my head, only Pentax does). While it offers bracketing up to two stops in 1/3-stop increments, it's only for three shots. There are no live special effects, only post-processing effects, no panorama (not even a panorama assist), and no built-in neutral density filter. As with its compeitors, there's a bayonet mount for add-ons, though it looks like the only currently available lens accessory is a lens hood.
While the Nikon Coolpix A delivers excellent images and is a fine camera, unless you're a real pixel-peeper I'm not sure it's sufficiently better to merit a $400 premium over the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 for a lot of folks. The Fujifilm X100S at least offers a great viewfinder and unique manual-shooting experience that makes it stand out for the not-insubstantial price difference. I'd watch for the price to come down on this one.