Nikon Coolpix A Review
The Nikon Coolpix A is a compact digital camera with an APS-C sensor, the same sized used in most DSLRs. This combination of small camera-size and big sensor-size is quite impressive. The sensor itself is a 16 megapixels CMOS sensor without Anti-Alias filter to deliver maximum sharpness from the bright F/2.8 prime 28mm-equivalent lens built into the Coolpix A.
This digital camera is a premium compact designed for advanced photographers. It features a complete set of manual controls with dual control-dials, a manual-focus ring and a traditional mode-dial to control it efficiently. Framing is done via a 3" LCD having 920K pixels or an optional optical-tunnel viewfinder that attaches to the hot-shoe.
The Nikon Coolpix A is built to high-standard in a durable body made in Japan. The Nikkor 18.5mm lens is matched with the APS-C sensor to give a moderate wide-angle field-of-view and encourage engagement between a photographer and the subject of his or her images.
Given how rare this type of digital camera is, this review of the Nikon Coolpix A is written differently than usual reviews here. Rest assured, the Performance, Image Gallery and ISO samples pages are all still provided.
Nikon Coolpix A Key Features
- 16 Megapixels CMOS sensor
- APS-C, 1.5X Crop-Factor
- No Anti-Alias filter
- ISO 100 - 25600, 1/3 EV steps
- JPEG, RAW or JPEG+RAW Output
- 1920x1080 @ 30 FPS 16:9 1080p HD Video
- Nikkor 18.5mm, Equivalent to 28mm
- F/2.8 - 22 Aperture-Range, 1/3 EV steps
- 10cm Macro minimum focus distance
- 50cm Normal minimum focus distance
- PASM Exposure modes
- Bulb and Time modes
- 1/2000s - 30s Shutter-speeds
- Exposure-Compensation, ±5 EV
- Flash-Compensation, -3...+1 EV
- Multi-Segment, Spot & Center-Weighed metering
- AEB, 3 Frames, ±2 EV, 1/3 steps
- Fixed 1/3 EV exposure steps
- Automatic, Preset and Custom WB
- Preset WB fine-tuning, 13-steps along 2-axis
- WB Bracketing, 3 step sizes
- 6 Picture Control Styles, including Monochrome
- Adjustable Sharpness, 10 steps
- Adjustable Contrast, 7 steps
- Adjustable Brightness, 3 steps
- Adjustable Saturation, 7 steps
- Adjustable Hue, 7 steps
- Optional High-ISO noise-reduction, 3 steps
- Optional Long-Exposure Noise-Reduction
- Optional Adaptive D-Lighting, Auto or 4-steps
- Adaptive D-Lighting Bracketing
Drive & Focus
- 4 FPS Drive, Max 32 JPEG or 12 RAW
- Self-Timer, 2s, 5s, 10s or 20s, 1 - 9 shots
- Instant or delayed Remote-Trigger
- Contrast-Detect autofocus anywhere
- Single-Shot, Continuous or Manual focus
- Normal, Wide, Face-Detect or Tracking AF
- Optional AF-Assist lamp
- Dual Control-Dials
- Exposure-Mode dial
- Fly-By-Wire Manual-Focus ring
- Customizable Fn1 button
- Customizable Fn2 (ISO) button
Viewfinder & Displays
- 3" LCD 920K Pixels 4:3 Aspect
- 100% Coverage
- MF Assist, 6 levels
- Single-Axis Digital-Level
- Interactive Status-Screen
- Optional optical-tunnel viewfinder
Body & Construction
- Built-in flash, 11.5m reach, GN6
- Standard Hot-Shoe
- Metal tripod mount
- Infrared remote receiver
- 1080i HDMI output
- NTSC/PAL output
- USB 2.0 connectivity
- SDXC memory card slot
- Proprietary Lithium-Ion battery
Suitability - What is it good for?
The Nikon Coolpix A is a highly capable digital camera. With plenty of manual-controls, including Bulb exposure, manual-focus and custom white-balance, it lets photographers be highly creative except for a crucial limitation: a fixed 18.5mm prime lens. This means that every photo from this camera shows exactly the same perspective.
The 18.5mm focal-length is equivalent to a 28mm lens on a full-frame camera, which is considered wide-angle. Working with a wide-angle lens makes including a lot in each image easy. It does, however, make it somewhat difficult to frame a cohesive whole. Filling the frame often requires getting up close and more involved with your subjects.
While everyone is free to point the Nikon Coolpix A at anything, the perspective offered by its Nikkor lens is not ideal for wildlife, sports and portraits among others. It is generally suitable for landscape photography but that depends on the location. Moderately wide vistas work well but not distant landscapes. Multiple images though can easily be stitched into a wide-angle panorama to increase the field-of-view.
While the old saying about prime lens is to zoom with you feet, in other words to move closer or further, it is a gross over-simplification of the situation. It is neither equivalent to changing focal-length nor even possible in many situations. On one hand, this can feel frustrating but, on the other, it forces more exploration of the scene to get a satisfactory photograph. Over time, one gets more and more used to knowing what is possible.
The above building is often shown from the front to highlight the complex structure of the roof. To do so with the Nikon A requires standing in the middle of the street which is not ideal. Instead, an angle was found right from the safety of the sidewalk, showing an entirely different and yet unseen view.
The most unique feature of the Nikon Coolpix A is its combination of compact size and low-light performance. This makes it extremely suitable for social occasions, nights out and low-light situations where a DSLR is too cumbersome or would attract unwated attention. Shown below, is the Nikon next to a Pentax K-5 IIs which also has a 16 megapixels APS-C sensor without anti-alias filter, yet weighs almost 3 times as much without a lens.
Capability - What can it do?
As a premium compact, the Nikon Coolpix A is highly photography oriented. It offers a traditional mode-dial with PASM exposure-modes and dual control-dials to control aperture and shutter-speed according to the mode. ISO is one button away. EC is available ±5 stops to affect exposure.
Given an ISO sensitivity range from 100 to 25600, all at full-resolution, and a shutter-speed range of 1/2000s - 30s plus Bulb, the Nikon Coolpix A can work in bright to extremely low-light. This is certainly sufficient for night photography and capture light trails from passing cars.
ISO 100 F/11 4s
The F/2.8 - 22 aperture range is typical of a prime lens. It gives moderately shallow depth-of-field when focused at close distances. Due to the short 18.5mm focal-length, it does not stay shallow beyond a metre or two. As for the narrow end, F/22 is beyond the diffraction-limit which adds softness to images. It does act as a natural anti-alias filter though! Otherwise, F/11 should be the smallest aperture to use without loss of sharpness.
The Coolpix A uses a Contrast-Detect autofocus system that can focus within a small or wide area anywhere in the frame. It can also perform Face-Detect AF which adjusts the focus-point and exposure automatically to keep a face focused and properly exposed. It even detects faces with eyes closed quite easily.
Manual Focus down to 10cm from the lens is possible. A MF Assist function magnifies any part of the image to help set focus. This is tremendously helpful as this camera has trouble with autofocus in low-light and at close distances, even with the focus-distance selector set to Macro. The MF Assist view is crisp and makes manual-focus a breeze.
ISO 800 F/2.8 1/25s - 10cm Macro
There are 19 Scene Modes that automate exposure for those unsure of using manual-controls. When it comes to exposure or White-Balance though, this Coolpix can bracket for one or the other. Three frames are captured in both cases with steps from 1/3 to 2 EV available for AEB and 3 increments for WB Bracketing.
A number of drive modes are available on this camera. The continuous drive captures full-resolution images at 4 FPS. The display shows a significant lag during continuous capture, so use of the optional optical viewfinder is needed to follow action. There is a customizable self-timer which annoyingly resets after each use. Binding it to the custom Fn1 button makes it extremely quick to set though, so this may not put off all tripod shooters.
This camera supports an optional IR remote and has a receiver for it on the front. This is ideal for self-portraits but not for long exposures. The shutter can be triggered immediate or after a fixed 2s delay. The last drive mode is Video which can shoot 1080p or 720p HD with or without sound.
The Nikon Coolpix A offers extensive image parameters. There are two types of Automatic White-Balance, one normal and one that preserves warm lighting. There are also a total of 12 presets, all fine-tunable in 13 steps along 2 axis. For perfectly neutral colors, Custom WB is offered. Image rendition is controllable in 10 levels of contrast, 3 of brightness, 7 of saturation, 7 of hue, plus 10 of sharpening. These may be skipped entirely by shooting RAW which is saved in Nikon's own NEF format. RAW+JPEG mode is available too and allows any JPEG quality to be set.
There is a small popup flash and hot-shoe for external lighting. The hot-shoe also accommodates the optional optical-tunnel viewfinder. Given the compact size of this digital camera, we suspect people are going to use the viewfinder much more than a flash.
The optional viewfinder is extremely bright and quite sharp. It has a short eye-point which shows a circular view. Corners which approximate framing are etched on the rear element. Coverage is approximate and is difficult to measure since the viewfinder shows heavy barrel distortion and parallax makes its accuracy depend on subject distance.
Nikon A Highlights
Sensor-Size: 24 x 16mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|16 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 100-6400|
|Fixed 28mm lens||Shutter 1/2000-30s|
|4 FPS Drive, 32 Images||Full manual controls|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Spot-Metering|
|3" LCD 920K Pixels||Hot-Shoe|
|Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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