Having used a Nikon Coolpix 950 since its introduction a couple of years ago I have been a fan of this camera and its capabilities, but it has its flaws. Now two generations later we have the Coolpix 995 a higher resolution model claiming lots of new features and improvements over the Coolpix 950 and its predecessor the Coolpix 990. I couldn't wait to try it...
Words and picture Peter Bargh
The Coolpix 995 is a little broader than the Coolpix 950. This is because it houses a pop up flash and has a chunkier handgrip. I preferred the older styling, which is less cumbersome in the hands. I also prefer the older swivel action of the 950's lens. Both rotate over 270 degrees, but the Coolpix 995 has developed the clunky action of a Rubik's cube! That said it is firmer than the earlier design and also has a swivel lock to prevent the lens drooping when an attachment is added.
Several subtle, but worthy, changes have been made to the layout of controls. The on/off switch is in the same position, but the flash and focusing have been relegated to the back panel leaving the all-important exposure mode and exposure compensation controls in prime positions for creative photographers.
On the back, a multi-selector button joins the image quality, flash and focusing buttons along with a quick preview button, monitor activator and menu button. Everything is clearly labelled and easy to follow.
One of the first things to do is go into the set-up mode, accessed from the menu button and key in the correct date and time. You can also set up preferences such as the language displayed, video mode (PAL or NTSC), Auto off time, monitor brightness and where pictures are stored on the card. There's also a mode to set the shutter sound which I hoped was going to let you set it up to make a reassuring clunk like a traditional camera. This is something Sony have used on some of their cameras and it's a real nice touch as you know when a photo's been taken. Unfortunately I was disappointed all it does is turn a beep on or off.
The camera is powered by a special Nikon EN-EL1 Lithium-Ion battery pack. One comes in the box along with a charger. You can also use a standard 6 volt 2CR5 Lithium battery, found in SLR cameras, but at the rate it drains batteries I'd be loathed to fork out as much as 14 for this type. The instruction book claims you'll get 110 minutes of shooting out of a charged battery. In tests I used the LCD to frame and check each photo and flash on a few occasions and I had to recharge it twice through a duration of around 280 photos so it averages out at about 90 shots per charge. Not bad, but you really need a spare battery if you're going out and about.
Indoors the camera can be powered from the mains and here again is an improvement over the original Coolpix 950. The power point is around the front rather than on top so it's more out of the way.
Taking a photo couldn't be easier. Simply rotate the on/off button to either A (Auto) or M (Manual) Automatic has little user control and is designed for point & shoot photography, while manual lets you change many settings from the menu and apply them for different subjects and situations. A view of what the lens is seeing appears on the LCD. This can be turned off to save batteries. It can also be set in one of the menu items to automatically switch off after a few seconds. All the shooting mode info appears on the top plate LCD while the back LCD shows the shutter speed and aperture.
The image can be previewed using the LCD or the optical finder, which is claimed to be 85% accurate, so it displays much less than the lens records. For this reason you always end up with too much wasted detail around the frame that could have been better used if the viewfinder was more accurate. It makes you always want to use the LCD and that's, as you've probably read, a drain on batteries.
If you're still drawn to the optical finder and wear specs there's a dioptre correction covering -2 to +1 vision.
In this close up shot of two peppers I purposely used the optical finder to check for viewfinder accuracy. It's spot on for correcting parallax and the markings ensure the subject stays in the centre of the frame, but look at the wasted data. I framed the shot to fill the frame with the peppers as indicated by the red frame. The actual result has far too much surrounding detail, highlighting that the viewfinder is a poor representation of the actual picture taken. If I now crop the picture so that it looks like it did through the viewfinder I end up with an image around 1400 pixels across and not the 2048pixels that the camera recorded. What a waste!
The LCD, on the other hand, is great. Where the 950's used to be appalling in daylight this one is bright and clear. Nikon took notice of user and reviewer feedback and have added an anti-reflective viewing screen as well as brightening up the image, making it far more usable outdoors. You can also see the menus clearly, making it easier to control outside too. It's still a problem in bright sunlight, but all digital cameras suffer from this. You can buy a hood to improve this, but overall I could manage well and the menu items are easy enough to see.
The image you've just taken appears on the LCD and a delete button allows you to erase the picture without even having to go into the play mode. This is great for speed. You can also have the camera set up to display shooting data, which appears around the edges, but this can distract from the image so you may want to turn the feature off.
Another useful feature is the Quick button that places a quarter sized preview image in the top left of the viewfinder. You can then scroll through images taken while the rest of the display shows the viewfinder image. When you find the image you want to view simply press the Quick button again to fill the whole screen.
Images that have been taken can be magnified on screen by up to 6x so you can check for sharpness and the magnified image can be scrolled around using the multi-selector button. This is an excellent feature too and ensures you come back with the best shots. The multi-selector button also doubles up as a focusing point controller allowing one of five focus points to be selected in manual mode. Normally the camera sorts out which point.
While on the subject of focusing you have a fast moving autofocus system that can be set to single or continuous for shooting still or moving subjects. You can also lock focus by pressing the shutter half way down, but this also locks the exposure, or you can switch to manual and use the viewfinder as a focusing aid while you rotate the input wheel to change the distance. The focusing goes down to 2cm which is amazing, but even then is not quite as close as Ricoh, who have managed a 1cm focusing distance.
The Nikon can fill the frame with a bumble bee...ouch!
Focusing at close range is a little hit and miss. You have to have the zoom set to mid point to make it kick in (macro symbol changes to yellow to indicate things are okay) and it tends to hunt around. But once the subject is found the magnification is incredible. I've shot more bees and flies than I ever did with a traditional camera, and I've had bellows and tubes...you name it I've played, but never has it been so easy. And the fact that the viewfinder swivels gives you a camera you can poke into a flower-bed from any angle and see the subject without having to become a contortionist.
Another good thing about the LCD is it inverts the image when swivelled though 180 degrees so it can be used to take self-portraits and the view you see is the right way up. The self timer will help here too. With the mode selected press the button once for a ten second delay and twice for a three second delay.
With a CCD pixel count of 3.4 million and an image size of 2048x1360 this camera promises to deliver sharp pictures that could be printed to A3 without too much difficulty and the camera proves capable. Images are lovely and sharp with lots of fine detail (see test pictures at the end of the article). Image quality is helped by the Nikkor zoom - a 4x range covering 8-32mm which is equivalent to 38-152 in 35mm format. This optical zoom is supplemented with a 4x digital zoom, which effectively crops the image to magnify the centre portion of the CCD - avoid using this where possible to ensure maximum resolution. A wide angle of 38mm is nothing to shout home about, but Nikon do provide an optional WC-E63 adaptor to take the focal length to a more impressive 35mm equivalent of 24mm. There's also a FC-E8 fisheye converter that produces an 8mm f/2.6 lens with a 183 degree angle of view!
Telephoto fans can extend the 152mm to 304mm using the TC-E2 converter or 456mm using the TC-E3ED. There's a lens selector built into the camera to ensure it performs correctly when a converter is added. These accessories make the Coolpix even more versatile but at a cost. The WC-E63 is 106 the FC-E8 220, TC-E2 106 and the TC-E3ED 220
The zoom is controlled using a two buttons (wide and tele) on the back. These are easily adjusted with your thumb as you hold the camera ready to take a photo. The 995 has removed an annoying feature of the 950 that made the zoom default back to telephoto when the camera was switched on. This was extremely frustrating if you shoot on wide-angle as the camera would always have to be manually zoomed into wide-angle position first. You can now pre-select the camera to start at wide, telephoto or the last used position. It still defaults back to telephoto when the camera is switched off, but adjusts to the last used setting automatically when the camera is switched back on. It would be more logical if the designers had made the lens hold in the position it was switched off at. Then it would be ready to take a photo as soon as it's switched on whereas now it takes between two and four seconds depending on the focal length it has to travel to.
Otherwise the zoom controls smoothly, positively and is quite easy to stop at a precise point, unlike some models that appear to have preset intervals.
I've mentioned you can leave the camera on full auto, but setting the dial to M allows you to be more creative using either aperture-priority, shutter-priority or full manual. You don't have quite the same exposure settings as a film based camera. The aperture only stops down to f/11 in third stop steps, but the shutter speed is a little more versatile running from eight to 1/2000sec. You can also adjust the sensitivity of the CCD from ISO100 through to ISO800.
Metering is taken care of with a 256 element Matrix pattern which couldn't get fooled by much, and a spot selection can also be made that takes the reading from 1/32 of the frame. There's also exposure bracketing so you have no excuses if turning out duff pictures with this camera.
Images are stored onto a CompactFlash card, and, unlike the 950 the card is accessed from the side, which is far better if you intend using the camera on a tripod. Because you can get at the card remove it and download pics to the computer without having to disturb the camera.
The 16Mb card that comes with the camera holds 10 pictures at high resolution and in fine mode, but you have many other shooting options. Raw (non compressed) mode is the best, but only one picture can be held on a 16Mb card. Then, using one of three levels of JPEG compression (Fine, Normal or Basic) you can change the resolution from Full through UXGA, SXGA, XGA and VGA to deliver between 16 and 229 images. There's also a 3:2 ratio mode that squeezes and extra frame or two by making the image less square to save pixels.
Stored pictures can be deleted individually or as a group. You can use the LCD menu to protect images, set up a slide show, and arrange them in folders. There's also a facility to add printing information using the industry standard DPOF (Digital Print Order Form).
If you are a tripod user Nikon have also altered the position of the mount so that the lens will swivel when mounted. The 950 used to get stuck on the tripod platform and couldn't be rotated fully.
Although there's an adequate integral flash in the camera you may want more power or to hook up to a studio flash. The Coolpix has a socket but it's a three pin connector and not universal. Nikon Speedlites can be used directly or an adaptor can be bought to accept other flashguns, but Nikon advise against these being connected as the camera's circuitry could be damaged.
Once again Nikon deliver a first rate digital camera. This one takes all the benefits of its predecessors and refines their shortcomings. The focusing could be better at close range, but otherwise the 995 is a blessing from the great camera god in the sky! Superb picture quality, versatile features and excellent handling all pull together to give a camera that should certainly be at the top of any digital photographer's shopping lists. In two words& absolutely stunning!