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Nikon Coolpix 8800

Nikon improves on its flagship 8 megapixel prosumer camera with a longer zoom and vibration reduction to improve long handheld shots.

Review First Posted: 09/16/2004, Updated: 11/23/2004




MSRP $999 US

 

 

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8.0 (effective) megapixel CCD delivers images up to 3,264 x 2,448 pixels.

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Nikkor lens provides 10x, 35-350mm equivalent zoom range, now with vibration reduction.

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"Articulated" LCD tilts/swivels 270 degrees.

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White balance bracketing and noise reduction modes extend capability.

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Electronic viewfinder for better framing accuracy with long zoom lens.

 

Manufacturer Overview

Announced September 16, 2004, the Nikon Coolpix 8800 extends the high end of Nikon's "prosumer" lineup, incorporating both a longer-ratio 10x zoom lens and optical vibration reduction technology to control camera shake at long telephoto focal lengths. The new Nikon 8800 is the latest in a long line of Nikon digital cameras that have helped define the state of the art in prosumer cameras from the early days of the digital revolution. With an 8-megapixel sensor, a 10x zoom lens with ED glass, Vibration Reduction, and the panoply of advanced features we've come to expect from the upper end of the Coolpix digicam line, the Nikon 8800 is poised to compete at the very top of the "prosumer" digital camera market. At the same time though, optional fully automatic operation and a rich collection of 12 "scene" modes make it easy for even rank amateurs to use. All in all, the new Nikon Coolpix 8800 is a powerful package of photographic technology. - Read on for all the details! 

 

High Points

 

User Report

There are those who want nothing more in the world than a BMW 7-series sedan. That wide stance, the low quiet engine that purrs like a lion about to pounce, and a crafted interior that can only be found in a select few automobiles around the world: these traits and a thousand other minute details leave such a person atwitter at the very shadow of a passing 760i. Most with this desire are forced to settle for less. Thankfully, quality BMW sedans are available at lower prices, and that same spirit can be harnessed by a person of reasonable means with the purchase of an excellent BMW 3-series sedan.

Nikon cameras are a little like that: Prestigious refinement that is available at many price levels. There is a difference, however. While some who kick the tires of a Nikon Coolpix 8800 do so because they can't afford (or justify) the full Nikon SLR experience, quite a few more prefer the compact performance package the smaller EVF-based camera offers, as well as the myriad abilities this more traditional digital camera has that the likes of an D100 or D70 SLR cannot hope to achieve. Just as many BMW M3 owners would never trade the rush of their 3-series speed demons for the comfort of a BMW 7-series, Coolpix 8800 owners might look with pity on the pro with his bulky $10,000 rig, bag of fine lenses, and woefully uncool safari vest.

Having now spent time with a production model Nikon 8800 I can say that it is more like a BMW M3 (for those who don't know cars, the M-series of BMW sedans are tuned for speed and peak excellence) than the 7-series. Building on the heritage of the Coolpix 8700, the 8800 has been souped up enough that it's both a good first choice for a serious intermediate photographer as well as a good upgrade for the (currently) happy 5700 or 8700 owner.

Let's start with the lens. It imposes itself on the camera's profile from nearly every angle. From the front it looks like it wants to swallow something. Some of that is illusion from the large bezel surrounding the lens, but there is a little more glass there than we've seen on past models. It is a nice Nikkor 8.9 to 89m lens. To those of us needing that 35mm comparison (myself included), that's equivalent to a 35 to 350mm zoom, pretty significant increase from the 8700's 280mm maximum telephoto measurement. In multiples, it's now 10x compared to the 8700's 8x.

What makes all that zoom more exciting can be described in two letters: VR. Nikon has built their sophisticated Vibration Reduction technology into the 8800 to make handheld shots with such a long zoom enter the realm of the possible. To make these long-zoom EVF cameras practical, it's an almost essential ingredient. You can actually see your heartbeat affect a shot when you're zoomed in to maximum, but just turn on VR and press the shutter halfway: You'll see the image on the LCD begin to float and stabilize as if in an alternate universe, as the camera's Vibration Reduction removes the shakiness inherent in most pulse-driven mammals. You can also expect to see much sharper low light images, as when shooting indoors. I wouldn't expect to do a lot of zooming to 350mm indoors without a powerful external flash, but your mid- to wide angle shots will exhibit much greater clarity than they would without the VR technology.

And here's where we start to discuss what the Nikon 8800 can do that a camera like the D70 simply cannot. I'm talking about features like movie mode, continuous modes, and voice recording; but what comes foremost to mind after all that talk about vibration reduction is BSS mode. BSS stands for Best Shot Selector and has to be one of Nikon's most innovative tools to get a usable shot in a bad situation. This mode uses digital to its greatest advantage. The truth is that even with VR, you can still get motion blur if the light is too low, but BSS can help you pull it off without filling up your card with multiple attempts. Just select BSS mode via the Record menu, brace yourself as well as you can, hold down the shutter, and fire off up to 10 shots. The camera will look at each, decide which of the shots has the most detail, and save just that one good shot to the card, discarding all the others. I can't tell you how many times I need this mode on other cameras when I haven't brought enough flash power along, or when flash just wouldn't give the right look for the subject I was shooting. Combined with VR, BSS is sure to have more winners to choose from, which can only mean better results at even lower shutter speeds.

Although none of us here at Imaging Resource are crazy about the electronic viewfinder aspect of long-zoom cameras in general, we were particularly impressed by EVF on the Coolpix 8800. We found an unusually high eyepoint that made use by eyeglass wearers downright easy, and the diopter correction had enough range to adjust for the uncorrected vision of all here at the office. Nobody's glasses even came in contact with the rubber guard surrounding the viewfinder. The higher res screen inside the 8800's EVF makes manual focusing and focus confirmation easier, especially in bright outdoor light. I still think EVFs are an unfortunate but necessary compromise in digital camera design. I prefer the live action and honesty of a real image optical viewfinder in rangefinder designs, but realize it's not possible to create a practical secondary optic that will match the capabilities of a 10x zoom lens, at least not at a price that any of us would want to pay. If you want a live display on a long zoom camera, you simply have to forego the real image viewfinder and embrace EVF. Nikon has done a great job with this one.

In fact, this is the first digital camera where I found myself actually preferring the EVF over the larger LCD about 50% of the time. This may have as much to do with the EVF's relative excellence as the camera's overall big-camera feel that tricks me into thinking I'm using an SLR. Of course, one of the benefits of traditional digital camera design is that live LCD, and having a tilt/swivel LCD gives you yet another leg up on that pro photographer with the girl-repellent safari vest. (Though I jest, tilt/swivel LCD designs are beneficial enough that I know pros who own and prefer such cameras for certain assignments.) The screen on the 8800 has a swiveling that now appears to have become almost an industry standard, swinging out 180 degrees and rotating 270 degrees. This offers pretty well every angle necessary to capture all manner of shots with a new perspective. For anyone who shoots once a week or more, I heartily recommend just about any camera with this ability. Knowing that the EVF is also good means a photographer will have a greater range of comfortable options at his disposal.

The Nikon Coolpix 8800 does seem to be all about having more than one way to do certain critical things. You can set Resolution, ISO, and White balance in at least three different places. I use all but one when shooting, mostly because the other two are more obvious. The first location is the Mode dial. Though I'm glad these functions were moved from their location on the left side of the lens on the 8700 (where they could be accidentally activated--or else forgotten completely), I'm actually not crazy about their being relocated to the Mode dial. I love that they've included a Mode dial on the 8800, but a Mode dial is for modes; settings belong on a button that can be overridden by the system with a half-press on the shutter button when a shot arises. If I'm fiddling with the White Balance setting, ISO, or Resolution to get an upcoming shot, I'm three to five clicks of the Mode dial back to a suitable capture mode: not exactly speedy, nor conducive to emergency setting changes. The anticipated shot is missed in these situations, and all the adjustments I was trying to make in preparation are suddenly wasted effort.

As a result, I more often adjust these settings in the more tedious but less dangerous LCD menu. But there are two other ways: one is My Menu on the LCD, where you can pick five sub-menu items important to your shooting style for quick access; the other is the Function button, which can be assigned one of these functions for instant access. I would most likely select ISO for this button, since this is what I adjust most often when shooting with any digital camera. The My Menu is actually useful if you take the time to analyze your own usage of the camera, but I do wish there were a way to turn it off and just allow me full access to the menu immediately.

Honestly though, while I don't like the ISO, WB, and Res on the Mode dial, I don't myself see a better place to put them. So I have to say that I really like the controls and overall interface of the Coolpix 8800. Nikon got it as close to right as I think is possible given the limited space on the camera body.

Hold the Coolpix 8800 in two hands or one hand, and you feel like a pro, holding a camera just the way it's supposed to be held for the most stable shot. Though the lens is bigger and adds a little more heft, the hand grip is in close enough proximity to the lens that there's little perceptible twist-away toward the lens as we've seen in other cameras of this type. With a two-handed grip, your left hand sits comfortably around and under the lens housing. Every time I hold the camera this way I find I want to pull the camera to my eye like an SLR! Since I shoot vertical so often, and because this camera feels and fits like a pro SLR, I tend to wish for one enhancement: a vertical grip. Nikon does offer a battery grip as an option for the 8800, but as I write this, I don't know whether it includes a vertical grip and shutter release or not. Bottom line, I'm just used to having a vertical grip/release on a camera that feels like this.

For the rest of the controls, I wouldn't change a thing. I really didn't like the buttons on the lens barrel on past models, as I mentioned, but though a button and switch remain on the left, at least they're the right buttons. The AF mode button should be on the lens barrel, as should the Vibration Reduction switch; they're lens functions and you'd expect to find them on the lens. I would have liked to see a three-stage VR switch, allowing the user to select between Active and Normal mode as conditions change; instead you have to go into the menu to make this change. But all the other buttons on the back--the Five-way rocker, the zoom control, and Command dial--all work very well. I even like the CF door, which, though it doesn't latch, does stay out of the way without opening until you want it to. Perfect. This is a well-constructed and well-thought-out design, small in all the right ways, and big where necessary. Despite their already excellent record in this area, Nikon should be proud of the Coolpix 8800.

I also like a few things about the flash system. One is that you don't have to depend on a button-activated servo to pull up the pop up flash, you can just grab and pull it up with your fingers. The other huge improvement is that you can use a key SB-600/800DX flash feature that went unsupported on past cameras of this kind: zoom of the external flash head. Now you need only attach the SB-600/800DX, fire it up, zoom the lens, half-press the shutter release and the flash head zooms to roughly match the field of view of the lens. With a zoom this long, you're going to want a big flash that will reach out at least part of that distance, and now you take advantage of one of the critical features of Nikon's high-end speedlights: the ability to follow the lens out to a tighter angle. Finally, a major feature of the SB-600/800/Coolpix 8800 combo is that either flash offers true Through The Lens (TTL) flash metering when used with the camera. This is a really significant benefit, particularly with a long-ratio zoom lens, as it makes it possible to get accurate flash exposures, even when zoomed way in on a subject that's a significantly different color/reflectance than the background. Very few prosumer-level digicams offer true TTL flash metering, and even fewer do so when used with external flash units.

Shooting the Nikon Coolpix 8800 has been a great experience. It handles well, feels great in the hand, has a ton of features, a great lens, oodles of resolution, and an effective anti-shake system. As we're "going to press" with this review update, we've had a string of dull, cloudy days here in Atlanta, so we haven't had a chance to shoot many "Gallery" shots with it yet. My experience with using the prototype 8800 for family photos was very positive though, and Luke and Dave's work with the production model to collect the test images was good as well. Though I've had some trouble with focusing speed in very low light situations, I found shooting in good light to be no problem at all. (I also learned that the camera was much more responsive to the shutter if I selected a single AF point, rather than letting it choose the closest part of the subject to focus on.) The camera focused quickly enough and obeyed my commands to shoot quickly after I pressed the shutter. There is a minor post-focus LCD freeze that seldom lasts long enough to be noticed when holding the shutter down. I really don't like this normally, but in this case I don't think it's a problem; I only noticed it after someone pointed it out.

I've also had fun with the extensive Continuous capture modes. I'm not a big motor-drive guy anymore. The ability to fire off three or more shots per second is seldom useful in the real-world shooting that I do. It's fun, no question, but not usually necessary. In people shots, particularly, it's more distracting to the subject than helpful to the artist. But I found the Ultra High Speed mode to be excellent for some types of people shots. Though they're only 640 x 480 in size, you get to capture up to 100 images at 30 frames per second. If you're looking for a sure way to catch a fleeting expression or solve the problem of a chronic blinker (these folks do exist, blinking more than 70% of the time just when the photographer and camera decide to take a picture), and can handle the reduced resolution, this is a great mode to play with.

A recent trip to a baseball game showed a more obvious reason to use the Ultra HS mode: catching the moves of a pitcher at 30 frames per second. It's amazing to see how unnaturally the pitcher's arm seems to twist back, then slingshot the ball forward when he's throwing a 95 mph fast ball. Remember, these were only 640 x 480 images, so I'm not able to count the hairs on the pitcher's arm, but I was shooting from up in the cheap seats, and my frame was covering the circumference of the mound; imagine what I'd have gotten from a first base seat! It takes a zoom of this power to get anything approaching an interesting shot from anywhere in the bleachers, so if you want to do that for your hobby or for your child, this is a good camera for the job.

The one drawback to Ultra High Speed mode is that no matter how many pictures you capture in other modes after doing an Ultra HS shot, that set of UHS images will always come first when you switch to playback mode--and with the ability to capture 100 images in just over three seconds, you're going to be wasting a lot of time looking at nearly identical 640 x 480 images just trying to get back to the 8 megapixel image you just shot. This turns out to be a problem with folders, because each sequence captured in UHS mode gets saved into its own folder. Each folder name ends up with a name that puts all the photos in front of any subsequent photos captured into the default NIKON folder. This is potentially very handy, because it groups all your UHS shots together, and can keep them tucked out of the way if you just do a little preliminary housekeeping with folder names on the memory card you're using. The problem is that the separate folders created to hold the UHS images are ahead of the main "Nikon" folder alphabetically, so any (and all) UHS images will always appear in playback mode before the most recently shot normal images stored in the Nikon folder. There's unfortunately no complete solution to this problem. The simple workaround is to go into the Folder sub-menu in Playback mode and select only the NIKON folder (or other folder you may have created yourself) for playback. This will effectively hide any UHS files from view during normal browsing of images on the memory card. The downside is that you'll have to go back to the Folder sub-menu to re-enable viewing of the other folders any time you decide you want to look at your UHS shots. What would really help would be a feature in the Playback mode where you could zoom back out past "Index" view into a Folder view where you could more easily switch between folders, without having to venture into the LCD menu system.

Other continuous modes are plentiful enough that the curious user will spend a lot of time with this digicam and get interesting results. Most popular will be the Continuous High, which captures up to five full-res images at 2.3 fps. The 5-shot buffer mode is a good concept, but I can't say that Nikon's implementation of it in the 8800 is terribly useful. The idea is to have the camera continuously capture images at a high rate, then save only the last five when you release the shutter button. If the camera is fast enough from shot to shot, this can help make up for slow reflexes on the part of the photographer, catching the action from just before he/she could react to the critical moment.

The problem with the Nikon 8800's 5-shot buffer mode is that it's slow, at about 1.4 seconds/shot (0.7 frames/second). I may be getting old, but my own reaction time is certainly quicker than 1.4 seconds, so the 5-shot buffer really doesn't do much for me. If the 5-shot mode could capture at the Continuous "Hi" speed of 2.3 frames/second, it'd be useful. As it is, I don't see any particular value in it.

The one performance-related aspect of the Nikon 8800 I didn't like though, was how slowly it wrote to the memory card. Just prior to publishing this update, there had been some speculation on the internet that the camera actually performed faster with slower memory cards, the theory being that these cards better matched the camera's internal operating speed. I'm not sure where this rumor got started, but it clearly wasn't the case with our production sample. We tested it with a wide range of memory cards, and found that, while cards faster than 4x produced only very slight improvements in buffer-clearing times, the faster cards were in no instances slower than slower ones.

There is a lot more to this fine camera which you can explore elsewhere in this review. Overall, I'd say it's Nikon's best prosumer camera to date. It goes up against a handful of other long-zoom EVF prosumer designs from other manufacturers. I don't think any particular model has shown itself to be the clear leader in this category, despite some remarkable efforts and features. Judging by design, feel, and overall usability though, I think the Coolpix 8800 is the embodiment of what Nikon does well. It has all the best features they've included in other digital cameras over the years, with the key components--most notably the lens--pushed a little further. The result is a camera with an impressive zoom that's tamed and made much more usable by a very effective vibration reduction system, but that's still small enough to stuff in a light jacket pocket. It is certainly more compact than many of its competitors. With all these features packed into one small package, the Coolpix 8800 user gets a camera that--for most prosumer purposes at least--easily rivals that pro photographer's heavy camera bag bulging with lenses. It's a lot like a complete Nikon photo system in one camera, with a camcorder stuffed in one pocket. (Safari vest optional.)

 

Design

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 Coolpix 8800 has a "vari-angle" LCD monitor, which lifts off of the back panel and swings outward. Once out, the monitor swivels vertically 270 degrees. In addition to allowing capture of pictures from a greater variety of angles than a normal digital camera, the LCD can flip around and face the back of the camera when closed, protecting it from scratches.
 

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.

 

Viewfinder

A feature in the 8800 that came in with the Coolpix 5700 is the electronic viewfinder (EVF), essentially a miniaturized version of the LCD monitor, complete with information and menu screens, but sheltered from the sun behind a traditional viewfinder eyepiece with an "optical viewfinder" feel. The Monitor Select button on the right side of the viewfinder switches the view back and forth between the EVF and LCD monitor displays. Though you can call up the LCD menus in the EVF display, I found it rather tedious to actually make menu selections that way. It's much easier to use the larger display of the LCD monitor for menu navigation. Still, the EVF's informative display reports exposure settings, camera mode settings, and battery information, all of which are useful during normal operation. The EVF comes in handy when shooting outside in extremely bright sunlight that washes out the LCD, or when nearby reflections just make viewing an otherwise good outdoor LCD uncomfortable. A diopter adjustment dial, tucked on the left side of the eyepiece, adjusts the view to accommodate eyeglass wearers, and the micro-LCD used in the 8800's EVF has higher than average resolution, with 235,000 pixels (101,000 more than the rear-panel LCD display). The high eyepoint of this viewfinder allows eyeglass wearers to see the entire image while wearing their glasses. Through the Setup menu, you can specify whether the EVF or LCD monitor automatically activates by default at camera startup.

The 1.8-inch, 134,000-dot, low-temperature polysilicon TFT color LCD monitor features a swivel design, plus brightness and hue adjustment. The LCD monitor actually lifts up off of the back panel, flipping out toward the left side of the camera. Once opened, the LCD monitor can swivel around to face up or down over about a 270 degree range of rotation. You can also turn the LCD monitor around to face the camera and then close it to protect the monitor from any accidental scratches. I really like swiveling LCD designs, as they greatly increase the camera's shooting flexibility, allowing you to hold the camera at a variety of angles and still clearly see the LCD display. (They're particularly handy for over-the-head shots in crowds, or for ground-level macro shooting.)

A nice touch in the Coolpix 8800's LCD viewfinder implementation is that you can adjust not only the viewfinder brightness, but its color (hue) as well. A menu option lets you adjust the viewfinder color toward either the blue or the red ends of the spectrum, to help match the viewfinder display to the actual color balance of your captured images. I applaud this, but note that having control only over blue/red tints is only a partial solution. (Technically, you need separate controls for red, green, and blue, in order to be able to completely control the display color. You could getaway with only varying two of these relative to the third, but I suspect that full control would result in a bewildering user interface. Still, I'd like to see some attempt to offer more complete color adjustment. Big kudos to Nikon for providing any sort of LCD hue adjustment though.)

The Coolpix 8800 features a new 9-point auto focus system. The camera automatically chooses between nine different autofocus zones, or you can lock it in on any one of them manually. In auto mode, only the areas the camera chooses will be illuminated in red; otherwise they do not appear. In manual mode, all nine points appear onscreen at all times, shown in white, while the selected point appears in red.

Beyond the zone-based AF indication though, the Coolpix 8800's viewfinder offers a number of display options in capture mode. Pressing the DISP button cycles through the various options, which include a basic display showing no information at all (in Manual AF mode, the nine AF points appear), a display that includes information on a fair number of camera settings, a display with a live histogram graph overlaid on the image, and a new mode that adds a rectangular alignment grid.

A Quick Review function lets you quickly check the last exposure while still in record mode, simply by pressing the Quick Review button above the LCD screen. This isn't an uncommon feature on digicams, but what's absolutely unique on the Coolpix cameras is the "picture in picture" review mode (shown here), which opens a playback window in the upper left-hand corner of the display screen, while keeping the viewfinder image live on the remaining LCD area. Note too, that this image isn't restricted to the most recently captured photo. You can scroll through all the images on the memory card by pressing the rocker button arrows. The first press of the Quick Review button activates the picture in picture review mode, a second press enables full-screen playback, and a third press returns you to full capture mode. At any point, pressing the Shutter button returns you to capture mode and snaps a picture.

In Playback mode, the LCD offers a wealth of information via several display pages. In total, no fewer than six information screens are available, accessed by first pressing the DISP button then turning the Command dial in playback mode. The first display is the standard Playback information readout, which reports the date and time of the shot, file name, quality setting, and the image number on the card. The next three screens report a long listing of camera and exposure settings, including the firmware version, focal length, shutter speed, ISO, etc. A fourth information page shows a histogram view of the image, illustrating the distribution of brightness values in the image, with the left edge corresponding to pure black, and the right edge to pure white. Once you learn how to read it, a histogram is very useful in determining whether you've managed to capture a good exposure or not. Ideally, a well-exposed image would produce a histogram curve that just filled the graph from left to right, indicating that it contained a full range of tonal values. The final information screen shows lens, shutter, and focus settings, and indicates (by the red brackets) what the autofocus system had locked onto when the picture was taken. Histogram displays won't always show you if only a small portion of your image is blown-out: To address this need, the 8800 blinks those parts of the image that are overexposed, letting you see exactly where you're losing highlight detail. Very nice. (Although I've generally found the 8800's blinking highlights a little too aggressive in what they choose to warn you about.)

Also in Playback mode, the LCD offers a thumbnail index display, showing either four or nine images to a page depending on the setting. The Zoom Rocker button controls the index display, as the wide-angle side of the zoom lever increases the number of thumbnails displayed (from one to four to nine). The telephoto side returns to the single image display, and also activates the playback zoom, which enlarges the displayed image up to 10x. When you're zoomed in on an image, you can pan around the image with the rocker control. Pressing the shutter also captures a cropped image of the current LCD display and saves it as a new file. You can then zoom in on the cropped image even further. An unexpected plus.

EVF Under Low Light
In playing with the 8800's EVF, I was pleased to discover that Nikon has improved its functioning over that of the 8700, in a way that I'd asked for. On the 8700, the EVF responded to the camera's ISO setting pretty directly: Higher ISOs produced brighter EVF displays under darker conditions. I discovered though, that changes in EVF sensitivity lagged changes in the ISO setting by a few seconds. The viewfinder display was at least somewhat usable down to surprisingly low light levels with the ISO set to 400, but it took a good 6-10 seconds for the display to brighten after changing from a lower ISO setting. If I wanted to shoot at lower ISO settings to minimize image noise, I had to set the ISO up to 400 to frame the shot, then dial it back down to whatever value I wanted to shoot at. This was feasible, but far from convenient.

In the 8800, the Nikon engineers have implemented what amounts to a "viewfinder only" ISO boost, that dramatically increases the sensitivity of the EVF and rear-panel LCD viewfinder under low light conditions, regardless of the ISO selected to shoot at. This viewfinder sensitivity boost is still applied fairly slowly, in that it can take a number of seconds for the viewfinder display to become usable in dark conditions after the camera has been exposed to bright lighting, but this seems like an entirely acceptable solution. - There's no longer any need to jack up the ISO just to frame the subject, then set it back down to actually take the shot. The net result is that the 8800's EVF is one of the best at low light levels that I've yet seen, usable down to 1/16 foot-candle. (That's about 4 f-stops down from typical city street lighting at night.) Kudos to the Nikon engineers, and thanks for listening to my suggestions!

 

Optics

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The Coolpix 8800 features a 10x Nikkor 8.9-89mm ED lens, the equivalent of a 35-350mm lens on a 35mm camera. The maximum aperture varies from f/2.8 to f/5.2, depending on the lens zoom setting, with the largest aperture available when the lens is at its maximum wide angle focal length. Minimum aperture is f/8, regardless of focal length. Apertures are adjustable in 10 steps with one-third EV increments, and are created by a seven-blade iris diaphragm. (The seven-blade diaphragm is a nice but subtle touch - it will produce less distortion in sharp, specular highlights than apertures made by diaphragms with fewer blades in them, and hence more irregular shapes. The seven-blade iris also provides finer aperture control than simpler designs.)

Focus on the Coolpix 8800 operates under automatic or manual control, and features Macro and Infinity focus modes as well. The Coolpix 8800's autofocus mechanism employs a contrast-detection method, which determines focus from a nine-area array of autofocus points, distributed across roughly the central 60% of the overall frame area. The Focus option under the settings menu allows AF area selection under automatic control, or lets you manually set the location of the autofocus area. (This last is a nice feature that works well when combined with the spot metering mode, which can likewise be directed to link exposure to the same zone.) In the "Auto" option for focus area selection, the camera chooses the area corresponding to the subject closest to the camera. When the area focus option is set to Off, the camera bases focus on the central area. Two AF modes are also available: Continuous AF and Single AF. Continuous AF mode means that the camera constantly adjusts the focus, good for moving subjects. In Single AF mode, focus is only determined when the Shutter button is halfway pressed. Some users are confused or bothered by Continuous AF, because there's a subtle but constant clicking sound as the camera continually checks and adjusts focus, so many will want to stay in Single AF mode. (It's also worth noting, that while Continuous AF may help in tracking moving subjects, it provides no reduction in shutter lag whatsoever, when working with stationary subjects.) Continuous AF also naturally uses more battery, because the focus motor, sensors, and processor are always on.

The fully manual focus option is accessed by pressing the AF button on the camera's side and turning the Command dial. A distance scale in the LCD monitor reports current focusing distance in a very general sense, showing a bar that extends from a macro symbol on one side to an infinity symbol on the other. The minimum focusing range depends strongly on the lens zoom setting, so the focus-distance display turns red if you try to manually focus closer than the lens can support at its current focal length. I have to say that I dislike the 8800's distance readout because it makes it difficult or impossible to know the actual focusing distance you've selected. I've often had occasion to set an approximate manual focus distance in advance of a shot, based on my estimate of the subject's distance. (After-dark candid and wildlife photography are two situations where I've frequently needed to do this.) I would think Nikon could use the combination of lens focal length and focus-motor position to derive the actual focusing distance.- Certainly, I've seen numeric distance readouts on cameras from a variety of other manufacturers, so it's technically possible.

For those situations when you can actually point at your subject long enough to set the focus visually, a "Focus Confirmation" option (available as a menu selection in Record mode) applies a strong "sharpening" operator to the LCD display. The result is that the LCD image very clearly "snaps" into focus when proper focus is achieved, making the LCD display much more useful than it ordinarily would be for manual focusing. Focus Confirmation can be set to be on all the time, off all the time, or only on when the camera is being manually focused. This is another Nikon trick that I'd like to see more camera manufacturers adopt.

The Coolpix 8800's digital telephoto feature is enabled through the Zoom option under the Setup menu, and enlarges images as much as 4x. An indicator on the LCD monitor displays a bar graph showing the approximate level of digital zoom. Keep in mind though that digital telephoto only enlarges the center of the image, reducing resolution in direct proportion to the amount of digital zoom used. Also under the Zoom menu option, you can turn the digital zoom off and activate the Fixed Aperture function, which keeps the aperture fixed as the lens zooms. (This last being a very handy option when working with studio strobes or other strobes with fixed output levels and no exposure feedback from the camera.)

There's a set of body threads around the end of the lens barrel (the part attached to the camera, not the portion that telescopes out), protected by a metal ring, for attaching an adapter barrel for accessory lenses. The 8800 can accept wide, telephoto, and fisheye lenses with the use of an optional adapter.

Autofocus performance under low light on the 8800 seems similar to that on prior Coolpix models, but there is an AF-assist light nestled next to the hand grip for better results. In my informal testing, the AF system could focus on sharply-defined, high-contrast objects in total darkness out to about 6 feet or so, but it did considerably better with at least some ambient light, and the focus performance was also very dependent on the contrast level of the subject involved. In incandescent room light where other cameras perform reasonably well though, when set to telephoto focal lengths, the 8800 sometimes took three or four seconds to focus, or focused right past what was clearly in focus, and settled on a very out-of-focus setting. You really have to pick your contrasty areas; and even when you do, it can be hit and miss. Our production sample did quite a bit better in this regard than the prototype we first looked at, but there still seems to be some room for improvement. (The good news, is that the camera focused quite a bit quicker at wide-angle focal lengths under these conditions. - And most indoor shots call for wide angle rather than 10x telephoto zoom settings.)

 

Exposure

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Nikon high end prosumer digital cameras have consistently provided extensive exposure controls, and the Coolpix 8800 is no different. The camera offers a choice of Program AE, Flexible Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes, accessed by turning the new Mode dial. Shutter speeds range from 2-1/3000s in the Auto and Program modes, and 8-1/3000s in Shutter, Aperture, and Manual modes. The shutter speed is actually limited to 1/1500 unless you choose an aperture of f/5.0 or above, which the camera does automatically for you except when you're in Aperture priority mode (in which case it will simply go no higher than 1/1500). In Manual mode it will simply force the camera to f/5.0 or above (depending on your zoom setting, this goes up to f/7.4) when the Shutter speed is set to 1/3000. Oddly, while investigating this, we discovered that if you set the aperture to 8.0 and zoom out to 350mm, the aperture will back down near the end, to f/7.4. We're not sure if an optic is changing direction internally and thus changing the minimum aperture, or if some other factor is coming into play, but this behavior was consistent between the prototype and production samples.

You can choose between a Bulb setting (allowing the shutter to be held up to ten minutes) or a Timed Release option with settings of 30 seconds and 1, 3, 5, or 10 minutes. When ULTRA HS is selected for Continuous shooting, the shutter speeds range from 1/30-1/8000s (again, to reach above 1/1500, the aperture needs to be f/5 or smaller). Like other Coolpix models, the 8800 uses a noise reduction technology that's based on a form of "dark frame subtraction," whereby a second exposure is snapped immediately after the first, but with the shutter closed. The pattern of noise in this "dark frame" is then subtracted from the image itself, resulting in a drastic reduction in apparent noise levels. (I suspect that the actual algorithm is more complex than simple subtraction though, involving data substitution to prevent black pixels where the noise current saturated the CCD pixel sensor.) This Noise Reduction can be enabled via a menu option, and is applied to any exposure longer than 1/4 second. The 8800's manual notes that the time to save the resulting image to the card more than doubles with Noise Reduction enabled.

Adding to the usefulness of the fully-automatic Program AE mode, the Flexible Program AE (P) option lets you select from a range of exposure settings by turning the Command dial. (Simply turn the Command dial on it sown while in Program mode, and an asterisk appears next to the "P" in the LCD display. Further rotation of the Command dial cycles through the available combinations of shutter speed and aperture that correspond to the exposure level the camera has selected.) Flexible Program AE lets you choose from several equivalent exposures, allowing you to decide between a faster shutter speed or a smaller lens aperture. Personally, I find this more useful than the more common aperture- or shutter-priority metering options, as it gives the camera more latitude to get the shot you want, while letting you express a "preference" for larger or smaller aperture settings.

The Coolpix 8800 uses the 256-Segment Matrix system by default, but also offers Center-Weighted, Spot, and AF Spot metering options. The 256-SegmentMatrix setting determines the exposure based on 256 separate areas in the frame, taking into consideration both overall brightness as well as contrast levels to determine the best overall exposure. Center-Weighted metering measures light from the entire frame but places the greatest emphasis on a circular area in the center. Spot metering is pretty self-explanatory, taking a reading from the dead center of the image (best when using the AE Lock function). With AF Spot, the spot metering actually centers on the specific focus area selected, giving you the option for off-center spot metering. (See the previous Optics section of this review for a discussion of the 8800's AF Area focusing mode.)

An ISO adjustment option offers a range of values, including Auto, 50,100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents. White balance choices include Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Speedlight, or Preset (which lets you manually adjust the white value by using a white card or object as a reference point). All white balance settings except Preset and Fluorescent (adjustable by type of fluorescent bulb) can be adjusted from -3 to +3 units on an arbitrary scale. There's also a White Balance Bracketing mode, which captures three images at slightly different white balance adjustments, so you can pick the best image when you get them all back on your computer. I think both of these options are very useful, as I often find myself wanting to tweak one of a camera's preprogrammed white balance values to my liking. White balance "tweak" adjustments like this are becoming more common, but I wish even more manufacturers would adopt them.

Exposure compensation on the Coolpix 8800 is adjustable from -2 to +2exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments, in all exposure modes. Simply hold down the exposure compensation button and turn the Command dial. The Auto Bracketing feature takes three or five shots of the same subject with varying exposure values determined either by the photographer in Manual mode or by the camera in all other modes. Exposure settings for bracketing can vary from -1 to +1 EV (values are added to the already chosen exposure compensation value), with step sizes of 0.3, 0.7, or one EV unit.

Another signature Nikon feature is the Image Adjustment menu. This menu offers options to increase or decrease contrast. Like other recent Coolpix digicams, the 8800 also provides a range of color saturation options, covering a five-step scale plus and Auto and Black & White. Unlike some cameras, the Coolpix 8800 actually increases detail when recording in B & W, rather than simply discarding color information. Additionally, a Sharpness adjustment controls the amount of in-camera sharpening applied to the image, with a three-step range of adjustment, plus Off and Auto.

One of the really unique Nikon digicam features, the Best Shot Selector (BSS), captures several images in rapid succession, and lets the camera choose only the sharpest (least blurred) or the best exposed image to be saved. Best Shot Selector set to sharpness makes it feasible to handhold the camera for surprisingly long exposures - I've routinely handheld 1/2 second exposures and gotten good results with Coolpix cameras. You can check your own work immediately by using the Quick review button. I've really enjoyed the available-light and low-light photos BSS has let me bring home those times when I've taken a Nikon digicam with me on a trip or outing. Since it chooses the sharpest image from among several that it shoots though, it's at its best when you have a fairly static subject. When shooting people-pictures, it tends to miss fleeting expressions. Still, it's a remarkably useful photographic tool--especially excellent for long telephoto shots--one I'd be happy to see on cameras from other manufacturers. (I seem to end up saying that a lot when talking about unique Nikon features.) On the 8800, the usefulness of BSS is further enhanced by the camera's excellent vibration reduction system: It should be possible to hand-hold amazingly long exposures and still get sharp results.

New on the 8800 is an "Exposure BSS" feature. Like standard BSS, this option shoots several frames in sequence, while you hold down the shutter button, but this time varies exposure between shots. While many cameras offer automatic exposure bracketing, the Nikon Exposure BSS approach is unique, in that the camera analyzes the results, and only saves the image with the best exposure. Exposure BSS has three options, called Highlight, Shadow, or Histogram. Highlight Exposure BSS looks for the brightest image that still shows significant detail in the highlights. Shadow Exposure BSS does the opposite, looking for the darkest exposure that still shows good exposure in the shadows. Histogram BSS represents a combination of the two, as it tries to balance any loss of detail between highlight and shadow areas. - Big kudos to Nikon for this feature, which should be useful to a great many photographers.

The Coolpix 8800 lets you save two sets of User settings for focus, exposure, and other camera options for rapid recall via the setup menu. This is a real time saver in rapidly switching between widely different sets of shooting conditions. User changes to the camera's settings default to setting 1,unless setting 2 is specified.

Finally, a Self-Timer mode provides a short countdown between a full press of the Shutter button and the actual exposure. The Coolpix 8800 lets you select either a three- or 10-second delay. The shorter delay is great for those times when you're talking a long exposure on a tripod, and want to use the self-timer to trip the shutter so you won't jiggle the camera.

 

Flash

The Coolpix 8800 features a built-in, pop-up flash with five modes available, including Auto, Flash Cancel, Anytime Flash, Auto Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Sync and Rear Curtain Sync. The Slow-Sync option is useful when shooting subjects with darker or dimly-lit backgrounds (such as night scenes) because the camera leaves the shutter open longer, firing the flash before the shutter closes. This allows more ambient light into the image, avoiding the starkly-lit appearance of standard nighttime flash shots. It can also provide a nice motion blur effect. Red-Eye Reduction mode fires a pre-flash before the main exposure, to reduce the reflection from the subject's pupils. Rear Curtain Sync creates a trail of light behind moving subjects.

The top-mounted hot shoe accommodates a more powerful external flash, either a Nikon dedicated unit, or a generic third-party one. According to Nikon's documentation, the Coolpix 8800's hot show is set up to work with Nikon Speedlight models SB-600 and SB-800, and the SC-28 and SC-29 sync cables for off-camera flash. Unlike earlier high-end Coolpix models, Nikon does not seem to support connection of the 8800 to older models of Nikon Speedlights, although I suspect that many of them would provide at least some level of compatibility.

One of the nicest surprises with the Coolpix 8800 though, is that it finally supports the zoom heads on the SB-600/800 external speedlights. (Thank you, Nikon!) As you zoom the 8800's lens with an SB-600 or -800 attached, after each zoom movement (at least, at wide-to-normal focal lengths), you'll hear the zoom motor in the flash head actuate. With a zoom as long as that on the Coolpix 8800 (not to mention the somewhat meager maximum aperture at telephoto of only f/5.2), having the flash focus its output into a narrower cone is a real benefit for telephoto flash photography.

Finally, a major feature of the SB-600/800/Coolpix 8800 combo is that either flash offers true Through The Lens (TTL) flash metering when used with the camera. This is a really significant benefit, particularly with a long-ratio zoom lens, as it makes it possible to get accurate flash exposures, even when zoomed way in on a subject that's a significantly different color/reflectance than the background. Very few prosumer-level digicams offer true TTL flash metering, and even fewer do so when used with external flash units.

One remaining feature that may still seem to be "missing" relative to Nikon speedlights is external-flash-based autofocus assist illumination. Both the SB-600 and SB-800 speedlights incorporate infrared autofocus assist illuminators, which aren't utilized by the Coolpix 8800. While some readers will doubtless wonder why this is the case, use of an IR AF assist light may have fundamental issues, given that the 8800's AF is based on the signal coming from the CCD, and the CCD in the 8800 (like those in most digicams) has an IR filter over it to improve color rendition.

Continuous Shooting Modes
The Coolpix 8800 offers a number "motor drive" rapid-exposure modes for capturing quick sequences of images. Six modes (Continuous L, Continuous H, Multi-Shot 16, Ultra High Speed Continuous, 5 Shot Buffer and Interval Timer Shooting) are selectable under the Continuous option of the settings menu. Continuous L mode captures as many as 11 frames at 1.1 frames per second (the first frame seems to take a little longer, so the buffer will hold 12 frames, but they aren't all captured at 1.1 frames per second). Continuous H mode captures as many as five frames at 2.3 frames per second (LCD and EVF turn off while capturing in this mode). In Ultra High Speed Continuous mode, the Coolpix 8800 captures as many as 100 frames at 30 frames per second, VGA resolution (640 x 480). Multi-Shot 16 mode subdivides the image area into 16 sections and captures a "mini-movie" of small images (816 x 612 resolution), which fills-in a 4x4 array within a single 3,264 x 2,448 pixel image as the shooting progresses. Frame rates in Multi-Shot 16 are as fast as 1.6 frames per second. 5-shot buffer mode captures full res images at .7 frames per second, allowing the user to just hold the shutter button down while following or waiting for the action; and once the button is released, the last five frames are saved from the buffer to the card. This allows photographers to capture the apex of an event whose apex they cannot predict. It would be nice if the frame rate could be increased if shot at 5 megapixel resolution, but it's a great feature nonetheless. Finally, the Interval Timer Shooting mode lets you continuously shoot time-lapse images, with intervals of 30 seconds, or 1, 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes between shots.

Movie Mode
The Coolpix 8800 also records moving images with sound. In TV Movie mode, new to the series, the camera captures an impressive 30 frames per second at 640 x 480 for a maximum of 60 seconds. Small Movies are recorded at QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) resolution for as long as the card can record (over 14 minutes or 895 seconds, according to Nikon with a 256MB card). Time lapse movies are limited to 640 x 480 resolution, and a max of 1050 images, for a maximum playback time of 35 seconds at 30fps. Frame capture intervals in time lapse movie mode can be set to 30 seconds, or 1, 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes. Another odd mode is Sepia movie mode, which is only five frames per second at 320 x 240, again with a max of whatever the card can store. Many competing cameras currently on the market can record movie segments of arbitrary length, limited only by available memory card capacity. Frankly though, I think that the ability to take lengthy movies is overrated. Most television shows and movies change shots every 10 seconds to one minute, and for good reason: Taking short video snapshots usually results in better videos, capturing just enough of the flavor of an event to get the message across, without leaving your audience bleary-eyed and bored. (Of course, there's also the argument that you'll often want to film a longer clip, and then chop out just the most interesting part of it. In that scenario, longer maximum recording times are indeed helpful, provided you have the technical savvy and desire to do video editing.)

 

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I now routinely measure it with a custom test system I constructed for the purpose. (With crystal-controlled timing, accurate to 0.01% and with a timing resolution of 1 millisecond.) Here's the full set of timing numbers I measured for the Coolpix 8800:

Nikon Coolpix 8800 Timings
Operation
Time
(secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
3.6
LCD turns on and lens extends forward. Fairly fast for a big lens.
Shutdown
3.5 - 148
First time is time to retract lens, second time is worst-case buffer-clearing time. First number is fairly fast for a big lens. Second number is very long, but it corresponds to clearing a buffer full of 100 small/basic images, after an extended sequence in Continuous Low mode.
Play to Record, first shot
2.7
Time until first shot is captured. Average.
Record to play
5/1.3
First time is that required to display a large/fine file immediately after capture, second time is that needed to display a large/fine file that has already been processed and stored on the memory card. First time is a little slow, second time is pretty good.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
(Camera not writing to the memory card)
0.53/0.54
First time is for full wide-angle, second time is for full telephoto in bright lighting. Telephoto slows significantly in less-bright light. Unlike the 8400, there seems to be no difference in shutter lag, whether using AF Area mode or not.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
(Camera writing to the memory card)
1.56 If the camera is still writing previous images to the memory card, the shutter lag time is much longer. The time at left is for the camera in wide angle mode, with the green "writing to the card" icon still displayed on the LCD screen.
Shutter lag, Manual focus 0.274 About average among prosumer digicams.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.077
Time to capture, after half-pressing shutter button. Very fast.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution JPEGs

2.67 / 1.89

First number is for large/fine files, second number is time for "TV" mode (640x480) images. Times are averages. Shoots 4 images this fast in large/fine mode, then slows to an irregular pace of about one shot every 5.7 seconds. Buffer clears in 25 seconds. In TV mode, continues at this pace indefinitely, clearing the buffer after each shot. (Tested with a Lexar 80x CF card.)

Cycle Time, RAW mode 9.11 Shoots 5 RAW images this fast, then slows to about 23 seconds apart. Buffer clears in 71 seconds with a fast card. (Tested with a Lexar 80x CF.) Times are averages. Buffer clears in 97 seconds with a Lexar 4x CF card.
Cycle Time, HI (TIFF) mode 15.98 No buffering of TIFF images, all shots take this long. (Tested with a Lexar 80x CF.)
Cycle Time, Continuous High mode, RAW / max / min JPEGs 0.45 / 0.43 0.45
(2.25 / 2.34 / 2.25 fps)
First number is for RAW images, second is for large/fine images, third number is time for "TV" size images. Times are averages. Shoots five frames at about the same rate regardless of resolution. Buffer clears in 91 seconds for RAW, 41 seconds for large/fine images, 12 seconds for lowest resolution. Buffer clearing (Times are with Lexar 80x CF card, buffer-clearing time increases to 97 seconds for RAW with a Lexar 4x card.)
Cycle Time, continuous Low mode, max/min resolution 1.07 / 0.73
(0.93 / 1.37 fps)

First number is for large/fine files, second number is time for small/basic images. Times are averages. Shoots this fast for 5 images in large/fine mode and clears the buffer in 47 seconds. In TV mode, shoots over 100 at this rate, but takes 148 seconds to clear the buffer. (Times are with Lexar 80x CF card.)

We did encounter a glitch with this mode: When shooting Extra Fine JPEGs at ISO 200 or 400, the first shot of the series was almost always trashed. The problem never appeared at ISO 50 or 100, and never with lower-quality JPEGs.

Cycle Time, continuous Multi 16 mode 0.60
(1.67 fps)
Camera captures 816 x 612 pixel images, stores them in 4x4 arrays inside normal 3264x2448 files. Buffer clears in 6 seconds. (Times are with Lexar 80x CF card.)
Cycle Time, Ultra High Speed 0.03
(30.0 fps)
Camera captures up to 100 640 x 480 pixel images at 30 fps. Buffer clears in 4 seconds. (Times are with Lexar 80x CF card.)
Cycle Time, continuous 5-shot buffer mode 1.39
(0.72 fps)

Time is for large/extra fine images. Camera shoots continuously while shutter button is pressed, but only stores the last five shots. Buffer clears in 18 seconds with a Lexar 80x CF card. (22 seconds with a 12x card, 23 seconds with a 4x one.)

 

The Nikon 8800 is a bit of a mixed bag in the speed department. On the one hand, its shutter response is very good, faster than most digicams on the market, at both wide angle and telephoto focal lengths. On the other hand though, the shutter response slows dramatically when the camera is writing to the memory card. Shot to shot cycle time is respectable (if not exactly blazing), and continuous-mode speed is quite good, at roughly 2.3 frames/second in Continuous High mode. When it comes time to write the image data to the memory card though, things slow considerably, with very long buffer-clearing times.

Prior to writing this update, there'd been speculation around the Internet that the camera actually performed faster with slower memory cards, the theory being that these cards better matched the camera's internal operating speed. I'm not sure where this rumor got started, but it clearly wasn't the case with our production sample. We tested it with a wide range of memory cards, and found that, while cards faster than 4x produced only very slight improvements in buffer-clearing times, the faster cards were in all cases faster than slower ones. (The camera does take some advantage of modern, reasonably fast memory cards though. While we found only minor differences in write speeds between 4x and 80x cards (or SanDisk's Ultra and Extreme cards), old non-speed-rated cards were very slow. Bottom line, our advice would be to make sure you purchase name-brand cards known to be at least reasonably fast, but the Coolpix 8800's performance doesn't seem to justify the investment in the highest-speed cards currently available.)

Testing this camera alongside the Coolpix 8400 (which we received at the same time), we found the shutter lag to be markedly different between the two models. No doubt thanks to its hybrid IR/CCD autofocus system, the 8400 is capable of much faster shutter response, as long as its Autofocus Area Mode option is turned off. The 8800 focuses more slowly overall, but suffers no additional loss when AF Area Mode is engaged.

Overall, the Nikon Coolpix 8800 seems to be roughly in the middle of the pack among 8 megapixel models in terms of both focus speed/shutter lag and cycle times.

 

Operation and User Interface

The Coolpix 8800's substantial LCD menu system is useful for novices and for less commonly used controls, and it's good that it's there; but over time, experienced users will find they can make many of the necessary adjustments for routine shooting without resorting to the LCD screen. Once you learn where the functions are, you can do much of what you need using the external controls on the camera.

The programmable Function key adds some limited flexibility, letting you customize the camera to your specific shooting needs by assigning a single frequently used setting to the top-panel FUNC button. In addition to whatever you assign to the FUNC button, with the use of various dials and buttons, you can adjust exposure compensation, exposure mode, focus controls (manual focus setting, macro, and infinity focus) and flash mode without resorting to the LCD menus. ISO value, Image quality, Image size, White balance, Continuous mode, and User setting bank 1 or 2 can also be adjusted without the LCD, if they are selected for the FUNC key. However, only one of these functions can be assigned to the FUNC key at any one time. This inconvenience is mitigated by the fact that the Mode dial on the Coolpix 8800 has separate settings that allow quick access for White Balance, ISO, and Image mode (quality and size), although you are taken out of the Recording mode in the process of using them. The top-panel monochrome status display provides clear feedback for all of the settings accessed via the buttons and Command wheel. When you do have to delve into the LCD menu system, navigation via the Five-way controller is intuitive and quick. In normal operation, many of the camera's functions are controlled by a combination of hitting a button and turning the Command dial, which usually makes it fast and efficient to change settings. Control layout is also logical, allowing one-handed operation for commonly changed functions, and requiring a two-handed approach only for manual focus setting.

Reading the manual is essential to understanding many of the functions of the Coolpix 8800. Its feature set is rich and deep, and the reward for the extra research is a thorough understanding of a very capable camera.

Control Enumeration


Shutter Button
: Located on top of the camera (slightly sloping down in front) and encircled by the Power switch, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed.

Power Switch: Surrounding the Shutter button on the camera's top panel, this dial turns the camera on or off.


Function Button
: Just behind the shutter release, this button can be assigned via the Setup menu to one of the following functions: White balance, Image quality, Image size, Sensitivity (ISO), Continuous shooting, and User setting. These functions can then be controlled without using the LCD menu. You simply hold down the FUNC button and move the Command dial to adjust the settings. The small Control panel displays the changing settings, as will the LCD panel or viewfinder. The two available User settings allows you to pre-set an extensive number of features. Any changes to settings on the Coolpix 8800 go to User setting 1 by default, unless setting 2 is specified. As mentioned above, White balance, ISO, and Image size and quality can be accessed directly by the Mode dial, without toggling through the menu system.


Flash Button: Just behind the function button, this button adjusts the flash setting in all still recording modes except for the those where flash has been cancelled by the user, the Scene modes for which flash has been disabled by Nikon, and when settings such as Continuous do not allow the flash to fire. By repeatedly pressing the button, you can set the flash for Auto, Flash Cancel, Auto Red Eye, Anytime Flash (fill), Slow sync, and Rear curtain sync. Icons for each setting are shown in the Control panel, and can be displayed in the LCD and viewfinder.


Exposure Compensation/Voice Memo Button: Directly to the right of the Flash button, this button adjusts the amount of exposure compensation (from-2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments) when held down while turning the Command dial. When in full-frame Playback mode, voice memos can be added to photos up to 20 seconds long. Hold the button down while recording. A music note icon appears onscreen when a voice memo is attached to a photo, and pressing the Voice Memo button plays the note. The zoom controls change the volume up and down.


Illuminate Button
: Behind the Flash button, this button activates a green backlight behind the status display panel, so you can read the displaying dark conditions.


Mode Dial: Located in the right rear corner of the top panel, the Mode Dial is the heart of the 8800's control system. It selects between eight major operating modes, including Playback mode, Auto, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, full Manual, and Scene still capture modes, and Movie mode. A Setup option calls up the three-screen setup menu on the LCD or EVF screen, while three setting options let you adjust White Balance, ISO, and Image Size/Quality without having to delve into the menu system.


Command Dial
: Located just below the right hand corner of the top of the camera, this rotary control is used in conjunction with a number of the other buttons on the camera to change camera settings. Pressing the appropriate button and rotating the dial one way or the other steps through the options available for the setting in question. In programmed exposure mode, rotating the dial at any time (e.g., with no button pressed) varies the exposure program, biasing it toward larger or smaller aperture settings. (A very handy way to control depth of field in your photos, without having to bother with the aperture priority exposure mode.) In Manual mode you press the Function button to switch between adjustment of the Shutter speed and Aperture.


Diopter Adjustment Dial
: Hidden on the left side of the viewfinder eyepiece, this small, black dial adjusts the viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers.


Monitor Select Button: On the right side of the viewfinder eyepiece, this button toggles the viewfinder display back and forth between the EVF and LCD monitor. Since there's no optical viewfinder, there's no "off" setting to disable the electronic viewfinders entirely.


AE / AF Lock Button
: Just to the right of the Monitor select button, this button locks exposure and/or focus when pressed. A setting in the Record menu assigns either AE only, AF only, or both to the button.


Zoom Control
: Located in the upper right-center portion of the back panel, this rocker control operates the optical zoom in all capture modes. Likewise, when digital telephoto is enabled, this button controls the amount of digital zoom from 1.1x to 4.0x.

In single-image playback mode, pressing the "T" side of the rocker repeatedly zooms in on the image, while pressing the "W" side of the control reverses the zoom. Pressing the "W" side again after reaching a full-frame view switches to a four-image thumbnail view, and another press switches to a nine-image thumbnail view. Pressing the "T" side of the control steps back through the sequence in the other direction. These buttons also control volume in Voice Memo playback mode.


Menu Button
: Adjacent to the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button brings up the settings menu in all capture modes and in the Playback mode. Pressing it a second time cancels the menu display.


Quick Review Button
: Beneath the Menu button, this button calls up a thumbnail sized display of the most recently captured image while in either record mode, appearing in the upper left-hand corner. The left and right arrow keys scroll through the remaining captured images on the memory card. Pressed a second time, it expands the thumbnail view to a full-screen display of the captured images on the card, complete with an image information overlay. The Quick Review mode is canceled by pressing the button a third time, or by pressing the Shutter button.


Erase Button
: Just below the Quick Review button, this button calls up the Erase menu in Playback mode, which lets you delete the displayed image. There is an option to cancel. In Record mode, it sets the self timer: one press for 10 seconds, two presses for 3 seconds, a third press to cancel.


Display Button
: Directly below the Erase button, this button controls the information overlay in Playback and any Record mode. Pressing it once turns off the information display, while a second press recalls it. When information display is on, you can use the Command dial to change among several screens worth of information, in both Playback and Record modes.


Five-way controller
: Situated on the right of the rear panel, this control features four arrows that allow the user to navigate through the LCD menu system and make selections in Record and Playback modes. Different menu items are selected via the up/down arrows. Pressing the right arrow selects the item, generally taking you into a sub-menu. Pressing the left arrow takes you back out again. Once in a sub-menu, the up/down arrows again step between items, while a right-arrow selects. This process continues until you arrive at the final point of selection, upon which a press on the center, or "fifth" button sets the selection.

In Playback mode, the left and right arrows scroll through captured images. If an image has been enlarged, with the Zoom control, all four arrows pan around within the view.


AF/Focus Mode Button: Pressing this button cycles between normal autofocus mode, Landscape mode (infinity focus), and Macro mode (close focus). Rotating the Command Dial while pressing and holding this button down puts the camera in to Manual Focus mode and adjusts the focusing distance.


VR On/OFF: Enables/Disables the 8800's Vibration Reduction system. When enabled, half-pressing the shutter button activates the VR system.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

The Coolpix 8800's operation revolves (no pun intended ;) around the Mode Dial, located in the rear, right hand corner of its top panel. The Mode Dial selects one of eight operating modes for the camera, plus a setup mode and three parameter-adjustment settings. The operating modes are Auto, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, and Scene still-capture modes, Movie mode, and Playback mode. The three parameter-adjustment positions let you set White Balance, ISO, and Image size/quality.

With the exception of Auto mode, all of the operating modes have menu systems associated with them, accessed by pressing the Menu button on the camera's rear panel. You navigate through the menu system by using the 5-way controller's arrow keys and central Select button to move a cursor and confirm selections, but some submenus also let you select options by rotating the Command Dial, without actually entering the submenu itself. Submenus having this option are marked on the LCD screen with a rotating dial icon when they are selected.

The Command Dial selects one of twelve modes for the camera. In the Automode, no menus are available. Recording mode (still) menus are available in Program, Flexible Program, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority, and manual Modes. Separate menus are available (from the Menu button) for the Scene, Movie, Set-up, Image, Sensitivity, White Balance, and Review modes.

 

Recording Mode (still images)

Nikon's higher-end "prosumer" digicams have a somewhat different setup in their menu system from that found in most competing models. The limited function offering on the initial "My Menu" can be confusing to first-time users, but does offer some efficiency for more experienced owners of the cameras. Our advice to new owners is to scan through the options available in the full menu system (see the "Show all menus" option at the bottom of the My Menu), and then select a subset of your most frequently used options to appear in the My Menu. Customizing the My Menu like this can make the camera much easier and more intuitive to operate. (Likewise, assigning a commonly-used function to the FUNC button makes for smoother operation as well.)

With the above as a preface, let's take a look at the 8800's still-capture menu screens: 

 

My Menu

As just noted above, this first menu lets you select any six submenus to appear on the screen, based on the settings you're likely to want to adjust most often. The default choices are: Metering, Continuous, BSS, Image adjustment, Saturation control, User setting, and Show all menus. The "Show all menus" settings lets you scroll down through all three menus. In many cases the Command dial can be used to scroll through submenu choices without actually selecting the submenu with the Five-way controller. The features allowing use of the Command dial are indicated on the menu by the Command dial icon (represented by a small disk with arrows beneath). Having a My Menu is good, but having to bypass it when you want more is sometimes annoying. The trick is to hit the up-arrow and press the Enter key (the Five-way controller's center button), which takes you to the real menu. Unfortunately there appears to be no way to disable My Menu, but I have to say that after working with the camera for a while, I came to really appreciate the ability to put my most often-used settings close at hand. (And no, I don't really use the camera with two menu options for white balance and ISO: That's just how it happened to end up when son Chris was shooting the screenshots for me.)

 

Menu One (1/3)

Once you leave the Coolpix 8800's My Menu, the menus do get complex enough to warrant a table to describe them.

 Menu Selection Options Notes
 White balance
  • Auto
  • White bal. preset
    • Cancel
    • Measure
  • Daylight*
  • Incandescent*
  • Fluorescent
  • Cloudy*
  • Speedlight*
  • Shade*

Options marked with "*" can be tweaked +/- 3 units to shift to warmer or cooler white balances using the Command dial.

Fluorescent option offers choice of 3 lamp types.

Metering
  • Matrix
  • Spot
  • Center-weighted
  • Spot AF area
Defines area and pattern of metering.
Continuous
  • Single
  • Continuous H
  • Continuous L
  • Multi-shot 16
  • Ultra HS
  • 5 shot buffer
  • intvl timer shooting
    • 30s
    • 1m
    • 5m
    • 10m
    • 30m
    • 60m
Allows multiple shots to be taken and recorded while shutter release is pressed. Also enables interval timed shooting.
BSS
  • BSS Off
  • BSS On
  • AE Exposure BSS
    • Highlight BSS
    • Shadow BSS
    • Histogram BSS
Best Shot Selector takes series of pictures and selects either sharpest (BSS On) or best exposed (AE Exposure BSS). Exposure can be set to favor highlights, shadows, or overall (histogram) exposure.
Image adjustment
  • Auto
  • Normal
  • + More contrast
  • -Less contrast
Increases or reduces contrast between light and dark areas.
Saturation control
  • Auto
  • +2 Maximum
  • +1 Enhanced
  • +/-0 Normal
  • -1 Moderate
  • -2 Minimum
  • Black&white
Increases or reduces vividness of colors.
User setting
  • 1
  • 2
User camera settings are automatically stored in bank 1. A second bank of settings can be set up.



Menu Two (2/3)

 Menu Selection Options Notes
Image Mode
  • Image quality
    • RAW
    • HI
    • EXTRA
    • FINE
    • NORMAL
    • BASIC
  • Image Size
    • 8M 3264x2448
    • 5M 2592x1944
    • 3M 2048x1536
    • 2M 1600x1200
    • 1M 1280x960
    • PC 1024x768
    • TV 640x480
    • 3:2 3264x2176

RAW and HI (TIFF) settings are uncompressed. (Or possibly compressed losslessly in the case of RAW files.) Compression (JPEG) increases as user moves from EXTRA down to BASIC.









The 3:2 setting crops the top and bottom of 8 megapixel images to match the proportions of a 35mm film frame.

Sensitivity
  • 50
  • 100
  • 200
  • 400
  • Auto
 
Image Sharpening
  • Auto
  • High
  • Normal
  • Low
  • Off
Controls the amount of image sharpening applied by the camera.
Lens
  • Normal
  • Wide adapter
  • Telephoto
  • Fisheye
Configures the autofocus system to compensate for auxiliary lenses.

Optional adapters are:
  • WC-E75 (0.75x)
  • TC-E3ED (3.0x)
  • FC-E9 (0.2x fisheye)
Exposure options
  • AE lock
    • On
    • Off
    • Reset
  • Bulb/Time
    • Bulb release
    • Timed release
      • 30s
      • 1m
      • 3m
      • 5m
      • 10m

AE lock locks in exposure and white balance for a series of pictures.

'Bulb' keeps shutter open while the shutter button is held down. (Maximum of 10 minutes)

'Timed' opens shutter until a set time elapses or the release is pressed again.

Focus options
  • AF area mode
    • Auto
    • Manual
    • Off

  • Auto-focus mode
    • Single AF
    • Continuous AF

  • Focus confirmation
    • Manual Focus
    • On
    • Off

AF area mode options control the choice of active autofocus area from among the 9 available.

Autofocus mode determines whether autofocus is done once or continuously for each frame.

Focus confirmation refers to an enhanced sharpening on the LCD screen when focus is achieved.

Zoom options
  • Digital tele
    • On
    • Off

  • Fixed aperture
    • On
    • Off

Digital tele increases zoom range 4x but at the cost of resolution.

Fixed aperture holds aperture as 'constant as possible' during zoom. (Handy for use with external "dumb" strobe units)



Menu Three (3/3)

Menu Selection Options Notes
VR mode
  • VR Normal
  • VRACT Active
Active mode increases response to high-frequency vibrations, as in a car or other moving vehicle.
Speedlight opt.
  • Pop Up
    • Auto
    • Manual
  • Flash exp. comp.
  • Speedlight cntrl
    • Auto
    • Internal off


Flash exposure can be compensated +/- 2 EV in 1/3 EV intervals.

Internal flash can be disabled when using external strobe unit.

Auto bracketing
  • Off
  • Auto bracketing
    • 3 +/-0.3
    • 3 +/-0.7
    • 3 +/-1.0
    • 5 +/-0.3
    • 5 +/-0.7
    • 5 +/-1.0
  • WB bracketing
Exposure bracketing can capture either 3 or 5 shots in the bracket.

WB bracketing Takes three exposures--one 'normal,' one with a more bluish cast, another with a more reddish cast.
Noise reduction
  • On
  • Off
When enabled, noise reduction operates only at shutter speeds below 1/4 sec.
Reset
  • No
  • Reset
Resets current user setting bank to default values.
My menu   Allows selection of options for "My Menu" from all submenus on Record menus 1-3.
CF card format
  • No
  • Format
Reformats CF card, erasing all images. Displays message: 'Warning! All images will be deleted!' (Note that formatting the CF card erases even images that have been "protected" via the playback-mode menu option.


 

Playback Mode
No surprises here, the Coolpix 8800's Playback mode lets you view and manage images stored on its memory card. The Playback mode menu system is very straightforward, with two screens of primary options. (No My Menu in this mode.)


Menu One (1/2):

Menu Selection Options Notes
Delete
  • Selected images
  • Erase all images
    • No
    • Yes
"Selected images" shows 3 images at a time with the center one highlighted for deletion.

'Erase all images' option excludes protected images.
Folders
  • Folder options
    • New
    • Rename
    • Delete
  • Folders
    • Nikon
    • (Others)
Options allow creation, naming, and deletion of new folders on the memory card, in addition to the default Nikon folder (which cannot be deleted).
Slide Show
  • Start
  • Frame intvl
    • 2s
    • 3s
    • 5s
    • 10s
  • Loop
Sets up options for and starts automated picture playback.
Protect
  • On
  • Off
Shows three images. Highlighted image can be marked as "protected.". Protected image will not be deleted unless card is formatted.
Hide image
  • On
  • Off
Allows highlighted image to be hidden for slide show or other showing. Image remains accessible through Hide image menu. (Hide the club photos when delivering your trip report at the office? ;-)
Print set
  • Print selection
    • +
    • -
  • Delete print set
Displays image to be printed directly from camera (PictBridge) or marked for subsequent printing (DPOF).
Auto transfer
  • Selected images
    • On
    • Off
  • All images
    • No
    • Yes
  • Cancel transfer
Sends selected pictures can be automatically transferred to a computer running Nikon's PictureProject software.

 

Menu Two (2/2):

Menu Selection Options Notes
Move image
  • Nikon
    • On
    • Off
  • (Other Folders)
Allows user to move pictures from one folder to another.
CF card format
  • No
  • Format
Reformats CF card, erasing all images. Displays message: 'Warning! All images will be deleted!' (Note that formatting the CF card erases even images that have been "protected" via the playback-mode option described above.
Small pic.
  • 640x480
  • 320x240
  • 160x120
Controls size of copies made with Small picture option.

Scene Mode

Offers a choice of fifteen different "scenes" that correspond to common situations. A variety of camera settings are automatically adjusted to give optimum results for each scene type.

 

 Menu Selection Options  Notes

Portrait
  • Focus area selection
Favors larger apertures for softer backgrounds. Focus area selectable via multi-selector.

Party/Indoor

Use to capture lighting effects in background.

Night portrait
  • Focus area selection
Longer shutter time combined with flash balances exposure between subject and background.

 Beach/Snow

Reduces tendency to underexpose bright scenes.

Landscape

Enhances colors and contrasts.

Sunset

Uses fixed white balance setting and a little negative exposure compensation to preserve deep hues.

Night landscape
  Slow shutter speed with noise reduction.

Museum
  Engages BSS to capture sharpest image when hand-holding.

Fireworks show
  Slow shutter speed to capture bursts, small lens aperture to preserve color in streamers.

Close up
  • Focus area selection
Engages macro focusing, allows manual selection of focus area.

Copy
  For black copy on white background.

Back light
  Activates fill flash for subject.

Panorama assist
  White balance and exposure are fixed on first shot in series to avoid exposure or color variations between shots.

Sports
  Favors fast shutter speeds.

Dusk/Dawn
  Uses fixed white balance setting to preserve colors. Turns on noise reduction.

 

Movie Mode:
The Coolpix 8800 can record movies with sound (except for time-lapse movies, which are silent) ranging in length from 60 seconds at 640x480 resolution to the limit of the available card in 320x240, sepia, and black & white (895 seconds for 256 MB card).

 Menu Selection Options Notes
Movie options
  • TV movie 640
  • Small size 320
  • Time-lapse movie
    • Set Interval Time
    • AE Lock
  • Sepia movie 320
  • B/W movie 320
In time-lapse mode, the interval between shots can be set to 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5m, 10m, 30m, or 60m.
Auto-focus mode
  • Single AF
  • Continuous AF
Single AF sets focus at the beginning of the movie clip, continuous AF focuses during the entire recording.

 

Setup Mode Menu One (1/3):

Menu Selection Options Notes
Language
  • German
  • English
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Italian
  • Dutch
  • Swedish
  • Japanese
  • Simplified Chinese
  • Traditional Chinese
  • Korean
   
Date
  • Date
    • Day
    • Month
    • Year
    • Minutes
    • Seconds
  • Time Zone
    • (In use)
    • Time Zone
    • Daylight Saving
    • (Alternate)
    • Time Zone
    • Daylight Saving
Time Zone displays the currently set time zone and allows user to toggle across all time zones on a world map to select a main time zone and an optional second time zone.
Folders
  • Folder options
    • New
    • Rename
    • Delete
  • Folders
    • Nikon
    • (Others)
Options allow creation, naming, and deletion of new folders on the memory card, in addition to the default Nikon folder (which cannot be deleted).
Monitor options
  • Release speed
    • Normal
    • Quick response
  • Review Options
    • Review on
    • Review off
  • Brightness
  • Hue
  • Start-up Display
    • Monitor on
    • Viewfinder on
  • Welcome screen
    • Disable welcome
    • Nikon
    • Select an image

Release speed can be set to reduce shutter lag at the cost of a slightly inferior preview image.



Brightness and Hue adjustments to the LCD and EVF displays offer a sliding scale where the changes can be see as they are made. (A very unusual feature, but one that makes sense.)

Seq. numbers
  • On
  • Off
Sequential file numbering continues from one card to another when this setting is on.
 Shutter sound
  • On
  • Off
Controls camera 'beep' for a number of functions and warnings.
Auto off
  • 30s
  • 1m
  • 5m
  • 30m
Puts camera in standby mode.


Setup Mode Menu Two (2/3):

Menu Selection Options Notes
CF card format
  • No
  • Format
Reformats CF card, erasing all images. Displays message: 'Warning! All images will be deleted!' (Note that formatting the CF card erases even images that have been "protected" via the playback-mode option described above.
Controls
  • FUNC
    • User setting
    • White balance
    • Image quality
    • Image size
    • Sensitivity
    • Continuous

  • AE-L, AF-L
    • AE-L & AF-L
    • AE-L
    • AF-L

The FUNC option assigns a frequently used function to the Function button near the shutter release. When the FUNC key is held down, the preset function is displayed in the small control panel and can be adjusted by turning the Command dial.

The AE/AF-L option controls the operation of the like-labeled button on the camera's back. Options are for it to lock either focus or exposure when pressed, or to lock both simultaneously.

Shot confirmation
  • On
  • Off
Lights self-timer lamp after a shot or shots are completed.
Info. txt
  • On
  • Off
Records detailed information about each shot in a separate text file saved on the CF card.
 USB
  • PTP
  • Mass Storage
Configures the camera for connection to a computer or printer. 'PTP' supports newer printers compatible with the PictBridge standard,. as well as many newer computer programs. 'Mass Storage' lets the camera appear as a removable hard drive on both Windows and Mac computers running current versions of the operating systems.
 Video mode
  • NTSC
  • PAL
Sets signal timing for the video output. (NTSC for U.S. & Japan, PAL for Europe).
 Reset all
  • No
  • Reset
Resets all camera settings to default values.


Setup Mode Menu Three (3/3):

Menu Selection Options Notes
 Date imprint
  • Off
  • Date
  • Date and time
Date or Date and Time are imprinted into images themselves.
 Firmware version   Displays current firmware version on the LCD screen.


Image Mode
This mode-dial option lets you adjust image quality and size settings without having to delve into the normal record mode menu system. Its entries are just duplicates of those for the Image Mode submenu, found on the second screen of the full record menu. As such I won't include a new screenshot here, but do repeat the menu options for the sake of clarity.

 Menu Selection Options Notes
 Image quality
  • RAW
  • HI
  • EXTRA
  • FINE
  • NORMAL
  • BASIC
RAW and HI (TIFF) settings are uncompressed. (Or possibly compressed losslessly in the case of RAW files.) Compression (JPEG) increases as user moves from EXTRA down to BASIC.
 Image size
  • 8M 3264x2448
  • 5M 2592x1944
  • 3M 2048x1536
  • 2M 1600x1200
  • 1M 1280x960
  • PC 1024x768
  • TV 640x480
  • 3:2 3264x2176
The 3:2 setting crops the top and bottom of 8 megapixel images to match the proportions of a 35mm film frame.

 

ISO Mode
This is another Mode dial option that simply repeats a menu option, this time one that's available both on the main Record menu, as well as the default My Menu. This option lets you adjust the camera's light sensitivity to ISO equivalents of 50, 100, 200, 400, or let the camera control it automatically.

White Balance Mode
The third and final Mode dial option that repeats a menu option, letting you adjust the camera's response to differently colored lighting.

 Menu Selection
Options
Notes
 White balance
  • Auto
  • White bal. preset
    • Cancel
    • Measure
  • Daylight*
  • Incandescent*
  • Fluorescent
  • Cloudy*
  • Speedlight*
  • Shade*

Options marked with "*" can be tweaked +/- 3 units to shift to warmer or cooler white balances using the Command dial.

Fluorescent option offers choice of 3 lamp types.

 

Image Storage and Interface

The Coolpix 8800 uses standard CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, but no "starter" card is included with the camera. Given the size of the camera's images, purchasers should seriously consider getting at least a 256MB card. The camera does fully support the FAT32 file-directory standard, so it handles cards larger than 2GB just fine. (I double-checked with a 4GB Lexar card to make sure - It formatted the card properly and wrote to it with no problems.) Captured images can be individually write-protected through the Playback menu, but write protected files are only immune to accidental deletion, not card reformatting. File formats include several levels of compressed JPEG files as well as an uncompressed TIFF mode (HI quality setting) and RAW (NEF) mode. (Both TIFF and RAW settings are only available at maximum resolution.) Available image sizes are 3,264 x 2448 (8MP), 3,264 x 2176 ( 3:2 ratio), 2,592 x 1,944 (5MP), 2,048 x 1,536 (3MP), 1,600 x 1,200 (2MP), 1,280 x 960 (SXGA or 1MP), 1,024 x 768 (XGA or PC), and 640 x 480 (VGA or TV). The table below details the Coolpix 8800's approximate file sizes and compression ratios in all its various image size/quality combinations, with file capacities shown for the 256 MB card size that I recommend as a minimum for this camera.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
256 MB Memory Card
RAW HI Extra-Fine Fine
Normal
Basic
2448 x 3264
Images
(Avg size)

20
12.6 MB

10
24.4 MB
32
7.9 MB
64
4.0 MB
126
2.0 MB
245
1.0 MB
Approx.
Compression
2:1 - 3:1 6:1 12:1 23:1
2592 x 1944
Images
(Avg size)
    51
5.0 MB
100
2.5 MB
196
1.3 MB
374
684 KB
Approx.
Compression
    3:1 6:1 12:1 22:1
2048 x 1536
Images
(Avg size)
    81
3.1 MB
160
1.6 MB
314
814 KB
605
423 KB
Approx.
Compression
    3:1 6:1
12:1
22:1
1600 x 1200
Images
(Avg size)
    133
278 KB
253
180 KB
491
115 KB
874
115 KB
Approx.
Compression
    3:1 5:1
8:1
8:1
1280 x 960
Images
(Avg size)
    201
1.3 MB
393
651 KB
715
358 KB
1311
195 KB
Approx.
Compression
    3:1 5:1
8:1
8:1
1024 x 768 Images
(Avg size)
    314
814 KB
605
423 KB
983
260 KB
1573
163 KB
Approx.
Compression
    3:1 6:1
9:1
14:1
640 x 480
Images
(Avg size)
    711
360 KB
1304
196 KB
1956
131 KB
2608
98 KB
Approx.
Compression
    3:1 5:1
7:1
9:1
  

Like most modern high-end digicams, the Coolpix 8800 supports the FAT 32 directory standard, and so can make full use of memory cards larger than 2 GB. I no longer have the 4 GB Lexar card I formerly used to verify FAT 32 compatibility, but it's probably a safe bet that the 8800 is fully FAT 32 compliant, since the earlier Coolpix 8700 was.

The Coolpix 8800 uses a USB interface to connect to a host computer for image downloading. Like many higher-end cameras these days, it's a "storage class" device, which means that Mac users on OS 8.6 or greater, or Windows Me, 2000, or XP users can just plug the camera into their computers and have it appear as a removable hard drive. Data transfer is quite fast, as I clocked it at 1809 KBytes/second on my Windows XP machine. This is quite a bit faster than any cameras using a USB v1.1 interface, and well within the middle range of USB 2.0-equipped models.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Video Out

US and Japanese versions of the Coolpix 8800 include an NTSC video cable for connecting to a television set. European models will doubtless have a cable for PAL timing and connections, given the Video Mode option in the settings menu. All images that would normally appear on the LCD are routed to the external video display so that the television screen becomes an enlarged version of the LCD monitor and can be used both for image playback and composition.



Power

The Coolpix 8800 runs on a rechargeable EN-EL7 lithium-ion battery pack, housed inside the hand grip, or an external AC adapter which plugs into the side of the camera (available as a separate accessory). The camera can also utilize six AA batteries via the optional MC-CP10 battery pack. With a capacity of 1100 mAh, the EN-EL7 battery in the Coolpix 8800 (also used in the new 8800 as well) represents a significant increase in capacity over the EN-EL1 battery used in Nikon's earlier high-end Coolpix models, which only had a capacity of 680 mAh.

The Coolpix 8800 unfortunately uses a custom power connector, so I wasn't able to perform my usual direct power measurements on it. In use though, its battery did seem to last quite a while, and I measured its worst case run time (capture mode, with the rear-panel LCD illuminated) at 2 hours and 27 minutes (147 minutes total), a very good performance indeed, and a dramatic improvement over the battery life of the earlier 8700 model.

Included Software
The Coolpix 8800 ships with Nikon's own Picture Project 1.0 for Mac and Windows. This is a rather basic organize/view/print application, although it does provide the (limited) ability to convert RAW files to JPEG format: You'll almost certainly still want some sort of commercial image-editing application (like Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements) as well, and serious users will want a better workflow tool for working with RAW-format images.

Picture Project is clearly intended for novice digital camera users. It installs drivers that watch for the connection of digital cameras via the computer's USB port, or memory cards inserted into card readers. When either is detected, it offers automatic transfer of images to your hard disk, generating a catalog of them in the process. (It can also build a catalog of images already on your disk, if you so desire.) Very basic image editing tools are provided to adjust brightness, color, and sharpness, and convert color images to either black and white or sepia monochromes.

For advanced users, Picture Project's biggest limitation will most likely be its awkward handling of RAW-format files. You can make adjustments like brightness (although not exactly digital exposure compensation, calibrated in EV units) and color, but then have to save the NEF RAW file to disk and return to the application's Organize mode before you can export it as a JPEG.

Given Picture Project's RAW-file limitations, advanced users will undoubtedly want to examine the more advanced Nikon Capture software, or one of the several third-party programs for managing RAW files. Options there include Mike Chaney's Qimage Pro, (an excellent program for very high-quality printing, although I'm not certain of Mike's current level of NEF-format support), Eric Hyman's Bibble and MacBibble. Adobe's Photoshop CS now also supports a variety of RAW formats directly as well.

PictureProject is clearly aimed at the first time digital camera user, it installs tray applications which monitor for connection of digital cameras via USB or cards inserted into card readers and then provides automatic transfer of images to the hard disk, cataloging them as it does so. You can also have the application catalog images already on your hard disk. It provides basic image editing including Brightness, Color, Sharpness and Photo Effects (B&W/Sepia).

In use I found PictureProject to feel a little awkward and incomplete, for example you double-click on an RAW to go into Edit mode where you can apply adjustments such as brightness (although not specifically digital exposure compensation) you then have to save the NEF go back to Organize mode select the image then do File -> Export as JPEG to convert the RAW file to JPEG. It doesn't support output to TIFF and doesn't provide adjustment of white balance or digital exposure compensation. PictureProject simply felt like a half finished solution and several steps back from Nikon View.

 

In the Box

The following items are shipped with the Coolpix 8800 in the US :

 

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Coolpix 8800's "pictures" page.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Coolpix 8800 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the Coolpix 8800's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

 

Conclusion

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Based on our initial review of a prototype sample of the Coolpix 8800, we concluded that it was one of the best prosumer cameras Nikon has created to date. Now having had the opportunity to fully test a production-level sample of the 8800, that conclusion still largely holds, although we did find the usual minor limitations to be expected in any camera. In working with it, we found the Coolpix 8800 to be a very appealing camera to use. Apart from a few minor niggles, its controls and ergonomics were really just right, its long-ratio zoom lens was impressive, and its VR (Vibration Reduction) technology seemed unusually effective at reducing the effects of camera shake. Image quality was generally excellent, with loads of resolution, in-camera sharpening that struck a good balance between perceived sharpness and minimal artifacts, good (if somewhat bright) color, and a lens that kept chromatic aberration largely in check yet maintained good sharpness in the corners of the frame.

Our inevitable complaints were mainly in the speed area: The 8800's shutter response is generally very good to excellent, with full-autofocus shutter lag of just over a half a second, regardless of the lens focal length setting. But, the shutter response was only that good if the camera was just sitting there, waiting for you to take the next shot. If it was still writing to the memory card, the shutter lag stretched to a ponderous 1.55 seconds, too long for a camera of this caliber, in our opinion. Perhaps partially related to this behavior, the 8800's single-shot cycle time was a merely-average 2.7 seconds. Continuous-mode speed was pretty good at 2.3 frames/second, but it took the camera a long time to write image data to the memory card to clear its buffer, and it didn't seem to take much advantage of memory cards with speed ratings faster than 4x or so. Another minor niggle was the camera's somewhat contrasty tone curve (although its image adjustment menu option was some help there), and its tendency to underexpose subjects with strong highlights. (See my remarks immediately above, though, in the Test Results/Exposure paragraph. -- Its tendency to deliberately underexpose is exactly what many serious shooters concerned about maintaining highlight detail would want.)

Niggles and complaints duly considered, the bottom line is that the Coolpix 8800 is a truly fine camera and a powerful photographic tool, with excellent optics and image quality. Clearly a Dave's Pick. It's also the first Nikon prosumer camera with VR (vibration reduction ) technology, a huge plus in a long-zoom digicam. No question, if you're shopping at the high end of the "prosumer" digicam category, the Nikon Coolpix 8800 deserves your serious consideration!

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