I recently picked up review units of the Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 at B&H – the store itself is an incredible experience for any photographer, by the way – after a few days of intense shooting during my Making Outstanding Images workshops, I’ve had a chance to put together a few quick thoughts on the two cameras. I will be doing more complete reviews once I get a chance to shoot further with them and pore through the hundreds of images. Until then, this should tide over the curious.
Let’s start with the Fuji X20*:
- Build quality appears to be a notch up from the X10 I handled: everything that appears to be metal, is. It’s cold to the touch and doesn’t seem to have the thick paint I remember my X100 having. It’s a very high-quality item.
- Focusing is fast and accurate. The phase detect sites added to the sensor do really make a difference; this is one of the fastest compacts I’ve used in that regard.
- It’s a really enjoyable camera to handle and shoot with; very tactile and the controls operate with solidity. Everything is snappy. You can’t shoot it one-handed, though: no way to use the zoom ring. And it isn’t really pocket friendly, either.
- The JPEGs are still excellent…ACR has improved RAW processing from the XF1, but they’re still very noisy and a little soft.
- Image quality-wise, the sensor appears to be the same or very slightly better than the XF1 (they’re both 12MP, 2/3″ types). I think ISO 800 is the cutoff point for clean images. 1600 is usable in a pinch.
- You have to be careful with DR auto: it will pick much higher ISOs than required in an attempt to retain highlight detail, though this appears to only increase noise in RAW. I’ve got some poor images in bright sunshine from the first day because the camera chose ISO 400 instead of the base 100; my recommendation is to leave it on DR100 and use the spot meter instead.
- I’m not using the OVF as much as I thought due to very poor (75-80%?) frame coverage. However, it does have very helpful shooting info and AF point overlays – too bad they’re not that visible.
- IS is very effective.
- At a guess, battery life is about 350-400 frames per charge – not bad considering how tiny the battery is.
Many of you are wondering why I didn’t review the X100s; with the 28mm converter it would make a much better comparison against the Nikon Coolpix A. The simple answer is – I requested one, but none were available. I’m still curious about this one and will try to get one to review in the future as soon as it is available. The only downside I see is that it’s rather large; enough so that I might as well have a second OM-D. To me, this rather puts it out of the running in the pocketable category.
The following series was shot with the X20 in Midtown New York City:
And now the Coolpix A:
- Build quality is similar to, or perhaps slightly better than the X20; spatter-paint finish black magnesium, with a similar feel to the pro DSLR bodies. (Both are made in Japan)
- The menu system and UI logic are identical to the DSLRs – a very easy transition, for the most part. Unfortunately, some of the more questionable decisions carry over too – the inability to zoom in to the focus point with the OK button, for instance; redundancy of the second control dial in anything other than M mode, for another.
- Focusing isn’t as fast as the X20, or the OM-D I’ve also got with me. It’s about the same as the Ricoh GR-Digital III, I think. But unlike the GRD III, it doesn’t remember the manual focus distance when switched off, nor does the distance scale also have a depth of field scale. These two minor changes would make a HUGE difference to speed – just shoot it zone-focused; an 18mm real focal length is ideal for this. Actually, I could live with just the former…at least the manual focus ring is sensibly geared, though.
- Everything else about the camera is blazing fast – startup time, burst mode, writing, reviewing, menu navigation…
- The bit you’ve been waiting for: image quality is stunningly good; slightly better than the D7000, not quite as good as the D7100. Probably about on par or slightly better than the OM-D. ISO 3200 is not too bad, and ISO 6400 usable in a pinch. The files have lots of latitude and are handled well by the latest versions of ACR.
- The camera really needs VR; on a windy day, 1/50s or higher is required for critically sharp images at 100%.
The following series was shot with the Coolpix A in Midtown NYC:
Personally…I’m still trying to decide which one to keep to replace the Sony RX100 – these are big (small?) shoes to fill, but it appears that there is no Goldilocks camera – in every case, there’s a tradeoff of some sort. The RX100 doesn’t focus close and has a rather slow optimal aperture for maximum image quality, but this is offset by a sensor that is happy even at ISO 3200 and has fantastic resolution. It’s also the smallest of the bunch. The X20 has the weakest image quality by some margin and is neearly as large as an OM-D, but it’s also the most fun to use, has a built in optical finder, mechanical zoom, a mechanical exposure compensation dial, and the fastest and most accurate focusing. The Coolpix A leads the pack on image quality and UI, but lags on focus speed and VR/IS. I think the dissonance comes from what I think I want (small, fast prime, high IQ, fast AF, optical finder) vs. what I actually tend to use (small, flexible lens range, taking my time to frame and shoot precisely using the LCD, high IQ). Honestly, perhaps the trouble is I like them both – but for different reasons. My heart says ‘buy both’, my wallet says ‘pick one’. Choices, choices…MT
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