Nikon Coolpix 8800By: Shawn Barnett & Dave Etchells
Nikon improves on its flagship 8 megapixel prosumer camera with a longer zoom and vibration reduction to improve long handheld shots.
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Page 12:Test Results & ConclusionReview First Posted: 09/16/2004, Updated: 11/23/2004
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.
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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.
- Color: Bright, saturated color, but good hue accuracy.
The 8800 tends to emphasize bright colors, boosting both saturation and brightness
in the most intense colors in a scene. Fortunately, it reigns in the saturation
on less-saturated colors, so skin tones look natural. (Its color saturation
adjustment works well. Users who prefer less saturated, more technically accurate
color may find themselves quite happy with the 8800, if they dial down the
saturation one notch.) White balance was generally quite good: While I often
noticed very slight color casts with each white balance setting, they were
within the range of what I'd consider acceptable. Skin tones were pretty good
in the "Sunlit" Portrait, as was color in the flower bouquet. The
blue flowers were slightly dark and purplish, but still good overall. Indoors,
the Coolpix 8800 handled the difficult incandescent lighting of the Indoor
Portrait test unusually well. (Big kudos to Nikon on this score - very few
digicams do a good job with household incandescent lighting.) Overall, quite
good-looking color, and the saturation control offers a good option for purists
preferring less saturation.
- Exposure: Generally good exposure, but high contrast,
and a tendency to underexpose subjects with strong highlights. Exposure
was typically good, though the Coolpix 8800 underexposed the "Sunlit"
Portrait and Far Field shots a fair amount, requiring a +1.3 EV exposure compensation
boost on the Sunlit Portrait scene to get good midtones. Whenever confronted
with a scene with strong highlights, it seemed that the 8800 tried to hold
onto highlight detail, at the cost of an overall underexposure. This is a
technically correct and desirable characteristic in a camera if the shooter
intends to tweak the images on the computer before printing or sharing them.
For casual shooters though, it will mean a lot of underexposed shots, or the
need to become very familiar with the exposure compensation adjustment. (Not
a bad idea anyway, but do keep in mind that the Coolpix 8800 isn't a "casual"
camera.) The 8800's default tone curve was also quite contrasty, so it had
a hard time with harsh lighting such as that found in my deliberately-awful
"Sunlit Portrait" test. Its contrast adjustment works better than
that on other recent high-end Coolpix models, but it could really stand at
least one more notch of range in the low-contrast direction. Bottom line:
A camera that'll deliver excellent photos, but one that requires more attention
to exposure than most.
- Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,650 lines of
"strong detail." High barrel distortion at wide angle. The Coolpix
8800 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart
for its eight-megapixel class. It didn't start showing artifacts in the test
patterns until resolutions of 1,400 lines per picture height vertically and
horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,650 lines.
"Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 2,000
lines. Looking at the results form Imatest, its "MTF 50" numbers
tend to correlate best with visual perceptions of sharpness, so those are
what I focus on here. The uncorrected resolution figures were 1431 line widths
per picture height in the horizontal direction (corresponding to the vertically-oriented
edge), and 1408 along the vertical axis (corresponding to the horizontally-oriented
edge), for a combined average of 1420 LW/PH. Correcting to a "standardized"
sharpening with a one-pixel radius increased this number somewhat, to an average
of 1559 LW/PH, a good performance.
- Image Noise: Low noise at low ISOs, with good "grain structure,"
high at ISO 200, objectionable at ISO 400. Image noise on the 8800 was
interesting: At the ISO 50 and 100 settings, image noise was visible but quite
tolerable, particularly at ISO 50, where what noise there was, was very fine-grained.
At ISO 200, details were slightly obscured by the anti-noise processing, the
noise levels were higher, and the noise was less fine-grained, but still within
a range that I think most users would consider acceptable. At ISO 400, the
noise was much stronger, more subject detail was lost, and the noise pattern
became much coarser, although it was still tighter than that in many cameras.
I personally wouldn't consider the 8800 usable at ISO 400 for large prints,
but it would be fine for 4x6 snapshots.
- Closeups: A very small macro area with exceptional detail.
Flash has trouble up close though. The Coolpix 8800 performed very well
in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 2.17 x 1.62 inches
(55 x 41 millimeters). Resolution was very high, showing a lot of fine detail
in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Details were softer on the coins and
brooch due to the close shooting range, but this is simply an optical fact
of life, not at all a fault of the camera. Details softened toward the corners
of the frame, but were fairly sharp on the dollar bill. (Most digicams produce
images with soft corners when shooting in their Macro modes.) The Coolpix
8800's flash was almost completely blocked by the long lens though, so definitely
plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots with the Coolpix
- Night Shots: Good low-light performance. Good color
and exposure, with moderate image noise. Very good low-light autofocus performance, IF you have the camera on a tripod and have a reasonably contrasty subject.
The Coolpix 8800 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16
foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at the 400 ISO setting.
At ISO 50 and 100, images were bright down to the 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux)
light level, though the target was visible at the 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux)
light level. At ISO 200, images were bright down to the 1/8 foot-candle light
level, and noise was moderate in most shots. At ISO 400, image noise became
quite high. The camera's Noise Reduction option didn't make that much of a
difference, but it did improve contrast somewhat, and eliminate a few stray
hot pixels. The Nikon 8800's autofocus system worked very well in dim lighting,
focusing without its AF-assist light down to a bit below 1/8 foot-candle,
and in complete darkness with the AF-assist light enabled. NOTE though, that the camera struggled a fair bit with low-contrast subjects, and often had a very hard time focusing if hand-held vs tripod-mounted. As mentioned in the body of the review, under normal incandesent room lighting, where other cameras do reasonably well, the 8800 seemed to have a hard time, taking 3-4 seconds to focus and sometimes missing focus entirely. (Although it did much better at wide angle focal lengths than at telephoto under these circumstances.)
- Viewfinder Accuracy: Good results with the "electronic"
optical viewfinder. The Coolpix 8800's "electronic" optical
viewfinder (EVF) was pretty accurate, showing about 98 percent of the final
image area at wide angle. At telephoto, the image was shifted upward in the
frame just enough to cut off the top measurement lines, but overall coverage
was still very close to the 98 percent found at wide angle. The LCD monitor
turned in the same results, since the EVF is essentially a miniaturized version
of the LCD monitor. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent
accuracy as possible, the Coolpix 8800's LCD monitor performed pretty well
- Optical Distortion: Good chromatic aberration for a
long-zoom lens, but more at wide-angle focal lengths. Better than average
sharpness in the corners. Geometric distortion on the Coolpix 8800 is
quite high at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.00 percent
barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared quite a bit better, as I found
0.01 percent pincushion distortion there (about three pixels' worth). Chromatic
aberration was low at normal and telephoto focal lengths, with three or four
pixels of faint coloration on either side of the target lines. At wide angle
the chromatic aberration became more pronounced, but still wasn't bad for
a long-zoom digicam. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored
fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution
target.) Sharpness in the corners of the images was better than average for
a long-zoom camera.
- Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Good shutter response (sometimes),
and good cycle times, but slow writes to the memory card. The Nikon 8800
is a bit of a mixed bag in the speed department. On the one hand, its shutter
response was very good, faster than most digicams on the market, at both wide
angle and telephoto focal lengths. (Shutter lag of 0.53 and 0.54 second, respectively.)
On the other hand though, the shutter response slowed dramatically (to 1.55
seconds) when the camera was writing to the memory card. Shot to shot cycle
times were respectable (if not exactly blazing) at 2.67 second for large/fine
JPEGs, and continuous-mode speed was 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. 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.
- Battery Life: Very good to excellent battery life. 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.
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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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