It’s a brave new world in the digital camera market these days. With profit margins decimated at the lower end of the compact range, fuelled by the growing popularity of smartphone cameras, manufacturers are trying to carve new niches higher up the pyramid, and Nikon’s new COOLPIX A – launched 21st March – encapsulates this perfectly.
At first glance, its key stats – large sensor and prime, fixed, 18.5mm (28mm equivalent) lens in a compact design – is nothing new. This is a market already populated by the likes of Fujifilm, Sony and Sigma, but Nikon has one major trick up its sleeve – or in this case, its jacket pocket. It claims the 16.2MP COOLPIX A is the world’s smallest camera to feature a DX-sized sensor, the same APS-C sensor as found in its mid-range DX7000 DSLR camera. By removing the optical low-pass filter and incorporating high ISO settings (100-6,400,extendable to 25,600), it’s renowned for producing very detailed images, even in low light, making it perfect for those frustrated by their smartphone’s inability to take anything but blurred, low-detail shots while out on the town.
The COOLPIX A is also powered by the EXPEED 2 image processing engine, and is capable of taking 14-bits compressed RAW images – all high-end DSLR functions. The DSLR features don’t end there, with Nikon adopting the same menu system on the COOLPIX A’s 3-inch LCD screen as found in its DSLR cameras too. It’ll also be compatible with other Nikon DSLR accessories.
It all sounds great so far, but there’s a hefty premium to pay for owning such a compact camera, and the eye-watering £999.99 price tag is only part of the story. Despite costing significantly more than its immediate rival, the Fujifilm X100, the COOLPIX A has no built-in optical viewfinder, an omission that CNET considers a competitive weakness along with its “abysmal” 230-shot battery life. Adding the optional DF-CP1 viewfinder will increase the cost by a hefty $450, although PC Magazine points out there are no shortage of legacy 28mm finders available that will work just as well.
Tech Radar’s Amy Davies has more positive vibes about the camera, noting it feels solid and looks elegant despite its small footprint. She’s also impressed with the customisable buttons, manual focussing ring and camera’s overall responsiveness, and found the LCD screen bright and reasonably glare-free, although she was disappointed by its lack of touchscreen.
We can see who Nikon is aiming the COOLPIX A at: the professional or enthusiast who wants to be able to take DSLR-quality shots in situations where they’d normally be fishing out a smartphone or cheap compact. But while that embryonic market may exist, we can’t see many people happy to hand over a grand for the privilege of owning a camera that makes so many compromises to fit into your jacket pocket. The lack of an optical viewfinder, interchangeable lens, battery life that makes you go ‘meh’ and image quality that doesn’t blow cheaper competition out of the water will all make the COOLPIX A a difficult sell.
Mind you, having blown all that dosh on it, we suspect you might start clawing some of that outlay back by limiting the amount you drink on a night out – after all, you won’t want to be leaving this camera at the bar, in the cab, on the kerb, etc!