We were most surprised by the launch of Nikkor 80-400mm lens, but surprised in a very good way. The first thought I had was – “Finally!” And not just because it’s a long awaited lens, but because it was a lens in the first place and not yet another mildly refreshed camera. I admit that, at first, I didn’t really pay much attention to other products Nikon announced. Perhaps I should have (let me tell you a secret – I’m just trying not to be judgmental in advance). Say hello to Nikon’s first APS-C compact camera, the Coolpix A.
Nikon is, obviously, not exactly the first to launch a compact camera with such a large sensor. Sigma have their DP1 with slightly smaller sensors, Leica has its luxurious X1 and X2 and Sony had a go with a full-frame RX-1. And then, of course, there’s the equally loved as it is hated, Fujifilm with X100 and, more recently, X100s. In other words, Coolpix A has no room for mistakes if it is to beat all that competition led by Fujifilm’s excellent cameras. So what exactly does the Nikon offer? Well, it kicks off with a 16.2 megapixel APS-C sensor with ISO range of 100-6400 and 1080p Full HD video. Judging by the specs, it is likely the same unit used in Nikon D7000 camera, as well as some Sony SLT and Pentax cameras. Now, if D7000 is of any indication, that sensor is amazing. It may be several years old and, today, at the lower resolution scale of current sensors of this size, but great high ISO performance and dynamic range are a given. More than that, let’s be fair, 16 megapixels is more than enough for most situations, especially in a compact camera you’re unlikely to use for work that requires large printing. The biggest plus point Coolpix A offers, however, is it’s minuscule size. Measuring 111x64x40mm, it’s not that much bigger than other higher-end compacts, and much smaller than Fujifilm X100s. Take a look at this comparison at CameraSize.com – it really is tiny!
Interestingly, the Coolpix A has a fixed lens that’s a proper wide-angle with focal length of 18.5mm (28mm FF equivalent) and a reasonable aperture of f/2.8. The lens, as with most compact cameras, retracts into the body when the camera is turned off and makes it a very pocket-friendly piece of equipment indeed. Even when the camera is turned on, it’s very small and unassuming. Looking at the camera, you’d never guess it is capable of such a high technical image quality. In normal mode, the lens focuses down to rather uninspiring 50cm, but can do as close as 10cm in macro mode (much more like it). There’s a manual focus ring around the lens, too. Shutter speeds range from the usual 30s to a decent-for-a-compact 1/2000th of a second and continuous shooting of up to 4 fps is available. On the back of the Coolpix A, there’s a 3″ 921k dot LCD screen for shooting and reviewing images. 14 bit RAW files are supported, which more serious photo enthusiasts will appreciate. The camera weights in at as near as makes no difference 300g with the battery that’s good for approximately 230 shots.
Plenty of good points, then. I believe the Coolpix A has a chance of becoming a very good camera for street photographers – it packs a large sensor, a wide-angle lens and tiny body for candid situations. However, I fear not all is so well when you take in some of the negatives. Without further ado, let’s put the new Nikon APS-C compact camera against a competitor all current and future cameras in this class are inevitably going to be measured by, the Fujifilm X100s.
First and foremost, Coolpix A has no viewfinder. Fujifilm, on the other hand, monsters the Nikon with not one, but two – an optical one as well as current state-of-the-art EVF. I even dare say this alone will be worth the extra size and weight of Fujifilm’s venerable compact for many. I understand size is a factor, but really, Nikon, this is a flagship compact you’ve announced. Do they really want customers to pay extra for an optional viewfinder? I bet they do. Question is – will customers feel that’s fair? When Sony announced the $2800 RX-1, lack of an EVF instantly put me and many other photographers off. Nikon has just made that exact same mistake, unfortunately. Lack of a viewfinder is not all, though. There’s the contrast-based AF. It may be too early to judge, especially with Olympus OM-D putting up a very convincing fight against all the hybrid AF cameras out there, but both phase- and contrast-detect systems have generally proved to be both quicker and more reliable. More than that, Nikon was one of the first to implement such a system into their 1 series cameras. Why omit hybrid AF from their flagship compact camera that costs more?
As I’ve mentioned, the 16.2 megapixel sensor used in this camera should be extremely good. But in all fairness, the 16 megapixel X-Trans unit found in Fujifilm’s X100s is probably a little better in terms of sharpness and high ISO noise, so technical quality is not a reason to choose the Coolpix. Fujifilm also seems to offer a little more direct control and is easier to operate because of that. Looking at the paper, there’s more reasons why Coolpix A causes doubt. The 18.5mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens is both a positive and a negative of the camera. While very suitable for street and indoors photography, it’s not the best choice as an all-rounder – simply too wide for that. Fujifilm’s 35mm equivalent lens with a faster maximum aperture of f/2 is much more versatile as far as prime lenses go, and will work well with a broader range of subjects. You can almost forgive the relative slowness of the Nikkor because of its small size, but that focal length can be a blessing as well as a curse.
Finally, we come to the price. Nikon Coolpix A will set you back around $1100. I did this with a Leica X2 before, I’m now going to do it with this Nikon. Which is not a Leica, hence forgiving such silliness is even harder. One thousand one hundred dollars for a fixed-lens compact camera that doesn’t have a viewfinder. Oh, you want a viewfinder? Well, there is an optional one. It’s optical, it’s called DF-CP1 and – mind you, I’m not joking – it will cost you a whopping (suggested, meaning it may be lower) $450. Forgive my lack of self-control, but Nikon is not Leica. What are they playing at? They even claim you can achieve shallow depth of field with the lens. Seriously? A complete novice may fall for that, but for someone who has more knowledge such a statement is a little optimistic given the wide-angle of view and focus distance needed to achieve shallow depth of field. Perhaps Nikon means shallow-er?
By no means am I saying this is a bad camera. No. It isn’t. I can tell even before I’ve had the chance to use it. But I have very serious doubts it’s $1100 good. To put that into perspective, the newly announced interchangeable Sony NEX-3N, which is almost identical in size without a lens and not unbearably bigger with one mounted, will cost you less than half that and pack a kit zoom lens with it. Of course, it doesn’t even have a mode dial. But then, price reflects that, not to mention you’d be buying into a versatile system. I therefore believe there’s nothing so expensive in the Nikon Coolpix A to justify that high price, not even exclusivity as far as the whole concept of such a camera goes. Hold on. Parts of Coolpix A are made of magnesium alloy. Could that be the reason for that frankly shocking price? Right. That’s me being ironic.
Even with all that in mind, I have strong belief it will prove to be rather popular. Perhaps more so among compact-camera users than enthusiasts, many of whom would probably prefer the X100s. Let’s not pretend, seriously. Fujifilm may be even more expensive than the Coolpix when it’s not paired with that preposterously priced viewfinder, but you also seem to get much more for your money and a much more attractive package overall.
Specifications and Pre-Order Information
Here are the main specifications of the Nikon Coolpix A compact camera:
- 16.2 megapixel CMOS sensor
- Native 100-6400 ISO range
- Contrast-detect AF system
- 4 frames per second continuous shooting
- 3″ 921k dot LCD screen
- 18.5mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens with 10cm minimum focus distance in macro mode
- Battery good for around 230 shots
- Body-only weight (with battery) 299g (0.66 lb/10.55 oz), and it’s tiny!
- Priced at approximately $1100
As always, you can pre-order the new Coolpix A from our most trusted reseller, B&H, for $1,096.95 by following one these links: black, silver. But since I’ve started this rant, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this now about a Nikon compact, but if you actually buy this thing, you either have too much money on your hand, or too little sense. Given the price, this is a stupid camera.