Nikon Coolpix 950
Words and pictures by Marcus.
Model: Dina Marie. Check out her site at Dinarotica.net
I know that some people think that my reviews seem kind of negative at times. However, every once and a while a product comes out that is just so amazing it's hard for even I to say bad things about it. The Coolpix 950 is one of those. I have very few gripes about this camera and very many praises. I take a lot of pictures for work and play. I've taken over 2200 in the pass 3 months with the Coolpix 950, so I think I know about the cameras good and bad side. Plus I have tested the Kodak DC-50, DC-120, DC-280 digital cameras in the past.
Let's start with the tech stuff. Zoom: 3X optical electric, and 2.5 X digital zoom (Please don't use the digital zoom, it lowers the quality of the photo.). Resolution: three modes; 1600 x 1200, 1024 X 768 and 640 x 480. Each of the three resolutions has three levels of Jpeg compression except the highest which has a fourth non compressed tiff for the highest possible quality. I usually leave the camera in the highest res. with the least amount of Jpeg compression. I find the space limitation of the non compressed image not worth it. (One photo per eight megs of storage!) In my favorite mode I store at least one image per meg. of space. Image size fluctuates depending on what your shooting. E.g. If you take a photo at night with a lot of black in it, less storage space is used. I will also mention that some times I switch to the medium level of compression which allows the user to store twice as many images. I have done a side by side comparison of the two compression levels and I do find the difference negligible. I have even printed out a Super B sized image 13 X 19 inches and been very impressed with the quality of the mid range compression. I don't think most people could tell the difference between the least amount of Jpeg and the second least amount. I must also mention that the 950 has no on board memory but it uses Compact Flash cards which come in sizes up to 128 megs. I'll also say that if speed is important to you, higher speed cards are available which allow the camera to store the images more quickly.
The 950 has three main modes of operation; full auto picture mode, manual mode and play back mode. In full auto, the 950 diligently takes pictures just like any other point and shoot camera. It decides everything for you, too much so in my opinion. (The auto focus is always re-focusing and this wastes power and you can't disable this feature in auto mode.) Luckily there is a manual mode where you can adjust everything from white balance and F- stop to flash usage. The camera is smart enough to remember all of your manual adjustments even when you change the batteries. In playback mode, the 950 displays the pictures shot on it's 2 inch viewscreen or a near by TV with the supplied cable.
Now a little more about batteries. You will be changing the batteries often. All digital cameras use a lot of power and the 950 is no worse than the others. It is my opinion that you really shouldn't use the 950 or any other digital camera for that matter with standard disposable alkaline batteries. I strongly suggest getting the Digipower DPS 2000 nickel-metal hydride charger. $35 will get you the charger and four AA power cells (the 950 takes 4 AA's to work). The Ni-MH cells will last about 5 times longer than standard Alkaline disposable. There is also a complete lack of memory effect, so you can charge them up when they are only half depleted. I can take about 200 photos on a single charge which translates into not changing the batteries during a two hour shoot for Rev-Mag. If you can't find the Digipower brand, you can buy the Olympus brand Ni-MH because it is the same exact product with a different name. That Olympus name will cost you an extra $15 bucks though. That's right, you'll pay $50 for the Olympus version of the same interchangeable product. The part of the camera that sucks back the most power is the LCD monitor. You can easily shut it off with a button but I leave it on because it shows you the exact picture you're about to take. This is not the case with the optical viewfinder which shows a little less of the image than what the camera is about to take. Okay enough about batteries, on to more exciting stuff.
The Coolpix splits in the middle this lets the lens rotate separately from the monitor. This is a most useful feature since it allows you to take a picture of yourself at arms length with someone else in the photo with you and you can accurately frame the shot. This rotation feature also allows you to take photos over your head pointing downwards like this.
One really cool thing about the coolpix 950 is it's ability to take very interesting low light shots easily. Set the camera to manual mode and disable the flash. If you use a tripod and the self timer you can take shots like this. If you press the shutter release twice in self timer mode, it will have only a three second delay instead of the standard 10 sec. You must use a tripod and the timer because in a low light long exposure, even the motion of pressing the shutter release will be enough to blur the photo.
In addition to the standard adjustments that most cameras can make, the 950 can do a few unique tricks. One such trick is the ability to take multiple shots in quick (half second) intervals. It can take up to ten photos in this manner depending on the resolution and compression level. In the mode I use, I can take a run of five pictures. Once you have taken the group of pictures and filled up the cameras temporary memory buffer, you have to wait for it to transfer the images to the compact flash card. Another neat trick is the ability to take black and white photos (which halves the photo size.) I also have to mention the ability to use proprietary Nikkor attachable lens. The most useful one being the 0.66 X wide angle lens. For about $90.00, you can take some really interesting shots. Like the photo of the beautiful Dina Marie and the Schwinn above.
Of course there are a few annoying things about the coolpix 950 which have to be mentioned. For some stupid reason, the camera extends to maximum zoom, every time it is switched on to auto mode. Why can't it just leave the zoom set where the user had it set before it was shut off? This is nothing but a total waist of the batteries. Perhaps Nikon and the major battery companies are in cahoots with each other, It is possible to have the camera go to it's minimum zoom setting by selecting the wide angle option in the menu. Unfortunately, the camera still reverts to maximum zoom when it is turned off. The other complaint I will make about the Coolpix 950 is that I would find it useful for the self timer to be always on in certain situations. (E.g. night photos see above.) In order to activate the self timer, you have to press one button three times and then the shutter release. I will also mention that I have never seen a camera that can have the self timer set to always on. These are pretty minor complaints in my opinion, and shouldn't dissuade anyone from purchasing a Coolpix 950.
Take a look around this web site to see the quality of the shots from the 950. click here to see a shot with out the extra compression I usually put up on the site. Try printing it out on a high quality printer.
The price of all electronic items are always dropping, but you should be able to find a Coolpix 950 for between $770-$850. But don't forget the extra CF card, the 8 meg that ships with the camera is only a teaser size.