Nikon Coolpix A: My first look

Jon and Ron enjoy the Mirrorless party, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas

Jon and Ron enjoy the Mirrorless party, Precision Camera – Austin, Texas

I stopped by Precision Camera yesterday, at the end of the day. It was quiet, unlike the crowded weekends so I had time to play with some cameras and talk to my friend, Jon. Of course, I was most interested in mirrorless and the new high-end point and shoots. Later Ron came over and we had a good old time debating the merits of each camera.

I showed them an absolutely hysterical YouTube video of the mirrorless party, which you can see below. The new Precision Camera is so much larger and it feels a lot more comfortable to linger and talk — certainly a pleasurable experience — and with a friendly sales staff that is more than willing to help.

I first played around with the Olympus XZ-2 and the Sony RX1, two cameras that interest me for different reasons. They also just got the new Cookpix A, Nikon’s newest and highest end point and shoot. With a large APS-C sensor and a fixed 28mm equivalent lens, it’s an interesting camera. One that I considered adding to my list of cameras to watch, until I played with it. What didn’t I like? Continue reading to find out.

Precision had the silver Coolpix A. It seemed a bit too shiny for my taste. Even a bit cheap looking, like an overly showy bauble — I definitely prefer the black. In actuality, the camera is nicely built with smooth dampened controls. The camera body is almost exactly the size of my Olympus E-PM2. The retracting lens protrusion, however, is more svelte than the Lumix 14mm lens that I use on the Olympus. The Coolpix A is light but has enough heft to feel like a premium point and shoot.

A couple of things made me less than excited when Nikon first announced this model. While I love the 28mm equivalent prime lens, it starts at an f2.8. I really wished it was a f2.0. More importantly, it lacks image stabilization (IS). For someone like me who shoots, in often dark conditions, IS is something that is highly prized.

Reports of a really good lens, better than the 14mm Lumix, made me reconsider the camera. That along with a large APS-C sensor that matches or exceeds the Nikon D7000 DSLR makes this a formidable camera. Ming Thien, a Pro photographer out of Malaysia who I really respect, has a preliminary report on the Coolpix A and compares it with the Fujifulm X20. In theory, this expensive point and shoot would exceed my Olympus E-PM2 setup in image quality while being slightly smaller.

Jon and Ron enjoy the Mirrorless party, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas

High-end point and shoots, Olympus XZ-2, Nikon Coolpix A and Sony RX1

Except, soon as I started using it, I didn’t like the feel. The focus was slow. The lens moved in and out when locking focus. It kind of had the feel of a contrast detect focusing system from several years ago. It wasn’t slow like the Canon EOS M, it just wasn’t snappy like the latest generation micro 4/3 cameras. It is certainly usable but it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t inspire me with confidence.

The user interface was also confusing. The physical controls looked promising. There was a unlabeled jog-dial in the back, another dial on the top and beautifully smooth ring around the lens. Except, best I can tell, the lens ring and the jog-dial didn’t do anything in Aperture priority mode. I turned them but I didn’t see any of the exposure settings change. The top dial, I discovered, adjusted the aperture but I didn’t see an easy way to change the exposure compensation or the other typical settings. The unlabeled jog-dial was puzzling since most small cameras these days allow exposure compensation, flash compensation and other frequently changed settings to be accessed from these type of controls.

I looked through all the menus for at least 10 minutes seeing if there is a way to reprogram the controls. Other than the F1 and F2 buttons, I didn’t find any. I sincerely hope there is a way configure the dials — maybe I just missed it. I would love to program the lens dial to control aperture, the top dial to control ISO and the jog-dial to adjust exposure compensation. If I can, I would be more willing to overlook the slowish focus.

I shot a few JPEGs inside the store but nothing that would give a true indication of image quality. I can tell you that the camera defaults to 1/30 second shutter speed before changing the ISO. I also realized that I would have to improve my holding technique since image stabilization has made me a bit lax. I noticed several of my unstabilized Nikon shots were blurry because of motion blur.

Do you see a similarity with the 3 cameras I picked? They are all point and shoots with lenses that can’t be changed. I have the Canon for my interchangeable DSLR system. I have the Olympus for my interchangeable mirrorless system. I’m not looking to add yet other lens system. These high-end point and shoots are what interests me the most these days. Not that I need another camera, mind you.

All photographs taken with my Olympus XZ-1 point and shoot.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail. Multiply the focal length by 4.66 to get the 35mm equivalent

3 thoughts on “Nikon Coolpix A: My first look

  1. Same. Nice fixed lens cameras (i dont like the term ‘P&S’ for these as it somewhat misses the mark) are my drool machines these days. Mirrorless and DSLR systems sorted and, well, they are so good these days to almost be boring.

    Have been tossing up whether the GR is THAT much better than my RX100 to warrant the change, yes the sensor is better, but the lens is 1 & 1/3 stop slower and no IS. Plus the RX has a zoom when you need it, plus far better video. But having now fallen for the E-PM2 (how I found your blog), I have written off the GR and CP A as ‘cameras I will own one day when they are so dirt cheap because they are no longer shiny and new’. E-PM2 trumps both of them for now for being a) interchangeable and b) having optional EVF as well as OVF’s.

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