The Nikon A offers great image quality for those wanting a large sensor, fixed lens camera--as long as you can live without a viewfinder.
Nikon's new premium compact fixed lens camera made quite a splash when it was introduced. But the Nikon A has some stiff competition to contend with. Will this expensive large sensor, fixed lens camera be able to compete with the newly released Ricoh GR and the Fuji X100s or will the image quality send the others packing?
So, what kind of camera does $1100 buy you nowadays? Enter the Nikon Coolpix A, a top-notch camera with a lot to offer. The Nikon A offers users a 16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor (DX-format)--the same one found in the Nikon D7000, one of Nikon's most popular prosumer DSLR cameras. The Nikon A however, is smaller, more compact and more portable than the D7000 ever dreamed of being. In fact, these two cameras aren't even comparable by most other standards. The Nikon Coolpix A actually fits into a relatively new category of compact, fixed lens, large sensor cameras. These cameras feature sensors that can be found in traditional DSLRs, but their form factor is much smaller than a DSLR. Most of these cameras are about the size of a point and shoot. Yet, these cameras have features that rival top DSLRs including fully manual mode dials, fantastic low light capabilities and RAW image capture.
The Nikon A is no exception to the robust features listed above. As Nikon's most expensive compact camera to date, the A offers professional level imagery in a pocketable camera. The camera has a large 16.2 MP CMOS sensor that works in unison with its 18.5mm (28mm equivalent) f2.8 fixed focal length lens. The lens has been manufactured with Nikkor glass and contains 7 elements in 5 groups. The A has no viewfinder. Instead, the camera offers users a 3-inch LCD screen with 921k dots. The Nikon A accepts SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards. The camera sells for about $1100.
Build and Design
Although the Nikon A is small, it has a solid build quality that actually surprised me. I honestly didn't think the camera would be as nicely built as was. The camera weighs 10.6 oz. and measures only 4.4" x 2.6" x 1.6"--making the Nikon A the smallest camera with an APS-C sensor. The camera is easy to carry, won't tire your neck and might even fit into your jacket pocket or large wristlet purse.
The camera's design is quite simple with very few nods to luxury or pretense. In fact, the camera is almost too plain with an asking price this high. Its overall beauty sits snugly in between the Fuji X100s which is known for its classic elegance and the Ricoh GR which looks a bit like a homely point and shoot.
Ergonomics and Controls
If you are familiar with Nikon's general control layout, then picking up the Nikon A and using it straight out of the box will be a breeze. Similar to the button layout of the Nikon D7000, many loyal Nikon users will feel right at home.
The camera maintains a low profile. The front of the camera features a prominent Nikon logo and a DX tag. The only button on the front of the camera is an "Fn" (function) button--a programmable, quick recall push button. The lens is an 18.5mm (28mm equivalent) that expands and retracts like a traditional point and shoot. The lens is sheltered by an iris style cover that opens upon startup.
The top of the camera features a mode dial with the standard P,A,S,M modes as well as an auto mode, scene mode and 2 user defined modes. The on/off switch sits near the front right side of the camera. Offset to the bottom right of the on/off is the shutter button/control wheel. The top of the camera also houses the hotshoe and the pop-up flash. The flash release sits on the back of the camera, not far from the flash itself.
The back of the camera has a plethora of physical buttons including 4 on the left side of the LCD screen: the exposure/lock button, the ISO/Fn2 button, the image increase and the image decrease/"?" button. The right side of the camera features: the playback button, the menu button, the "I" button (for frequently used settings), the delete button, and the round selector dial.
The side of the camera features an AF, MF and Macro switch for easy access to these frequently used modes. As an avid macro shooter I appreciated the quick access to this feature.
But where oh where is the direct video button? Unfortunately, it is totally absent from the outer shell of the camera. You will need to access the Movie mode via the internal menu. Really?
Although the camera is lightweight, it's not really comfortable to hold. The camera only offers a small ridge to utilize as a finger rail. The ridge looks a bit out of place and diminishes the camera's attractiveness. I would prefer having a more sizeable grip.
Menus and Modes
The camera offers a wide array of menu options as seen in the image below. It has a striking resemblance to the Nikon DSLR shooting menu.
The Nikon A also features the full spread of manual and automatic shooting modes:
The 3.0-inch monitor on the Nikon A has 921,000 dot composition, is adjustable for five levels of brightness and offers 100% coverage. Although this resolution sounds high, I had a hard time with the screen while in use outdoors. It was difficult to see if an image was correctly exposed, if it was washed out or if the contrast was accurate. When I brought the camera indoors, none of these issues were relevant. However, as a primarily outdoor shooter, I found the LCD hard to deal with if I was not in a very shaded area.
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