Nikon Coolpix A
|Sensor size:||Nikon DX|
|Dimensions:||4.4 x 2.5 x 1.6 in.
(111 x 64 x 40 mm)
|Weight:||10.5 oz (299 g)|
Nikon Coolpix A Hands-on Preview
by Mike Tomkins
With the Coolpix A, Nikon breaks new ground for its fixed-lens camera line. For the first time ever, a DX-format image sensor appears in a Coolpix-branded body. The result is a camera presenting a very interesting proposition for the street photographer looking for large-sensor image quality, but not wanting the bulk of an SLR.
Rivals. Although the Coolpix A marks a totally new approach for Nikon, it enters a market niche that now has several established competitors. Optics manufacturer Sigma got the ball rolling back in 2006 when it launched the original DP1, a camera that finally went on sale some two years later. German camera legend Leica joined the party with its X1 in 2009, and Fuji with its X100 two years later. All three have since launched follow-ups. Sigma actually has no less than three models in its current line, differing mainly in their choice of lens.
And there are other entries that, in their way, demand comparison as well. Sony's RX1 is one example, although it sports a sensor far larger even than that in the Coolpix A, and a pricetag to match. Canon, meanwhile, takes a different route with its PowerShot G1 X, which offers up a large -- but narrower aspect -- image sensor coupled to a zoom lens. That's something all its rivals lack, increasing consumer appeal, but also adding significantly to its bulk.
Of all these, the nearest competitors to the Nikon Coolpix A are the Fujifilm X100S, Leica X2, and Sigma DP1 Merrill. Nikon betters all three in terms of size, and by quite some margin, as well. It's also the second-most affordable in terms of list pricing, bested only by Sigma's DP1 Merrill.
Sigma's camera is the closest of the trio in terms of optical specification, boasting a very similar lens, but in other areas there are important differences. Most notably, it features a higher-resolution sensor with full-color at every pixel location, but trades off on ISO sensitivity to achieve this. It also lacks a built-in flash strobe.
Leica's camera is, as you might expect for that brand, vastly more expensive, and its lens is rather tighter. It also has a narrower sensitivity range, and a more basic LCD panel. Its sensor is closer to that used by Nikon, though, and it does include a popup flash.
Finally, Fujifilm's X100s is probably the furthest-differentiated from the Nikon Coolpix A. Its lens is not only tighter, but also brighter than that used by Nikon, and it's accompanied by a rangefinder-style viewfinder, where its rivals must rely on external optical finders. It also has an X-Trans II image sensor that uses a unique color filter array aimed at reducing morié without a resolution-sapping optical low-pass filter.
Walkaround. The Coolpix A sports a body not much larger than that of a Nikon 1-series camera, if you don't count the lens. Factor a similar optic into the equation, and it's actually a little smaller, despite offering more than triple the sensor area. It also weighs just a couple of grams less than does the Nikon J3 with 10mm f/2.8 lens. All of which is great news, if you're looking for an unobtrusive street camera, and you're willing to sacrifice interchangeable-lens versatility to achieve that goal.
Seen from the front, the Nikon Coolpix A has a clean, businesslike design, with no unnecessary flair or affectations. It won't draw undue attention -- unless a fellow photographer catches that little gold DX badge, anyway -- letting you get your shots without your subject becoming self-conscious at the sight of a mammoth DSLR rig. A slim bar with leatherette trim attached to the camera serves as a grip. Coupled with a small protrusion for your thumb on the rear, this gives your fingers a little more purchase on the otherwise-smooth body.
There are just two controls on the front of the Nikon A: one of the camera's two Function buttons, nestled in the bottom right quadrant of the lens (as seen from the rear), and a focus ring encircling the lens barrel. Jumping up from the Function 1 button, you arrive at an autofocus assist lamp flanked by two small holes that are the left and right ports for the stereo microphone. Slide across to the other side of the lens, and you find a small, dark, circular window for the infrared remote receiver.
The lens itself extends to about double its original length when the camera is switched on, and includes a small, sliding lens barrier that retracts automatically as the lens is extended.
The top deck is absolutely packed with controls and features, much as you'd expect from a camera aimed at enthusiasts. From left to right, there's a popup flash strobe, a standard ISO hot shoe with Nikon's intelligent contacts and a locking pin hole, a Mode dial, Shutter button encircled by a Power lever, and finally, a control dial. Directly behind the Power lever is a small, green lamp that makes clear when the camera is powered on.
Enthusiasts will welcome the presence of two User modes on the Mode dial, for quick recall of settings. The popup flash strobe has rather limited articulation though, raising only a very short distance above the top deck of the camera.
The flash strobe is released with a mechanical switch that sits directly behind the strobe itself, at the leftmost end of a slight bevel lining the top of the rear panel. Two small indicator lamps for the autofocus and flash subsystems sit in the middle of the camera on the same beveled area, right behind the Mode dial.
A column of four buttons line the left of the three-inch LCD panel. From top to bottom, these are the Exposure Compensation / Aperture button (which acts as a Lock button in Playback mode), the ISO / Function 2 button, a Zoom In button (Playback mode only; there's no digital zoom since this is an enthusiast camera), and a Help / Zoom Out / Index button.
Top to bottom on the right side of the LCD, the Playback and Menu buttons nestle inside the thumb grip, above a second control ring with central OK button. Beneath this are Nikon's configurable i-button, and a dedicated Delete button.
There's only one other physical control on the Coolpix A, and it's to be found on the left end of the camera body. A small three-position slider selects the camera's focus mode. Above this is a hinged door, beneath which you can find both a combined GPS / wired remote control terminal, and a USB 2.0 High Speed port. At the very top is a lug with D-ring for the shoulder strap.
On the opposite side of the Coolpix A, the sole connection is a Type-C Mini HDMI port, located beneath another hinged, plastic door. This sits directly beneath the other strap lug with D-ring. If you plan to shoot much video, you'll likely want to remove these D-rings and rely instead on a wrist strap, to prevent handling noise from impacting your videos with every slight motion. One last detail on this side is a small cutout, plugged with a rubber flap at the base of the right-hand side of the Coolpix A's body.
The reason for this becomes clear when you flip the Coolpix A over: it's a cutout to allow access for a dummy battery cable, used to supply mains power to the camera body. Alongside the battery in a compartment on the base of the camera is a Secure Digital card slot. The only other features of note on the camera's base are a metal tripod socket (sadly not on the central axis of the lens), and a five-hole grille for the monaural speaker.
Nikon Coolpix A Technical Info
by Mike Tomkins
Sensor. At the heart of the Nikon A is a sensor like that in no other Coolpix. Actually, it's more akin to that used in some of the company's digital SLRs. It's a DX-format -- also known as APS-C -- chip with an effective resolution of 16.2 megapixels, and a total resolution of 16.93 megapixels.
Those figures may seem familiar: they're exactly the same as those of the sensor in the Nikon D7000 and D5100, as well as Pentax's K-5, K-5 II, and K-5 IIs, suggesting that the Coolpix A's chip is likely closely related. And that would be good news, because it's a sensor that's been widely praised for its image quality.
Update: Thanks to a reader's tip, we now know it's not exactly the same sensor. Nikon says the micro lenses have been designed exclusively for the Coolpix A, to optimize edge-to-edge performance of the camera's fixed wide-angle lens. Furthermore, there's no optical low pass filter to maximize per-pixel detail, which seems to be all the rage these days. (The recently announced Nikon D7100 and D800E both forgo optical low pass filters, as well as the Pentax K-5 IIs, though the latter two offer equivalent models with an OLPF.) We can't wait to test a Coolpix A to see how it handles moiré and other aliasing artifacts.
Sensitivity. By default, the Nikon Coolpix A offers a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 6,400 equivalents. For Program, Priority, or Manual shooting only, the upper limit can be relaxed, providing access to Hi 0.3 (ISO 8,000), Hi 0.7 (ISO 10,000), Hi 1 (ISO 12,800), and Hi 2 (ISO 25,600) equivalents.
Performance. Nikon rates the Coolpix A as capable of shooting full-resolution images at a rate of up to four frames per second. Information on burst shooting depth wasn't available at press time.
Lens. Along with its sensor, the other defining characteristic of the Nikon Coolpix A is its lens. It's a Nikkor-branded, 18.5mm f/2.8 optic, with a field of view approximately equivalent to that of a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera body. The optical formula includes seven elements in five groups, and an electronically-controlled, seven-bladed aperture.
The lens' design doesn't include any form of image stabilization, but as noted previously, it does feature a built-in, automatically-retracting lens barrier similar to those found on many compact point-and-shoot cameras. The lens extends to around double its folded length when powered on, and includes a dial around its barrel for manual focusing.
Lens accessories. The lens barrel is also encircled by a removable bezel, beneath which you can mount an optional UR-E24 adapter ring. With this in place, you can attach standard 46mm threaded filters in front of the Coolpix A's lens. The optional lens ring comes bundled with an HN-CP18 lens hood, and Nikon notes that this is crafted from metal. Not only does it shade the lens to prevent flare; it also provides some protection for the extended lens itself when mounted. Pricing for lens ring and hood together is around US$130.
Focusing. The Coolpix A -- unlike the company's 1-series mirrorless cameras -- relies solely on contrast detection autofocus, with no on-chip phase detection pixels, and nowhere in the optical path to place a phase detection sensor. Nikon is, however, claiming the camera will offer "quick" autofocus performance.
We don't yet have any information on the number of autofocus points, but we do know that the Nikon Coolpix A will offer wide, normal, and spot AF areas, and includes focus lock, face detection and tracking functions. The focus range varies from around 20 inches (50cm) to infinity by default, and when set to Macro mode with a switch on the left of the camera body, can be reduced to as close as four inches (10cm).
You can, of course, focus manually, and there's a physical focus ring on the lens barrel for this purpose.
Viewfinder. Like almost all of its nearest rivals, the Coolpix A lacks any form of built-in viewfinder, and instead relies on an optional accessory viewfinder that mounts in the flash hot shoe. The Nikon DF-CP1 optical viewfinder includes focusing guidelines with about 90% frame coverage. It carries a hefty pricetag of around US$450, which adds almost 41% to the cost of the camera alone.
Display. Given that pricetag, we'd imagine many Nikon Coolpix A owners will instead rely solely on the monitor to frame and review images. It's based around a 3.0-inch TFT LCD panel, and is manufacturer-rated for 100% coverage horizontally and vertically, both for record and playback modes. The display has a five-step brightness adjustment, and a fairly high resolution of 921K dots. That's approximately 640 x 480 pixels, with each pixel made up of adjacent red, green, and blue dots.
Shutter. The Coolpix A offers shutter speeds ranging from 1/2,000 to 30 seconds, plus bulb, and uses both a mechanical and CMOS electronic shutter.
Metering. Exposures are determined with matrix, center-weighted, or spot metering from the main image sensor. Exposure compensation is available within a +/-5EV range in 1/3EV steps for still images. Movies have a narrower range of +/-2EV. Bracketing is also possible, but we don't yet have details on range, step size, and number of frames.
Exposure. As well as Automatic and Scene modes, the Nikon Coolpix A offers the usual enthusiast-friendly selection of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual exposure control. There are also two User modes, which can be configured for a particular shooting situation and then instantly recalled at a later time, as needed.
Scene modes include Beach/Snow, Blossom, Candlelight, Child, Close-up, Dusk/Dawn, Food, High Key, Landscape, Low Key, Autumn Colors, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Pet Portrait, Portrait, Silhouette, Sports, and Sunset.
Creative. Options in record mode include the typical features you'd expect, such as Active D-Lighting and picture controls. In Playback mode, options include D-Lighting, Red-eye reduction, Trim, Monochrome, Filter effects, Color balance, Image overlay, NEF (RAW) processing, Resize, Quick Retouch, Straighten, Fisheye, Color outline, Color sketch, Perspective control, Miniature effect, Selective color, and Side-by-side comparison.
Flash. Nikon has included both a built-in popup flash strobe and a standard ISO 518 hot shoe in the Coolpix A. The built-in strobe has a guide number of 21 feet (6m) under automatic control, or 22 feet under manual control at full power (ISO 100, 73.4°F / 23°C). Working range is up to 37 feet (11.5m) with automatic ISO sensitivity. Flash exposure compensation is available, set separately from exposure compensation. The hot shoe includes Nikon's proprietary contacts for intelligent strobes, and is compatible with the Speedlight SB700, SB900, or SB910. It doesn't, however, directly support Nikon's Creative Lighting System.
Video. As well as stills, the Nikon A can, of course, capture high-definition video. Movies are saved in a .MOV container with H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC compression, and include stereo audio. There are two resolution choices: either Full HD (1,920 x 1080 pixels, aka 1080p), or HD (1,280 x 720 pixels, aka 720p). Both offer three progressive-scan frame rate options: 30, 25, or 24 frames per second.
Connectivity. Nikon includes both USB 2.0 High Speed data and Type-C Mini HDMI high-definition video output connectivity in the Coolpix A. Preliminary materials also suggest support for standard-definition video output, but as this isn't marked on the camera body, it's possible this is an error. There's also a connector for either a GPS receiver or wired remote release cable, and as noted previously, an ML-L3 infrared remote control is also supported.
The Coolpix A also supports Nikon's WU-1a wireless mobile adapter, which provides a 49-foot range, and is able to transfer to or provide for remote control from Android and iOS devices with a free Wireless Mobile Utility app.
Storage. Images can be stored either as JPEG files, or as 14-bit uncompressed .NEF raw files. Movies are saved in a .MOV container with H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC compression, and include stereo audio.
Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types. No mention is made of the higher-speed UHS-I cards, so we're not yet certain if these will be compatible.
Power. The Nikon A draws its power from an EN-EL20 proprietary, rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. According to Nikon, the Coolpix A will be capable of approximately 230 shots on a charge, to CIPA testing standards and with 50% flash usage.
The Coolpix A can also operate on mains power via an EH-5b AC adapter with EP-5C power connector, both sold as optional extras.
Price and availability. The Nikon Coolpix A goes on sale in the US market from March 2013. Suggested retail pricing is set at approximately US$1,100, and two body colors will be available: either black or silver.
The DF-CP1 optical viewfinder accessory will carry a suggested retail price of US$450, while the UR-E24 Adapter Ring and HN-CP18 Lens Hood will sell together for a suggested retail price of US$130. All of these accessories, says Nikon, will also be available in March 2013.
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