Nikon Coolpix 995 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The Coolpix 995 is the latest three-megapixel swiveling-lens camera from Nikon. It
shares the same basic design of the Coolpix 990 and incorporates all of its excellent
features and adds some new ones. Please read my Nikon 990
review first if you're not familiar with it as most of my conclusions will be
talking about the improvements of the 995 over the 990.
The most noticeable change is the pop-up flash which is mounted on the top of the lens unit. From the days of the first Coolpix 900 the flash has been mounted as close as physically possible to the lens. This was great for macro shots but for people pictures it was very prone to red-eye problems. It also meant that anytime you had one of the conversion lenses mounted on the camera the flash was totally blocked. Now the flash is on a swing-up arm that puts it about 2 inches above the lens, this is about twice the distance from the lens as with previous 9xx Nikons. It clears the WC-E24 and WC-E63 wideangle lenses but it doesn't cover their entire field of view, it is better than nothing however. For those who need to do "serious" flash photography it is still a good idea to invest in the AS-E900 multiflash adapter, a bracket and a good Nikon compatible strobe. The new Nikon Speedlight SB-50DX ia a good match for the 995 and is reasonably priced at around $200.
On my list of things that the 990 needed my #2 item is a CompactFlash Type II slot and the Coolpix 995 has now got one of those. The official word from Nikon is that it does not support the Microdrive but the good news is that I have been using the newest 1GB Microdrive in mine and it works fine. I would highly recommend against using the original 340MB drive though, they have known incompatibility problems with many cameras. The reasons for not certifying its use with the Microdrive is the possibility of too much heat being created and power consumption. I've used the devil out of my Microdrive and it's never gotten more than slightly warm to the touch. So I think the power consumption factor is the biggest reason it doesn't make the list of approved storage devices. All digicam manufacturers are doing their best to make their cameras last as long as possible with the limited power sources they have. The 995 is now powered by the same EN-EL1 lithium rechargeable battery pack as the 880. Nikon has done some real work to lower the camera's power consumption and the 995 actually runs longer than the 880 on the same battery. I know a lot of folks will be upset that they can no longer use their AA type NiMH batteries but the rechargeable pack and quick charger are included in the base package. Lithium type batteries hold a charge much longer than NiMH when just sitting idle and it's easier to change a single pack than four seperate battery cells.
The one thing that seperates the "best from the rest" is the lens and Nikon has again incorporated a very good set of optics on the 995. All the previous Coolpix cameras employed a 3x optical zoom, the 995 features a newly designed 4x optical zoom with a 35mm equivalent of 38-152mm. On the outside it is the same as earlier lenses with its 28mm threads to attach all existing Nikkor conversion lenses and other accessories. And on the inside it has the same amazing macro closeup capabilities and easily focuses on subjects as close as an inch or less from the lens. One nice addition is a lock that keeps the lens unit from going lower than the 90-degree position which comes in real handy when using heavy, add-on lenses. The lens' focal length can be further extended by a stepless 4x digital zoom that produces much better quality images than previous digital zooms. The power zoom mechanism is smooth and not as noisy as the 990 or the 950 but it still makes the click-click type noises when the LCD is on and the continuous AF is working. One thing that is lacking is a low-light focus illuminator and I hope that Nikon joins the rest of crowd and adds one in the next model.
The fastest shutter speed now tops out at 1/2300 of a second and it still goes all the way out to 60 seconds when using the Bulb setting. The maximum settable shutter speed is still 8 seconds and pictures taken at this slow speed can benefit from using the new Noise Reduction feature. The NR seems to act like some kind of dark frame subtraction routine, we're not sure as Nikon has not divulged exactly how it works yet but it does noticeably reduce the amount of noise in pictures shot with a shutter speed of 1/15 second or longer. Longer exposures take even greater advantage of the noise reduction. And another new feature to help you take better low-light shots is the highest ISO sensitivity of 800 versus 400 on the 990. Granted there is always considerable grain (noise) visible in all ISO 400 and 800 shots but it can let you get a shot that may have otherwise been impossible. Shooting at ISO 800 with the camera in B&W mode yields pictures with the look of Kodak's Tri-X film.
The Coolpix 950 and 990 have generated images that became the standard by which all other cameras were judged. I'm happy to report that the 995 continues that tradition and creates wonderfully detailed 2048x1536 images. Besides being able to control the amount of in-camera sharpening used, the 995 now has a Color Saturation option that can be set to give you the desired amount of color from heavy to light or dropped out altogether in the BW setting. All of the exposure options in the 990 are in the 995, it has Program AE, Variable Program, Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority and full Manual. The AE Bracketing feature can be set to vary both the exposure value and the white balance now. And there is the often misunderstood Best Shot Selector mode that captures up to ten images and then uses "fuzzy logic" to determine the best one to save to the CF card. Metering options are the same with the 256-element Matrix, Center-weighted averaging and Spot options as well as the AF Area Spot option.
To insure that you get the shot no matter what there are a multitude of available drive modes. The usual Single shot mode can capture two images at about 1fps and then you need about 8 seconds for the buffer to clear (using the supplied Lexar 8x card.) The Continuous mode is faster at about 3/4 sec per shot up to three frames and then an 8 second wait as the buffer writes out. These times are for Full/Fine mode JPEG images, when shooting in TIFF (HI) mode you can only shoot one shot at a time and it takes about 25-30 seconds to process and store each image. Continuous mode for Small images or VGA Sequence mode yields a LOT of frames before there's any delay with the buffer writing. And of course the Ultra High Speed mode takes QVGA pictures at a blazing 30fps up to around 80 frames. And of course you can always use the Movie mode to record up to 40 seconds of action at 15fps in 320x240 resolution. The Coolpix 995 takes full advantage of the high speed 8x, 10x and 12x cards from Lexar. In many cases the buffer writes and TIFF processing times are more than halfed by using the 12x card instead of a "generic" CF card.
The Coolpix 995 can be operated like a point-n-shoot by switching the mode dial to the A-Rec position, this locks in a whole set of standard parameters that cannot be changed by the user but are optimal for the best shot in a wide variety of conditions. With the mode dial in the M-Rec position all of the camera's advanced features are at your disposal through an often complex menu system. But it has to be rather complex given the number of user-selectable options that can be changed. Once you work with the 995's menu for a while it will become second nature as there are shortcuts to get to the different menu pages. Often-changed parameters like the exposure compensation, focus mode, flash mode, image size and/or quality or ISO speed can be set by using external buttons and the comand dial. Plus you can memorize three sets of shooting parameters and then quickly call them up when needed.
One of the features that I really liked on the 880 was the Quick Review and it's now on the 995 too. Pressing the Quick Review button brings the last picture captured up on the LCD in the upper left quarter of the screen. The camera remains in Record mode and tapping the shutter button takes you right back to capture mode. Pressing the Quick Review button a second time effectively puts the camera in Play mode and the stored image is now displayed full screen. Other enhancements to the Play mode include the zoomed playback mode that now magnifies an image up to 6x so that you can easily examine any small portion of it on the 1.8-inch color LCD.
As with all cameras the image quality is the thing and the Coolpix 995 will not let you
down in that respect. The first camera we reviewed was a late pre-production model with
the last version of the beta firmware and overall the images were nothing short of
spectacular. A month later we got a final production model with the shipping version of
the firmware and its pictures looked even better. As stated before, with the new Color
Saturation, the Image Enhancement and the Sharpness settings you are given a lot of user
control over how the final images come out of the camera. The multitude of drive,
exposure and capture modes should keep everyone satisfied. The three megapixel images
are sufficient for printing beautiful 8x10" (and larger) prints on today's photo inkjets
and are virtually indistinguishable from conventionally-processed photos. I'm sure that
Nikon has another winner here -- the sales should be brisk for the first couple of months
so don't be surprised if they're a little hard to come by for a while.
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