Internal Flash

The actual flash system in the 990 seems identical to that found in the 950, the major updates are a larger anti-redeye lamp and the ability to adjust the flash output from the M-REC menu. The internal flash in the 990 is rated at 9m/30ft @ ISO 100. The default shutter speed @ ISO 100 using the internal flash seems to be 1/120s.

Skin tone flash test. The 990 performed pretty well here, natural skin tone no wash out or blue cast. As we'd expect the flash in the 990 isn't that powerful (fairly normal by digicam standards) and thus there's drop off at the edges (shot taken 2 m from wall, manual focus).
Macro shot using the flash power adjustment, flash output decreased by 0.3 EV. A nice example of high speed sync with the flash, in this case 1/1000s freezing this water drop.
Colour test chart shot @ 10 degrees off horizontal (to decrease reflection). Typical of the 990 the shot is slightly underexposed (better than over) [Note: Manual Focus 0.7m, Light: 1 EV]  

There's no obvious colour cast from the 990's flash. If anything the images are very slightly yellow (blue knocked out by about 1% but it's not visible to the naked eye). One thing that annoyed me was the lack of any indication on the LCD viewfinder that you had set the variable flash output, this can (and does) lead to accidents.

Note also that the 990 has a Multi-flash sync terminal for use with Nikon Speedlight SB-28/ 28DX/ 26/ 25/ 24/ 22s through the Multi-Flash Bracket Unit SK-E900 and that the internal flash can be canceled when using external Speedlight(s).

Internal Flash Compared to Nikon Coolpix 950

A few readers have asked me to post a simple side-by-side comparison of skin tones and anti red-eye with the 950. The 990 features much better colour (and white balance) control and it shows

Nikon Coolpix 950 Nikon Coolpix 990
1/60s, F4.0 1/120s, F4.0

Not the best comparison of anti red-eye but not too bad, as you can see it's not very different which suggests to me that you'll still have red-eye problems with the 990 in the same situations you'd have red-eye problems with the 950. No change there. Biggest changes are the increased sync speed of the flash (1/120s vs. 1/60s) which will produce sharper images less prone to shake and most prominently the correct white balance! The 950 image is definitely green (yuck!), the 990 white balance is pretty much perfect, a little over red but that's kinder to skin tones than green... (The wall behind Jo is the correct colour).

Macro Mode

The 950 ruled the waves for 12 months as far as macro and super-macro shots. The 990 isn't any different producing amazing macro shots down to just 2 cm's from the lens. The 990 features the same yellow macro symbol, the symbol for macro mode turns yellow when you're at the optimum zoom for the closest macros (about half way through the zoom range). That produces images like the ones below, a full frame covering just 19mm (0.75") which means if you're as close as you can possibly get you're shooting at 2730 dpi... Add to this Nikon's final fix to the self timer, you can now use the self timer (10 or 3 seconds) in combination with Macro mode to reduce the possibility of camera shake.

A British one pound coin, the coin is 22 mm in diameter (9/10 "). The De-Facto (cough) ruler shot, 19mm (0.75") full frame.

Continuous / Movie Modes

The 990 features five continuous shooting modes. Under test conditions they equate to:

Continuous Mode Frame Size File Format Approx. frames per sec (LCD review on) Approx. frames per sec (LCD review off) Max no. of frames
Continuous* 2048 x 1536 JPEG 1.6 1.6 9
Continuous* 1024 x 768 JPEG 1.8 1.8 40
Multi-shot 16 512 x 192 JPEG 2.2 2.3 16**
VGA Seq. 640 x 480 JPEG 1.6 1.8 44
Ultra HS 320 x 240 JPEG 30 30 80
Movie 320 x 240 MOV 15 15 40 secs

* Shot with BASIC compression
** 16 frames on 1 JPEG image (2048 x 1536)

As far as using the flash in conjunction with continuous mode this is what the manual has to say: "The built-in flash will not fire at settings of Continuous, Multi-shot 16, and VGA Sequence. Unless you are using an external flash, it is recommended that you set the flash to (“flash cancel”) at these settings to ensure that photographs are not underexposed."

The move below was shot hand-held in Movie mode, it's a QuickTime MOV file (M-JPEG) and it's 2.91 MB so download it only if you're REALLY interested in what a London Underground train pulling into the station looks like.

DSCN1245.MOV, 10 seconds, 2.91 MB

The way most digicams record video is by buffering the video internally and then writing it out to the CF card. Video encoding and writing to the CF card wouldn't be fast enough to stream, therefore the 40 second limit is an "at a time" limit (as much video as can be stored in the internal buffer), you have to wait for the video to be flushed to the CF card (this alone takes 34 seconds) then you can shoot another 40 seconds. A 40 second QuickTime from the 990 is about 10 MB, therefore you'd get 234 seconds on a 64 MB CF.

Best-Shot Selection

Best-Shot Selection was a feature first introduced on the 950, put simply the camera shoots continuously as long as the shutter release button is held down (for a maximum of 10 images - internal buffer allowing), once you release the shutter the camera then selects the sharpest image and saves this to the CF card. It can be useful for shooting in low light circumstances where you are hand-holding the camera.

Camera settings: ISO 100, Programmed Auto, Metering: Matrix, EV Comp +0.3, Focus Locked, Sharpening: Normal, White Balance: Cloudy, Measured light: 9 EV.

No BSS, 1/19s, F3.2 BSS, 1/18s, F3.2

As you can see the results can be dramatic. The theory is simple, out of ten images the chances are that one of them will be sharp, or at least sharper than the rest. I'm quite a fan of BSS.

AE Lock

AE lock is used to freeze the same aperture, shutter speed, sensitivity and white balance for a sequence of shots. It's generally used for panoramas or product shots (where you wouldn't want the image exposure to change through a sequence). Through the menu system you enable AE lock, the first shot will be used for the settings for subsequent shots. You can reset AE lock through the menu.

The panorama below was created using AE Lock, exposure was calculated and frozen by the camera at the first shot then five subsequent overlapping shots were taken. I used Enroute Quickstitch to stitch the five images together.

5 x ISO 100, Programmed Auto, AE Lock, Metering: Matrix, AF, Sharpening: Normal, WB: Auto, Measured Light: 13 EV. Exposure for all images: 1/243 s, F6.2.

Exposure Information Text File

With the 990 each folder created on the CF card now contains an information text file "info.txt" which contains exposure information for each image in that folder.

Description of each field Example "info.txt" entry
Image file name and type
Camera type / Firmware version
Metering method
Exposure mode
Shutter speed
Exposure compensation
Focal length / Digital Zoom
Image adjustment setting
Sensitivity (ISO equivalency)
White balance
Date / Time
Size / Quality
CAMERA : E990V1.0
SHUTTER : 1/30sec
EXP +/- : 0.0
FOCAL LENGTH : f20.3mm(X1.0)
DATE : 14.04.2000 11:14