Nikon Coolpix A comparative review
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.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean
Nikon Coolpix A
Category: Enthusiast Large Sensor Compact Camera
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
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.
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