Nikon Coolpix 950 Review
Black and White mode
Some people may wonder why you need a black and white mode in the camera, surely you can take the image out and just de-saturate it in a photo package. Well, you can. However the 950 implements it rather neatly in that (a) it's doing the black and white conversion INSTEAD of interpolating the RGBG colour pixels from the CCD, and (b) it's handy if you KNOW that you want to take black and white images or if you don't have or use a photo package. (Unfortunately it still saves images black and white images as RGB colour JPEGs, which is a bit crazy as JPEG has its own grayscale format which produces smaller images...)
One place where the 900s traditionally reigned supreme was in taking macro (very close-up) shots. And the 950 just carries on that tradition, I would say other than getting a macro lens for your camera the 950 is absolutely all hands down unbeaten at taking macro shots. Having played with the macro mode quite intensively I've discovered (bear in mind I don't have a manual for the camera yet) that when the macro indicator (small flower) is GREEN in the LCD it is indicating that you're in the macro "sweet spot" where the closest possible focus at the maximum possible zoom is (around 2.8x zoom).
The camera can get down to 3/4" (0.75" or 18mm) across the horizontal axis, which in anyones book is VERY, VERY close. Less talk lets see some examples:
Variable ISO (CCD sensitivity)
One feature demanded and now satisified in the 950 is variable ISO, the ability to increase the sensitivity of the CCD to allow for faster shutter speeds and/or better performance in low light. The way this works in a digital camera is by "turning up the volume" on the CCD's singal amplifiers, nothing is without it's price however and doing so also ampifies any noise that may be present. Below are four images, in order DEF (ISO 80), 100 (ISO 100), +1 (ISO 180) and +2 (ISO 360). (Measured light was 3.3EV, aperture was F3.2 for all).
Here's a 200% blow-up of the same detail from each image:
Noise was actually kept to a minimum and the sensitivity control on the 950 is both useful and valuable. HOWEVER, one gripe would be that there's no Shutter Priortiy mode in anything but DEF (ISO 80) sensitivty. (And didn't I do a frighteningly good job of hand-holding the camera for 1s exposures?.. no tripod for these shots)
Metering (Matrix, Spot and Center Weighted Average)
The 950 inherits the same metering modes as the 900s with the choice of Matrix, Spot and Center Weighted Average. What is a metering mode? Well, it's how the camera measures the amount of light, judges the lighting and the subject and calculates the best exposure. Ninety five percent of the time you'll probably find yourself using Nikon's unique matrix metering mode which takes care of most situations, however there are certain instances where spot metering (say against a bright background) is useful. (Center weighted average is just what it sounds like it takes the exposure from an average of a circular area in the center of the frame).
Below you can see examples of the same scene taken using different metering modes:
The 950 features three different continuous (otherwise known as burst) modes. There's continuous full-size which will take up to 10 shots at full resolution at 1.5fps (useful for capturing action sequences and selecting out the "right" shot later). There's 16 shots which takes 16 1/4 size images onto one image (see below), and there's VGA sequence which allows you to take about 60 VGA sized shots at at 1.5fps (great for animated GIF's).
(Created from a VGA sequence - not great, I know)
Uncompressed mode / JPEG compressions
Again, another feature much lauded by photographers is the CP950's ability to produce "uncompressed" images, that is images which will be free of any artifacts created by the JPEG compression algorithm. Unfortunately Nikon decided to use TIFF uncompressed format which creates rather huge 5.6MB files (Note: Canon use a CCDRAW format which simply records the 10-bit output for each pixel and lets a TWAIN driver derive the 24-bit colour value later; 1.9MB).
Below are four images taken at the available compression settings of HI (uncompressed), FINE (1:4), NORMAL (1:8) and BASIC (1:16). All taken at 1/6s F6.5 Aperture Priority on a tripod.
|TIFF 5,633KB||JPEG FINE 678KB||JPEG NORMAL 381KB||JPEG BASIC 221KB|
Below you can see one detail from the images blown up to 200% for the various compression ratios (to demonstrate increaed JPEG noise). Interestingly there's verry little noise on the FINE image and the NORMAL image is easily acceptable (at only 381KB).
|TIFF||JPEG FINE||JPEG NORMAL||JPEG BASIC|
Below are two more shots taken at XGA (1024 x768) NORMAL and VGA (640 x 480) NORMAL.
|XGA JPEG NORMAL 161KB||VGA JPEG NORMAL 68KB|
And, again, a 200% blowup of the exact
same "amount" of detail as above at the lower
resolutions (NORMAL compression):
|XGA JPEG NORMAL||VGA JPEG NORMAL|
Image adjust: you can adjust the image to increase or decrease the contrast or brightness. You have to set these adjustments before taking the shot. Generally speaking this is only useful if you aren't going to do any post-processing and you can clearly see the result on the LCD (not in bright light).
Exposure compensation: you can compensate the exposure +/-2EV in 0.3EV steps, to activate you have to hold the +/- button on the back of the camera and roll the command wheel (a two handed job unfortunately).