Fixed-lens, 8-megapixel digital camera with10x optical zoom

The new generation of 8-megapixel, fixed-lens, prosumer digital cameras has stimulated fierce competition among manufacturers. Nikon already has the Coolpix 8400 and 8700, and now introduces the Coolpix 8800, the first 8-megapixel, fixed-lens Nikon camera that has Vibration Reduction and a 10x optical zoom. The lens has an impressive range of 35-350mm with an F2.8-8 aperture. The camera uses either Type I or II CF cards (not included).

Painter/photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson said that a camera should feel like a fine brush in your hands; however, the Coolpix 8800 with its 1 lb, 6 oz magnesium-alloy body doesn’t seem to be well balanced because of the bulk of the large lens. When you turn on the camera, the camera’s lens extends and is ready to take pictures in 2.5 seconds. The zoom lens responds quickly and locks focus with a half-press of the shutter release but the screen doesn’t indicate what focal length you’ve selected. Also, I found the placement of the zoom’s rocker arm control to the right of the viewfinder difficult to use; I’d prefer it in front nearer the shutter.

You can compose your shot using either the LCD or the electronic viewfinder (EVF). The bright, 1.8″ LCD monitor has an anti-glare coating and a hinge that lets it flip out to the side and rotate smoothly in an arc for convenient shooting from the waist, overhead, or with a tripod. The autofocus (AF) matrix option works well, letting you select from nine focus areas. Critical manual focusing is difficult as there are no screen measurements to tell you the exact distance from your subject. The AF-assist lamp works well in low-light situations; however, the LCD and EVF become grainy, and viewing quality is poor.

With the Vibration Reduction turned on, I got good results with handheld shots at shutter speeds of 1/30th second. Telephoto shots and panning also improved noticeably. The mode dial includes 15 presets as well as Movie mode and the usual Shutter- and Aperture-Priority, fully Automatic, Manual, and Program modes. In Movie mode, the Coolpix 8800 can take time-lapsed still images at specified intervals of 30 seconds to 60 minutes and then incorporate them into a QuickTime movie—very nice! Best Shot Selector is a unique feature that automatically selects the best exposure from a series of shots and the Macro feature is excellent, focusing down to 1.2″.

The camera is generally responsive except if you’re shooting in RAW or TIFF format: Using these formats, you’re locked out, waiting 10-15 seconds while the Coolpix 8800 writes to your card. The 8800 has excellent automatic white balance and produces sharp photographs and accurate colors but I have two caveats: I found printing RAW files much above 13×9 or using an ISO above 100 produced noise in the shadow areas. The camera lacks high ISOs with a limited range of 100-400.

The new EN-EL7 rechargeable battery is proprietary and can’t be replaced with AA batteries. It had sufficient life to let me shoot 200 RAW files per charge.

The Coolpix 8800 is packaged with Picture Project, proprietary software that includes basic image editing and a Photoshop plug-in to process RAW files. As of this writing, Adobe’s new DNG converter and Camera Raw haven’t been updated to work with the Coolpix 8800’s NEF (Nikon Electronic File) RAW files. For $100 more, you can purchase the excellent Nikon Capture software. For $200 more, you can buy Nikon’s D70 digital SLR with lens.

PRICE: $999.95
FOR: Mac or Windows
FROM: Nikon Corporation
PHONE: 800-645-6689
WEB: www.nikondigitalusa.com
RATING: 3.5

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