Monday, March 4, 2013

Nikon Coolpix A: First Impressions



And now for some thing completely different. (For Nikon, that is). New Nikon APS-C fixed lens compact camera, the Coolpix A.

  • 16.2mp
  • 28mm equivalent  f/2.8 lens
  • 14 bit NEF 
  • 1080p video at 30 fps

It looks like they've cobbled together parts from the out-going D7000/D5100 generation, and have paired it with a purpose-built lens. For most photos, 28mm equivalent is just on the cusp of "normal wide", and is more versatile than 24mm, which is albeit, more interesting. You likely aren't going to take serious photos with the Coolpix A, but you'll produce far better snap shots than most other compact cameras. The f/2.8 aperture is unambitious however. Over than a smaller size and theoretically better optical performance from the lens, there's not much of a unique selling proposition over a conventional Nikon dSLR.  The Fuji X1 and X2 have similar lens specs and have not exactly lit the world on fire. There are price considerations, but I think a f/2.0 lens should have been the starting point. A large-ish sensor fixed lens compact is a unitasking luxury in today's world; if it only does one thing, it had better do it well. Considering how many dSLR lenses cover 28mm FX at f/2.8, the lens on the Coolpix A is not going to offer anything unique shooting experience-wise.

At one time photographers were asking for a product like this, but in today's market I think the way to go is to put more than the usual into the proverbial small box. Think Sony's RX-1 full frame sensor, or the Sigma DP1 Merrill. I'm not sure that offering merely the equivalent of a dSLR sensor in a small format is enough to justify an existence.  At the very least, I think it was a mistake not to use the current generation of 24mp sensors, preferably the low-passless D7100 one. Nikon is not saving much money by using the older sensor; they could just as easily have realized some economy of scale efficiencies by sharing with either the D5100 or the D7100. I think the decision to stick with the 16.2mp sensor was a bit of short sightedness on their part, perhaps a bit too much of dSLR-centric thinking and a subconscious (or conscious) effort to preserve dSLR's as the top product in Nikon's lineup.

The $1,100 USD MSRP is a bit much. Sure, it's the same price as a D7100 with the inclusion of a lens, but in pairing down the camera to the size of the Coolpix A, a lot of expensive components like the exposure meter array and the PDAF units are eliminated as well. Remember, camera companies tend to make more money off of mirrorless cameras than they do off of dSLR's because of the cheaper cost of components. Think about that when you're shopping for an Olympus OM-D...

Also, count me as one who is a little cool to the aesthetics of the design, which is reminiscent of some of the lower budget Panasonic compacts from five years ago. My own preference for compact camera design were the Nikon' P5000/P5100, not standout cameras, but the controls were perhaps the most like a Nikon dSLR in a compact body that there ever were. I think that when held in hand, the small size of the Coolpix A will be more impressive, but it doesn't do product photos as sexy as some other cameras.

If this is following in the footsteps of the Fuji X100s, it's a wonder why. Specialty fixed-lens compacts are niche products that don't sell in volume, so it's a wonder why they have decided to chase this market when they've very pubically stated that they want to overtake their main rival, Canon, in market share. Chasing Fujifilm doesn't accomplish this. Of course, what would be more interesting is an interchangeable lens APS-C Nikon compact, but they aren't going to do that at a time when their dSLR sales are flagging. In any case, the Coolpix A will have a tough time against the Fujifilm X100s, which has the crowd pleasing X-Trans sensor and on-chip phase detection autofocus.

Strengths


  • Control layout looks functional and clean
  • 16mp sensor is a known quantity, and is still a good choice
  • Very small size
  • 18mm DX  (28mm FX) is a versatile focal length

Weaknesses


  • Price gives pause for thought
  • No PDAF
  • No VR
  • Images will not be as "sharp" as Fuji X-Trans
  • f/2.8 lens neither disappoints nor impresses
  • 28mm FX does many things well but is not wide enough for wide, and is not close enough for faces and portraits

Good For


  • A second camera / backup to dSLR
  • A quick go-to candid camera
  • A vacation camera (As opposed to adding a vacation lens to a dSLR kit)

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