Nikon's Coolpix A redefines the fixed-lens camera sector

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With an eye toward advancing and adding value to the point-and-shoot market, Nikon has introduced a trio of Coolpix fixed-lens cameras intended for a wide range of snapshooters. All three cameras are additions to the existing Nikon lineup.

Nikon has segmented the Coolpix line of point-and-shoot cameras into five user-defined categories: Advanced Performance, Fun & Innovative, Ultra-Slim Zoom, Comfort Long Zoom, and Budget Friendly. However, the Nikon Coolpix A in many ways transcends those segments by combining aspects of compact point-and-shoot technology with the capabilities and characteristics of a DSLR, putting everything into a package that can comfortably fit in your pocket.

Coolpix A

Topping Nikon's tripartite camera launch is the Nikon Coolpix A, the new flagship Coolpix, which the company describes as a unique camera. The Coolpix A is the first model to feature a 16.2-megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor similar to those found in some Nikon DSLRs, as well as a fixed 18.5mm (28mm wide-angle equivalent) f/2.8 Nikkor lens. At 4.4 by 2.6 by 1.6 inches, it's slightly larger than the typical Coolpix point-and-shoot, but it's still pocketable.

Nikon Coolpix A front

"In order to keep the camera extremely compact and portable, we've designed a lens to fit this sensor, and it's very difficult to create a very small, very compact zoom lens for a sensor that large, so they decided to keep this as a fixed lens to keep the camera body nice and small," says Steve Heiner, senior technical manager for Nikon.

Other signature features of the Coolpix A include a 3-inch, 920,000-dot display, a manual focus override—unusual for a camera of this type—and a focus ring right on the lens itself. Even while it's in autofocus, you can twist the ring to adjust the focus manually or switch to manual focus altogether. Because of the large sensor, this model has a very high ISO range of 100 to 6400, plus two additional high settings (High 1 and High 2, bringing the ISO up to 25600). It has a built-in flash and hot shoe that you can use with some of Nikon's Speedlight flash units, such as the SB-400, SB-700, and SB-910.

The Coolpix A offers a more advanced version of Nikon's Raw format that can be recorded as 12- or 14-bit uncompressed files. This high-bit-depth capability, which provides superior color reproduction, is targeted to photographers who are used to shooting with DSLRs.

Nikon Coolpix A back

This camera is compatible with Nikon's WU-1a wireless adapter Wi-Fi accessory, which allows shooters to use an iOS or Android smartphone or an iPad as a remote control.

Although there's no previous analogue to the Coolpix A, Nikon says the target user for this camera is an advanced photographer who may have considered its Coolpix P7700. Unlike that model, however, the Coolpix A builds many of the controls into the menu rather than placing an array of dials and buttons on the camera body itself.

Users can outfit the camera with a number of accessories. An optional DF-CP1 Optical Viewfinder will be available for $450. The UR-E24 Adapter Ring, for use with glass filters, and the HN-CP18 Lens Hood will be sold together for $130. The Coolpix A and its new accessories will be available in March for $1100 in black and silver.

Coolpix P330

In the midrange, Nikon has introduced the P330, a powerful, compact camera designed for advanced users seeking control of parameters such as shutter speed and f-stop. Like the Coolpix A, it's sleek (4.1 by 2.3 by 1.3 inches) and menu-driven, eschewing an abundance of physical buttons and controls. It features a 12.2-megapixel, 1/1.7-inch sensor—larger than what you get in a typical point-and-shoot, for better performance in low light. It has a 5X (24-100mm, 35mm equivalent) zoom with macro focusing capabilities up to 1.2 inches from the front of the lens.

At its widest angle there's a fast f1.8 to f5.6 aperture opening. It has a built-in flash, which the photographer can control, as well as a 3-inch, 921,000-dot LCD screen. The ISO range is 80 to 3200, plus two additional high-position ISO settings.

Nikon Coolpix P330

Built-in GPS, full HD movie capture at 60i or 30p, and Raw-format capability make this model a good choice for people who want a second camera they can carry in their pocket without having to tote around a DSLR.

One extra attraction: This camera, like the Coolpix A, works with Nikon's WU-1a wireless adapter.

The P330 is the same size and shape as the Coolpix P310, but with a higher resolution. The camera also promises better low-light performance than the P310 because of its sensor size.

The Coolpix P330 will be available in March for $380 in black and white.

Coolpix S3500

At the consumer, budget-friendly end of the spectrum is the Nikon Coolpix S3500, a very slim, very small addition to Nikon's S series that's directed at beginners seeking to elevate their images from that of a cell phone, and perhaps wanting a step up from a Nikon S3300.

It offers a long zoom in a small package wrapped in a compact 20.1-megapixel sensor. The 7X optical zoom is equivalent to a 26-182mm lens. With Lens VR (vibration reduction image stabilization) to reduce hand shake, a new algorithm called Target Finding Auto Focus will assist in achieving accurate focus.

Target Finding AF starts by scoping out faces within a photo; if it finds no faces, it then seeks a dominant subject. Should there be no dominant subject, the lens reverts to Auto Area AF, in which it focuses on the nearest object.

Nikon Coolpix S3500

"What this means for the person taking the picture is that they don't have to worry about switching autofocus modes or about where they're placing subjects in the frame. The camera is intelligent enough to detect what you're shooting," Heiner says.

The camera shoots 720p HD video as well as stills, and offers built-in special effects and retouching filters.

The Coolpix S3500 sells for $140. It comes in five colors: silver, pink, pale orange, light purple, and red.

AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm zoom

Nikon has also debuted the AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR, a new telephoto zoom lens, compatible with both FX-format and DX-format cameras. For DX-format cameras, this lens extends the maximum reach to 120-600mm (35mm equivalent). Used with a 1.4x teleconverter, the lens can expand to an f/8 aperture for compatibility with the autofocus system on the most recent Nikon DSLR cameras. It's designed for wildlife and sports photography, and targeted to users from amateur to professional, Nikon says.

AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

The new lens includes Vibration Reduction technology, allowing for up to four stops of image stabilization, while Auto Tripod Detection VR provides stabilization when the camera is mounted on a tripod. The lens features Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat to prevent ghost and flare, a Silent Wave motor for swift and quiet autofocus, and two focusing modes, including autofocus with manual override and full manual.

The AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR will be available in early April for $2700.

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