In general, the Nikon Coolpix A's image quality is very good. The lack of an AA filter helps it produce sharp, detailed images and the theoretical risk of moiré rarely troubles the camera's output. Its familiar JPEG engine tends to result in pleasant colors and the default processing settings steer a sensible course between revealing detail and the artificial appearance that over-sharpening can bring.
The camera's white balance is pretty dependable - and there's a choice of whether it leaves some 'warmth' when shooting under artificial light, or whether it'll try to more fully correct it.
As the lens tests show, there is also some fairly severe vignetting at all apertures - something the camera makes no attempt to correct, either in Raw or JPEG mode.
As we've already seen, the Nikon's lens can be very good (even if there is some corner softness at its widest apertures at close focusing distances). Even at F2.8 the lens is very sharp and things get even better when you stop down - by F4 the Coolpix A's output is consistently sharp across the frame.
Vignetting is the lens' main drawback. It appears in the Coolpix A's images, so we're surprised there's no option to remove it in the camera's JPEGs - a function offered in the company's DSLRs. However, while it's present at apertures, the Coolpix A's vignetting is very even and progressive, so isn't especially noticeable unless you have expanses of even tones such as the blue sky in the example below.
In the above image, we've shot a bright light scene at F7.1 and converted it without lens correction in Adobe Camera Raw (a result that's consistent with the camera's JPEGs), then applied the vignetting aspect of Adobe's lens profile for the Coolpix A. Comparing the two can exaggerate how noticeable the vignetting actually is, but it is there if it's something that worries you.
An 18.5mm F2.8 lens is never going to be the first choice when it comes to blurring backgrounds. If you're shooting anything but close-up work, the camera will only offer a little bit of background defocus. In the example below, most of the buildings are around 750m (0.46 miles) away, yet are only just beginning to drop out of focus, when the camera is focused on an object around 1.5m away.
|Nikon Coolpix A - F2.8, ISO 100||100% Crop|
|Ricoh GR - F2.8, ISO 100||100% Crop|
The Nikon's bokeh is a little harsh and bright-edged, leading to a rather 'busy' rendition of background detail. The Ricoh isn't much better - its rendering of defocused regions is a touch smoother, suggesting slightly less hard-edged bokeh but instead exhibits clearer signs of axial chromatic aberration - leaving the background with odd green-tinged edges.
Low light performance
Nikon has a pretty solid recent history of combining very capable sensors with sophisticated image processing to give cameras with excellent low light performance. The Coolpix benefits from this heritage and continues to produce usable JPEGS even in low light.
That said, the results aren't significantly better than the Ricoh's output. Both shot at the default noise reduction settings and the differences are subtle.
|Nikon Coolpix A - F8, ISO 6400||100% Crop|
|Ricoh GR - F8, ISO 6400||100% Crop|
The Coolpix A's focus slows down as the light level drops but, even with the AF illuminator disengaged, it will continue to focus in very low light if you ensure there is a decent degree of contrast for it to identify.
The Coolpix A has a small internal flash which, at Guide number 6, is on a par with a small mirrorless camera but considerably less powerful than the one you'll find on an entry-level DSLR. That said, the Coolpix's fast maximum aperture will help extend its working range.
The Coolpix A's main advantage, when it comes to flash, is that it can be used with Nikon iTTL flashguns (handy if you already have one). Sadly, however, the internal flash can't be used to control off-board flashguns, the way some Nikon DSLRs can. This feature is included on the company's less expensive Coolpix P7700, yet is missed off the Coolpix A.
|The Coolpix A's flash is a bit heavy-handed but, thanks to the relatively bright F2.8 maximum aperture, still has a reasonable reach.|
The Coolpix A's mode for dealing with high contrast scenes is Nikon's now-familiar Active D-Lighting system. This will reduce the exposure of a shot by up to 1EV and use adaptive processing to incorporate the extra tonal information it captures in the highlights, while brightening darker areas of the image.
Because Active D-Lighting changes the camera's exposure, it has to be set at the point of exposure - you can adjust the extent of the processing in Raw conversion, but you can't fully remove the effect of the Active D-Lighting selection you made when the image was first captured.
As usual, we're pretty impressed with the results - the camera has been able to cope with this high dynamic range scene without requiring multiple exposures or giving unnatural-looking output. Active D-Lighting is supposed to assess and protect local contrast, so that the image doesn't end up looking too flat or washed-out and, even at the Extra High setting, has done a pretty good job of it.
For JPEG shooters in particular, this is a really nice feature to have.
|Conceptual Kings Nikon Coolpix P330: A Beginner's Guide eBook||$3.99|
|Rocky Nook Mastering the Nikon COOLPIX A eBook||$22.39|