Nikon COOLPIX A review - Quality

Quality

Nikon COOLPIX A vs Olympus XZ-2 Quality JPEG

 

To compare real-life performance I shot this scene with the Nikon COOLPIX A and the Olympus XZ-2, within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings.

The Nikon COOLPIX A has a 28mm equivalent fixed focal length lens. To match its field of the view the zoom lens on the Olympus XZ-2 was set to its 28mm equivalent maximum wide angle position.

The COOLPIX A lacks image stabilisation and it was disabled on the XZ-2 for this tripod-mounted test. All other camera settings were left on the defaults.

  Nikon COOLPIX A results
1 Nikon COOLPIX A Quality JPEG
2 Nikon COOLPIX A Quality RAW
3 Nikon COOLPIX A Noise JPEG
4 Nikon COOLPIX A Noise RAW
5 Nikon COOLPIX A Sample images

The image above was taken with the Nikon COOLPIX A. The camera was set to Aperture priority mode and f5.6 was selected as this produced the best result from the lens. With the sensitivity set to 100 ISO the camera metered an exposure of 1/320. As usual for this test the camera was otherwise left on the default settings. The Olympus XZ-2 produced its best results at f4 where it metered 1/800th with the sensitivity set to 100 ISO.

Conditions on the day were bright Spring sunshine producing a scene with a high tonal range with bright highlights and deep shadows. Overall the COOLPIX A did a good job with the exposure producing a result capturing the full tonal range with the tiniest bit of clipping in the shadows on the RGB histogram.

As for the crops, the first one shows a good level of detail with the smaller architectural features of the chapel clearly visible. You can clearly make out detail in the stonework as well as in the grass and rocky outcrops in the forecround.

The slight atmospheric haze means the lighthouse isn’t as distinct as it often is so we can’t learn much from that, but the chimneys and window frames of the middle distance and foreground of this crop again show a good level of detail with clean edges. You can make out the individual tiles on the roof in the near foreground of this crop. The edges and fine detail in the third crop from closer to the edge of the frame are also very good and this is one area in which the COOLPIX A’s fixed focal length prime lens wins out over competitor zooms where the edge details tends to suffer compared with the centre of the frame. There’s not a hint of chromatic aberration here either, although Nikon may be correcting it in-camera. In the final crop back in the centre of the frame once again there’s very little to complain about with nice crisp edges on the window frames and fine detail well resolved by the lens and sensor combination.

Compared with the crops from the 12 Megapixel Olympus XZ-2, the 16 Megapixel COOLPIX A crops show a smaller area with larger detail. The other thing to remember here is that the APS-C sized sensor in the COOLPIX A is physically larger with a much bigger surface area than the 1/1.7in sensor in the Olympus XZ-2. The first crop from the XZ-2 does look just a little softer with the fine detail not so clearly picked out. Likewise, the edges in the second crop don’t look quite so crisp as on the COOLPIX A, but at this stage it’s hard to tell if this is just a consequence of the different sized detail or there’s something more going on.

In the third crop from the frame edge there’s a clear difference between the quality of the COOLPIX A and the Olympus XZ-2 though. The XZ2 crop not only suffers from quite visible colour fringing but the edges are much softer and smaller details are blurry. Back in the centre of the frame for the fourth crop, there’s much less of a difference, but this crop I think confirms what the first two hint at. The edges and fine detail in the Olympus XZ-2 crop aren’t as crisp and clearly defined as in the COOLPIX A crop. Taken overall, these crops show that the larger, higher resolution sensor in the COOLPIX A, combined with its 28mm prime lens produces clearer, sharper, better images with a higher level of detail than the Olympus XZ-2 with its smaller 12 Megapixel sensor and 3x zoom.

My COOLPIX A RAW quality results on the next page will provide evidence of how much, if any, of the difference is due to processing. Alternatively, see how these models compare at higher sensitivities in my COOLPIX A Noise results.

 
 
 

Nikon COOLPIX A
 
Olympus XZ-2
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO


Nikon COOLPIX A
results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

Nikon COOLPIX A vs Olympus XZ-2 Quality RAW

 

To compare real-life performance in RAW I shot this scene with the Nikon COOLPIX A and the Olympus XZ-2, within a few moments of each other.

The Nikon COOLPIX A has a 28mm equivalent fixed focal length lens. To match its field of the view the zoom lens on the Olympus XZ-2 was set to its 28mm equivalent maximum wide angle position.

The COOLPIX A lacks image stabilisation and it was disabled on the XZ-2 for this tripod-mounted test. All other camera settings were left on the defaults.

  Nikon COOLPIX A results
1 Nikon COOLPIX A Quality JPEG
2 Nikon COOLPIX A Quality RAW
3 Nikon COOLPIX A Noise JPEG
4 Nikon COOLPIX A Noise RAW
5 Nikon COOLPIX A Sample images

The image above was taken with the Nikon COOLPIX A. The camera was set to Aperture priority mode and f5.6 was selected as this produced the best result form the lens. With the ISO sensitivity set to 100 ISO the camera metered an exposure of 1/320. As usual for this test the camera was otherwise left on the default settings. The Olympus XZ-2 produced its best results at f4 where it metered 1/800th with the sensitivity set to 100 ISO.

I processed both files in Adobe Camera RAW using identical settings: Sharpening at 70 / 0.5 / 36 / 10, Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction both set to zero, and the Process to 2012 with the Adobe Standard profile. To reduce white balance differences I also set the white balance to for both files to 6000k. These settings were chosen to reveal the differences in sensor quality and isolate them from in-camera processing. The high degree of sharpening with a small radius enhances the finest details without causing undesirable artefacts, while the zero noise reduction unveils what’s really going on behind the scenes.

This set of crops from the COOLPIX A’s RAW files processed in Adobe Camera RAW 7.4 shows the most detail I’ve yet seen from an APS-C sensor. It was fortunate that Adobe released an update to camera RAW adding support for the COOLPIX A’s RAW files the day before we were due to publish this review. So credit is due to Adobe as well as to Nikon for these excellent results.

In the first crop you can clearly make out the finer detail in the chapel walls though, interestingly, there looks to be a little bit of a red fringe around the door suggesting Nikon is correcting some fringing on in-camera JPEGs. Despite the slightly hazy conditions you can also make out the lamp room of the light house and the foreground roofs and windows are crisply defined. The quality of the lens is really brought out in the third crop which has detail as sharp as anywhere else. It also backs up Nikons claim that aberrations have been dealt with optically and no digital massageing is required to eliminate them.

The fourth and final crop from close to the middle of the frame is the most impressive though. The level of detail here is pretty high by any standards from the stonework in the distant building with the white van parked in front to the individual roof tiles visible on the buildings in the foreground. It’s clear to see that the COOLPIX A’s 16 Megapixel sensor is without doubt resolving more detail than the Olympus XZ-2 and judging by these results I’d say it’s likely it also outperforms many APS-C DSLRs. If this is indicative of the kind of quality it’s possible to achieve without the optical low pass filter it’s likely we’ll see many more manufacturers taking this route in future.

Now see how these models compare at higher sensitivities in my Nikon COOLPIX A Noise results.

 

Nikon COOLPIX A RAW
 
Olympus XZ-2 RAW
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f4, 100 ISO


Nikon COOLPIX A
results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

Nikon COOLPIX A vs Olympus XZ-2 Noise RAW

 
  Nikon COOLPIX A results
1 Nikon COOLPIX A Quality JPEG
2 Nikon COOLPIX A Quality RAW
3 Nikon COOLPIX A Noise JPEG
4 Nikon COOLPIX A Noise RAW
5 Nikon COOLPIX A Sample images

To compare RAW noise levels under real-life conditions, I shot this scene with the Nikon COOLPIX A and the Olympus XZ-2, within a few moments of each other at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

The Nikon COOLPIX A has a 28mm equivalent fixed focal length lens. To match its field of the view the zoom lens on the Olympus XZ-2 was set to its 28mm equivalent maximum wide angle position.

The COOLPIX A lacks image stabilisation and it was disabled on the XZ-2 for this tripod-mounted test. All other camera settings were left on the defaults.

The image above was taken with the Nikon COOLPIX A. I’d pre-tested both cameras to determine the aperture that delivered the best quality results, for the COOLPIX A it was f5.6 with the Olympus XZ-2 producing the best quality images at f4. At its base sensitivity setting of 100 ISO the COOLPIX A metered an exposure of 1/4. In order to produce an equivalent exposure on the XZ-2 I applied +0.3EV exposure compensation resulting in a shutter speed of 1/8 also at 100 ISO. As usual both cameras were otherwise left on their default settings.

I processed both sets of files in Adobe Camera RAW using identical settings: Sharpening at 70 / 0.5 / 36 / 10, Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction both set to zero, and the Process to 2012 with the Adobe Standard profile.These settings were chosen to reveal the differences in sensor quality and isolate them from in-camera processing. The high degree of sharpening with a small radius enhances the finest details without causing undesirable artefacts, while the zero noise reduction unveils what’s really going on behind the scenes – as such the visible noise levels at higher ISOs will be much greater than you’re used to seeing in many of my comparisons, but again it’s an approach that’s designed to show the actual detail that’s being recorded before you start work on processing and cleaning it up if desired.

These crops conform fairly emphatically what we saw with the in-camera JPEGs on the previous page. The larger sensor of the COOLPIX A is generating less noise all the way up the ISO sensitivity range, meaning there’s less work for noise processing algorithms to do and better quality results. This is particularly true at the lower end of the sensitivity range where from 100 to 800 ISO the sensor produces very low levels of noise with linear incrmeents at each 1EV increase in sensitivity. As high as 6400 ISO, while there’s plensty of noise around it’s quite fine and isn’t clumping, with the result that edges aren’t breaking up and you can still just about read the text.

Once again it is important to remember the XZ-2 has a brighter aperture than the COOLPIX A, and when both are set to 28mm equivalent coverage, the Olympus enjoys a stop and a third greater light gathering power. So if both cameras were using their maximum apertures and the same shutter speed, then the Nikon COOLPIX A would be forced to select a sensitivity just over double that of the XZ-2. So in the spirit of fairness, you should shift the XZ-2 results down a notch in the table below so that the 100 ISO sample is next to the Nikon at 200 ISO and so on. That said though, the larger sensor of the COOLPIX A quickly eliminates the benefits of a brighter lens on its rival.

A camera with a big sensor outperforming one with a smaller sensor in terms of noise is no big surprise, but the COOLPIX A also manages to provide an additional 4 Megapixels of resolution over the Olympus XZ-2 as well cramming it all in to a smaller, lighter body.

Now head over to my Nikon COOLPIX A sample images to see some more real-life shots in a variety of conditions, or head straight for my Verdict.

Nikon COOLPIX A RAW
 
Olympus XZ-2 RAW
f5.6 100 ISO
f4 100 ISO
f5.6 200 ISO
f4 200 ISO
f5.6 400 ISO
f4 400 ISO
f5.6 800 ISO
f4 800 ISO
     
f5.6 1600 ISO
f4 1600 ISO
     
f5.6 3200 ISO
f4 3200 ISO
     
f5.6 6400 ISO
f4 6400 ISO
     
f5.6 12800 ISO
f4 12800 ISO
     
f5.6 25600 ISO
25600 ISO Not available
 

Nikon COOLPIX A results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

Nikon COOLPIX A vs Olympus XZ-2 Noise JPEG

 
  Nikon COOLPIX A results
1 Nikon COOLPIX A Quality JPEG
2 Nikon COOLPIX A Quality RAW
3 Nikon COOLPIX A Noise JPEG
4 Nikon COOLPIX A Noise RAW
5 Nikon COOLPIX A Sample images

To compare noise levels under real-life conditions, I shot this scene with the Nikon COOLPIX A and the Olympus XZ-2, within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

The Nikon COOLPIX A has a 28mm equivalent fixed focal length lens. To match its field of the view the zoom lens on the Olympus XZ-2 was set to its 28mm equivalent maximum wide angle position.

The COOLPIX A lacks image stabilisation and it was disabled on the XZ-2 for this tripod-mounted test. All other camera settings were left on the defaults.

The image above was taken with the Nikon COOLPIX A. I’d pre-tested both cameras to determine the aperture that delivered the best quality results, for the COOLPIX A it was f5.6 with the Olympus XZ-2 producing the best quality images at f4. At its base sensitivity setting of 100 ISO the COOLPIX A metered an exposure of 1/4. In order to produce an equivalent exposure on the XZ-2 I applied +0.3EV exposure compensation resulting in a shutter speed of 1/8 also at 100 ISO. As usual both cameras were otherwise left on their default settings.

Just a reminder once again that the 16 Megapixel APS-C sized sensor in the COOLPIX is both physically bigger as well as providing higher resolution than the 1/1.7in 12 Megapixel sensor in the Olympus XZ-2. Despite its 4 Megapixel higher resolution, the size difference should, in theory at least, provide the COOLPIX A with better noise performance than the Olympus XZ-2 at the same ISO values.

So how do the crops measure up? At the 100 ISO base sensitivity the COOLPIX A crop looks nice and clean with little if any visible noise. There’s just the beginnings of a fine texture in the 200 ISO crop, but you have look very closely to spot it. Similarly the step up to 400 ISO introduces a tiny bit more texture into the flat areas of colour, but these changes are very marginal. By 800 ISO, though, the cumulative effect makes the texture quite apparent in the 100 percent crop.

At 1600 ISO the increase in noise is accompanied by a slight softening of the fine image detail, but this is still a very good level of detail and 1600 ISO is within the range that would be acceptable for general use and, at a pinch, for full-size reproduction. It’s not until you get to 3200 ISO that the noise begins to get very clumpy and ugly, at less than full size though, the 3200 ISO shot looks OK with a good level of detail, consistent white balance and good saturation.

You can still read the text on the 6400 ISO crop which is impressive, and while it’s good to have the option of 12800 and even 25600 ISO, especially on a compact, they’re not options you’d want to choose other than in an emergency.

The crops from the Olympus XZ-2 start off pretty well by comparison with the COOLPIX A. The 100 ISO crop shows a little more texture than the COOLPIX one, but the difference is slim and the fine detail looks good. There’s a slight step up in the noisy texture at 200, the degree is more than the COOLPIX and starting from a slightly noisier base level. Even so, there isn’t a huge degree of difference between the 200 ISO crops.

At 400 ISO however, the XZ-2 is stuggling to keep pace with the excellent noise characterisitcs of the larger sensor in the COOLPIX A, and by 800 ISO the game is well and truly up, with the XZ-2 crop showing a much higher level of noise and lower level of detail than the COOLPIX A crop. The text on the 1600 ISO crop from the XZ-2 is already illegible which rules it out for genreal purpose shooting. The XZ-2’s sensitivity range tops out at 12800 ISO, but you wouldn’t want to venture beyond 1600 ISO other than in exceptional circumstances.

It is however important to remember the XZ-2 has a brighter aperture than the COOLPIX A, and when both are set to 28mm equivalent coverage, the XZ-2 enjoys a stop and a third greater light gathering power. So if both cameras were using their maximum apertures and the same shutter speed, then the Nikon COOLPIX A would be forced to select a sensitivity just over double that of the XZ-2. So in the spirit of fairness, you should shift the XZ-2 results down a notch in the table below so that the 100 ISO sample is next to the Nikon at 200 ISO and so on. That said though, the larger sensor of the COOLPIX A quickly eliminates the benefits of a brighter lens on its rival.

To find out how much of a role processing plays in keeping noise at bay in these crops take a look at my Nikon COOLPIX A RAW noise results page to see just how much noise is present behind the scenes. Or head over to my NIKON COOLPIX A sample images to see some more real-life shots in a variety of conditions.

Nikon COOLPIX A
 
Olympus XZ-2
f5.6 100 ISO
f4 100 ISO
f5.6 200 ISO
f4 200 ISO
f5.6 400 ISO
f4 400 ISO
f5.6 800 ISO
f4 800 ISO
     
f5.6 1600 ISO
f4 1600 ISO
     
f5.6 3200 ISO
f4 3200 ISO
     
f5.6 6400 ISO
f4 6400 ISO
     
f5.6 12800 ISO
f4 12800 ISO
     
f5.6 25600 ISO
25600 ISO Not available
 

Nikon COOLPIX A results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

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