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Nikon COOLPIX A - Initial Impressions

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by Ray Sachs, Mar 27, 2013.

  1. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I received a review copy of the Nikon Coolpix A on Monday and finally got a chance to put it to work today. I spent the morning and early afternoon in Philadelphia doing my usual mix of street photography and some streetscapes/scenic shots. I took the Coolpix A and the RX1, which I've had for almost two weeks now and hadn't done enough shooting with it. And I've gotta say right off the bat, taking both of these cameras for the day really wasn't fair to the Nikon because as good as it seems to be, it suffers by comparison. As do my X-Pro, OMD, GXR, and every other camera I've owned. The RX1 is in the process of making my head turn circles on my neck like the girl in the Exorcist. Its really dis-orientingly good in a number of ways. So, the Nikon had a tough job to do on its first day of real use. And I'd say it did very very well. But it still suffers by comparison.

    First, a few impressions of the Nikon (some repeated from a post or two buried in a previous thread about the camera's availability). Its a small camera. Its not a TINY camera like an S100, but it pretty small. Its essentially the size of the Panasonic LX7, but without the protruding lens. I Icarried it a lot of the time today in the pocket of a heavy shirt and it was quite comfortable there. It would be a bit much for a light dress shirt pocket, I'd say, but any heavier shirt or pants pocket should carry it easily, not to mention any coat pocket. Second, despite being quite small, it feels pretty good in the hand and the controls are definitely large enough to operate confidently and easily. The camera has two wheels/dials, a thumb wheel on the rear of the camera's top panel, right behind the shutter button, and a dial around the OK button on the camera's back. The thumb wheel does almost all of the work, the OK button dial has very little to do except in manual mode, or to navigate the menus when you call them up. The camera has two programmable fn buttons, one on the front near the bottom right edge of the lens, and one on the left side of the back - this second one is set up as an ISO button by default, but can be programmed away from ISO to do any number of other tasks. There's a focus ring around the lens that controls manual focus. And there's an "I" button that pulls up all of the key settings on the rear screen much like the way the "Q" button works on the Fuji cams and the "super control panel" work on the Olympus bodies. All in all its easy to get around on this camera.

    The AF has been getting mixed reviews - I've found it very good. I guess its not an OMD level speed demon, but its pretty fast and seems to be quite accurate in all but the lowest light. I guess its about expectations - after reading some of the negative comments I'd seen, I was very pleasantly surprised by the reality. After reading this positive comment, some of you who try the camera will undoubtedly expect wonderful things and be disappointed. It certainly isn't bad, but I guess in the eye of the beholder just how good it is. The manual focussing isn't in the same league with the new X100s, but its not bad for a compact camera. The focus ring is by wire and there's no automatic magnification, but you can push a button to magnify the view to several levels if you're trying to use the ring for critical focus. There are no aids like focus peaking, however. But at a 28mm EFL, the focus ring appears to be there largely for zone focussing and its a pretty nice implementation. Any time the camera is switched into manual focus, a reasonably detailed distance scale shows up along the right edge of the screen and based on some informal testing it seems quite accurate. There's no DOF scale, but most electronic DOF scales are conservative to the point of uselessness to me, so I'm just as happy not to have it there confusing matters. The bad news is that once you've set your manual focus distance, its not sticky when you turn the camera off and on, so you have to reset it whenever you turn the camera off and back on (or switch to auto-focus and back). The good news is the ring is very responsive and it takes about a second to move the needle from infinity to the 3-6 foot range one would generally use for zone focus. I was concerned about this but found it to be a non-issue in use.

    One other technical observation before getting into the photos - the auto-ISO implementation is wonderful and works the way all auto-ISO should work in modern cameras with these ultra capable sensors. You can set the basic ISO, which then becomes the minimum ISO when you're using auto-ISO, much like the original X100 - not sure if the X100s continues this or not - the other Fuji cameras did not. And then for auto-ISO you can set the maximum ISO and the minimum shutter speed and the minimum shutter speed can be set to anything from 1 second to 1/1000 of a second. With the Coolpix and the RX1, I never left auto-ISO all day today and I think that's a first for me. But both of these cameras just WORK in this mode. AND, the exposure compensation control works in manual mode with auto-ISO, which is a key feature missing from too many cameras, but thankfully there in these two new models. One very strange quirk though - the Coolpix has its default exposure compensation button located on the upper left of the camera's back. Because the camera doesn't display the current status of the exposure compensation setting, you have to push the button to see where its set and, once pushed, you can change the setting using the thumb dial. To make this a one-handed operation, I also assigned exposure compensation to the fn1 button on the camera's front, so I can work that with my right ring finger and then turn the dial with my thumb and I don't need to reach for the other button with my left hand. The truly WEIRD thing is that in manual mode, the normally assigned exposure compensation button does NOT bring up the exposure comp setting or let you change it - it doesn't do anything that I can tell. So one would be forgiven for thinking that Nikon didn't mean to enable the exposure comp setting in manual mode with auto-ISO. BUT, the secondary exposure comp button that I programmed for that purpose DOES bring up exposure comp and allow you to change it in manual mode with auto-ISO turned on. And it definitely changes the actual exposure too, so it works. The inability of the default exposure comp button to work in manual mode with auto-ISO turned on has GOT to be an oversite, or else they wouldn't have put the functionality in the other button when its programmed for exposure comp. Firmware update anyone?!?!?

    OK, to shooting. There's no raw support for this camera yet, so I'm shooting everything in jpeg and, unlike Fuji's jpegs, which I prefer to raw, I'd really love to be able to work with these raw files. The jpegs are fine, but I almost always prefer raw and I don't trust the high ISO results in jpegs because some sort of NR is always applied and I don't like the way the files look on close inspection. So, screw close-inspection, the files look pretty good at any normal viewing mode and size. So, without further ado, first a couple of scenic shots.

    Nice colors (these are mostly in Vivid jpeg mode, so sort of a Velvia look) and pretty good dynamic range. Not bad in the corners, but not razor sharp in the most extreme corners. I shouldn't even comment on this stuff because I really don't see it or care about it, so feel free to click through and look at the full size files if you'd like to.


    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    Again, nice DR - these had the shadows and highlights adjusted slightly in Lightroom:

    [​IMG]
    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    This was cropped down to 4:3 from 3:2 to avoid a bunch of cars on the left. So if you're pixel peeping the corners, the ones on the left aren't the true corners.


    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    No problems with street shooting in good light:


    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    [​IMG]
    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr


    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr


    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    I did something I never do on this one and asked the guy's permission to get a shot of his beard. Hence, up even closer than usual, and a bit of accentuation in Color Efex Pro:

    8595632639_fdf22c2ab6_b.
    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    Moving into lower light, the camera did fine, but some of the higher ISO files are semi-ugly at full size. I can't judge them though because they're jpegs. I'm guessing working with the raw files, once supported will be a lot better. They almost always are:


    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr


    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    We got hockey action YO!

    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    Have some grain with your ISO 6400 noise.

    Nikon Coolpix A - Philly by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    A word on ISOs and comparison shooting - I did some back to back messing around with the Coolpix, the Ricoh GXR-28 (which maxes out at 3200) and the Fuji X-Pro with the 18mm lens. So three APS sensor cameras, three roughly 18mm (28mm equivalent) lenses. I shot them all at the highest of the max aperture ratings, which is the Nikon's f2.8 (compared to f2.5 on the GXR and 2.0 on the X-Pro). The Nikon and the Ricoh exposed identically for the same low light scene at the Ricoh's max ISO of 3200. And the Nikon basically halved the necessary shutter speed at its useable 6400. The Fuji agains seems to have a serious case of ISO inflation because its shutter speeds at 3200 were almost twice as slow as the Nikon and Ricoh and its shutter speeds at 6400 were almost the same as the Nikon and Ricoh at 3200 - usually just a small percentage faster. The Fuji is the cleanest at any given ISO, but its 3200 appears to be roughly equal to 1600 on the other two cameras and its 6400 appears to be roughly equal to 3200 on the other two cameras. While the Nikon doesn't look quite as good (at least in the jpeg only files) at 6400 as the Fuji, but its 3200 files are easily as good as the Fuji at 6400, and its 6400 files are still useable where the Fuji's are getting pretty funky at 12,800. So, I'd have to say that the Nikon acquits itself quite well at high ISO in low light considering that equal numbers are not always equal. We'll have to see the results with raw files, but I'd hazard a guess that this will be as good a low light machine as the X-Pro at the same aperture. The Fuji obviously has a one stop faster lens, which makes up for the inflated ISO somewhat, but not when you're pushing the boundaries of zone focussing in so so light, where the maximum aperture doesn't come into play.

    I'll add shots to this thread as I take more. And will add observations as I observe 'em...

    Maybe sometime tomorrow I'll be able to more fully wrap my head around the wonderfulness of the RX1 files I got today and will share some of those. I'd have probably been ecstatic with the Nikon if the Sony hadn't come along for the ride today...

    -Ray
     
  2. entropic remnants

    entropic remnants SC All-Pro

    Mar 3, 2013
    John Griggs
    Haven't read it all yet -- but that Nikon auto ISO operation is standard Nikon for DSLR's. The way it works is great and it's one small thing I miss from my Nikon DSLR's. All cameras should work like that.
     
  3. Garylh

    Garylh SC Veteran

    Nice shots Ray.. Thanks for the info.. I will be looking forward to the updates.

    Gary
     
  4. Hikari

    Hikari SC Veteran

    292
    Jan 5, 2013
    Maine, USA
    Cameras are like potato chip, you can't just have one. Exactly like really, really expensive potato chips.
     
  5. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Jack
    Nice write up Ray.

    So in regards to Fuji, ISO 3200 is really 1600 for other cameras, and 6400 is really 3200, and so on and on?
     
  6. serhan

    serhan SC All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    NYC
    Thanks for the detailed initial impressions and nice photos.
     
  7. Archiver

    Archiver SC Top Veteran

    618
    Jul 11, 2010
    Melbourne, Australia
    Yes, thank you, indeed!
     
  8. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    It's not quite that precise, but that's the idea. Where the Nikon and Ricoh might be shooting at 1/50 at ISO 3200, the Fuji might be 1/55 at 6400. It usually seems to be a bit less than a full stop difference, but it's close. Oddly, Olympus is said to do the same thing, but when I've compared the OMD with the Pany 14 (recently sold so I can't replicate this) to the X-Pro, I'd get the same basic results, with the X-Pro seeming to inflate by not quite a stop. And Ricoh pretty clearly did the same thing between the GRD3 and the GRD4. I'm not enough of a tech guy to know what "true and honest and pure" ISO is or who's using it, but when I have two cameras and lenses at basically the same focal length using the same aperture, it's pretty easy to compare their ISO values relative to each other. And in my limited experience doing this, Fuji is off by almost a stop. This is all meaningless, when you have a camera and you're just trying to get the most out of it, but it seems pretty important to know when you're comparing low light capabilities leading up to a purchase. Saying, "wow, this camera ROCKS at 6400" doesn't tell the whole story if other cameras can get the same shot at the same basic exposure at 3200...

    -Ray
     
  9. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Except potato chips are all kind of the same, at least the ones from the same bag - cameras not so much! I'm getting to be more and more sure I'm gonna end up buying the RX1 - it impresses me more each time I shoot with it. I've never been an IQ obsessed shooter before, but that's some serious IQ! And having that kind of latitude is never a bad thing, even when you turn the results into grainy looking B&W! I just sold a BUNCH of gear m43 body and lenses, a couple of really pricey bags, so I could buy the Nikon too, but I'm not sure yet it really offers me much I don't have already other than small size and I don't think that's enough by itself. So unless it grows on me a lot in the next month, I'll probably wait to see what the GRD5 might look like (if it even happens) before buying another 28mm. And I'm gonna have to do some back to back shooting with the Nikon and the GXR-28 because I'm not sure the Nikon is meaningfully better than that, except in size. I didn't get the consistent hit rate with the Nikon I usually do with the GXR, which might just be a lack of familiarity. Or might not be. Time and more use will tell.

    -Ray
     
  10. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Thanks for the impressions, Ray. Very interesting stuff, and as always great photos to go with.

    It's a misconception that Olympus inflates the ISO. The term ISO as used by camera manufacturers refers to the variable that relates a given exposure (shutter speed, f-stop, and scene brightness) to image brightness. By this definition, ISO is a combination of sensor sensitivity (ie, analog gain) and any software "pushing" used to get the image to the desired brightness (ie, digital gain). If a camera gives you a final image which is as bright as you should expect for f/2, 1/100s, and ISO 1600, then the ISO is 1600 and it doesn't matter whether the camera gave you ISO 1600 through software pushing or sensor sensitivity. The misconception comes from the fact that DxOmark only counts the analog gain in their measured ISO, and Olympus uses more digital gain in order to leave more highlight headroom in the file. More on that here: DxOmark Finally Tests the Olympus OM-D E-M5 - Micro Four Thirds User Forum

    The bottom line is that Olympus doesn't inflate ISO or engage in any other form of ISO trickery. Based on your observations of the Fuji, something is up with that system. Either the nominal f-number, shutter speed, or ISO, or some combination thereof is not correct. If it is the ISO that is off and ISO 6400 on the Fuji gives you an image of expected ISO 3200 brightness, then that is ISO trickery and would give a falsely inflated impression of high ISO performance.
     
  11. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Thanks for the clarification Amin. As I said, I've seen it mentioned that Olympus used inflated numbers, but I never saw it relative to the other cameras I've used, which is admittedly not a complete sample. The first time I saw this phenomenon clearly was when I was considering upgrading from the GRD3 to GRD4 because I saw all sorts of shots from the 4 taken at 1600 that seemed to compare well to the 3 at 800. I figured a full stop was worth checking out. So I got ahold of a 4 and did a bunch of back to back shooting in low light and found that the numbers had changed, but not the performance. If I was getting a shot at f1.9 and 1/50 of a second at ISO 1600 with the GRD4, I was getting the same shot at f1.9 and 1/50 if a second at ISO 800 with the GRD3. Combined with some unwelcome changes to the snap focus feature this made the GRD4 seem like anything but an upgrade. The Fujis are wonderful low light cameras in actual use, but the ISO comparisons suggest they're not much really much better than other cameras that don't have their reputation. I could generally always get the shot with the Olympus or the GXR just as well, which is what made me ever do the comparisons in the first place. That and the naturally suspicious mind the Ricoh GRD experience gave me.

    I should have a copy of the X100s soon enough - it'll be interesting to see how it compares with the Sony. Not the same lens or sensor, but f2 is f2 when it comes to light gathering...

    -Ray
     
  12. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    True (as pertains to exposure, ie on a per unit sensor area basis) but not every lens marked as f2 is necessarily f2, just as not every camera which says ISO 1600 is necessarily ISO 1600. The shutter speed may also not be what it is nominally marked.

    So if the Fuji camera gives a darker image than expected, it could be because the lens is not really as fast as designated , the shutter speed is actually faster than it is designated, or that the ISO is lower than designated . Or it could be that the aperture blades are sticky and therefore not opening to the nominal setting.

    Lastly, it is possible that Adobe Lightroom isn't pushing the files appropriately, ie inappropriate tone curve, and this would give a darker image as well. It would be interesting to see whether the Fuji in camera JPEGs are significantly brighter than the default Lightroom conversions.

    Sent from my SCH-I605 using Tapatalk 2
     
  13. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    True, but there's no way I could ever check those things. So I guess all I can do is report observed results and let the more technically minded figure out the "why and how" part. Is there really much variation in terms of shutter speeds and aperture? Jeez, if so, the poor consumer doesn't even have a small chance!

    -Ray
     
  14. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Jack
    Getting some good insights on trickery from the discussion. Love it! After spending way too much time looking at DPR studio files, I came to the conclusion that I prefer K5iis' RAW files more than any other APS-C cameras in the market. At 6400, the K5iis looked as noiseless but more detailed than any Fuji X files. I think Pentax supposedly cooks their RAW files. If they do, they sure are doing a really good job though balancing noise control and detail.
     
  15. Booka

    Booka SC Regular

    83
    Jul 5, 2011
    Sweden
    Thanks for the write-up and review of the camera, it seems to follow my initial impresion of the camera. A late offering from nikon with no really stand-out features other than size(and price!) a solid first effort by nikon but nothing to really lust after. I tried having a look at the camera in a store over the weekend but it was not ready to be unboxed and displayed.

    One thing i was wondering about was if there was any work around for exposure/focus locking. I assume a half press of the shutter will do either or both but can the function buttons be assigned to exposure lock(are they ergonomicly usable for such a use)

    One of my complaints about the GRD III is the shot to shot speed(not fps) it takes atleast a second or two before the camera is ready again in single shot mode is the Nikon any better at this.

    I'm currently using a GRD III and wanting of a IQ upgrade my thoughts are that i'd buy a discounted x100 and use it over the summer, see what happens with the ricoh GRDV and then maybe settle for NIkon A, grd, x100s or a new xproII in september or so. (seems like a reasonable idea to me)
     
  16. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    First, yes, the fn1 button, located on the front of the camera within easy reach of your middle finger, ring finger, or pinky (depending on how you hold the camera) can be programmed for any number of exposure and/or focus lock functions. I would think of using it for that but I'm using manual focus so much of the time that it would mostly be a waste of a button. And, as noted, the only way it appears possible to get the exposure comp function to work in manual mode with auto-ISO is by assigning it to that button. Which Nikon should fix in a firmware update, but I don't know how Nikon is with firmware updates.

    Second, the shot to shot speed on the Nikon A is overwhelmingly better than the GRD3. I had one of those for the better part of two years and I agree, that was a major frustration - I guess it was write speed. But the Nikon will allow you to shoot pretty much as fast as you're brain and finger can work, even shooting raw plus the highest quality of jpeg. FWIW, the GXR is effectively as quick as the Nikon - I don't think it writes as fast, but it lets you keep shooting while its writing for a while - decent buffer I guess.

    I think there's a decent chance I end up with this camera - there's a lot to like about it for someone with my shooting preferences. But I'm not in any rush and I'd like to see what, if anything, Ricoh does moving forward, and I'm saving plenty of raw files to work with once Lightroom adds raw support for this camera. So I'll give those a good workout before making any decisions too. Maybe by sometime this summer or fall, by which time the price may have settled a bit on the Nikon too...

    -Ray
     
  17. Gary

    Gary SC All-Pro

    Aug 19, 2012
    Southern California
    Gary Ayala
    When I get around to it, I'll try some exposure comparisons between a Canon 1D, Oly OM-D, Fuji X-Pro1 and a Minolta IV handheld meter. If the Fuji is off, it sorta messes up handheld metering. Maybe this weekend. Nice write-up Ray. BTW Ray, have you owned/used a FF camera before?

    Gary
     
  18. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Not since the film days Gary, so I realize I'm reacting more intensely to this camera than some one who'd spent time with a full frame DSLR might. I really wasn't expecting a big difference in anything other than narrow DOF, but I was wrong.

    -Ray
     
  19. Djarum

    Djarum SC All-Pro

    Jul 10, 2010
    Huntsville, AL
    Jason
    Nice writeup Ray. Nice shots too.
     
  20. Yeats

    Yeats SC All-Pro

    Jul 31, 2012
    New Jersey, USA
    Chris
    Not a camera I'm especially interested in, but I always enjoy reading your articles and viewing the accompanying images. :thumbup: