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Nikon Coolpix A Hands-on Preview

Preview based on a pre-production Coolpix A

A number of factors have helped spur a great increase in the diversity of camera types now available. The Nikon Coolpix A - an APS-C compact with a fixed 28mm equivalent F2.8 lens - is the latest example and is something that would have seemed incredibly unlikely just a few years ago.
The ongoing competition from smartphones has prompted manufacturers to look for ways to offer higher image quality from compact cameras (and carve out the kinds of profit margins that no longer exist in the compact market). Meanwhile, the advent of the mirrorless camera has helped demonstrate that there's an enthusiast market that wants something other than a DSLR. And, in a quirk of fate, the popularity of smartphone shooting has helped introduce a new generation of photographers to the experience of shooting with prime lenses.
The large sensor, fixed-lens camera is a prime example of this new diversity, and the Coolpix A is just the latest offering. The 28mm-equivalent Nikon joins models from brands including Fujifilm, Sony and Sigma in offering small cameras with prime lenses.
The Nikon Coolpix A is built around a 16MP CMOS sensor - the same one that performed so spectacularly well in cameras such as the D7000. The sensor's microlenses have been designed to work with the camera's wide-angle lens, to reduce corner shading, despite the wide-angle lens mounting fairly close to the sensor. It doesn't gain the on-sensor phase detection elements that have started appearing on some of its contemporaries, however.
The Coolpix A follows the lead of the Pentax K-5 IIs and Nikon's own D7100 in doing away with the optical low-pass filter. We can only assume that Nikon's engineers have concluded that attempting to process out any additional moiré was the lesser evil, compared with the sharpness usually sapped by the filter.

Nikon Coolpix A key specifications

  • 16.2MP 'DX' format CMOS sensor
  • 18.5mm (28mm equivalent) F2.8 lens
  • ISO 100-6400 (with 12,800 and 25,600 equivalent extension settings)
  • 3.0" 920k dot LCD
  • 14-bit uncompressed NEF Raw shooting capability
  • Up to 4fps continuous shooting
  • 1080p movies at 24, 25 or 30fps
  • i-TTL compatible hotshoe
As with those other brands, this is an unashamedly enthusiast-targeted product. Nikon makes clear that the camera is primarily intended as a second camera for DSLR users, with PASM exposure modes brought to the fore, and a menu system that's 'much more DSLR familiar than Coolpix familiar.' So, while the Coolpix A does offer nineteen scene modes, including 'Pet Portrait,' they are all clustered together under a single option on the mode dial, leaving room for two user-definable positions.
The Coolpix A will be available in a choice of two colors - DSLR-style black and a 'titanium' colorscheme that brings to mind the elegant Contax G-series rangefinders.
In addition to its external controls and interface being consistent with Nikon's DSLRs, the camera is also compatible with Nikon DSLR accessories. It uses the same 7.4Wh battery as the 1 System J-series cameras and has an i-TTL compliant flash hotshoe. Sadly, though, while it does include a built-in flash, it isn't able to operate as a remote flash commander, so you'll have to attach at least an SB700 to the body to gain the ability to control flashguns remotely.

28mm equivalent Nikkor lens

The Coolpix A has a lens with 7 elements arranged in 5 groups, with one of those being an aspherical element. Nikon promises 'professional quality' in terms of sharpness and corner consistency. Mounting a wide-angle lens so close to the sensor poses a problem, one that Nikon says they've overcome in two ways, first by applying an anti-reflective coating to the sensor. Then they designed the microlenses to cope with the sharp angles from which light will approach the sensor.
The Coolpix A has a dedicated manual focus ring, which can be used to override autofocus at any time.

In front of it is a slim screw-off ring that covers a thread which can be used to mount an (optional) adaptor, to allow the use of 46mm filters or the HN-CP18 hood.

The lens extends when you power up the camera, so startup isn't immediate (although it's still pretty quick). It has a 7-bladed diaphragm and a lens shutter that work together for essentially silent operation. We do not yet know the how fast the flash sync speed is, though.

Movie shooting

The Coolpix A can capture 1080p movies at 24, 25 or 30 frames per second and save them in the MPEG4 format with H.264 compression. The camera provides full manual exposure control, but it doesn't include an external mic socket, limiting audio quality. The Coolpix A does offer the ability to trim the videos it's shot in-camera, if you simply want to edit a single clip for upload to the web, though. You can also extract a single fame as a still image.

Optional accessories

The Coolpix A has been designed to share a range of Nikon's DSLR accessories, including flashguns, IR remotes, GPS and Wi-Fi modules - clearly in the hope that existing Nikon users will add the camera to their kit bags. The only unique accessories are a hot shoe mounting optical viewfinder (which will costs around $450) and an UR-E24 adaptor/lens hood pack that allows the use of 46mm filters (recommended price around $130).
The DF-CP1 optical viewfinder includes brightlines that mark 90% scene coverage.

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