Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Cameras - you gotta justify the buy!

When a blogger buys a new piece of photographic equipment, you can bet there'll soon be a post justifying the purchase, comparing the old to the new and why that new bit of kit just HAD to have been bought.

So then - after writing recently that I'd not buy a Nikon Coolpix A - what did I do?

I bought a Nikon Coolpix A.

Why? The price was so utterly, unbelievably, right, well, I just couldn't walk away from the deal.

When the Coolpix A was launched less than two years ago, it was priced at $1,100. Now this is twice the price of the Nikon D3100, built around the same 16 megapixel sensor BUT - the D3100 is single-lens reflex with a 18-55mm zoom lens with vibration reduction; the Coolpix A doesn't have a viewfinder or any viewing system other than an LCD panel on the back wall. You compose your shot like you do on a mobile phone.

So why did Nikon decide to sell the Coolpix (dumb name) A for $1,100? It's a quality camera, with a metal - not polycarbonate - body, a quality fixed focal lens (18.5mm - equivalent to 29mm on a full-frame or 35mm camera) opening half a stop further than the kit lens of the D3100 to f2.8.

Er - and that's it. Other than the fact that the Coolpix A weighs less than half of what the D3100 does, slips into the pocket and, at 300g, hangs round the neck all day long without being noticed.

The Coolpix A is not a street-shooter's camera. It's too slow for catching people on the move. It's best for landscapes - the traveller's ideal companion. For me, a camera to take on rides, where the weight and bulk of a DSLR is too much, but where my smartphone's camera function is insufficient for reasons I'll go into.

Back to the price. When I saw a Coolpix A (recently discontinued by Nikon) on sale at 2,000 złotys ($550 - exactly half the launch price), I was still not tempted. But with a further 500 złotys rebate, the price tumbled to just over $400. 25% off half-price? Now this is a steal.

OK - justification time. Three pics to show how three camera compare.

Below: Nikon Coolpix A - a pleasing, warm colour cast (white balance on all camera set to auto).

To shoot with the Nikon Coolpix A:
1) Switch on,
2) Compose,
3) Press shutter button down halfway,
4) Wait for autofocus to latch onto subject, and when the little green box on the LCD shows you have a sharp image -
5) Depress the shutter button fully.


Below: Nikon D3300 (with 24 megapixel sensor). Neutral hues, larger image thanks to more pixels crammed onto sensor. The D3300 replaced the D3200 in my fleet; it has the same 24MP sensor, but is lighter, has a smaller 18-55mm lens, and has a number of small improvements that got my thumbs up.

To shoot with the Nikon D3300:
1) Hold up to eye,
2) Compose,
3) Press shutter halfway down, wait a millisecond or two for focus and
4) Click. By far the fastest of the three.


Below: as seen through my Samsung Galaxy S3's camera function. This is an 8-megapixel image.

To shoot with the Samsung Galaxy S3:
1) Switch on phone (button on the bottom),
2) Swipe screen to unlock,
3) Close whatever app is invariably up on the screen (typically during travel, it will be Google Maps, or Bilkom, or Strava),
4) Select 'camera' icon from among all the app icons on the home screen,
5) Wait for image to come up on screen, then compose (really difficult in strong sunlight),
6) Press the shutter-button icon at the bottom centre of screen.


I've done a few bike journeys equipped with only a phone to take photos with - it's certainly suboptimal. But going for a long ride with a DSLR dangling around your neck - even a lightweight one like the D3300 - is not a viable alternative. A quality mirrorless camera like the Nikon Coolpix A is a good compromise. It has superb battery life. If you're more interested in people than landscapes, the Fujifilm X100T is a better bet than the Nikon Coolpix A. The lens is less wide (equivalent to 35mm on full-frame), shooting is faster, there's a viewfinder as well as an LCD screen. The X100T is the second incremental improvement on the original X100, which I tested a while back.

If you can find a Nikon Coolpix A at a Nikon dealer near you for 1,500 złotys (after cashback rebate), buy it; for the money it's a superb little camera.

This time last year:
More about the Ladder of Authority

This time two years ago:
By bike, south of Warsaw

This time four years ago:
Functionalist architecture in Warsaw

This time five years ago:
What's the Polish for 'to bully'?

This time six years ago:
Making plans

This time seven years ago:
The setting sun stirs my soul

This time eight years ago:
Rain ends the drought


gls said...

What do you think of Fuji's digital rangefinder, the X100T? I have the first edition so to speak (just plain X100), and it's by far my favorite camera.

Michael Dembinski said...

For street photography, the X100 is unquestionably better - the operation, the viewfinder, the lens angle. But for landscape and architecture, the Coolpix A is better. Horses for courses!

I played with the X100T at a camera shop yesterday, much improved over the X100... Might just buy one!