I love Nikon, but for its professional line of cameras (anyone can make the little guys). But I've never been a fan of the Coolpix name. Maybe it reminds me of an era during which plastic boxes that could barely make a file for a 4x6 print were actually cool. So when I first saw the Coolpix A, I didn't think anything of it. But when I really read about it, I realized it's time for me to drop the silly baggage I have with the Coolpix name. This isn't just cool. It's red hot -- for a number of reasons.
For those that haven't yet read about it, the Coolpix A is a compact camera with an APS-C (DX, in Nikon lingo) sensor. While it might be tempting to relate this to the Fuji X-Pro 1 or Canon EOS M cameras, this isn't quite that -- it has a fixed, 28mm-equivalent lens that's pretty fast at f/2.8. But the principle is the same: tiny camera, pro results. So what's the big deal? The Coolpix A fixes a spot in history that's critical for moving into the future. Finally, finally, finally, Nikon -- the last big company to do so -- has said, "Ok, it's time."
I've made this analogy a hundred times already, but the future truly is a digital version of what Leica did for photographers of the early 20th century (which is, of course, making high-quality image-taking portable). Of course, Leica has their digital cameras. But they suffer in two respects. They're expensive and they're still not quite a DSLR-in-a-bottle, offering less than ideal firing rates (fps), slow (non-existent, you say?) autofocus, and still-limited, if modern and "refined," controls.
Does the Nikon Coolpix A fix those two issues? It fixes one of them. You could get more than five of these for the cost of a digital Leica body. But it still doesn't offer a combination phase- and contrast-detection AF, sports-like shooting speeds, or a range of lenses that can cover any situation. Maybe now I'll finally share why you should care.
The thing is, while we're not there yet, Nikon's commitment to the basic larger-format, ultra-compact body puts the future within reach. The last of the big companies that might make something like this actually possible essentially promised to keep trying.
As far as I'm concerned, Nikon messed up (or at the very least delayed) their opportunity for the mirrorless camera. The Nikon 1 series, apart from bringing back a big name in its history, was created for the consumer that wanted just a bit more than the point-and-shoot. Its price and feature set both show this.
Meanwhile, Canon took advantage of the opportunity to produce -- and impress -- with a surprisingly well-done first attempt at a larger-sensor compact EOS M. The Fuji X-Pro 1 set new standards before that, even, with a new sensor technology that removed the AA filter without introducing moiré (a pivotal step if we're going to see a compact replacement for a DSLR in this decade). And Sony, in a surprise blow from behind, introduced the world's smallest full-frame digital camera with the RX1.
Nikon's been struggling lately, no doubt. But its bandwagon-joining Coolpix A finally ensures that we will continue to see the development of compact, professional-quality cameras. Because honestly, if there was a camera as big as your first point-and-shoot that honestly had the same exact features of the Nikon D4, why wouldn't you get it?
Now, I've spent the whole time not really talking about the Coolpix A, but instead about the industry that it is diving into. So let me say that I'm sure the A (can we call it that? I still like leaving Coolpix out of it) will surprise me when I first pick it up. Why? It really does have some firsts for Nikon. It gets rid of the AA filter in the small body, which will provide for sharper images, even if a bit of moiré is present in certain situations. I still can't ignore that there's a pretty good size sensor in that small one-hand-holdable body. And the no-frills fixed lens is fast enough to really take this thing everywhere you go. This really is the point-and-shoot for the pro that doesn't want to lose the ability to shoot sharp RAW images when he leaves his 5-pound beast at home.
So in short, don't write this thing off without looking into it further. Don't do what I almost did. This thing really is worth it.