Nikon COOLPIX A: hands-on with the latest large-sensor compact camera
By Simon Crisp
March 6, 2013
After the success of the Fujifilm X100, the Sony RX100 and the Canon G1 X, Nikon has finally embraced the idea of putting a large sensor in a compact-sized camera. The result is the Nikon COOLPIX A – which packs a 16.2-megapixel DX-format sensor and fixed 18.5mm lens into a surprisingly small body. Gizmag got to spent some hands-on time with the newly-announced camera ahead of its release.
The headline attraction of the Nikon COOLPIX A is undoubtedly its large APS-C DX-format 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, which is the same size as those used in most of Nikon's consumer DSLRs. While this is by no means the first compact camera to feature a large sensor, it's Nikon's first foray into the market … and, given that the firm opted for a smaller 1-inch type in its mirrorless 1-Series, that's certainly worth noting.
Like the recently-announced D7100, the camera doesn't feature a low-pass filter, meaning it should capture finer detail than other equally megapixelled cameras. While we weren't allowed to bring away any of the images we shot with the COOLPIX A, they looked impressively sharp and detailed on the back of the camera when zooming in. Also, we didn't experience any moiré patterns, which cameras lacking a low-pass filter can be prone to.
Unlike most compact cameras, the Nikon COOLPIX A has a fixed focal length lens, rather than a more traditional (and more versatile) zoom. This 18.5mm F2.8 lens – which is made up of seven elements in five groups – gives an equivalent of 28mm in 35mm format, and that will make or break the camera for many users. Some will argue it's too wide for general use (and it's true this camera isn't an all-rounder) but it's likely to be welcomed by documentary and landscape shooters – along with street photographers who like something a little wider than the more traditional 35mm (in 35mm format).
Personally, I often have a 28mm lens on my full frame DSLR for everyday use and, as such, felt instantly at home when looking at the monitor and composing images. As DSLR shooters who want to travel light are a key part of the target market for the Nikon COOLPIX A, potential users will probably know who they are, by what lenses and focal lengths they already use.
Using the Nikon EXPEED 2 image-processing engine the camera can shoot 4 fps at full resolution and record 14-bit compressed NEF (RAW) images. It has an ISO range of 100-6400, and ISO equivalent settings go up to 25,600. In my hasty and completely unscientific tests, the contrast-detect TTL (through the lens) autofocus felt speedy and performed well, even in low-light situations.
While at first glance the camera has more in common with lower-end compact cameras than with premium devices, this impression soon goes away when you hold the Nikon COOLPIX A. The use of magnesium alloy gives the camera a decidedly sturdy feel while the leather accent on the front grip, and dials cut from metal, show that this isn't any ordinary compact.
On the top there's a mode dial with PASM (Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, and Manual) options as well as Auto, Scene and two user options which can be set. Enthusiasts will also be pleased to know there's a manual focus ring around the lens, joined by a Fn button on the front, while on the rear there's a 3-inch LCD with 921,000-dots.
The controls on the camera and the GUI have been designed to look and feel like those on Nikon DSLR cameras, which again show that this is seen as a secondary camera to a DSLR for many users. The camera is also compatible with a number of Nikon's DSLR accessories, from external Speedlights and the GP-1 GPS Unit to the Wireless Mobile Adapter WU-1a which can be used to add the usual wireless features.
Measuring 2.6 x 4.4 x 1.6 inches (64.3 x 111 x 40.3 mm) and weighing 10.6 oz (299 g) the COOLPIX A is considerably smaller and lighter than what has to be its most direct rival, the Fujifilm X100S. However, that camera incorporates an optical viewfinder and a 23mm F2 lens (equivalent to 35mm in 35mm format) which can be widened to a 28mm equivalent with a conversion lens.
While the Nikon Optical Viewfinder DF-CP1 has been launched for the COOLPIX A, it will sell for a pricey US$450, which brings us on to our biggest concern about the camera: it's scheduled for release (in black or silver) later this month for a price of $1,100, which seems like a lot when considering some of the mirrorless cameras out there.
Here's a video from Nikon Asia showing the COOLPIX A in action.