I have been looking for a nice little cam to serve as backup when I am out and about carrying my DSLR equipment or my Leica M gear. I usually do not have much space in my bag, so I am in need of a very compact solution. Of course sometimes I do not want to carry anything big at all (let alone a camera bag) and only wish for a reliable and capable small cam to slip into my back pocket. Well, could this be it, the Nikon Coolpix A?
The specs sound impressive for such a small package:
- 16.2 MP CMOS sensor (DX-format)
- 18.5mm (28mm equivalent) f/2.8 retractable lens with manual focus ring
- 3.0“ (7.5 cm) 921k-dot LCD monitor
- aluminum alloy body (top surface covered by magnesium alloy)
- mode dial for manual exposure control (PASM) and U1/U2 personalized settings
- RAW shooting mode
- approx. 4 frames per second continuous shooting
- optional optical viewfinder and wireless mobile adapter
- 1920 x 1080/30p Full HD video recording
- current price around € 950 / $ 1.100
The new fixed lens compact camera Nikon Coolpix A shows that Nikon is capable of putting an APS-C size sensor into a very compact camera body. Especially in black it looks quite sleek and straight forward and comes with nearly all the bells and whistles serious shooters demand. Previous Nikon users will feel right at home with the GUI i.e. the menu settings, which look much like the ones on Nikon DSLRs. The mode dial makes selecting your favorite settings easy, even incorporating the special user settings U1/U2, which come in handy when you do not want to fumble with controls all day and just want to reset to your own preferences.
Image quality is also much like what you would achieve with the latest 16 MP Nikon DSLRs. But of course being a compact, it is using a fixed 18,5mm lens (which is the equivalent of 28mm). This focal length is quite demanding and may not be suited for everyone. A 35mm lens would have been more mainstream.
Some of the photo blogging luminaries have begun putting the „A“ through its paces and have written extensive reviews. You can have a look at some of the mostly favorable opinions following my link pick to Ming Thein and Steve Huff.
So, this little Nikon should not be a bad camera at all. In fact it would be quite terrific for my use – if it had an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and interchangeable lenses to go with it. But of course it has not. Instead Nikon is trying to enthuse with a very compact camera featuring a comparably large sized sensor. But it is not the only fish in the pond. The recently announced Ricoh GR will have almost the same features, same size sensor and be priced a little lower (about € 200 / $ 300 less). Of course there are numerous others to consider. If I wanted to spend a lot of money (around €/$ 2.800), I would go for the Sony RX1. It not only has a nice and bright f/2.0 Zeiss 35mm lens but also packs a whopping 24 MP full frame sensor. Then again, this would not be quite as compact anymore.
These cameras all have one thing in common. They are trying to lure customers with compact dimensions, good optics and big sensors, aiming at enthusiasts and pros that do not want to carry heavy equipment all the time. They are all very capable when it comes to image quality but it seems like all camera makers are desperately trying to avoid competing with DSLRs.
All except Fuji. They never looked back when they quit the DSLR business a couple of years ago and they are now putting all their efforts into products that really appeal to customers. Next to the X-Pro 1 and the XE-1 the popular Fuji X100/X100s really nailed it IMHO. While still keeping to compact dimensions, the Fuji features the EVF most of us are desperate for and also offers a superb APS-C size sensor with great color output and low-light performance. They are selling like hot cakes – and rightly so.
The XE-1 is my go-to camera at the moment and I am quite happy using it as a backup to my DSLR or Leica M. But when it comes to choosing a pocketable alternative, I am still undecided. If the Nikon A had that darned EVF instead of a clumsy optional add-on thingy, I would buy one in a heartbeat. But as it goes, I am still on the fence.
If Nikon were to introduce such a camera and maybe even throw in some interchangeable lenses, they would probably have to build another factory to meet demand.
So, what is Nikon waiting for? Are they only testing the water with the new Nikon Coolpix A? Will there be a „serious“ compact ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) soon?
We shall see … 🙂