Nikon Coolpix 8800
At a Glance
The Coolpix 8800 combines powerful (8-megapixel) imaging resolution and a long (10X) optical zoom. An update of the Coolpix 8700 (which has an 8X zoom), the 8800 looks and operates much like its predecessor, with the same bulky, black body and a lens barrel as wide as a soda can. Other holdover features include a fold-out LCD, pop-up flash, an electronic viewfinder, and the ability to accept wide-angle and telephoto converter lenses.
The 8800 improves on the 8700, however, with a more intuitive set of controls. Gone is the mysterious Mode button; Nikon moved all of the top-level exposure controls--aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and full-manual, plus scene, movie, and full-automatic modes--to a single clearly labeled dial on top of the camera. The menu structure is better, too, though still somewhat cumbersome to use. When you press the Menu button, you get a top-level list with six options (Metering, Continuous, Image adjustment, and others). A MyMenu option lets you replace items on this initial list of controls with ones you use more frequently, such as bracketing, ISO, or white balance.
To reach a control that's not among the top six, you select the "Show all menus" option and scroll though an extensive list of settings. This can be slow going, especially because the list has no readily apparent order.
In general, the fastest way to bracket exposure is to press the shutter once and let your camera take three to five shots in quick succession. Indeed, some cameras do this by default. But the Coolpix 8800 forces you to take the additional step of setting the camera to one of its continuous shooting modes--or (if you don't switch to continuous mode) to press the shutter three to five times for a complete bracket.
The image quality of our test photos was top-notch. In our high-contrast outdoor city scene, the 8800 beautifully reproduced a light blue sky without losing details in dark city streets. And our colorful still-life image delivered realistic skin tones and bright whites, reds, and yellows. All of the images had razor-sharp details. The 8800's only flawed output was a flash photo of our mannequin, which was about a half-stop underexposed.
The automatic vibration reduction feature seemed to help produce sharper photos, especially when the shutter speed was in the low range for hand-held shooting (1/250 second or less) and the lens was set to full telephoto.
The 8800's startup speed and shutter lag are about average for the cameras we've tested recently: You're ready to shoot about 4 seconds after turning the camera on. After a full press of the shutter release, there's a delay of 1 or 2 seconds before the camera takes the shot. But the delay can be longer if you're shooting in low light and the camera has trouble locking its focus (as it occasionally did). The zoom worked fairly smoothly, but it made an unpleasant grinding sound.
Like most other advanced digital cameras of recent vintage, the 8800 is easy for photographers of all experience levels to use. Set to fully automatic mode--which disables nearly all of the camera's exposure options--the 8800 becomes a very expensive point-and-shoot. Users of limited experience can select from among 15 scene modes that automatically tune the camera for specific types of shots, such as sunsets, beach or snow scenes, and panoramas.
If you want a camera with a powerful zoom, a long focal length, and extensive controls, but an SLR is too big or too expensive for you, the Coolpix 8800 makes an excellent choice. Be prepared to invest some time in mastering the controls, however.