Aperture priority is where you designate the aperture and the camera calculates the best shutter speed, if the exposure is outside of the cameras range (either over or under exposing) the aperture will flash on the LCD screen. However used properly Aperture Priority can be invaluable as it has a direct effect on depth of field (the distance in front and behind the focal point which will be in focus when taking the shot). Example of aperture priority (simple example F9.8 produces more depth of field than F3.5) - for more read my digital photography glossary:
Shutter priority is where you designate the shutter speed and the camera calculates the best aperture, if the exposure is outside of the cameras range (either over or under exposing) the shutter speed will flash on the LCD screen. In the example below shutter priority was used to set a long exposure of 2 seconds to produce the streaking car lights in this night shot- for more read my digital photography glossary:
Note that you can only set shutter priority on the DEF sensitivity (ISO 80), an explanation as to why can be found on the Nikon Europe website.
Manual White (presetting) Balance
Manual white balanace (called presetting on the 950) is a feature normally only found on high-end professional digital cameras, it allows for those circumstances where either the camera is tricked into picking the wrong white balance or one of the preset white balance modes still doesn't produce a pure white. On the 950 you simply select WHITE PRESET from the white balance menu and you're given a live display of a 50% sized view, aim this at either a white object (wall / snow etc.) or a gray card and select MEASURE. The camera will then treat that as it's base WHITE colour and balance colours around that value (until you cancel or switch back to Auto mode).
In the example below the image on the left was taken in incandescent white balance (the lights used in the room) and the image on the right was taken after manually presetting the white balance against the white wall.
I think you can appreciate the advantages this provides over having just a preset range of white balances and the colour accuracy available through this feature. (It's worth noting that I did a test of the above shot in Auto mode and the camera actually got the balance pretty much perfect).
Again, it looks as though Nikon were responding to market demand for more manual features on digital cameras with the inclusion of a manual focus feature. It's accessed by holding the picture mode button on the top of the camera and rolling the command wheel on the front (a little fiddly with one hand). The ten focus values are:
0.1m, 0.2m, 0.3m, 0.5m, 0.7m, 1.0m, 1.5m, 3m, 10m and Infinity. (Note that these distances can also be represented in feet (ft.) by enabling the DIST FT. option in the record menu).
It's one of those features which you're dying to try out but you'll hardly find yourself using (at least in my case). The AutoFocus on the 950 is pretty good (as long as you give it time to settle down), the only place it would be useful is in low-light situations where the camera just can't focus, but in low light it's difficult to see if you have a good manual focus as the LCD is typically too dark and the viewfinder is not TTL; you can't win them all.
You can also quickly focus to infinity by choosing the Landscape picture mode.
The bulit-in flash of the 950 is very much more capable and controlled than it's older brother (the 900s) with much, much better output control and much better overall exposure and colour balance (very slight green cast) the flash is usable from very wide angle "full room" to very close macro shots (some macros do look a little lit-from-the-left because of the positioning of the flash). Below are a selection of flash shots of different distances and outputs (many of these shots would be washed out or under-lit with other digital camera built-in flash units).
Readers of my reviews will know I'm not a huge fan of digital zoom as it's often a badly implemented and seldom used (by owners) marketing "ploy" to sell cameras which don't have an optical zoom. The 950 does indeed have optical zoom, and has a range of digital zooms which can be used on top of the standard 3x optical zoom. These zooms are 1.25x, 1.6x, 2x and 2.5x. They are however simply cropping (selecting the mid part of the image) and blowing-up, the only advantage in doing digital zoom inside the camera is (a) if you don't have any photo software to magnify (and interpolate) the image or (b) to digitally zoom without zooming the JPEG artifacts.
These five shots were taken at no digital zoom, 1.25x, 1.6x, 2x and 2.5x (you can click on any thumbnail on this strip to view the original full-size image).
Some slightly closer detail at different zooms (blown-up 200%):
And the difference between doing it in the camera and doing it in a decent photo package such as Photoshop 5:
As you can see, Photoshop's bicubic interpolation wins this race, the only thing to note would be that it has also blown-up the JPEG artifacts.
Best Shot Selector (BSS)
When Nikon announced the 950 everyone was kinda intruiged by their new fangled BSS system which was supposed to improve everyone's photography by letting the camera choose the best image out of a sequence of (up to) eight photographs. It works like this: you enable BSS, compose your scene then hold your finger down on the shutter release for as many frames as you like (up to eight, the camera will take one roughly every second depending on resolution / mode). It will then select the best out of the frames it's taken as your "Best Shot".
So, does it work? Well, have to admit it, yes it does actually. Below are two shots, I deliberately made it hard for the camera by taking a photo in low light with no flash (0.5s exposure at F3.2) and hand-held, the first (on the left) was taken without BSS (camera shake city) and the one on the right was with BSS, which is the camera's best choice of the eight it took.
So, how does it work? I can't confirm this but I have a theory on how this system works (note, my theory, and I could be completely wrong) the camera simply chooses the image with the largest file size. Why? Because JPEG files are bigger if they have more detail, they have more detail if they're less blurred... Of the two images above the BSS image is bigger (because it has more detail).
BTW. I'm not saying that you'd use BSS all the time, but for those slow shutter speed hand-held shots it's really pretty useful.