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Cameras

Nikon Coolpix A puts an APS-C sensor in your pocket

The company adds an APS-C-size compact to its camera lineup, but how well it can compete with the X100s remains to be seen.

Nikon

This is a great time to be a photography enthusiast. With waning sales at the low end, manufacturers are picking up the pace in the upper reaches of the compact camera market, and the result is a great selection of compacts for more serious (and, unfortunately, wealthier) photographers. The latest manufacturer to deliver is Nikon, with its new Coolpix A, a fixed-focal-length lens model with an APS-C sensor along the lines of Fujifilm's popular X100 and X100s. At $1,099, however, this camera isn't for everyone, and at first glance has at least a couple of competitive weaknesses.

Relative sensor sizes

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.

During my brief chance to handle the Coolpix A, it certainly felt solid and well-designed. The manual focus on the lens ring is servoelectronic, which some people don't like, but autofocus seemed zippy enough. I wish it had a real grip instead of the single ridge on the front, though.

Here are what I consider its two strongest competitors:

  Fujifilm X100s Nikon Coolpix A Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS II
n/a
16.2MP CMOS
14-bit
20.2MP Exmor CMOS
n/a
23.6 x 15.8mm APS-C/Nikon DX 1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 6400/25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 3200/25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Lens 35mm
f2
28mm
f2.8
28-100mm
f1.8-4.9
3.6x
Closest focus (inches) 3.9 4 1.9
Continuous shooting 6fps
31 JPEG/n/a
4fps
n/a
2.5fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
n/a
Viewfinder Hybrid
Reverse Galilean
90 percent coverage
EVF
0.48-inch/2,360,000 pixels
100 percent coverage
Optional
(DF-CP1 Optical Viewfinder, $449.96)
None
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
n/a
Contrast AF
25-area Contrast AF
Metering 256 zones n/a n/a
Shutter 20 - 1/4,000 sec; bulb to 60 minutes 30 - 1/2000 sec; bulb 30-1/2000 sec; bulb
Flash Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe Yes Yes No
LCD 2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
Image stabilization None None Optical
Video 1080/60p/30p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
Stereo
1080/30p/25p/24p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
Stereo
1080/60p/50p
AVCHD Stereo
Manual iris and shutter in video n/a n/a Yes
External mic support Yes No No
Wireless connectivity None Optional
(with WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter)
None
Battery life (CIPA rating) 330 shots 230 shots 330 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.0 x 2.9 x 2.1 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.6 4.0 x 2.4 x 1.4
Weight (ounces) 15.7 (est.) 10.6 (est.) 8.5
Mfr. price $1,299.95 $1,099.95 $649.99
Availability March 2013 March 2013 July 2012
Nikon USA

On the plus side, it's relatively compact, just slightly bigger than the RX100 and significantly smaller than the X100s. It also has a larger, denser LCD display compared with the rather "meh" version on the X100s. I think the X100s' 35mm-equivalent lens is a little more practical than the Nikon's 28mm, though that's a personal preference; the Fujifilm's is a stop faster, though.

But there's quite a bit of a downside. I suspect the street price of the Coolpix A will be about $999 and the X100s about $1,099 (based on the price history of the X100), which would be pretty competitive -- if the Coolpix A had a built-in viewfinder. Nikon will be charging $450 for a relatively standard Reverse Galilean with 90 percent coverage. The X100s not only has one built in, but it's a cool hybrid one. Fujifilm's model also uses the company's OLPF-free X-Trans CMOS II and has a 9-bladed aperture for rounder, smoother out-of-focus areas, compared to the Nikon's 7 blades -- the minimum you can get away with for decent results. While the Nikon's sensor should be pretty good -- I think it's the same or similar to the one in the D5200 with some tweaks to optimize the light gathering in this design -- a lot of folks may still want to see significantly better image quality for the extra few hundred bucks over a camera with a smaller sensor like the RX100 or the Canon G1 X. And battery life? I thought 330 shots was bad for a $1,200 camera, but Nikon's rating of 230 shots is abysmal.

It'll be interesting to see how Nikon fares in this increasingly competitive market segment.

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