Small and lightweight, but with a 16.2-million-pixel, APS-C sensor and 18.5mm lens, the Nikon Coolpix A could be an ideal second camera for many enthusiasts. Richard Sibley puts it to the test
Nikon Coolpix A review – At a glance
- 16.2-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor
- 18.5mm (28mm equivalent) f/2.8 lens
- 3in, 921,000-dot LCD screen
- 14-bit raw capture
- ISO 100-25,600
- 4fps shooting rate
- Expeed 2 image processor
- Street price £999
Nikon Coolpix A review – Introduction
As the general public increasingly opts to take its snapshots using mobile phones rather than compact cameras, many manufacturers have been forced to rethink their approach and adapt their compact line-ups. Over the past year or so, manufacturers have been reducing the number of compacts in their ranges and concentrating instead on more specific models, such as a travel zooms and high-end models.
This new direction has been the most positive area of growth in the camera market, with a new range of premium compact cameras appealing to many enthusiast photographers. The emphasis in these cameras has been on using large imaging sensors and high-quality lenses to produce image quality more akin to that of DSLRs than normal compacts.
The most notable success has been the Fujifilm X100 and the X100S, which have 12.3 and 16.3-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensors respectively, the type more usually found in a DSLR or compact system camera. Even more impressive is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, which packs a 24.3-million-pixel, full-frame sensor into what is one of the smallest cameras of its type.
Joining the premium compacts now is the Nikon Coolpix A. Like those that have gone before, it has an APS-C-sized sensor, but in this case with a resolution of 16.2 million pixels, and a fixed 18.5mm f/2.8 lens, equivalent to a 28mm focal length on a 35mm full-frame camera. Better still, it is all crammed into a small, reasonably slim body, making it a camera that can be taken everywhere.
With such a strong specification, the weight of expectation among enthusiast photographers lies heavy upon the Nikon Coolpix A. I have been looking forward to testing it.Nikon Coolpix A review – Features
Although on the outside the Nikon Coolpix A may look like a slightly larger version of the Coolpix P330, inside the cameras are very different. The key difference is that where the P330 has a typical compact-camera-sized sensor, the Nikon Coolpix A packs in an APS-C-sized, 16.2-million-pixel unit. This is the same sensor that is used in the Nikon D7000 DSLR, a camera that has gained something of a cult status for its excellent dynamic range and low image noise at high sensitivity settings.
The Nikon Coolpix A has an excellent ISO sensitivity range of 100-6400, extendable to ISO 25,600, and if its performance up to ISO 6400 matches that of the D7000, the Nikon Coolpix A could prove to be a very popular camera – but more on image quality later.
The Nikon Coolpix A follows the recent trend for removing the anti-aliasing (AA) filter from in front of the sensor. We have discussed this at length several times over the past year, so I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say that removing the AA filter should improve detail resolution and sharpness, although it may mean that moiré patterning becomes an issue.
Nikon is obviously confident enough in the sensor and the processing capabilities of the Nikon Coolpix A’s Expeed 2 image processing engine that it does not believe moiré patterning will be a major concern.
A sensor of this calibre obviously needs a lens to match, and the Nikon Coolpix A comes equipped with a Nikkor 18.5mm f/2.8 lens, which offers the equivalent view of a 28mm lens on a 35mm full-frame camera.
As we would expect from a camera at this level, the Nikon Coolpix A has a full complement of exposure modes, including two custom modes that can be accessed from the mode dial on top of the camera. Images can be saved either in raw or JPEG format, or both simultaneously, with a maximum shooting rate of up to four frames per second.
There are, however, a few omissions that I would have liked to have seen included in the Nikon Coolpix A. First, there is no built-in electronic viewfinder, although there is an optional optical viewfinder accessory, which I will discuss in more detail later.
Second, there is no built-in ND filter. Although the lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 and not f/1.8, ND filters are quite common in high-end compact cameras and it would have been a good idea to include one in the Nikon Coolpix A.
Finally, the USB socket is not the universal Micro USB unit that is now used on many compacts and CSCs. As many mobile phones are also now charged via Micro USB, the leads required to transfer data or charge the battery are plentiful and USB sockets are found everywhere. I’ve even charged a camera using a USB socket on the back of a television in a hotel room when I have forgotten to bring a foreign power adapter with me.
While a battery charger is included, and charging via USB is slower, I think it would have been in Nikon’s favour to ditch the less common connection the firm uses and go for the more widely available option.