(commentary) Originally appeared on bythom.com at time of Coolpix A announcement
Much of the reaction I'm seeing so far to the Coolpix A boils down to this: not enough, for too much, too late. Yeah, I see that, too. Had the Coolpix A come out six years ago when I wrote the Coolpix Challenge article, it would have been a groundbreaker and exciting, even at the launch price.
Time is a tough mistress, though. Had the A been launched even two years ago, it still would have been well received. Today, though, it has to deal with RX's, X100's, Merrill's, even a Leica competitor, so the question is whether or not it delivers above and beyond any of those. A lot of people are already concluding "no, it doesn't." In other words, the A gets an F with people that would have given it at least a B not too long ago.
I'm a little more nuanced in my assessment, and I'm quite willing to wait to see how the camera performs before making an out-and-out call [update: see Coolpix A review]. On paper, it looks like a camera I might carry in my pocket on safari, for instance. Whether another camera might be a better choice I don't know yet.
What I can't quite figure, though, is what Nikon is thinking with its lineup. Consider this: take the exact same specifications with two exceptions. Change the sensor to the 14mp 1", the price to US$800, and the name to Nikon 1 F1. Bingo, you've got the fastest focusing compact on the market, good image quality, and something that broadens a line that needs some clearly defined broadening (J1 to J2 to J3 to S1 is not broadening, it's masterbation of the entry model). Now the other decisions on the model start to make a bit of sense.
As a DX camera, though, it's a head scratcher. It's not nearly as accomplished as the current DX DSLR line (which is why it's called a Coolpix, I'll bet). It's a sensor behind, it doesn't focus like a DSLR, it's lacking many of things that even the low-end DSLR user might find interesting, yet it costs more than most DSLRs.
Why Nikon is so conflicted over DX, I just don't get. If the Coolpix A is the reason we don't have an 18mm f/2.8 prime for DX, then Nikon is more confused than I think they are, and I already think they're pretty confused. They seem to want to broaden their product line from bottom to top, but they are super afraid that customer A might buy product B instead of C while customer D might buy product C instead of B. So they try not to have duplicative products. Who cares? Sell them a darned camera, the right accessories, and point out the stuff you do that's a step up as a suggestion for what to do next. Apple gets this. They hooked a lot of people on iPods and moved them right up their lineup. Becuase the lineup had plenty of entry points and plenty of steps (consider the iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad Mini, iPad, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mini, iMac, MacPro progression; does Apple care where you buy and which direction you move? No.)