Nikon Coolpix A
Category: Enthusiast Large Sensor Compact Camera
Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent image quality in both Raw and JPEG
- Sharp lens with good consistency up to fairly wide apertures
- Large sensor in genuinely small body
- Simple and responsive user interface
- Good build quality
- Good live view magnification allows precise manual focus
- Compatible with Nikon Speedlights
Conclusion - Cons
- Significant vignetting in both JPEG and Raw files
- Pedestrian focusing limits 'decisive moment' abilities
- No ND filter and 1/2000th sec shutter speed limit bright-light flexibility
- Extremely limited movie capabilities
- No Commander mode for use with remote flashguns
The Coolpix A represents a welcome expansion by Nikon into photographer-targeted niches that had previously been rather under-served. With it the company has brought its mass-market expertise to make a camera that offers the same simplified interface and pleasant JPEGs that underpin its popular entry-level DSLRs. Both these things help make it an attractive second camera for DSLR users, especially those who shoot Nikon.
The Coolpix A avoids the odd quirks and foibles that have become something of a Coolpix signature, with the 'A' instead offering the logic and dependability of the company's self-developed DSLRs. However, the Coolpix A does not exist in the market on its own. Just weeks after its announcement, Pentax Ricoh announced a model that fulfills a very similar role and represents extremely fierce competition to the Nikon.
The Coolpix A presents few surprises when it comes to image quality - the JPEGs have the pleasant color response of the company's DSLRs, as well as offering the clever Active D-Lighting processing option for getting well-balance images straight out of the camera. Low light performance is also good, with Nikon's image processing again speaking in the camera's favor.
In Raw, Nikon's decision to offer 14-bit Raw offers a theoretical advantage over the Ricoh when it comes to dynamic range but for the majority of images that don't need extreme processing, the difference is moot.
The lack of anti-aliasing filter, combined with a very sharp lens means the Coolpix A is capable of some highly detailed images. And, as with the recent filter-less Nikon D7100, moire is rarely a problem in real-world shooting. Both Raw and JPEG output exhibit distinctly shaded corners at most apertures but the fall-off is very progressive, so it's rarely noticeable.
Handling and Operation
The Coolpix A is a well built, solid-feeling little camera - it fits well in the hand and, significantly, will slip into a moderately-sized pocket. And, if you like shooting the moderately wide angle of view that 28mm equivalent gives you, this makes the Coolpix a promising prospect.
It mimics the behavior of Nikon's entry-level, single dial DSLRs to a great extent - putting the primary shooting settings at the user's fingertips. Two customizable Fn buttons do a good job of reducing the need to use the camera's slightly fiddly [i] menu, but it never offers quite the same sense of being a moment away from the setting you want to change that the Ricoh can.
Mercifully, the Coolpix A avoids the recent Coolpix tradition of poor data transfer and firmware quirks - it works just as responsively and dependably as the company's DSLRs.
The final word
The Coolpix A is a very good camera that, if it stood in isolation, would represent an interesting addition to the camera market. Of course the reality is that it doesn't exist in a vacuum and, while many photographers will be very happy with it, a considerable portion of its thunder is stolen by the Ricoh GR - a camera that achieves the unusual trick of being a touch better in almost every respect while also being significantly cheaper.
We're also not totally convinced about the price/size/performance balance that either of these cameras strikes, given their only moderately-bright F2.8 lenses. In the course of the review process we have increasingly appreciated their pocketability, though.
There are a few things that recommend the Coolpix A over the Ricoh - its JPEGs are arguably nicer than the GR's and both its flash hot shoe and user-interface will be immediately compatible for Nikon DSLR users. Whether this is enough to justify the price premium over a slightly faster, slightly smaller and (to our minds) slightly more capable camera, is another matter.
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Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
Nikon users looking for a pocketable alternative to their DSLR (particularly those who own Nikon Speedlights).
Not so good for
Photographers shooting fast-moving subjects.
The Coolpix A offers DSLR-standard image quality and an excellent 28mm-equivalent lens in a well-polished, pocketable camera. Compared to the competition, the Coolpix A is solid, if not class leading in any particular respect, but its user interface will be immediately familiar to Nikon shooters and the results it produces are dependably good.