Scratch that Itch! Nikon D700 or Nikon Coolpix A – Big vs Small Dog!

I love my DSLR – the quality is amazing, but man what a pain in the ass it is to carry it around. If I’m out for a walk or doing a family thing, lugging my DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex – think camera with interchangeable lenses) is a lot of work. So why not just use my iPhone? Isn’t that good enough?

Nikon D700 with 70-200 lens vs Coolpix A
(This photo taken with my D40 18-200mm 1/200th f16 36mm ISO200 white seamless w/ two alien bee’s)

In all honesty, my iPhone is not good enough. Sure there are plenty of people yielding great results with phone cameras, but the real issue with phone cameras is they don’t yield great results enough of the time. Only sometimes. The reason I use a DSLR is that I can reliably “nail” a shot in very wide range of circumstances. My iPhone, I have to get lucky. When it counts my DSLR is still king.

Coolpix A – Aperture Priority – 1/60th f4.0 ISO 720 18.5mm
Window light as the key light.

When I walk around town if I haul my Nikon DSLR with me, I end up not using it. Its way more a burden than not. When I don’t bring it, I end up seeing something that I want to take a photo of and all I have is my iPhone and the photos rarely turn out good enough for me. Of course the camera that you have is always more valuable than the one you left at home. But wouldn’t it be nice if I could have a small unobtrusive camera that was small enough to take with me and rival the quality of a DSLR?

Coolpix A – ISO100 1/320th f5.6

What really makes a DSLR a DSLR? Is it just the big lens? Its partially the lens, but there are lots of things that make a DSLR a DSLR. Fast lenses, fast auto-focus, great exposure capabilities, the ability to use it with studio lights and the list goes on. But if there were one thing that stands out, it’s the the big sensor that gives you narrow depth of field (blurred backgrounds), low light capability and overall quality. Most DSLR’s come in either crop or full frame sensors. Full frame refers to the size of a 35mm negative (think of a 35mm slide), that’s how big the sensor is. A crop sensor is a smaller sensor, but still a DSLR class sensor. Either of these two sensors are way too large to pack into a camera phone.

To give you an idea I have listed the sensor size in square millimeters for an iPhone vs a DSLR. Notice the iphone is less then 1/4″ across vs 1.4″. A full frame sensor is 55 times physically larger than an iPhone 5 sensor. Think about that! You need to take 55 iPhone 5 sensors and glue them together to make one DSLR sensor.

  • iPhone 5 = 15.5 square mm (0.17″ x 0.13″)
  • APS-C Crop DSLR = 370 square mm (1″x.6″)
  • Full Frame DSLR = 860 square mm (1″x1.4″)
Coolpix A – ISO100 1/320th f4.0

My quest to fix my camera problem was to find a small point and shoot style camera with the largest sensor possible. I’ve been eying the Fuji x100t with a crop DSLR sensor, but I was really worried about the fixed focal length of the lens and the fact that even though I liked the idea, I wasn’t ready to put $1300 into this particular itch. I had no idea if I would actually end up using it.

So the idea sat for several months. Sometimes you just have to put your problem out to the universe and a solution will eventually present itself. Low and behold, the Nikon Coolpix-A presented itself to me in the form of a post on Nikon Rumors. Refurbished for $299* from Adorma. A fixed 18.5mm lens with a DX corp sensor, wahooo…. A large DX DSLR type sensor, $299. That’s an amount I was willing risk. (* Note: As of this writing Adorma has cleaned out its stock)

Coolpix A – ISO140 1/250th f5.6

This article isn’t as much about the Coolpix A as it is for the class of compact larger sensor cameras that are on the market. Since the Coolpix A is a discontinued camera, the question after using the Coolpix A for a few weeks now, is, when my Coolpix A is no more, would I buy another camera like this? The answer is, I abso-f’in-lutly love this format camera. It probably isn’t right for all people, but having been into photography for a while now, its a really nice diversion that fixes a lot of problems for me. On top of that, its just fun!

Coolpix A – ISO560 1/60th f4.0
No one even cared that I was holding a camera over their heads.

The Coolpix-A originally listed for $1100 new. Its target audience, people like me. Its a first generation camera and you know that when using it, but again, I have to go back to the price I paid for it and I can live with gen-A problems. If Nikon ever comes out with a next generation of this camera, I’m sure they will fix a lot of the small things. If I were paying full retail, the Fuju x100t would probably be the better camera.

However there is one really big advantage of this camera for me. I’m already a Nikon shooter and everything works exactly like I’m accustomed to. The menus, my flash triggers to my Alien Bee strobes, my SB-400, SB-600, etc… That’s a nice bonus! If Nikon makes another generation of this camera I think it would give the Fuji a serious run for its money.

Coolpix A – ISO800 1/50th f4.0
No one even cared that I was sticking a camera into their puzzle frenzy.

What I love about this camera: Its great for close up shots (not quite macro). Its great for wider angle landscape, cityscape shots. It does great with indoor low light shooting. In family, street or event shooting, no one notices that I’m taking pictures. It looks like a cheap camera as far as anyone is concerned. Bring your DSLR to a family outing and everyone feels the need to pose. Bring this out and it flies under the radar and you can just take creative pictures.

What I don’t love about this camera: I’m still adjusting to shooting it in the middle range (meaning not far away from my subject and not close-up to my subject). A lot of that has to do with the auto-focus just not being great. I’m sure I’ll adjust over time, after all I’m spoiled with my D700 CAM 3500 51 point AF that works as soon as you tell it to. But this isn’t a DSLR, its a point and shoot.

Coolpix A – ISO400 1/60th f4.0
Although not a macro camera, it really shines when you get close in macro mode.

In conclusion, for a photo buff who knows how to work without a zoom lens, this camera fits well between my phone and DSLR. Practically speaking if you can shoot with your phone that doesn’t have a zoom lens to begin with, you can easily shoot with this. Would I spend $1300 on a camera like this right now? Probably not, but give me a few more months using this and I suspect that will change.

Even though this camera has a DSLR sized sensor, its doesn’t preform overall as well as a DSLR. In particular the lack of viewfinder and the AF speed/performance is not great, so you have to set your expectations properly. Maybe the Fuji or another brand works better, I don’t know. Though the sensor quality does deliver.

I wish it had a zoom, but at the same time not having a zoom is actually helping me grow as a photographer. I’ve been a “bitch” to the zoom for way too long. Its forcing me to work on composition and working around the fixed focal length to get what I want. If you can still get a refurb for $299 just do it. This camera is more fun than I’ve had with a camera in a very long time.  I’m capturing more of life’s moments more of the time.

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