Digital Cameras

Nikon COOLPIX A: hands-on with the latest large-sensor compact camera

The Nikon COOLPIX A features a large DX-format 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor
The Nikon COOLPIX A features a large DX-format 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor
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On the top of the Nikon COOLPIX A there's a mode dial with PASM options as well as Auto, Scene and two user options which can be set
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On the top of the Nikon COOLPIX A there's a mode dial with PASM options as well as Auto, Scene and two user options which can be set
The Nikon COOLPIX A features a 3-inch LCD with 921,000-dots
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The Nikon COOLPIX A features a 3-inch LCD with 921,000-dots
Unlike most compact cameras, the Nikon COOLPIX A has a fixed focal length lens
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Unlike most compact cameras, the Nikon COOLPIX A has a fixed focal length lens
The lens on the Nikon COOLPIX A is a 18.5mm F2.8 lens equivalent of 28mm in 35mm format
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The lens on the Nikon COOLPIX A is a 18.5mm F2.8 lens equivalent of 28mm in 35mm format
The Nikon COOLPIX A features a large DX-format 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor
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The Nikon COOLPIX A features a large DX-format 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor
The use of magnesium alloy gives the Nikon COOLPIX A a decidedly sturdy feel
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The use of magnesium alloy gives the Nikon COOLPIX A a decidedly sturdy feel
The Nikon COOLPIX A will be available in black or silver
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The Nikon COOLPIX A will be available in black or silver
The 18.5mm lens on the Nikon COOLPIX A is made up of seven elements in five groups
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The 18.5mm lens on the Nikon COOLPIX A is made up of seven elements in five groups
The Nikon COOLPIX A features an EXPEED 2 image-processing engine
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The Nikon COOLPIX A features an EXPEED 2 image-processing engine
The Nikon COOLPIX A can shoot 4 fps at full resolution
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The Nikon COOLPIX A can shoot 4 fps at full resolution
The Nikon COOLPIX A can record 14-bit compressed NEF (RAW) images
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The Nikon COOLPIX A can record 14-bit compressed NEF (RAW) images
The Nikon COOLPIX A has a native ISO range of 100-3200 which can be expanded to 6400
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The Nikon COOLPIX A has a native ISO range of 100-3200 which can be expanded to 6400
The headline attraction of the Nikon COOLPIX A is undoubtedly its large APS-C size sensor
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The headline attraction of the Nikon COOLPIX A is undoubtedly its large APS-C size sensor
Enthusiasts will be pleased to know the Nikon COOLPIX A has a manual focus ring around the lens
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Enthusiasts will be pleased to know the Nikon COOLPIX A has a manual focus ring around the lens
The controls on the Nikon COOLPIX A and the GUI have been designed to look and feel like those on Nikon DSLR cameras
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The controls on the Nikon COOLPIX A and the GUI have been designed to look and feel like those on Nikon DSLR cameras
The Nikon COOLPIX A is compatible with a number of Nikon's DSLR accessories
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The Nikon COOLPIX A is compatible with a number of Nikon's DSLR accessories

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
Unlike most compact cameras, the Nikon COOLPIX A has a fixed focal length lens

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.

The Nikon COOLPIX A features a 3-inch LCD with 921,000-dots
The Nikon COOLPIX A features a 3-inch LCD with 921,000-dots

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.

On the top of the Nikon COOLPIX A there's a mode dial with PASM options as well as Auto, Scene and two user options which can be set
On the top of the Nikon COOLPIX A there's a mode dial with PASM options as well as Auto, Scene and two user options which can be set

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.

Source: Nikon

2 comments
Calson
Cannot begin to compare to the X-100 that has 3 pro grade very fast lenses available. Nikon should know better than to produce a fixed lens DSLR like this one.
Vince Pack
The A is not, by definition, a D-SLR. It's a compact camera. The X100s I've shot with on several occasions were also fixed lens, but they had a built-in viewfinder (and a pretty amazing one, at that). The Fuji X-Pro is the camera I believe you are refering to, but as it has interchangable glass, it's not exactly and apples to apples comparison. I do agree this camera is priced outside the range of reality - especially considering the very expensive viewfinder option and the $150+ lens hood/filter adapter. A "complete" outfit tips the scales at over $1600 (usd). Too much for most of us to consider for this type camera. Then again, this camera isn't aimed at most of us.