A solid little camera and very compact when you consider what is inside.

Talk to anyone lately and they are looking for a compact camera solution that matches the performance of their DSLR. A huge ask. After all, a DSLR is what it is because of what it is. A large camera with mirror box, shutter mechanism and optical prism. The bulk has been tuned down as much as it can and now we see DSLRs in the marketplace that start at 400 Euro. An incredible feat that has only been made possible by the demand of the consumer market and the cheap production facilities.

So, the Nikon Coolpix A.

1. A fixed lens compact camera.
2. A whisker under 1000 Euro.
3. DX sensor.

Some people might have already stopped reading at the mention of a fixed lens. Others might have got as far as the price tag. Hopefully the majority have got to the bit about the sensor and are still reading.

The lens is 18.5mm ( 28mm in 35mm terms) with maximum aperture of F2.8. Obviously the choice of lens is a massive design consideration when penning a camera design. Nikon opted for what is widely regarded as a nice wide but not too wide general lens setup. Not so much a focal length that I’d do many portraits with but for general shooting it’s a nice length. The F2.8 maximum aperture on the DX sensor also gets away from that typical ‘all in focus’ feel we dread with compact cameras, Selective focus with the wide open lens immediately opens doors to creativity.

Getting back to that Holy Grail of DSLR  quality in a compact body dream. What Nikon have done is not simply drop a DX sensor into a compact, they have also added a rather decent AF system that is not unlike the system found in the D7000. In fact,what they seem to have done is pretty much shoe-horned the entire D7000 gubbins into a very solid feeling Japanese build plastic and magnesium alloy body.

How does it perform?

Well, it does everything it says on the box, Focus is very fast and accurate, image quality is superb. The compatibility with Nikon Speedlights is very welcome, as is high speed flash sync speed. I connected an SB800 via the Nikon SC-17 cable and was shooting happily at 1/2000s.
For the feel-at-home-factor, the complete menu structure just mirrors that of my Nikon DSLRs. No upsets there at all. Programmable function buttons and 2 user preferences settings on the mode dial offer a very flexible custom setup. I managed to get 940 shots out of one battery, albeit shooting a time-lapse and in manual focus, that’s not at all bad.
ISO goes from 100 to a very usable 6400. Of course, the camera can shoot in NEF too so the full flexibility of the RAW image data can be exploited.

So basically, it really is all there. However, there is one HUGE omission in my book. The lack of viewfinder. I’m one of those people that have slowly crept into the world of needing reading glasses. Viewing the  LCD screen at close quarters is getting tiresome for my eyes so I need to put my glasses on to use the camera, but then take them off to look over the camera at my subject. There is an optional optical viewfinder that sits on the hotshoe that will relieve you of $379. Ouch. That’s a lot for something that merely gives you an idea of what’s going on in front of the camera. No, for a 1000 Euro I would expect an EVF built in. In fact, without it, the camera is very hard for me to use seriously. The same goof that Sony made with the RX-1 and one of the things that wins the Fujifilm x100s so many points.

I want, and in fact I do love the Coolpix A, I can grab it blindly after using a Nikon DSLR and use it purposefully. I can set it up just the same as one of my DSLRs I can edit the NEF files alongside the DSLR into a consistent look. The lens vignettes a bit but can be post fixed, the charger annoyingly has the power plug built in but on the whole, I love it and can oversee the minor shortcomings.

What I can’t love is that lack of EVF.

My bottom line.

Nikon, you have the makings of a excellent companion camera here. It is an excellent product. However, by proving that you can squeeze a DSLR into a compact body you did forget one of the most important bits.

++++ UPDATE ++++

I’ve just returned from a road-trip around Florida (full trip post coming soon) and noticed that during the trip I used the Coolpix A more than my D800E.
I put this down to a couple of reasons.

1. I could put it in my pocket.
2. A fixed lens just made me enjoy the trip more then fiddling with switching lenses or zooming.
3. I could use the camera one handed.
4. I was even more incognito and if I didn’t talk, I didn’t stand out too much like a tourist.
5. It has more then enough resolution.

I shot pretty much entirely in aperture priority and was pleased with how little exposure compensation I really needed to use. However, that’s one thing I’d like to see different. A dedicated exp-comp dial like the Fujifilm X series. To be honest, the lack of viewfinder bothered me less than I expected. Even in the incredibly bright Florida sunshine the rear LCD screen was ok, that’s probably more down to me ‘snapping’ shots though rather than me worrying too much.
All in all, it’s one of the test cameras that I really am going to miss. It’s travelled everywhere in my top pocket, gets pulled out, started, used, put away.
That 28mm (equivalent) lens is nice and wide too. I usually love 35mm but after seeing what the 28mm does, I’ve another favourite focal length for holiday photos.
The Auto Focus is very very quick. Very few missed focused shots and no hunting for focus either.  I love the X series but this is one area they really need to be stronger in. The Coolpix A just nails even the quickest snapshot every time.
Battery life has been stunning and image feel is totally comparable to the Nikon DSLR range. It might look like a generic compact camera but it sure does deliver the goods.
Nikon DSLR users. You want a camera to stick in a pocket but want to keep your ‘Nikon feel’ in post processing? Give the A a look.

I’ve inserted some more photos from the Coolpix A too.


 

 

 

The rear controls of the camera are all very familiar to Nikon users, sold and robust controls and build quality.

What seemed very over exposed on the LCD turned out to be fine once the NEF file had been processed. As it's supposed to be DLSR image quality, this shouldn't have surprised me.

I was very impressed with the level of detail in the images. Nothing 'compact' about that.

Using the in camera NEF conversion, coupled to the small WU-1a wifi dongle, images can theoretically be processed and uploaded in seconds.

Perfectly suited to reportage style shoots when a large DSLR is very intrusive.

 

 

 

 

  • Model Software - Your blog is great. Two things I like about the post, one it is straight forward and two it does not attempt to promote anyone’s position particularly. Nice work Rob.

  • Alexander Leaman - I’d jump on the Nikon A (or the Ricoh, for that matter) but for the focal length. I’d love to see Nikon hit 35 or even 40mm then I’m in. Great review though – got me changing my mind a bit there…

  • Rob Mitchell - Alexander, The 28mm is just what I love though :) Don’t get me wrong, I love walking around with the DSLR and 35mm and the Fujifilm X100s with it’s 35mm. For the sheer, take-in-a-scene shots I’ve warmed a lot to the 28mm. There is a screw bezel on the lens so It wouldn’t surprise me if some converters pop up too, just as the X100s has a wide converter options that takes it to 28mm.
    I still have to look at the Ricoh for a test. I’ve heard lots of good about it.

  • Alexander Leaman - Well, the fuji is awesome. It’s the DR that does it. And the 35mm (for me, anyway).

    it should be noted that the Ricoh is essentially the same camera as the Nikon (DP review even thought it better in their opinion). And perhaps crucially it is also to be found significantly cheaper.
    That said, I’d buy the Nikon purely because of the speedlight compatibility.

  • Rob Mitchell - Yes, the Fujifilm images are fabulous. The has always been spectacular on their products.
    I use the XE-1 and X-Pro1 regularly.
    Where this little ‘compact’ wins me over is that it is pocketable. Literally the shirt top pocket and the fact that processing the files next to my Nikon DLSR files is a dream. The Ricoh seems to be even lighter though so dead curious. I saw that DPreview test too, nothing really to split them.

I read this article earlier this week and shocked at how unsurprised I was at the report of The Chicago Sun-Times‘ decision to lay-off their 28 staff photographers and training their journalists to take photos with the mobile phones. Unsurprised because this isn’t the first time I have heard of a newspaper taking this step.
What does surprise me is the fact that those in charge of these publications think so little of the photography content that they include with their journalism. I am the last one to diss the iPhone as a photographic tool, I continuously argue the point that it is not the equipment that makes the photo but the person behind it. The iPhone can produce stunning images.

This trend of taking away the photographer from the news production undermines the skill, patience, training, story telling ability and in some extreme cases, life threatening situations  that a press photographer can find themselves in. I am not talking reports on local country fairs, or Mrs Smith and her cat stuck in a tree types of news here, I’m talking real news. Things that shape the world we live in.  It is the iconic imagery that will go on to the next generation, not the wording that went with it.

The claim that public input of photographic news is important is quite valid. Everyone has a mobile phone and there is always someone on the spot to take a photo of an event as it happens. There is even an iPhone app that anyone can install and ‘sell’ photos to news providers. Mostly though, the newspapers will offer a ‘mention’ for image use from the general public. The general public is happy to say they had a photo in the paper, everyone wins.

What if we turned this trend around, what if the newspaper fired all the wordsmiths, the journalists, the hacks. After all, there are countless bloggers with an opinion (yep, like me) who could also record a dictation of an event as it unfolds in front of them, fire that off to an editor and get it printed. For a ‘mention’ Why is the place of the journalist held in higher regard than that of the person who makes the headlining image, or a high quality portrait of the figure in the interview? Because they have years of training and have risen through the ranks to gain a valid and trusted opinion? Guess what, the integrity of a photographer isn’t gained simply by pressing a button either.

Think back in the world of journalism. How do we remember the iconic moments of history? Through an image. A good, well seen and well made image. The words fade, the image stays. Do we really want to remember the world through the snapped opportunist shot of a mobile phone? Really?

I am not for one moment saying that a non-professional cannot take a nice photo with a mobile device, but can they MAKE a nice photo? and more importantly, can they make a good photo at the right moment, to capture the emotion of that newsworthy moment, can they assure the editor that they can do 2 jobs equally well as they can one?
The law of averages would suggest that if enough people shot enough images there would be one usable image amongst them. Is that what the editors are banking on?
Is there going to be a new position at the paper alongside the photo editor to filter all the incoming journalist images and try to process them in a way that is acceptable to print? They could also simply employ someone to re-write, edit and correct the words that a photographer would send in along with their images. What’s the difference?

Luckily, there are still newspapers that are bucking the trend and realising that the image quality is an important factor to accompany first class writing. Full spread quality images that are made by someone who knows what they are doing rather than taken by someone who’s had a 1 day intensive course in maximising mobile photography.
The public are aware of what counts, the public are saturated by photography now and are actually a discerning  bunch when it comes to photography. Ultimately they are the ones buying the newspapers and they are the the ones that should be asked if photography is important in their daily read.

Back to the reported 28 job loses. I’ve not dug deeper to see what’s going on but potentially there are 28 colleagues over there with the same obligations as me, left out in the cold to find new work. I hope they are looked after, I hope they were smart enough to see this coming and had an exit plan ready. I hope that the newspaper is keeping them on as contractors for photos that count. I hope the above report is being over dramatic and The Chicago Sun-Times are not simply dumping people. I hope.

In this fast news world we must not forget one important factor that is linked indelibly to good photography.

‘A photo says 1000 words’

Maybe we can add a new saying to this to bring us up to 2013?

‘A mobile photo says 140 characters’

 

Two key points to remember.

1. There is a vast difference between taking a photo and making a photo.
2. If it wasn’t for staff photographers, we wouldn’t have had Spiderman!

 

I’m not the only one left with these feelings either. I spotted this on Photofocus too.

edit 03Jun another report. Moving one from the people there. and a quote to remember from Rob Hart. Chicago Tribune photographer:

‘Things are changing, and we have to learn to roll with it’

  • Pete Burkwood - Spot on Rob!

    Couldn’t have said better myself!

    P

  • Stuart Webster - Well written Rob, your post says it all.

  • Svein-Frode - Where I come from, Norway, the trend is somewhat opposite. There is hardly any text in the newspapers – apart from bold headlines and pictures. That said, there is an ever increasing torrent of citizen journalism present in the newspapers. Sadly most people can’t tell the difference betwwen a good and bad photo. If it were up to them the world would look “instagrammed”.

  • Liz - Print is dying anyway, so this is their knee jerk reaction as they enter their death throes. I feel for the 28 photographers axed, but your turning tables argument on the journos (axe-able too!) is so true. Citizen media is now a great portion of what we consume and how we interpret ‘news’. Both writers and photographers have to enter a new era in which the true professionals of both crafts will have to reinvent themselves. Photographers may be the easier to axe now, but the hacks are only a breathe away from the exit door too. How prophetic your post is. In Malta, I am never paid for photos or words these days, and yet supposed to be ‘grateful’ for having my work printed by local rags. It would just about be palatable if the sections my work appears in were online so I could gain back links, but that’s generally not the case either. Self media, self mediated is the route we all have to take, whether as producers or consumers.

When the Nikon D7100 was launched my usual curiosity kicked in and made me wonder how it would improve on its older brother, the D7000. As I use the D7000 for my 360 panorama work I was interested in one thing only. Image quality. The increased resolution of the D7100 isn’t a critical point for me at all. The D7000 has plenty of pixels to play with. Did the D7100 offer me a better image that I can use to produce even better work.

On a busy morning at Nikon HQ I had the chance to make a quick comparison test between the D7000 and the D7100. As the D600 shares pretty much the same body as the other 2 cameras I thought it a good idea to try that too.

The lens used on the quick-n-dirty test was my old but trusted Nikon 10.5mm fisheye. This being a DX lens was a direct disadvantage for the D600 which would only be able to use the lens it the ‘crop’ mode that reduces its FX sensor area to match the DX format, consequently dropping the final image resolution.
There are a couple of quirks with the 10.5mm, one of them is the fact that it does actually produce a lot of chromatic aberration at the edges of the frame. Having 24mp I assumed the D7100 might accentuate this issue even more. I was wrong. All 3 cameras seems to have pretty much the same level of colour fringing going on. Thankfully, just about all RAW processing software quickly and accurately corrects this. One click in Lightroom and all the nasty fringes were eliminated.

Just about the only issue I have had with the D7000 is that I feel it quickly crushes the black tones in an image. Shadows can become very muddy, very quickly. The graduation of grey tones towards black can be very abrupt. In the samples below you’ll see a crop of the TV. The D7000 and D7100 have a noticeable difference in the shading towards the right of the TV screen. The D7100 holds onto the graduations longer before dropping to black. The D600 compared to the D7100, there isn’t a lot in it there. Both hold up very well.
There is also a noticeable difference in image noise between the D7000 and the other pair. I shot the samples at ISO500 as that’s the maximum I use for my 360 panoramas.

Image size: With the D7000 at 4928 x 3264px I have always had plenty of pixels to play with. The D7100 and the D600 have a hefty 6000 x 4000px but only the D7100 uses all of those pixels with the 10.5mm lens. The D600 drops to DX mode and provides 3936 x 2624px. Which on the face of it is still plenty.

So. If the D7000 is to retire, which would replace it?

If I go the D600 route I’d have a couple of options. I could stick with the DX crop and continue with the 10.5mm of I could source the Nikon 16mm fisheye. This is a very old lens though and just won’t hold up well on the digital cameras of today. I could look to using a 3rd party lens supplier. Sigma have a 15mm fisheye for FX sensors but the importer for Belgium isn’t exactly approachable when it comes to letting testers test their material and I’m rather loathed to buying one to find out it isn’t up to scratch.

If I take the D7100 route I can still use the Nikon 10.5mm which actually did surprise me with image quality on the larger sensor. No low-pass filter in the D7100 could potentially lead to sharper and crisper images. It could also lead to the moire issues that big scared so many buying it’s big cousin the D800E. Oddly, I spotted more moire issues in the D600 image than the D7100.
The D7100 is substantially cheaper than the entry level FX sensor D600 so that could sway the decision.

The image quality between the D600 and D7100 would be totally and utterly down to the wire. Both show me good details, both have noise under control both have a lot of latitude for post processing.

All in all, the D7000 has not been kicked into touch by it’s younger brother of big-sensor cousin. It can still proudly hold it’s own. Although there is a difference in image quality between the D7000 and the D7100 or D600 it is not as significant as I had expected.

The jury is still out on this one.

This shows the obvious difference in image size between the 3 cameras. I full size version of this image can be downloaded from here

Chromatic aberration comparison between all 3 cameras fitted with the Nikon 10.5mm

The right side of the TV screen shows noticeable difference between the subtle tones on the D7100 and D600 compared to the D7000

Here’s a high resolution image of the game between Port of Antwerp Giants and Okapi Aalstar that took place in the Antwerp Sportpaleis on the 6th April 2013.
With an attendance of 15500, the most popular Basketball game in Belgium to date.

If you were there, zoom in, have a scroll around and see if you can spot yourself  :)

The image was stitched together from 66 individual images. Here is a link for mobile device viewing
For fullscreen desk/laptop viewing you can use this link

 

Dedolight is a name that has been known in the film and TV industry for some time now but lesser known in the stills photography world. I certainly hadn’t really heard of them or paid any attention until a couple of months ago when I first saw the Dedolights in action on the Luxillag stand at a trade show here in Belgium.

When I’ve used  constant lighting for photography lately I’ve only used daylight HMI lighting for flood lighting and that’s it. Usually very heavy uncontrollable light sources with huge power consumptions and on/off switches, no dimmer. It didn’t really cross my mind that there would be a viable ‘hot’ light system that would suit me.

The Dedolight DLH4 is the light system I tried out last week. A super compact 24v light system fully dim-able via the transformer. The dimmer is just the tip of the iceberg of the versatility the Dedolight system . There are multitude of accessories to help modify the light. Iris controls, lenses to focus the light, projectors, barn doors, shutter blades, gobos, etc, etc. The list goes on. The versatility opens up doors for photographers that have been used to using flash or softening everything with huge softboxes or diffusers. A controlled bundle of constant light can provide effects that are very hard to create with the lights I’d usually use.
Another advantage of working with constant light is that you see what you are going to get. Light setup is fast and with a camera setup on live view, you’re pretty much shooting exactly what you see.

Below are a few experiment images that I created with the Dedolights. Under those images are a couple of shots for a recent assignment.
I’ll have more images and a more in depth review and explanation of the Dedolight system very soon! Stay tuned for more info on the Dedolight system. Some of my colleagues have expressed interest so I’ll have more demo material very soon so people can have some real hands on testing themselves.

As for the Dedolight DLh4 itself. Here’s a 360 rotatable photo of the basic light unit.

This is shot with the optional shutter blade system added to the DLH4 unit. The line of light can be precisely controlled, literally by the millimetre. The light can be focused to have sharp edges or blurred to have a softer feel.

Below is with the shutter blades opened wider and blurred to create a softer effect.
Again, a very tight line of light used to just define the profile. One of the strong points of the Dedolight system is the light bundle has no spill. This is with the iris control ring fitted to the DLH4. A precise aperture can be set and again, focused to a tight sharp edge or blurred to a soft edge.One of the shots from a recent assignment, Shot with strong backlight I needed some light in the foreground to illuminate the label and the fruit. The shutter blades were fitted to one lamp to light the bottle, the other lamp had the iris control ring fitted to fill in the fruit.In this shot I wanted to accentuate the bottles but keep the warm feel of the distillery scene. Ambient light in the room was daylight. I exposed darker than I needed and then used the Dedolights to point out the details.