Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
    Nikon Coolpix A 275 wide.jpg
  • 16.2-megapixel DX-format (APS-C) image sensor (23.6 x 15.7 mm)
  • 18.5mm (28mm equivalent) prime NIKKOR lens
  • f/2.8 aperture
  • 4 frames-per-second burst shooting
  • Quick Auto Focus
  • Scene Modes
  • Full Manual Controls (P, S, A, M)
  • RAW/NEF Image Capture
  • Full Size Hot Shoe
  • Optional Wi-Fi Connectivity via the WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter
  • Optional Accessories
    • DF-CP1 Optical Viewfinder
    • UR-E24 Adapter Ring
    • HN-CP18 metal Lens Hood
Pros
  • Coolpix A's image quality is outstanding, compares favorably to entry-level Nikon DSLRs
  • APS-C sized image sensor is rarely seen in a camera this size
  • Low light results are good with or without flash
  • Full manual control options
  • High-quality lens 
  • Manual focus and autofocus options
  • Can magnify the scene easily in manual focus mode, allowing for very sharp focus
  • Hot shoe allows for connecting various accessories, including Nikon Speedlites
  • Both RAW and JPEG shooting options available
  • JPEG photos are smaller than average in storage space required because of excellent compression formula
  • Plenty of customization options in menus, as well as function buttons that can be personalized
Cons
  • Overall performance is a little disappointing in this price range
  • Shutter lag can be a little slow at times
  • Extreme close-ups aren't possible, even in macro mode, minimum focus distance is 4 in.
  • Autofocus results should be more consistent
  • No zoom option, focal length is fixed at 28mm equivalent
  • No Vibration Reduction
  • To shoot movies you have to work through several menu commands
  • Movie quality is below average versus others in this price range
  • No advanced add-on features, such as articulated LCD or built-in GPS or Wi-Fi
  • No viewfinder
  • Almost too many menu options, making Coolpix A confusing to navigate at first
  • Battery life should be better
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 1.9 seconds (with start-up image turned off)
  • Shutter lag when prefocused = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 0.7 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay without flash = 3.7 seconds between frames with minimum review time On (2.6 seconds with review Off)
  • Shot to shot delay with flash = 4.5 seconds between frames with minimum review time On (3.1 seconds with review Off)
  • Continuous = 10 frames in 3.4 seconds @ 16M
  • All tests were taken using a PNY Class 10, 16 GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, Flash off, Review on, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
When it comes to the primary job of a digital camera -- creating great images -- the Nikon Coolpix A is a star performer. Few cameras of this physical size offer an image sensor as large as the APS-C sized image sensor of the Coolpix A. This camera uses a high quality fixed lens, and it offers enough manual features to satisfy even a photographer who normally uses a DSLR camera. However because the Coolpix A carries such a high price tag, it's competing directly against those DSLRs, and it comes up short in many other areas against those models, including slugging response times, the lack of a viewfinder, only one focal length, and poor battery life. At this price it's difficult to recommend the Coolpix A to anyone other than those who already own Nikon DSLR cameras and want a small camera with similar operational aspects.
Pick This Up If...
You need a small camera that can create top-end image quality, and you don't mind what this camera doesn't have, including no viewfinder, no zoom lens, and below average movie features.
Based on its unusual name alone, you'd expect the Nikon Coolpix A compact camera to have some features that set it apart. You'd be right.

Nikon's Coolpix A is one of the smallest cameras that includes an APS-C sized image sensor, and that sensor gives this Nikon camera the ability to create extremely high quality photos, similar to what you'd see with an entry-level DSLR camera.

In fact the Coolpix A has quite a few features that will remind you of a Nikon DSLR camera, including full manual control and a high quality fixed focal length lens. 

Still there are enough quirks with this model that it's going to be difficult to recommend the Coolpix A and it's above $1,000 price tag to anyone but a very narrow segment of photographers.

I was surprised that Nikon didn't include built-in Wi-Fi, a built-in GPS, a built-in viewfinder, or an articulated LCD with this camera. For example the recently released Olympus Stylus 1 has Wi-Fi, a viewfinder, and an articulated LCD at a price tag about two-thirds that of the Coolpix A. The Stylus 1 doesn't have an image sensor large enough to match the Coolpix A, but those add-on features help to justify a large price tag in the current market.

You can add a viewfinder and Wi-Fi connectivity to the Nikon Coolpix A through the hot shoe and the terminal port, but adding these features by purchasing accessories will add to the already high cost of this camera. Additionally, attaching those accessories will increase the size of this compact camera, and its small size is one of its greatest benefits. When you can purchase an entry-level Nikon DSLR camera and a couple of lenses for about the same price as the Coolpix A, this compact camera is going to have a limited audience of potential customers.

Another aspect of the Nikon Coolpix A that will limit its appeal is the fixed focal length lens. Although this camera's lens is of a very high quality, the fixed focal length doesn't give this model much flexibility in the types of photos that it can shoot. The Coolpix A's lens has an equivalent focal length of 28mm, which is a handy focal length for shooting photos and scenes that require a little bit of a wide angle. It also would have been a bit more beneficial to have a faster lens than the f/2.8 lens included with the Coolpix A.

Those who have shot photos with DSLR cameras at some point likely will have used a prime lens, which has no zoom capabilities, so the fixed focal length of the Coolpix A may not seem like a significant drawback. Then again DSLR photographers are sure to have other interchangeable lenses available to meet a variety of shooting situations, whereas this Nikon compact camera cannot change lenses to gain more flexibility.

The Coolpix A's autofocus also doesn't work as well as it should for a camera in this price range. The macro focus is limited to within 4 inches of the subject, and during my tests I had a few average distance photos that were blurry because the autofocus just couldn't lock in on the subject. For some reason I had better results with shooting in macro focus than in regular autofocus, even with subjects that were a few feet from the camera. These autofocus problems weren't common, but they occurred often enough to be a disappointing distraction for a model in this price range.

Manual focus works extremely well, especially when you magnify the scene on the LCD screen. 

When the autofocus is able to lock onto a subject, it creates more shutter lag than I'd like to see in a camera in this price range. Shot to shot delays are longer than I'd like to see in this price range too. These are areas where the Coolpix A cannot match up with entry-level DSLR cameras.

Although I've listed quite a few drawbacks with the Coolpix A, don't misunderstand: This is still a very strong camera versus similarly sized models. Finding another camera that measures just a little over one and one half inches in thickness that can match the Coolpix A's image quality is going to be very difficult. The large image sensor and high-quality lens provide a very strong combination for a camera this size.

The Coolpix A works extremely well in low light thanks to the large image sensor, relatively fast f/2.8 lens, and the CMOS image sensor technology. You also have the option of shooting in RAW, which will create great photographs. Nikon has given Coolpix A photographers full manual control options, which can help you achieve the exact look you want.

Nikon chose to not include an anti-aliasing filter with the Coolpix A, which helps this camera achieve more fine details in its images than you might see versus a camera with an anti-aliasing filter on the image sensor.  

Nikon included a large number of menu options with this compact camera, giving you the ability to exactly configure the Coolpix A to meet your shooting needs. The Coolpix A's menu structure will remind you of an entry-level Nikon DSLR camera, so if you've used Nikon DSLRs in the past, you'll have very few problems adjusting to using the Coolpix A. There are two function buttons to which you can assign commonly used commands, and there are two user defined settings configurations on the mode dial.

Those who are making the jump from a point and shoot camera to this model may be overwhelmed with the number of customization options, though. Those photographers will need to take a little time and practice to figure out how to make the Coolpix A's various settings fit their needs.

One area of disappointment in the menu settings is the fact that you have to work through a few menu screens to turn on the camera's movie recording function. There's no dedicated movie recording button. Movie recordings didn't quite have the high quality to match the Coolpix A's still images, as the movies almost seemed overprocessed.

Playing back movies and still images on this camera's 3.0-inch LCD screen is a good experience, as the LCD is bright and sharp. You may notice a few glare problems when trying to frame photos using the LCD in direct sunlight, but Nikon did include nine levels of brightness settings with the Coolpix A's LCD screen, making it easier to reduce the effect of glare on the screen.

I really liked the size of the Nikon Coolpix A. It has a very solid build and feel, and Nikon did a good job of making it thin enough to fit inside a large pocket but large enough that it's pretty easy to hold and use. It has a boxy look with sharp angles. The numerous buttons and dials help give this model an advanced look.

Battery life is too short for this camera, well below what you'll find versus most similarly priced Nikon DSLR cameras. Nikon had to sacrifice some battery capacity to create a thin battery that can fit in this compact camera size. In real world shooting conditions you could expect to receive 200 to 225 shots per battery charge, which doesn't compare favorably to other cameras in this price range. You'll almost certainly want to have a second battery on hand, which adds to the already high price tag of the Nikon Coolpix A.

Bottom Line - The Nikon Coolpix A camera does a lot of things well, thanks primarily to a high-quality fixed lens and APS-C sized image sensor, both of which are nice features to find in a camera that measures only 1.6 inches in thickness. Nikon included a DX format image sensor with the Coolpix A that is also found in entry-level Nikon DSLR cameras. If this compact camera carried a much lower price, those two outstanding features would be more than enough to place this model on a short list of the best high-end compact models. However the Coolpix A's plus-$1,000 price tag forces me to nitpick the features that this camera doesn't have. For this price you'd expect some of the latest features to appear in this model, such as built-in Wi-Fi or a viewfinder. While you can add these things on for an additional price, the lack of these features as part of the base camera kit is an area of frustration. The Coolpix A uses a high-quality lens, but it has a fixed focal length of 28mm equivalent, which limits its functionality versus a good zoom lens. This model also has some quirks regarding the way its autofocus mechanism works, which may leave you with some slightly blurry images. You do have the option of using manual focus and full manual controls with the Coolpix A, which can provide more consistent results than autofocus and the full automatic shooting mode. For those seeking a compact companion camera to their entry-level Nikon DSLR, the Coolpix A will deliver the image quality that you'd want, while maintaining a similar menu structure to the Nikon DSLR, allowing you to begin using this model effectively immediately. At over $1,000, though, I simply can't recommend purchasing the Coolpix A as your only camera versus purchasing an entry-level DSLR or ILC model, because of the Coolpix A's lack of flexibility in its lens and its other quirks. A larger-sized entry-level interchangeable lens camera will be a better choice as a first advanced camera over the Coolpix A and its compact size.

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