Sensor and image quality
The sensor in the Nikon Coolpix A is outstanding: there is no optical low pass filter (anti-aliasing filter), and this is immediately evident in seeing the detail that the Coolpix A delivers (impressive), along with superb color rendition.
Surprisingly, the 28/2.8 lens appears to have some field curvature issues which degrade off-center sharpness (in a planar sense). But otherwise it is a first-rate lens.
The rear LCD is very nice, but suffers from the same complex Nikon menu system— wade through the mire and the camera can be configured sensibly, but as usual there is no “RAW only mode hide the JPEG cruft” setting or anything to reduce the kitchen-sink complexity which mixes irrelevant features into those that one wishes to use.
Things that get in the way of smooth operation bug me. Elegant design anticipates a variety of usage scenarios and eliminates barriers to usage. The Nikon Coolpix A repeats the same design flaws found in the heap of similar cameras to be forgotten in a year or two:
- Enabling the self-timer unsets itself after one shot. This is an irritating waste of time when trying to make more than one exposure. Well, this behavior is not unique to the Coolpix A, being found on other compacts.
- Autofocus— on the same subject (on a tripod), the Sigma DP Merrill locked on instantly, the Coolpix A was unable to lock focus. It took manual focus to finally lock focus.
- The tripod socket is well off center from the lens, so even the smallest camera plate (for tripod usage) blocks access to the battery and card door. Carry an allen wrench to change the battery or access the card. Since the tripod socket is off-center, panorama stitching becomes a headache also (parallax with rotation).
UPDATE: most plates block the door but the Really Right Stuff B9 plate has an offset screw slot that allows the door to open. Hooray!
- No way to screw on a filter directly; requires the $99 optional hood and filter adapter. So it’s really a $1200 camera with hood and filter capability. Once done, the camera grows in bulk considerably. All this so the lens can collapse by a measly 1/2 inch when powered off and with the wobbly extend-a-lens feel?
- The area for gripping the camera at right rear feels precarious (hardly anything to grasp), and the front raised ridge is a token more than being useful. Sure I can adapt, but it makes me nervous about dropping the camera. Those with very small hands might find it to be OK. Perhaps Really Right Stuff will offer a proper grip that solves this handling issue, but that grows the camera in bulk.
- The menus are the same-old-same-old Nikon pile. Does a beginner want this mess? Does an advanced user shooting RAW want this mess? Pass the boilerplate.
- No electronic viewfinder (EVF) built in. This is a serious limitation for those of us getting on in years (presbyopia). At lower cost, one can accept not having an EVF but for an $1100/$1200 camera it’s not really acceptable.
- The On switch seems easily activated, making making me nervous about toggling the camera on by accident in a pocket or bag (speculation, not experience as yet).
The foregoing is not entirely fair to Nikon in one sense: nearly all competing cameras these days suffer from similar drawbacks.
Is the Coolpix A a bad camera? Certainly not, it is perfectly good and defensible in the context of competing cameras, in the context of operational mediocrity. And the image quality is very high. But it’s an $1100 ($1200) camera. That’s a big chunk of change that raises expectations.
Shrinking the form factor is appealing, but better to have a good grip and proper placement of controls and tripod socket, etc. Bottom line: it’s awkwardly small for my hands and it’s no Sony RX100 in terms of pocketability.
The Nikon Coolpix A is a bit smaller than the Sigma DP1 Merrill at first glance. But the Sigma DP1M can have filters screw right on (no extra cost or bulky parts) and has more to grab hold of.