Recently I acquired a Nikon Coolpix A in a trade for my Fuji GA645i, and thought it would be an opportune time to share some thoughts.
The camera itself is far from mint, and has some cosmetic "war wounds" as the seller put it, but it works fine, and the screen and lens are all good. I wasn't using the Fuji much, so an opportunity to pick up a really nice digital compact that I could get some use out of was a tempting offer.
The Coolpix A is not a cheap piece of equipment to purchase new, retailing for almost $1,300. Its claim to fame is having a large DX size sensor in a true compact body, that is truly pocketable, in a way that a Fuji X100 and Sony NEX 5 aren't quite. It has a sharp 18.5mm lens (equivalent to 28mm) and a large 3" high definition screen.
First impressions with this camera are good. The camera has a nice heft, but is still relatively light, the buttons feel like precision instruments and the whole camera gives an impression like it was carved out of billet aluminum, just like a Barnack Leica.
On my first test run, which was in good light, the lens proved to be very sharp and the sensor showed excellent detail, on par with the better DX sensors in DSLRs. I'm sure the lack of an Optical Low Pass Filter helps in this regard. The AF is reasonably quick, though not DSLR quick, and most shots seem to look very nice. All in all, a fun camera to have around.
A later test in a darker indoor environment started to show a few flaws. Firstly the AF is much slower and not as reliable, and if you use it on macro mode, which enables the AF to zoom through the entire range, it can be 'moment missing' in darker environments. The DX sensor isn't as good in low light as what I thought it would be. ISO 3200 show quite a bit of noise, more than the Fuji X100, and about on par with my D90; though certainly better than my mother in law's Nikon Coolpix P330 with the 1/1.7" sensor (which coincidentally was launched on the same day). This is actually quite disappointing as this is where I saw the camera as being most beneficial versus a regular compact.
Another issue is the very strange colour balance in low incandescent light. If you use the white balance to incandescent or set the colour temperature even lower, it gives the shadows and an ugly blue tinge, which is very disconcerting, and takes a bit of work is post processing to get it out.
The other big disappointment is the flash, which on Aperture Priority or Manual, is almost always completely out, and generally an utter disaster. It works fine on Program or Auto mode, so I may take a look to see if there is 'user error' involved. However, compared to the 100% reliable and always perfect flash on the X100, this is very disappointing.
One area that was better than expected was manual focus. Compared to the X100, even with the latest firm ware, it is much quicker and more precise. The other nice feature was the full menu, almost the same as Nikon's DSLRs, allowing for a lot of adjustability.
So overall first impressions? A nice, but relatively flawed camera, like an early build X100 was. I honestly thought it would be better. Would I pay $1300 for it? No way. But at the approx $400 or so from trade value, it was still a good deal.