Nikon Coolpix 950
I've been a Nikon fan for a long time and have had a number of Nikon F-Series 35mm SLRs and I also have a Nikon SuperCoolScan 35mm scanner which is excellent. When it came to choosing a digital camera, I knew I couldn't go far wrong with a Nikon.
The Nikon COOLPIX 950 is a progression in a line of similar digital cameras that have a distinctive 'twist-to-use' format. The lens, viewfinder and flash are housed in one section whilst the other holds the electronics and the TFT LCD monitor.
The most important factor when deciding on a digital camera is the maximum resolution, that is the pixel dimensions of the highest quality setting. The COOLPIX 950 can produce a 1,600 x 1,200 pixels picture, which gives a 'letter' or 'A4' print size on a photo-quality ink-jet printer at about 150 ppi. This is really the minimum acceptable resolution for an ink-jet print. Printing at double that resolution improves the image quality significantly and I've even used the Nikon successfully for small litho quality pictures. To save memory space on the 8 Mbytes compact flash memory card, there are also1024 x 768 and 640 x 480 pixel modes depending on the picture size you need. At 640 x 480, the card will hold up to 128 shots with more than adequate quality for Web use.
Where the pictures are of reasonable quality at full size, taking them down to half size in Photoshop helps get rid of any noise or compression artifacts. I also like to play with the levels a little to increase contrast and saturation for screen-based images.
What I particularly like about digital cameras is the instant confirmation that you have got a good shot - via the LCD screen on the back. The COOLPIX has a 2" backlit LCD screen with a high quality image on it. Except in very bright light, you can use this screen as the viewfinder to get a through-the-lens view of the subject. The fact that the two halves of the camera swivel means that you can use it very unobtrusively at lap level or indeed, hold it way above your head for a bird's eye viewpoint.
The crisp Nikkor lens has a 3x zoom capability, equivalent to a 38-115 lens on a 35mm conventional camera and it will focus right down to less than an inch for those ultra close-ups. In addition to the 3x optical zoom, the camera can emulate four further stages of zoom up to 2.5x through interpolation. The loss of image quality using digital zoom is similar to the effect you get when you interpolate upwards in Photoshop, it leaves the image looking decidedly 'woolly'. I prefer not to use this feature, for screen-based images anyway.
Downloading the photos to the computer is very easy if a little tedious. It would be nice to see a Firewire, or even a USB connection, rather than the slow serial one. I expect that will come eventually. The Nikon software does have some limited image manipulation facilities but it really needs something like Photoshop to get the best from the pictures. Images are saved in JPEG format but there are very few telltale signs to betray the format.
With its continuous shooting facility, the COOLPIX 950 can take three shots every two seconds, hardly motor drive performance but it does give you a variety of shots to choose from and makes sure that people you are photographing have relaxed from their original stiff pose.
Apart from the serial interface, my only real quibble about the COOLPIX 950 is its voracious appetite for batteries. My camera came with a set of four Nickel Metal Hydride rechargeable batteries that seem to last no time at all per charge (batteries supplied can vary with region). Regular AA size Alkaline batteries last a bit longer, but they are expensive. Of course, there is always the power adapter, which should be used when browsing the images on the LCD screen or when downloading to the computer.
It is only a couple of years ago that a digital camera of this quality cost ten times as much, but the speed and convenience of the COOLPIX 950 are perhaps more important than the quality. Where the images are more than acceptable for small prints or Web pages, I still prefer to take 'important' pictures with my Nikon F90 and scan the negatives. That means a delay of up to 24 hours to have the negatives processed, and the scanning of individual negatives takes some time too. You still get a lot more camera for your money if you buy a conventional 35mm rather than a digital one. You also have more choice of lenses and accessories, but a decent 35mm film scanner is very expensive and probably still not 'repro' quality. There are lots of choices in digital cameras from Nikon and other manufacturers. Read the comparative reviews of the COOLPIX 950 and its competitors at C/NET. If your requirements are less demanding than full blown repro and you are in a hurry, the Nikon COOLPIX 950 provides the speed, convenience and quality.
|Nikon Coolpix 950|
|Ease of Use||90%|
|Value for Money||80%|
|'Must Have' Factor||90%|
|Summary||Expensive, but it is a Nikon!|