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Back to Full Coolpix 800 Review
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(Sorry, full review not ready yet, only partial comments on pictures page.)

 



Nikon Coolpix 800 Digital Camera
Most of the features of the Coolpix 950, at a (much) lower price!

("First Look" review date: 27 September, 1999)

 
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1,600 x 1,200 pixel resolution
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2X optical zoom, + 2.5X digital
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Optical and LCD viewfinder
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Matrix, Spot or Average light metering
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Excellent manual focus option
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Improved power management

 

Preface
Nikon's earliest forays into the digicam marketplace weren't markedly successful, as they tried for a consumer-electronics approach, rather than one built around their core strength of photography. With the introduction of the Coolpix 900 almost two years ago though, they returned to their roots, producing a camera first and foremost for the serious picture-taker. In early 1999, they followed the tremendously successful Coolpix 900 with the Coolpix 950, a 2 megapixel version boasting a host of new features. At the same time, they came out with a scaled-down version, the Coolpix 700, which had the same 2.1 megapixel sensor, but a fixed focal-length lens and fewer features. Neither Nikon nor the public ever seemed to make much of the 700 though, and it forever lived in the shadow of its bigger brother, the 950.
Now though, Nikon is revisiting the concepts behind the Coolpix 700, this time with a dramatically full-featured 2 megapixel model that owes much more of its heritage to the 950 than to the 700. The new Coolpix 800 boasts a wide range of features that let it play very well at the upper end of today's (September, 1999) prosumer digicam market, while selling for roughly $200 less than the Coolpix 950. (List price at introduction is set at $699.) We'll be posting a full review of the Coolpix 800 shortly, but wanted to get this "First Look" up as quickly as possible, given the significance of the new camera.
Major features:
The Coolpix 800 sports a long list of features, many of which will be immediately recognizable to people familiar with the Nikon 950. Herewith a list of important characteristics, in somewhat arbitrary order of importance:

 

Where'd they cut costs? (relative to the Coolpix 950)
Given the popularity of the Coolpix 950, we thought it would be useful to begin by describing the Coolpix 800 in terms of the differences between it and the 950. (We suspect that many 800s will find homes with people who've been yearning for a 950, but who couldn't manage the price.)

What's New?
While some features have been scaled back relative to the 950, others have been added or enhanced. Here are a few of those:


Some of the Same Great Features


A walk around the camera
OK, enough feature discussion, let's take a look at the new baby: We'll start with the obligatory front view, which isn't especially interesting. The lens is on the right, and is interesting in part because it doesn't telescope back into the camera body as do many current designs. While this makes the camera harder to just slip in a pocket, the advantage is that it allows filter/accessory threads to be added to the front of the camera. - That's right, the Coolpix 800 has the same filter threads as the 950, and will accept Nikon's Wide, Tele, and Fisheye auxiliary lenses!
Other details evident on the front of the camera are the centrally-located flash tube, as well as the window for the flash exposure sensor directly below it. The viewfinder window appears just above the lens.

 

 

Looking at the back of the camera shows a very simple set of controls. The up and down arrow buttons at upper right control the zoom lens, manual focus, or menu selections, depending on the mode the camera is in, and/or what other buttons you may be holding down at the moment. The "monitor" button at lower left turns the LCD screen on or off, and also controls the on-screen information readouts.

 

 

At upper left is the viewfinder eyepiece, which has a high enough eyepiece to be usable with most eyeglasses, but which does not include a dioptric correction adjustment for vision-impaired camera users.

The top of the Coolpix 800 is where all the action is, control-wise: At upper right, you'll find the mode dial, which controls both camera power and operating mode. Available modes include Automatic Record, Manual Record, and Playback. The shutter button is positioned in the middle of the mode dial.


At center is the LCD data readout, which provides status information on a variety of camera functions, including resolution, image quality, macro focusing, flash mode, exposure compensation, manual ISO status (just an icon warning you when a manual ISO setting is active), battery condition, self-timer setting, metering mode, shots remaining at the current resolution/quality setting, and manual focus setting! Phew! That's a lot of information for a little display, but the fact it's so complete allows you to rely on it for the most common option settings, greatly reducing use of the power-hungry LCD screen.

Just below the LCD data readout is a set of four buttons that control the most frequently used camera functions. From left to right, they include the following:

 

 

 

 

 

The bottom view of the camera shows three things of interest, two of them not particularly good, IOHO (in our humble opinion).On the right is the (plastic) tripod socket, just under the lens. Two things we're less than crazy about with this. First, we're not big fans of plastic tripod sockets, as we think they're inordinately prone to damage relative to metal ones. On a positive note, the 800's socket appears to be designed for easy replacement. We're also less than crazy about the fact that the tripod socket is at the extreme opposite end of the camera from the mass-laden battery compartment. This puts further stress on the tripod socket, depending on the design of your tripod. The upside of the socket location is that it appears it may be pretty close to the "nodal point" of the lens, meaning the 800 could take good panorama shots without the need for a special tripod head.
The second thing we **really** don't like on the bottom of the 800 is the !@#! Compact Flash memory card slot. Nikon appears to have carried over everything bad about the card slot from the 950. The cover looks like the same flimsy soft-plastic affair the 950 used, which we can't imagine lasting more than a hundred or so open/close cycles. Also, the orientation of the card (see the photo below) is such that the little lip CF cards have on their backs faces toward the cover when it is opened. This makes it inordinately difficult to get your fingernail on the lip to extract the card. Finally, the bottom-mounted card requires unlimbering the camera from a tripod in order to remove the memory card. Believe us, this is a royal pain for studio work! The Nikon CF slot design brings to mind medieval craftsmen who would deliberately deface their works lest they be accused of the hubris of striving for perfection. It's hard to imagine how else a design process that produces such otherwise excellent cameras could result in such a devastatingly inadequate implementation of such a key feature. (Flame off...)

After our vitriol directed at the CF-slot designers, our readers will doubtless be pleased to hear that we actually like the Coolpix 800's battery compartment design. - We found the compartment cover easy and sure to operate, the cover latch positive-acting yet easy to operate, and batteries easy to load. - The photo below shows the cover open and the batteries bursting free from their laborious confinement. (Ok, I guess I really have spent too much time with batteries and cameras lately. ;)

Menu System

We're a little (well actually, a lot) short on time, since we only got our eval sample of the 800 a scant 3 days before the public release date. Normally, we'd try to include some screen shots of the user interface here, but the fact is that the menu design of the 800 is so similar to that of the 950 that interested readers can just tool over to that review (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/C950/C950A.HTM) to see what it looks like.
We do have one quibble with the 800's menu system though: We often found ourselves wanting to change more than one setting at a time, but each time you actually make a change, you're dumped back out to the main camera operating mode (record or playback). We'd like to see the menus set up such that making a selection in a sub-menu drops you back into the main menu screen again, from which you could exit completely by hitting the "menu" button...
Test Results

Given the very short amount of time that we've had the Coolpix 800 in our hands, our comments here will be somewhat limited. We can say though, that the 800 appears to easily uphold the image quality benchmark established by the earlier 950. Resolution, sharpness, and color are all very good to excellent, although in side-by-side comparisons, it doesn't look like the 800's lens is as sharp as that of the 950. Macro performance is very good as well, although not quite to the microscopic level offered by the 950. See the pictures page for sample pictures and comments on what we found.
See for Yourself!

Take a look at the test images from the Coolpix 800 (at this point, a limited set, although representing nearly all of our standard test shots, albeit with a trimmed-back commentary), or jump to the Comparometer(tm) page to compare its reference images with those from other digital cameras.
Conclusion

While the Coolpix 800 doesn't offer quite the range of functions of it's big brother the Coolpix 950, it sports an impressive array of capabilities that place it comfortably in the top tier of current digicam offerings. In fact, if Nikon hadn't already created the 950, people would doubtless hail the 800 as a remarkable achievement of technology. It provides excellent image quality, useful features like the unique "Best Shot Select" function, great macro and low-light performance, and a broad selection of creative controls, in a surprisingly affordable package. It's deep user interface and extensive menu system in manual mode could prove intimidating to first-time users, but in automatic mode it's as easy to operate as any other point & shoot on the market. Even novice digicam users should find it approachable and easy to use, but the camera will give them room to grow as their expertise increases. Overall, an impressive continuation of the Nikon legacy!
Reader Comments!
See what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about the Coolpix 800, or add comments of your own. (Read what's here, then add your own!)
Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a Coolpix 800 camera? If you'll post an online album of your samples with one of the online photo-sharing servicesand email us at web@imaging-resource.com, we'll list the album here for others to see!

 

For More Info:

View the Imaging Resource Data Sheet for the Coolpix 800
See the Coolpix 800 Pictures Page

Other Reviews:

Steve's Digicams Coolpix 800 Review

John Cowley's Lonestar Digital Coolpix 800 Review

Visit the Nikon home page for the Coolpix 800
Visit the Nikon Dealer Locator page to find a dealer near you!

Back to the Imaging Resource Digital Cameras Page

Or, Return to the Imaging Resource home page.


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