Digital Cameras - Nikon CoolPix 950 Test Images
(Original test date: 2/14/99, all images updated 5/30/99 from full production model)
(780k) The outdoor portrait shot captured by the CoolPix
950 shows excellent color and truly exceptional detail (as you'd doubtless
expect from a true 2.1 megapixel camera.) Our main
shot (780k) here was taken with the exposure compensation
dialed-up by 0.7 EV units. As is usually the case with this test, the light
background and overall high-key subject tends to trick camera exposure systems
into underexposing somewhat. With Nikon's matrix metering though, even the
default exposure (825k)
came out not too far from the mark. (Actually, while we chose the +0.7EV
sample for our main selection here, due to its bright color and overall
good tonal balance, this +0.3EV shot (847k)
actually did a much better job of preserving highlight detail.) Shadow
detail is excellent, flesh tones natural, and the reds and greens of the
bouquet in particular are very good. The only fault we can find in the rendering
of this shot is that the blue tones of the flowers and the model's pants
have a bit too much red in them: Depending on the vagaries of your particular
output device, they may print more toward purple than the blue of the originals.
(Blues seem to be particularly tricky for digital cameras to handle: Blue
actually is a combination of cyan and magenta in the subtractive-color world
of printers, and even a slight miscue on the tonal balance can produce a
significant difference in the output.) On the plus side, rendition other
colors in this shot is very good, and there's no hint of the blue-channel
pixelation we observed in the earlier CoolPix 900.
For those interested in studying the subtleties of tonal adjustment, we've provided a range of shots taken with no correction, +0.3 EV, and +0.7 EV.
||Closer portrait: (780k) WOW! That's detail! The CoolPix 950 consistently impressed us with its exceptional resolution and detail: In this shot, some cameras are prone to obscuring the hair texture, due in part to the detail-erasing effects of the JPEG compression. Not a hint of it in this image from the CoolPix 950, however!|
portrait, flash: (815k) This is a very
tricky shot for most digital cameras to handle well, thanks to the very
different color balance of flash and household tungsten illumination. The
relatively bright ambient lighting in this test tends to produce some odd
colors in the final results. That said, the CoolPix 950 did better than
most, although we obtained the best results with the EV compensation dialed-up
by two units (+0.7EV). Apparently, the EV adjustment affects the ambient
light, but leaves the flash alone. With that setting made, our main
shot (868K) here shows excellent color balance.
The default exposure setting produced this shot
(868K), with the more typical blueish highlights from
the flash. As an alternative, the "slow sync" setting leaves the
shutter open longer, letting the room light have more effect on the final
exposure. The result is this (852K)
shot, lighter, and with somewhat warmer color balance overall. Auto white
balance (as used in the previous shots) produced the best white balance.
Setting the white balance to incandescent with the flash enabled produced
this (816K) very bluish
One of the strengths of the CoolPix 950 is its integration with Nikon's dedicated flash units. We had a Nikon SB-28 flash unit to use with the production-model CoolPix 950, and found it to be an excellent companion to the camera. The flexibility afforded by a powerful off-camera flash is phenomenal! An excellent feature of the SB-28/CP950 combination is that the camera provides a TTL (through the lens) flash-metering signal to the strobe unit. This means you can point the strobe anywhere you want (bounce flash or whatever), and still get consistent exposures. This shot (1184k!) shows the results of an auto exposure flash setting with the flash bounced off the ceiling. For this shot (764k), we bounced the flash off the ceiling and wall behind the camera, and used manual settings on the flash and camera to brighten the image a bit overall. (A pretty dramatic improvement in lighting over the simple on-camera flash alone!)
||Indoor portrait, no flash: (920k) This subject is a very tough test of a camera's white-balance capabilities, given the strong yellow cast of the household incandescent lighting it's shot under. As is common, perhaps due to the light background the default exposure (1036k!) here was somewhat dark, but the color balance (with white balance set to "auto") was excellent. As we increased the EV compensation to +0.3 EV (1040k!) and +0.7 EV (920k), the color balance shifted became somewhat warmer, most apparent from +0.7 EV and above. (This is common with digicams, as the blue channel lacks the raw signal to fully compensate for the yellowish cast of the lighting.) The net result was still very good though, and we chose the +0.7 EV version (864k) as our main selection here. We also tried the "incandescent" setting of the '950, but found that it left more yellow in the image, as seen here (900k). - This is typical of other digicams we've tested, in which the "incandescent" white balance appears to be adjusted to professional tungsten lighting, which has a color temperature of 3200K, vs. the household lighting's approximate 2700K value.|
(759k) Our standard House poster shows the extraordinary
resolution and detail rendition the CoolPix 950 is capable of, thanks to
its 2.1 million-pixel sensor and excellent optics. While we've only tested
a few 2 million-pixel cameras so far (5/30/99), the CoolPix 950 appears
to be neck-and-neck for top resolution honors. Besides the exceptional detail,
the "Fine" compression modes show almost no detectable JPEG artifacts.
(And the uncompressed image (naturally) shows none at all.) Our main
image (759k) was shot with the white balance set
to automatic, while this XGA-resolution version was taken with the white
balance set to sunny, (339k) producing a rather
bluish cast. (Overall, we found we were generally best off relying on the
excellent automatic white balance of the '950, rather than trying to second-guess
it with the manual settings. Here, color in the auto white-balance shot
was excellent, very true to the original.
For those with time on their hands (or very fast 'net connections), and
an interest in seeing how the various resolution and compression modes
of the '950 play off against each other, here's a matrix of House images,
shot with every combination of image size and compression ratio the '950
offers. For the real masochists, here's an uncompressed
TIFF file (5,767k!) to
download. (NOTE that this link is NOT an HTML page,
or even a JPEG file, but rather a raw TIFF image: Your browser won't know
what to do with it, but should give you the option to just save the file
to disk. Note too, that this is a huge, 5.7
(660k) This image is shot at infinity to test far-field
lens performance. NOTE that this image cannot be directly
compared to the other "house" shot, which is a poster, shot
in the studio. The rendering of detail in the poster will be very different
than in this shot, and color values (and even the presence or absence of
leaves on the trees!) will vary in this subject as the seasons progress.
In general though, you can evaluate detail in the bricks, shingles, and
window detail, and in the tree branches against the sky. Compression artifacts
are most likely to show in the trim along the edge of the roof, in the bricks,
or in the relatively "flat" areas in the windows.
Despite the seasonal variability, this shot is the strongest test of camera resolution of any we do, and the CoolPix 950 came through with flying colors, clearly a top contender in the two-megapixel digicam field as of this writing. (5/30/99) The main shot here (660k) was taken in "fine" mode, at the full 1600x1200 image size. The table below has samples shot with each of the compression settings, all at the large image size. Below the table is a link to an uncompressed TIFF image captured at the same time.
We also used this shot to evaluate the tradeoff between ISO speed and image noise. The table below has shots taken at ISO 80, 100, 160, and 320. You can clearly see the increase of image noise at higher ISO speeds, especially in the ISO 320 shot. Still, for low-light conditions, we'd gladly trade a little noise to get an otherwise impossible picture!
For this shot, we've also included a link to an uncompressed TIFF file. (5,767k!) (NOTE that this link is NOT an HTML page, or even a JPEG file, but rather a raw TIFF image: Your browser won't know what to do with it, but should give you the option to just save the file to disk. Note too, that this is a huge, 5.7 megabyte file!)
poster: (670k) Again, the 2.1 megapixel
sensor of the CoolPix 950 shows exceptional resolution and detail. Color
and tone is very good, with well-balanced color saturation, and natural
flesh tones. The main shot here (670k)
and those in the table below were all shot with the white balance set to
"sunny." A setting of "auto" produced this
shot (345k, medium res), with a distinctly cooler
tone. To our eye, the perfect balance is actually somewhere between the
two, although either is acceptable. For this shot, we've again included
samples captured with every combination of resolution and compression ratio
the '950 is capable of producing, as a reference for those interested in
using the camera at something other than it's maximum resolution. As with
some of the other shots here, we've also included a link to an uncompressed
version of the image (5,767k!)
(656k) - Or, should we say "Micro?" The
original CoolPix 900 was known for its excellent macro capabilities, but
the new '950 goes it a considerable step better, revealing literally microscopic
detail, seen in the tiny fibers of the dollar bill. The total area captured
is only 0.6 x 0.8 inches (15 x 20 mm)! For reference, we include samples
here taken with large, medium, and small image sizes, all at the "fine"
setting, as well as shots taken with the maximum 2.5x digital telephoto
setting, again in large, medium, and small image sizes. (As with all digital
teles though, the '950 is just cropping and resampling the central portion
of the image, meaning that images larger the small size contain no additional
information, at least at this digital tele ratio.) At closest approach,
the flash throttles-down fairly well, but the illumination is too uneven
for good results. This shot (652k)
shows the results of using a piece of diffuser gel between the flash and
test target: (732k) Very good color and tonal
range, although the deepest shadows lose detail, and the bright yellow swatch
of the MacBeth (tm) color chart looks a trifle weak. (We checked this same
shot from a number of other cameras though, and most seem to have trouble
with the strong yellow.) Overall very good color saturation, yet also good
handling of the delicate pastels of the Q60 target at bottom left. Besides
the lost detail in the shadows, we observed a moderate amount of noise as
well: Nikon had mentioned this to us, pointing it out as an artifact of
the prototype electronics, and saying that it should diminish substantially
once the final electronics design is achieved. (Even at that, the noise
level isn't as high as that we've seen on some production-model cameras
from other manufacturers.)
As before, we've included a full set of resolution/compression samples
for your perusal. (Pardon the slight mis-framing of the shot though -
we'll clean it up when we re-shoot with the final production version.)
Also as before, here's a raw TIFF-format version, (5,767k!) to see what the image looks like without the effects of JPEG compression.
After a number of requests for a more quantitative measure of cameras' low-light capabilities, we've instituted an official low-light test, using the Davebox target, a single flood, neutral-density gels, and an accurate light meter to test camera performance under a range of dim lighting. (If it sounds like a pain in the neck, that's because it is!) While we don't have similar results from many other cameras to compare it to yet, the CoolPix 950 appears to do extremely well in this department, even as a preproduction prototype model. Although we had the unit set to use a constant ISO rating, in "program" mode, it appeared to actually be boosting the ISO as the lighting got very dim. Aperture and shutter priority modes didn't seem to show this behavior. We ran a series of shots, with lighting ranging from EV10 down to EV5, in 1 EV increments. The results? Pretty extraordinary! - The '950 managed to grab a usable image all the way down to EV 5, which was so dim we were almost having a hard time finding our way around the studio ourselves! The color saturation definitely falls off at the very low light levels, and the pictures appeared noticeably soft below about EV 7, apparently as the contrast-detect autofocus ran out of signal strength from the CCD array. (Running at a higher ISO setting seems to help the autofocus operate at lower light levels.) At very long exposure times (this test got out to about 8 seconds), you can clearly see "stuck" sensor elements as bright specks of red, green, or blue. This is common in CCD sensors, and we refer readers to the excellent Qimage software program (Windows only) by Michael Chaney for a useful solution to correct it. Overall, this looks like a camera that will find wide use for shooting time-exposed images at night! The test images themselves are arranged in the table below.
- All these "theoretical" shots are fine, but what about "real" shooting conditions? We were curious how the CoolPix did under more typical, non-laboratory conditions, so took it to the local mall for a little night shooting, with the results shown below (click on the thumbnails for full-sized images.) - This is a typical mall parking lot, with illumination from street lights, and some incandescent spill from the store interior. Overall illumination was about EV7, but the second shot on the darker side of the store was only about EV6, less in places. VERY impressive!
|ISO 12233 ("WG-18")
resolution target: (778k) (Technoids only)
Visual resolution approaching 800 line pairs per picture height horizontally
and 650-700 vertically is clearly superior to anything we've measured to
date. (2/14/99) (Although, as noted, the '950 is the first 2.1 megapixel
camera we've tested, so this shouldn't come as a total surprise.) Being
able to control the camera's aperture gave us the opportunity to test resolution
as a function of lens aperture, and we found (no surprise) that it was sharper
at its smallest aperture of f7.4 (in wide-angle mode) than at larger apertures.
We also observed that the lens was sharpest at the wide-angle end of its
range, but by only a relatively small amount. (This also appears typical
of digicams we've tested.) Much has been made of lens distortion lately,
so we feel obliged to point out the slight barrel distortion at the wide-angle
setting, and the (even slighter) pincushion at the telephoto end. Overall
distortion is noticeably lower than in the original CoolPix 900, and on
a par or better than most of the current digicam field.
We've again shot this target with all resolution modes, at both telephoto and wide-angle settings, and have furthermore included a series taken at three different lens openings. - After doing all of that though, we missed the dead-obvious move of including uncompressed TIFF versions! - We'll try to get to these when we re-test with a full production model. (See table below.)
|Viewfinder accuracy/flash uniformity target:
The LCD viewfinder on the CoolPix 950 is more accurate than most, showing
about 95% of the final image area, with the CCD capturing 5% more area above
and to the right of that shown in the LCD. The optical viewfinder is about
typical of most digicams we've tested, showing 85% of the final image area.
The area captured by the CCD extends slightly farther to the left and down
from the center of the optical viewfinder than it does in the other direction.
Since all image sizes of the '950 have the same aspect ratio, viewfinder
performance doesn't vary as a function of the image size chosen. The table
below shows optical and LCD viewfinder test results at both wide-angle and
telephoto settings. Flash uniformity is excellent at the telephoto end of
the lens' focal length range, and very good at the wide-angle end as well.
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Nikon CoolPix 950, or add comments of your own!
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