In this post I want to talk about the Nikon Coolpix A DX-format compact camera. I love compact camera, but most of all I love compact cameras that can take high-quality photos. This trend of large-sensor compact cameras with a fixed lens is not new. It’s time for Nikon to show what it has been hiding in its sleeves in the past year. The Coolpix A features a 16MP APS-C size sensor with no anti-aliasing filter and a 28mm equivalent f/2.8 lens. Yes, not a zoom lens, but a fixed focal length lens. OK, let’s dig deeper in to the Nikon A and find why, if at all, you should purchase this camera.
Large-sensor Compact Cameras
There are many other cameras that fall into the large-sensor compact cameras with a fixed lens, including the Panasonic Lumix DMC LX7 , XZ-2 and P7700 with a 1/1.7-inch size sensor, Fujifilm X100 with an APS-C size sensor, Sony RX100 with a 1.0-inch sensor and Canon G1X with a 1.5-inch sensor. These just a few of the models available on the market, but you can see that all leading camera manufacturers are coming with their own implementation of a large-sensor compact camera.
Not all the sensors are of the same size of course, some have sensors that are much larger than the others. There is even the Sony RX1, which is a compact camera with a full-frame sensor! (But it’s very expensive). The APS-C sensor on the Coolpix A is a relatively very large sensor, one that you can find on an enthusiast-grade DSLR camera, and the same size as the Sony NEX mirrorless camera’s sensor.
The sensor is also referred to as DC-format for Nikon cameras, because it is the same sensor size/type that is used on Nikon’s DSLR cameras.
Large sensor vs small sensor – What’s the differences?
To keep things simple, the main advantages are as follows:
- More control over depth-of-field (being able to blur the background out of focus / aka shallow DOF)
- Better Dynamic Range
- Better Color Accuracy
- Better High ISO performance / Less noise and Higher image quality in general
- More photo-editing friendly, easier to remove noise due to better noise visual characteristics
So with large sensor it’s all about high image quality. If you’ve have a cheap compact camera you know what I’m talking about. You probably gotten some average quality image, especially when shooting in low light. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get high quality photos with a compact camera, but noise i evident even at lower ISO sensitivities. Some cameras show a lot of artifacts which are more visible when zooming in and viewing the image at a larger size (ie. smudging of details, painting-like artifacts / noise patterns).
If you can afford a large-sensor compact camera, you probably should consider getting one instead of a smaller sensor compact camera.
Why Can’t I Zoom with the Nikon Coolpix A?
The Nikon Coolpix A, like other cameras of that type, have a fixed prime lens. this means two main things: You can’t change the lens (it’s fixed, not interchangeable), and second, it has a fixed focal length – no zoom. With the Coolpix A you get a 28mm F2.8 lens, which is very fast and with a field of view that is great for general shooting, not too wide, not on the tele-side.
So why Nikon have chosen to use a prime lens? – First of all Nikon wants to compete against other models out there. Those type of cameras aimed for a specific audience of enthusiast photographers who care about image quality and learned to understand the advantages of using a large sensor with a fast prime lens. Of course this camera is not the ideal for shooting close up shots of animals in the zoo, or for sports photography – but it can fit many other type of subjects like landscape shots, indoors, family, travel and even portrait shots.
Remember, the all idea behind those type of cameras is to create a camera that is pocketable, one that you can take everywhere you go, and a camera that can capture very high-quality images, professional grade image quality (how good the image is depends on you and your creative vision).
Nikon Coolpix A
So you can see that there are many reasons why one should consider getting the Nikon A. It will also provide you with image quality that you won’t get with a mobile phone camera. The Coolpix A features a 16.2MP DC format CMOS sensor, ISO sensitivity 100-6400 (boost 12,800, 25,600), 3-inch 920K-dot LCD, 14-bit uncompressed NE Raw file format, 4 fps burst, 1080p24/25/30 video recording and a i-TTL compatible hot-shoe to mount an external flash, IR remotes, GPS, optical viewfinder (DF-CP1) or a Wi-Fi module.
As you probably notice, the Nikon Coolpix A doesn’t employ a built-in optical viewfinder. Some people might see this as a deal breaker because they just can’ t leave without it. The Fujifilm X100 for example come with a viewfinder. For other people it will actually server as a second camera along side their DSLR, so it might not be such a big disadvantage. It really depends on your personal preference. For me it’s important, but not a deal breaker at all. The thing is that the current price of the Coolpix A is around $1100 as for the time of writing this article and the Fujifilm X100 is around $1000. This means that some photographers will probably prefer the X100 for that reason (both have APS-C size sensor).
What I really liked about the Nikon Coolpix A is it’s relatively very compact size. Here, take a look how it looks alongside the Fujifilm FinePix X100:
You can see that the Coolpix A is indeed much more compact than the X100. Head to camerasize.com to check out other angles.
Sensor with no low-pass filter
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the Coolpix A has no optical low-pass filter, same as in the Nikon D7100. This means that the camera can reproduce images with very high details and enjoy maximum sharpness. The all idea is to squeeze out as much details as possible from the scene, and with a high quality premium prime lens, advanced large-size sensor and no optical low-pass filter, you get a really really sharp image. That of course will come at the price of moire in some occasions, depends on the subject you are shooting. Having said that, I think that for the target audience that this camera is aimed for , it shouldn’t be a problem. For street photography shooters, this can be a ‘killer’ compact camera.
Furthermore and worth mentioning that the sensor was designed with micro-lenses specifically for the Coolpix A camera to maximize the performance of the lens (according to Nikon).
The Nikon Coolpix A features a 18,5mm f/2.8 Nikkor prime lens, which is equivalent to 28mm in 35mm  format. A very useful range for general purpose / walk-around / Street photography as well as for landscape shots. The f/2.8 fast aperture with the combination of an excellent sensor makes the ‘A’ camera an excellent camera for low-light shooting. For comparison, the Fujifilm X100 comes with a 35mm equivalent F/2 lens, so the Nikon A has a wider FOV but a less wide aperture.
Nikkor lenses are among the best in the industry, trusted by many professional photographers all around the world. The Coolpix A lens is a very sharp and compact lens designed for deliver extraordinary sharpness, smooth tonal gradation with minimal aberration.
High Quality Camera Body
The body of the Nikon Coolpix A covers an aluminum alloy body chassis and with a top surface covered by magnesium alloy. This makes the camera very durable and makes it feel great when holding it in your hand. You feel that you hold a professional-grade equipment, not a toyish camera.
The Nikon Coolpix A has many buttons and controls to help photographers get quick access to popular functions, easy navigation and control of the camera. At the back you find a large 3-inch 921K-dot high-resolution LCD display. This is important because the Coolpix A doesn’t employ a viewfinder at all, so it’s important for the display to be of a very high quality. The display was designed to minimize internal reflections and has a wide viewing angle, make it suitable for shooting even in bright daylight.
How Good is The Image Quality?
All this functionality won’t worth a penny if the image quality won’t satisfy the enthusiast photographer. Nikon has provided us with a few sample images at the time of launching the camera (See here).
Image quality is VERY IMPRESSIVE by all means. Sharpness is just mind blowing (see the guy’s profile image and view the eyelashes at 100% scale). Contrast and saturation are flattering every single image. You are viewing a 100% scale image and it looks so good that it just blows my mind. The combination of the large sensor (Without the optical low-pass filter), prime lens and EXPEED 2 image processor really makes every single image shine. As they say: “It’s all about the details“, and you can really see that the Coolpix A certainly delivers what is expected from this type of camera.
Nikon Coolpix A vs Sony RX100
Some will call it a fair comparison, others want. The fact is that Sony RX100 is probably in the list of many photographers who are searching for a high-quality large-sensor compact camera. Let’s see what the Sony RX100 has that the ‘Coolpix A’ doesn’t:
- 28-100 mm 3.6x Zoom lens (vs fixed prime)
- Much lower price (Amazon 3/12/2013: RX100 costs $648, Coolpix A costs $1096.95)
- Higher resolution (20.2MP vs 16.2MP)
- Closer macro focus range (5 cm 10 cm)
- Higher LCD resolution (1228K vs 921K)
- Faster aperture at the widest angle (F1.8/28mm vs F2.8/28mm – equivalent)
- 60fps progressive Full HD (vs 30,24 fps)
- Better battery life (330 vs 230)
- Much more compact
- Weight less (240 g vs 299 g)
- Optical low-pass filter
I assume that many people who buy this camera couldn’t care less about the zoom, they actually prefer the prime lens. There is no articulating LCD, most of the will probably won’t need it, adds to the bulkiness of the camera. The lack of optical low pass filter will actually be an advantage by resulting in more detailed image. Moire shouldn’t be a problem depends on what you are shooting.
The RX100 will appeal to those who are searching for a very compact camera, a pocketable camera that you can take everywhere you go. A camera that can produce very high quality image. RX100 has been praised all over the web for its excellent image quality. If you are tight on a budget but still want a versatile high-quality compact camera, look no further, the RX100 is probably the best option at the moment.
The thing is that those two cameras are aimed for different people with different needs. The RX100 doesn’t have a zoom lens for first and it has a sensor that is larger than the RX100 one. You can certainly expect better image quality and better low-light performance. The Nikon A was designed to be a stiller performer.
I’ve read many first impression and comments about the Nikon A, it seems that some photographers wished that it had a retro style design, higher resolution sensor and faster lens – oh, and to be cheaper. Others mention the Fujifilm Raw, which they really dislike.
If you do compare the RX100 vs the Coolpix A, you need to understand the key differences between the two cameras, understand the limitations of each camera and see which find fits your shooting style best. I, for example, can’t live without the zoom and I am not after top-notch image quality. For me the RX100 might be more than enough – AND THEREFORE, the Nikon Coolpix A wasn’t designed for photographers like me.
We dived into the Coolpix A features, we talked about its cons and pros. You can see that the Nikon Coolpix A won’t appeal to everyone. It is aimed for specific type of photographers that have special needs. Photographers that want and need this very high image quality and searching for a compact camera that they can take everywhere they go. For photographers that might already have a DSLR camera, but want a high-quality compact camera as a second camera. The image quality first impressions are superb. Before you buy this camera, you better understand it’s cons and pros. I personally really liked this camera, but the RX100 will probably be a better camera for my needs. Make your choice, I am pretty sure that the Coolpix A will be an amazing camera for many photographers out there – it’s not unique in the business, but it has plenty to offer for the enthusiast and pro photographer who is searching for a large-sensor compact camera.
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