Hands-on previews: New Nikon Coolpix A (and its DX-sized sensor!) takes aim at the Sony RX1, while the Coolpix P330 steps up its game


posted Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 12:01 AM EDT

Nikon today unveiled three brand-new digital camera models for its Coolpix lineup, but for understandable reasons, one of that trio is going to grab the lion's share of the attention. Alongside the Nikon Coolpix A -- the company's first-ever DX-format, fixed-lens camera -- even a brand-new enthusiast compact like the Nikon P330 will really have to speak up, if it wants to be heard. We've been hands-on with both cameras, though, and we're here to confirm that on any other day of the year, the P330 would generate plenty of excitement by itself.

That said, we're enthralled by the Coolpix A. From humble beginnings as a class of one with 2008's Sigma DP1, the large-sensor, fixed-lens category has really started to heat up. It's still a niche, sure, but it's an exciting niche full of lustworthy cameras such as the rangefinder-style Fujifilm X100S, red dot-bearing Leica X2, and the stole-our-hearts-and-Camera-of-the-Year-award Sony RX1. Now we have the Nikon Coolpix A in that heady mix.

The Nikon Coolpix A is the first large-sensor, DX-format Coolpix camera.

With the Coolpix A, Nikon presents a very interesting proposition indeed for street photographers. Ignoring its lens, the Nikon A sports a body not much larger than that of a 1-series mirrorless camera. Factor a similar optic -- a 28mm equivalent f/2.8 -- into the equation, and the Coolpix A's actually a little smaller and lighter, despite offering more than triple the sensor area. And at its heart is a 16-megapixel image sensor which looks a lot like the much-lauded chip from the D7000 and Pentax K-5.

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. As is a relatively affordable pricetag compared to some of its rivals. (We're looking at you, Sony and Leica.) The Nikon Coolpix A, available in black or silver, is slated to cost around US$1,100 when it goes on sale later this month. 

If you're as excited as we are, you'll want to pause here and read our hands-on Nikon Coolpix A hands-on preview. (But keep this page open, because you'll want to read on for the P330, not to mention the latest FX-format lens debut!)

The Nikon Coolpix P330 makes the bold -- and rare -- move of reducing sensor resolution somewhat, in favor of better noise performance and more manageable file sizes.

The successor to the P310, the new Nikon P330 "Advanced Performance" compact camera gets a slightly longer zoom range, a bigger sensor and -- get this -- nearly four fewer megapixels of resolution, which we actually think is a good thing. Unlike so many "upgraded" pocket cameras that get an increased number of megapixels crammed into their relatively tiny sensors, the Coolpix P330 stands to improve its low-light, high-ISO performance by moving clearly in the opposite direction.

Sometimes less is more, and we applaud Nikon for recognizing the pocket camera needs of photographers who can't carry around their DSLRs and Compact System Cameras (CSCs) with them everywhere. The Nikon Coolpix P330 will start shipping this month for a suggested retail price of around U$380, and will be offered in black or white.

Find out our thoughts from our hands-on time with the camera in our Nikon P330 hands-on preview.

The Coolpix S3500 takes the opposite tack, jamming in even more megapixels.

And for the final camera announcement, we have the Nikon S3500, a followup to last year's Coolpix S3300 -- a camera which proved that an entry-level pricetag didn't mean you had to skimp on zoom reach, resolution or pocketability. The Nikon S3500 follows in the footsteps of that camera, and it aims to reinforce the point, adding even higher resolution and a more powerful lens. And interestingly, that optic is also a little brighter across the zoom range, despite the extra reach.

Available this month, the Nikon Coolpix S3500 is priced at around US$140, the exact same point at which its predecessor first shipped. Five body colors will be available: silver, red, purple, orange and decorated pink. Read our Nikon S3500 preview for more.

The AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR ships next month for US$2,700.

Which just leaves the lens announcement. We have more details over on our sister site SLRgear.com, but briefly, the new AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens is an FX-format optic, and when mounted on a DX-format body it provides a 35mm-equivalent range of 120 to 600mm. Features include a silent wave motor, vibration reduction, and an optical formula with 20 elements in 12 groups, one Super ED element, four ED elements, plus a nano crystal coating. It's priced at around US$2,700, and ships starting next month.