Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Nikon's Coolpix A to Rival Sony's RX1

Here is the deal. If you knew your competitor was releasing a full frame compact camera which cost a bomb and doesn't perform too well in low light, what would you do?

This is exactly what Nikon had in mind when it announced the Coolpix A, 16 megapixel point and shoot compact built with an APS-C size sensor.

Costing less than half the price of the Sony RX1, the Coolpix A is listed for US$1,100 a pop and even has an optional viewfinder but if you want one, you could slap on an optical viewfinder with an equivalent 28mm field of view sold by Voigtlander or buy one off Nikon for US$450.  Now I have not been able to test this camera but I bet that it has the same sensor as the old Nikon D5100.

So for argument sake, lets take a look at the Dynamic Range in the following chart. We are assuming that the D5100 sensor is being used in the Nikon Coolpix A.

Using the settings on Auto, we can see that the Olympus kicks some serious ass while the RX1 is very Meh. The Nikon D5100 sensor on the other hand is comparable to the RX1, so for far less money, you're getting more dynamic range. 

Why Dynamic Range is more Important than Noise Handling

In everyday use, you will rarely go above ISO1600 and that's where the noise starts to be visible. To avoid this, you'd probably be shooting at ISO400 during daylight and maybe ISO1600 at night or during low light scenes. So noise isn't a great problem in everyday use. 

However if you want the best dynamic range, then the camera sensor has to have the chops to deliver the image quality. In high contrast scenes, you are dealing with different exposure zones and if you understand and use the Zone System for exposure, then you'll also understand why having a sensor with a wider dynamic range is always better than taking three successive shots and sandwiching them together on a computer. 

Ansel Adams used the Zone System as a means to develop photo prints. The system helps to ascertain what elements in the picture can be captured on paper as you dodge and burn the print in a darkroom. 

In modern day digital photography, you need to determine what sort of elements and their details needs to be captured and to do that, a spiffy sensor with a wide dynamic range is all you need. 

HDR is the love child of the Zone System

High Dynamic Range photography, as made famous by Trey Ratcliff, exposes all the shimmering details through multiple exposures. Though you can't say that the Zone system is the father per se, you could however attribute HDR as the love child. 

But HDR is a different beast. It is a digitally based system while the Zone System is an analogue method of exposure performed in a darkroom. 

CoolPix A offers better value for Money

Spot on. Would you pay over 2 grand just to own the RX1? Sure it has a spiffy CZ lens but would you still sell your left kidney on eBay? Nikon has positioned the Coolpix A as a secondary or back-up camera for pros and I can see why. Its 28mm (full frame equivalent) is wide enough without giving you those wide angle distortions and at f/2.8—makes it a good (not great) bokeh lens. I do believe that the RX1 has much better bokeh but at that price, I don't think I can stomach it. 

Disclaimer: I am not paid by Nikon to write this, nor do I own shares in that company. The only Nikons in my possession are analogue film cameras. 


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