When Nikon unveiled its Coolpix A it was something of a surprise. A surprise that the Japanese camera company had gone and made a compact with an APS-C size sensor - or "Nikon DX format" as the company calls it - at its core.
But it was as much a surprise to us to learn that Nikon had opted to install the same D7000 sensor, alongside some other slightly "dated" tech such as the Expeed 2 processing engine into the Coolpix A. It's not that either of those is bad by any means - nor particularly old in many respects - but they're not the current generation of Nikon tech, à la the Nikon D7100. And when a camera costs a grand, it should be a tip-top and timeless wonder machine with all the bells and whistles included.
A full and final version of the Nikon Coolpix A was thrust into our hands ahead of its release date, much to our surprise, and glee. It's a camera that we've been wanting to play with in full since its release.
Nikon Coolpix A - ISO 400 sample image
Up in Scotland we've had the pleasure of taking a handful of snaps with this high-end compact. However, thrust though the camera was into our hands, it came in a carry pouch with no software and, therefore, we're not able to eat into those NEF raw files yet to take a full look at what's going on behind the scenes. For the time being it's JPEG files only, but we'll be taking a closer look in our full review as soon as we can.
Before we delve into our initial image-based thoughts it's worth making some comments about how the Coolpix A handles in use, because we're not totally happy. Its autofocus system really isn't up to speed and we can't quite figure out why. With current-generation high-end compacts all fairly proficient, perhaps it's just that Nikon is later to the game compared to, say, Fujifilm. As it is, the A spends far too much time hunting out focus.
Nikon Coolpix A - ISO 400 sample image (with fill-flash)
Focus distance, too, can be problematic. There's a switch to the side to toggle between normal, macro focus and manual focus, but it's easy to forget which mode it's in, so we missed a few shots because of mis-focus. We've had some shots that claimed to be in focus but clearly weren't. Perhaps the "A" is for "Almost" as a camera of this prospective calibre ought to be far nippier.
But then a huge part of the motivation to buy this camera is down to the sensor size. The 16.2-megapixel sensor at the Coolpix A's heart already proven itself when it appeared in the Nikon D7000. Here, wrapped up in Nikon's top-spec made-in-Japan metal body, and paired with a 28mm f/2.8 equivalent lens, it's potentially better than the D7000 was, partly because there's no low-pass filter to soften images. Now that's a lovely thing.
Nikon Coolpix A - ISO 100 sample image (macro mode)
When on point the Coolpix A's lens is sharp. We've snapped some close-up shots and they offer crystal clarity that looks sumptious. Exposure and a limited colour palette can fail to be staggering in some shots, but we've still been generally impressed with what we've seen and in the not too distant future we'll dig into those raw files too.
This pocket snapper can also handle high ISO settings with ease. Just like the D7000, the Coolpix A takes on four-figure sensitivities and processes them into images with little disruptive noise to be seen. From ISO 100-400 it's DSLR quality from a palm-sized compact. Even well above that it does a pretty decent job: just take a look at this ISO 4000 sample (click the image to take a look at the JPEG file at 100 per cent).
Nikon Coolpix A - ISO 4000 sample image
There's certainly more softness and some image noise compared to the lower settings but still, c'mon, this is a compact camera. It's clearly all about the image quality.
As we've not been able to dig into raw shots we're not sure yet how much correction is applied to hide away any nasties - it seems there's only a whisper of chromatic abberation and increased softness to each corner of the image, but otherwise images seem to be clean as a whistle.
The f/2.8 lens is of great use too, even if the 28mm equivalent is fairly wide-angle and won't suit all tastes. But that's just the nature of this camera - it served us well for a mixture of landscapes and close-ups.
The A's manual focus ring is also rather fun when used in combination with the zoom in/out buttons on the rear of the camera to ensure super-fine focus. Just a shame that the ring is rather small and sunk right to the back of the lens - we'd have liked it to be a bit bigger.
Nikon Coolpix A - ISO 6400 sample image
We'll be bringing far more info about the camera, its pictures and what we think about it in our forthcoming full Coolpix A review. For the time being take a look at the image gallery below and if you want to know more about our first impressions of camera build, take a look at our initial Coolpix A pictures and hands-on piece.
From what we've seen so far the Coolpix A could be summed up as a camera that's all about the image quality, given that autofocus speed and, occasionally, accuracy seems behind some competitors - a potentially hard sell considering the strength of, admittedly much larger, competitors such as the Fujifilm X100S.