Nikon Coolpix 990
Several other camera manufacturers have introduced 3.3 megapixel cameras and now Nikon joins the group with the Coolpix 990. If you’ve used or seen the Coolpix 950, the 990 will look and behave the same except it has a 3.34 megapixel count. Just upping a pixel count doesn’t necessarily make a better camera, but Nikon’s engineers did a great job of retaining the popular features of the earlier models in the Coolpix line while increasing the capabilities of the 990 over the 950.
The Coolpix 990 is a fairly small, lightweight CompactFlash-based camera. The specifications are impressive and there’s no reason why every digital photographer and many film professionals will not find the Coolpix 990 a perfect fit in a camera bag. At 13 ounces, it’s not a heavy camera to carry. As you’ll see there’s a lot to like in this camera and very few nits to pick. It’s a solid five out of five.
The Coolpix 990 comes with only a 16MB CompactFlash memory card but you can add any of the CompactFlash cards up to 96MB (including Lexar’s 4X versions). At the highest resolution you’re not going to cram too many shots onto a 16MB card (one picture only, in fact!) but at the Fine resolution mode you will get ten shots, while Normal mode stores about twenty on the 16MB card. Moving to Basic mode gives you 40 shots on the 16MB card. The highest resolution mode is stored in a TIFF file at 2048x1536 with no compression at all. The output is stunning, but you’d better be sure of your single shot!
Battery life with four AA cells was just over an hour with the rear LCD in constant use. If you use the LCD sparingly (for quick composing and previewing) you’ll extend the battery life somewhat, but we never did get more than four hours from a set of batteries. Take lots of spare batteries with you on extended photo shoots! An optional AC adapter is available if you can use the camera tethered.
The real LCD is brighter and more detailed than the LCD on the Coolpix 950, offering a good look at the subject even in direct sunshine. The viewfinder is acceptable but doesn’t offer the direct feedback the LCD screen provides. Further, the viewfinder has only about 85% frame coverage, which means you’ll be guessing about the edges of your photos if you use the viewfinder. The LCD is better with almost 97% frame coverage.
One of the buzzwords Nikon must have had in mind when developing the Coolpix 990 is flexibility. There’s a lot of “big camera” features on the 990, some reminiscent of the much more expensive D1. For example, focus can be continuous, single (at time of clicking) or manual. Exposure metering is selected from one of four modes including spot. Exposure control can be fully automatic, shutter priority, aperture priority, or manual. Automatic bracketing is supported, which is a nice feature to have in some shooting conditions. You can also perform in-camera exposure compensation over a couple of stops range.
There’s lots of little customizable details with the Coolpix 990 (most of which many users will never touch). An auto-shutoff feature can be set for any length of time, for example, and there’s two autotimer modes (3 and 10 seconds). White balance can be varied over a useful range, although few digital photographers bother with these controls.
There are several capture modes ranging from single shot to continuous, as well as a Movie mode that provides 40 seconds of images on a CompactFlash card. There are also two multi-shot continuous modes of varying qualities.
Flash and Zoom
The internal flash is small, rated at a Guide Number of 30 at ISO 100. This works for close-up shots and fill flash, but won’t give much coverage beyond a few feet. The camera can be synced to most SpeedLights and other flash systems. We tested it with a SpeedLight SS 24 and a big Metz flash gun with complete success. In fact, up to five off-camera flashes can be directly controlled by the Coolpix 990, but it’s unlikely you’ll go that far with this camera. One camera setting, AnyTime flash, adds the correct amount of flash to fill as needed and will often save marginal shots from deletion. Red eye reduction is also available. Naturally, using the flash depletes the four AA batteries quickly.
The lens on the Coolpix 990 is a glass sandwich with aspherical correction and a coating applied. The lens performed well in resolution tests although was a slight aberration at the extreme edges of our test unit (unlikely to be noticeable in normal use even at Fine resolution modes). The zoom range of the lens is 8 to 24mm (equivalent to about 35 to 110mm with a 35mm camera). The range gives you good coverage for panoramic as well as portrait shots, but won’t provide good close-ups of distant objects. Optional Coolpix add-on lenses are fully supported including fish-eye and telephoto (obviously at additional cost).
The little things
The Coolpix 990 includes a Lexar USB JumpShot connector for downloading photos to a computer. This is by far a much faster and convenient method of moving images around than connecting the camera directly. The Lexar system makes the CompactFlash card appear as a removable drive to your computer. Nikon is also bundling some image editing software with the Coolpix 990, although our early evaluation unit was missing the CD-ROM.
The supplied documentation does of good job of explaining the features of the camera, and for those who don’t read manuals there are Fast Track Guides for getting the camera set up and functioning in a few minutes.
The Nikon Coolpix 990 is an excellent 3.3 megapixel camera combining lots of adjustability for the more advanced photographer as well as simple point-and-shoot capabilities for those who don’t want to bother with the details. The image quality is excellent, and the wide pixel count allows you to crop and adjust photos in your computer for the best image without suffering pixellation. The Coolpix 990 is the best of the new 3.3 megapixel cameras we’ve tested.