Nikon Coolpix 8800By: Shawn Barnett & Dave Etchells
Nikon improves on its flagship 8 megapixel prosumer camera with a longer zoom and vibration reduction to improve long handheld shots.
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Page 3:DesignReview First Posted: 09/16/2004, Updated: 11/23/2004
Though it's somewhat larger overall than the Coolpix 8700 (overall volume is fully 42% larger), the new 8800 uses its greater bulk to house a more impressive 10x zoom lens that includes a vibration reduction system. It's impressive both through the lens and from the outside, with a much bigger objective than we've seen on a Nikon prosumer digicam thus far. To keep the size down and to accommodate its big flip-out screen, the Auto Focus and Vibration Reduction control buttons were placed on the left of the lens housing. It's important for users of the 8700 and 5700 to note that the control philosophy has been completely rethought in the 8700. Gone are most of the critical buttons that were located on the left of the lens, and the Mode Button/Command dial combination has been replaced with the far more user-friendly Mode Dial. Most Nikon users will be familiar with the old method of pressing the Mode button and rotating the Command dial to change modes while watching the Status LCD to select the mode you want, so the new dedicated mode dial will be a change for them. While it was probably good to move the buttons from the left of the lens, it seems a bit counter-productive to move critical functions like White Balance, ISO, and Resolution to the Mode Dial. I really prefer Mode-Dial-driven cameras to be "shooting priority," which means they're always ready to fire with a press of the shutter button, leaving whatever setup mode they may have been in By contrast, cameras that integrate functions better left to buttons or menus onto the Mode-Dial can leave the photographer frantically dialing for the right mode while a great shot fades away in time.
For more convenience, the flash control has been moved from the side position used on the old models to the top of the handgrip on the 8800. Nearby is the programmable FUNC button, which can be assigned to one of several frequently used functions. The Coolpix 8800 has a "Vari-angle" LCD design that swivels, useful for getting the shot from various angles, including from directly in front of the camera. (Good for self-portraits, or working with a model.) The Coolpix 8800 has an all-black body composed of a mixture of metal and plastic, although most of the body panels appear to be metal. It is reasonably compact at 4.6 x 3.3 x 4.8 inches (116 x 85 x 121 mm). It has a pleasant heft, and the lens is close enough to the grip that there is relatively little "twist away," as we've seen with some big-lens cameras. It weights 24.3 ounces (691.4 grams or 1.52 pounds) with battery and memory card loaded.
Visible on the front panel are the lens and self-timer lamp, the latter appearing between the lens and hand grip. This lamp also doubles as an AF-assist illuminator when light is low enough to make autofocusing difficult. The AF-assist lamp is rated to have an effective range of about 1'8" to 4'7" (0.5-1.4m), a little on the short side in our opinion. The telescoping lens extends as much as two inches when the camera is powered on. (The lens extends two inches when set to its telephoto position, but only a bit over an inch at its wide angle setting.) There are body threads at the end of the lens barrel for mounting an accessory adapter, and wide, telephoto, and fisheye lenses are available for the camera. These fine threads are covered by a removable metal ring. Adjustment to an auxiliary lens is not automatic; users must tell the camera which add-on lens is mounted, through an option on the Record menu. A removable plastic lens cap protects the lens from scratches, and comes with a tiny strap to tether it to the camera body and prevent it from being lost. The tether lashing point is well-integrated into the cap, sliding in from the side, leaving no visible evidence of an external loop. Very nicely done. Instead of popping off if you've left the cap on when starting up the camera, this cap just rides out with the lens, since it actually fits inside the innermost lens assembly. It looks funny, but it's a great solution that keeps the lens well protected. Next to the self-timer lamp are three small holes for the microphone, used to record audio when in Movie mode or Voice Memo mode. A large hand grip, coupled with the deep recess between the grip and the lens barrel, provides a firm hold on the camera, and a rubbery coating provides a good gripping surface for your fingers. A small infrared window to receive signals from the remote control is located at the top of the grip.
The camera's right side (as viewed from the back) houses the memory card compartment (a Type II Compact Flash slot) and an eyelet for the neck strap. I liked the positive snap-action operation of the memory compartment cover: The spring action is apparently contained in the hinge mechanism, and it feels much better than the usual friction snap-latch I commonly find on the outside edges of these flaps on most cameras I test. Though there is no positive latch, the cover seems to stay shut pretty firmly until you're ready to open it. The ejection button can be a little confusing if you get out of sync with it though. It's one of those that works like a pen plunger: In order to extend the release so that it can push the card out, you first have to press in to make it pop out. Once it's extended, you can press in again and it releases the card and then stays pressed in, as long as you pressed it back in far enough.
The left side of the camera is rounded to conform to the shape of the lens barrel, and has two controls: the AF Button and Vibration Reduction On/Off switch. The second neck strap eyelet, a connector compartment, and the speaker are also found here. The Vibration Reduction button turns the VR function on or off. The Auto Focus button allows the macro or infinity focus to be selected, and controls manual focus when pressed and held while turning the Command dial. A rubbery flap covers the connector compartment, which houses the DC In and A/V Out jacks. The flap remains fastened to the camera body and folds out of the way easily. Also visible from this angle is the diopter adjustment dial on the side of the viewfinder eyepiece.
The top of the camera has a handful of controls, a small status display panel, the pop-up flash, and the external flash hot shoe. You can either pull the flash up manually, or the camera will pop it up automatically when needed. The hot shoe has the standard five-contact design used by Nikon Speedlights, but should also handle some third-party flash units. The small status display panel reports a number of camera settings, including remaining battery power, and is very useful for making quick camera adjustments. Top panel controls include the Mode dial and Shutter, Flash control, Exposure compensation, and Function buttons, along with a button to illuminate the small control panel. A Command dial just below the top panel of the Coolpix 8800 is used in conjunction with various buttons on the body of the camera to change settings.
The remainder of the controls and user interface elements for the Coolpix 8800 are on the back of the camera. At top left is the electronic viewfinder (EVF) eyepiece, with a diopter adjustment dial on the left side and a nice rubber guard, both important for eyeglass wearers. On the right side of the eyepiece is a Monitor Select button, which toggles the viewfinder display back and forth between the EVF and LCD monitor. Both the AE/AF Lock button and the zoom control are well placed above right of the LCD, right where they're easily activated by the thumb while composing an image. The rocker button controls optical and digital zoom, as well as zooming out to index view (which displays 4 or 9 images), and in to as much as 10x magnification in playback mode. The remaining controls include the Menu and Quick review buttons, Five-way Arrow pad, and the Erase and Display buttons. The right edge of the back panel is sculpted, providing a nice indentation and associated ridge that provides just enough of a lip to give your thumb something to hold onto.
The bottom of the Coolpix 8800 is nice and flat, with several slightly raised inserts of resilient plastic that increase the camera's grip on tripod mounting plates. The tripod socket itself is metal. The tripod socket is also roughly centered on the camera body, which is good for mounting stability, but which does put the lens quite a bit off-center from the mount. This isn't an issue for normal shooting, but does mean that a special tripod head will be needed to shoot panoramic images, to compensate for the parallax error introduced by the offset between the lens' optical center and the center of rotation for the tripod mount. Having the tripod socket centered also means that some tripod mounting plates will prevent you from removing the battery while mounted to the plate. (Again, not an issue for most users, but something I'm attuned to given how much I shoot in the studio with cameras I test.) The small plastic door to the battery compartment can be removed completely to allow connection to the optional battery pack/grip. Unfortunately, there is no retaining latch to keep the battery in place when you open the battery door, so be careful when opening. Batteries can become unusable after only one drop depending on where and what and how hard they hit.
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