The Pros and Cons of the Coolpix A

(commentary) Originally appeared on at time of Coolpix A announcement

Yep, another table. To my way of thinking, two things can make a tool great: (1) it excels at one task; and/or (2) it has great balance for multiple tasks. Add to this the cost/benefit ratio, and you have another way of assessing whether a new camera like the Coolpix A is for you. 

With that in mind, let me present a different table:

Pros Cons
Small, almost shirt pocket size Price for a shirt pocket camera
Proven sensor Generation old sensor
No AA filter Potential for moire
28mm equivalent lens Not particularly fast, not wide enough for some, too wide for others, no stabilization
Uses DSLR accessories (MC-DC2, ML-L3, WU-1a, EH-4b, GP-1, WR-T10, WR-R10), Speedlights Doesn't have commander mode for built-in flash, silly adapter ring needed for lens hood or filters
DSLR-like Focus Control Switch Contrast focus system only
3" 921k dot TFT LCD, optional optical viewfinder No EVF, expensive optional optical viewfinder that won't be frame accurate
DSLR-like controls (U1, U2, menus, etc.) Few external controls, some positioned strangely
Standard 14-bit NEF files, JPEG options 26 shot JPEG Normal buffer
Uses existing EN-EL20 battery 230 shots/charge (CIPA standard)

Personally, many of the things in the Cons column actually don't bother me at all for the likely tasks I'd be using this camera for, but also many of the Pros don't excite me much, either. So let's go back to my two things:

  • Excels at a single task. The "excel" part of the Coolpix A is pretty much confined to the sensor and lens, isn't it? Okay, the DSLR accessories potentially help it to excel at a task, but that task will be mostly centered on the sensor/lens combo. What task would that be? Well, let's try a few: 
    • Landscape. I'm not sure the lens is right. I really prefer a 24mm equivalent for straight landscape shooting, or a 35mm or 50mm equivalent to use vertically with stitching. 28mm is a compromise here. Some will like it, I'm not sure I will, but I'll give it the old college try.
    • Portrait. The lens isn't right for portraits. If you're filling the frame, you're going to distort your significant other's features enough that they'll hate the camera ;~). For environmental portraits, maybe, especially given the Speedlight capabilities. Warrants examination.
    • Street shooting. The lens is a little slow and the sensor a generation old, but for cameras this small, it should excel. It's a tricky calculation though. While the A should be about a full stop better than the RX-100 at the equivalent framing and aperture, the RX-100 has VR up its sleeve, which for non-moving subjects in low light should push it back into contention. Again, a possible task.
    • Action. Depends upon the focus system, I suppose, but I can't remember when I was last shooting action at 28mm. 
    • Indoor. Would have preferred 24mm, but 28mm is certainly better than the 35mm on some of the A's competitors. The Speedlight capabilities look good for some types of indoor shooting, too. Definite possibilities here.
    • Architectural. Too early to tell. We need to see how the linear distortion, light falloff, and edge sharpness are before rendering any decision here.
  • Great balance for many tasks. The lens is the limiter here, with he lack of a viewfinder and the focus system probably also contributing. This is actually my biggest complaint about the A design as it sits: I'm not sure it's well balanced. We're actually getting a fair number of these "not well balanced" cameras. The Sigma DP Merrill cameras for sure, but the Leica X2, Pentax MX-1, Ricoh GR, and the Sony RX-1 all could be considered similarly. My problem with all these fixed lens cameras is that they're throwbacks. We did this dance in the film world, and none of them particularly lit the world on fire (though the Olympus XA came close, partly because of its flash capabilities, which is good news for the Coolpix A). 

As I wrote on another site: we want tools, not trophies (at least I think the readers of this site would agree with that). I'm having trouble getting a grip on what tool the Coolpix A is for me. It's definitely not the "well-rounded tool," so for me to find a place for it, it's going to have to excel at a task. [update: after using and reviewing the Coolpix A, I can find some uses for it and it'll go into my gear closet.]

I should point out that I sold my Fujifilm X100 because, in the end, it didn't quite make it as the well-rounded tool, either. So I put my money where my keyboard is. The newer X100s improves upon the X100, but not necessarily in ways that mean it would fare differently for me. Why? m4/3 basically (though for some the NEX fits in here, too). Heck, even the Nikon 1 to some degree. If a camera can't fit in my shirt pocket but can fit in my jacket pocket, it has to dislodge some darned flexible cameras to hold that place (and lenses for that matter). 

People think I'm being negative the Coolpix A's capabilities. Not exactly. It should be a remarkably good camera at what it can do. As good as a D7000 with the 18.5mm f/2.8 DX lens Nikon never made ;~). Almost as good as a D700 with the 28mm f/2.8G pancake lens Nikon never made. Better than the Nikon V2 with the 10mm f/2.8 that Nikon did make. Now whether the Coolpix A is right for you and worth the money, that's up to you to decide. For me, based upon my experience with the Sigma DPs and the Fujifilm X100, I'm not sure it is, that's all I'm saying. 

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