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Nikon CoolPix 995

Nikon updates the hugely successful Coolpix 990, adding a pop-up flash and Type II CF support!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 4/25/2001

Executive Overview
The new Coolpix 995 combines the advanced features we loved from the previous 990 model with a host of new ones that make the new camera even more appealing. Additions like the 4x zoom lens, pop-up flash, and expanded ISO range give the camera even greater flexibility than its already capable forebear. The swivel-lens design has always been a favorite of ours, as it greatly enhances the camera's optical flexibility, easing tricky low- or high-angle shots. The control layout stayed essentially the same, but now includes a Quick Review button for fast playback of captured images. The camera provides both a real-image optical viewfinder and an LCD monitor display for image composition, and the LCD offers a very extensive information display that reports a variety of exposure information, including aperture and shutter speed settings. The 995's user interface has the same features we liked so well in the 950 and 990 before it, in that the combination of external buttons, the command dial, and the top-panel LCD data readout let you control almost every important exposure parameter without having to resort to the LCD menu system. This makes for very quick control of the camera's functions, although the resulting user interface has a longer learning curve than more purely menu-based control systems. In Playback mode, the LCD gives an equally informative readout on captured images and also offers an index display of thumbnails and a playback zoom option.

Optically, the Coolpix 995 is equipped with an 8-32mm, 4x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-152mm lens on a 35mm camera), made up of ten elements in eight groups (all made from environmentally friendly glass, we might add). The seven blade iris diaphragm design greatly extends aperture control by providing an essentially continuous range of adjustment, a nice carryover from the 990. Zoom is easily controlled via the W and T buttons on the back panel and the settings menu even allows you to select the Fixed Aperture feature, which keeps the aperture constant while the lens zooms, a handy feature for flash photography. The zoom control is also very nice in that the lens operates smoothly, with none of the fixed steps in focal length adjustment that we're accustomed to seeing in digicam zoom lenses. A 4x digital zoom can be turned on and off through the settings menu and offers a "stepless" incremental zoom range from 1.1x to 4.0x. The 995 also offers the same variety of focusing options, including Continuous and Single autofocus modes as well as a manual control. Under the autofocus setting, you can set the desired focus area, or let the camera decide on its own (which displays a complex target series on the LCD panel and bases focus on the object closest to the lens).

Exposure-wise, we greatly enjoyed the flexible options under the Manual Record setting. When you turn the camera on, you have the option of a completely Automatic or Manual capture mode, in addition to the Playback mode. Under the Automatic capture mode, the camera handles everything, from the shutter speed to the white balance (perfect for novices), but when you switch to Manual, your options increase exponentially. Within the Manual capture mode, you can select either Program, Flexible Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual exposure modes. Program does exactly as it sounds and selects the aperture and shutter speed, but you now have absolute control over white balance, exposure compensation, etc. Flexible Program does the same but instead lets the user select from a variety of aperture and shutter speed combinations. Aperture Priority and Shutter Speed Priority are also pretty self-explanatory, letting the user select one value while the camera selects the other. Finally, Manual gives you total control over everything, a feature we really like. Shutter speeds are adjustable from eight to 1/2,300 seconds (with a Bulb setting for longer exposures) and the maximum aperture ranges from f/2.6 to f/5.1, depending on the zoom setting.

Nikon has been an innovator in developing special shooting modes for its high end consumer cameras, and the Coolpix 995 continues in this vein. The still-unique Best Shot Select is a great aid for getting sharp photos when you have no choice but to hand hold the camera under dim lighting conditions. The Auto Bracketing feature now includes a White Balance Bracketing function, while a new Noise Reduction mode decreases the noise caused by higher ISO settings in low-light/long exposure shooting situations. We were also pleased with the return of the extensive white balance menu from the 990 (Auto, Preset, Fine, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and Speedlight) and the variety of metering options (the famous 256-element Matrix mode, Center-Weighted, Spot, and Spot AF). Also, under the settings menu, we enjoyed the ability to alter the in-camera sharpening as well as increase or decrease the contrast or turn the image into monochrome black and white. And of course, you have the ability to connect an external flash for use with or without the built-in flash.

Speaking of the internal flash, the Coolpix 995 now sports a popup flash design that extends a good three inches or so above the lens axis. This should dramatically reduce the problems with redeye that have dogged the Coolpix cameras since the original model 900 swivel design. When working without a flash, the 995's low light capability is about the most impressive we've seen from a camera selling for under $1,000: Automatically-timed exposures can range as long as 8 seconds, but a "bulb" exposure mode will keep the shutter open for up to 60 seconds (!), as long as you hold down the shutter button. The new noise reduction option (borrowed from Nikon's high-end SLR designs) works quite well, actually making 30 second or longer exposures useful.

Answering a frequent request from previous Coolpix owners, the Coolpix 995 includes a Type II CompactFlash slot, and supports the IBM Microdrive for image storage. (Note though, that only the more recent 512 MB and 1 GB models are supported.) For power, the camera runs from either a 2CR5 lithium battery, or a single rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. This provides good battery life, and the good news is that Nikon's including both the battery and charger in the box with the camera. The camera supports USB for quick connection to a PC or Mac, and is packed with a software CD containing Nikon View Version 4, ArcSoft PhotoStudio 2000, iView Multimedia Pro (Mac only), and Canto Cumulus 5.0 Demo. There's also an NTSC video cable (European models ship with PAL) for connecting to a television set.

There are a few changes relative to the 990 that we're less than excited about though, including the increased cost of carrying a spare battery, occasioned by the switch to a proprietary LiIon pack. In another apparent move to reduce costs, the body material is now a mix of magnesium alloy and high-impact polycarbonate. We have no reason to suspect that the 995 is any less rugged than its predecessors (polycarbonate being legendary for its toughness), but personally liked the feel of the metal bodies better than the new hybrid design. Finally, the new lens design seems to zoom more slowly than that on the earlier models, contributing to long startup times if you choose to have the camera remember the last-used zoom setting. (A very useful feature though, so perhaps we shouldn't bellyache too much about it.)

What can we say? We were already enamored with the Coolpix 990, and the 995's increased flexibility is even more impressive. Increased zoom range, higher ISO settings, and a bevy of improved features make this camera perfect for any shooting situation. It offers a completely automatic mode for novices, with the convenience of variable exposure control for learning. As your skills improve, the 995 offers more exposure options than perhaps any other camera on the market. Building on the legacy of the Coolpix 950 and 990 designs, we predict that the Coolpix 995 will continue to be a leader in the high-end "prosumer" market. If you're looking for the ultimate in control over your picture-taking, the Coolpix 995 is the camera to own!

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