Articles, Insights, and Tutorials
Nikon CoolPix 900 Digital Camera
The "Silver Bullet" that
Sample Photos -
Click on the thumbnail pictures below for full screen viewing
Notes - All photos taken in the camera's "fine" quality and full sized resolution (1280X960) and resized to 640X480 pixels at around 100KB each using ThumbsPlus. At this reduced size, very little quality is lost, and the pictures will download to your screen quickly.
The file sizes of the pictures are shown below the thumbnails in approximate kilobytes (bytes x 1000) to give you an idea of download time.
Ball Game Telephoto
Wide Angle B-25J
Secret Hiding Place
North Dallas Aquarium
Wide Angle Outside
I Couldn't Wait -
After looking at the early press releases, and reviewing the new camera specifications from Nikon's site, I had my CoolPix 900 shipped to me via "Next Day Air" the moment they were released for sale. I couldn't wait! It looked to me like it was just what I was looking for in a digital camera.
And after hundreds and hundreds of pictures under a wide variety of conditions, it has definitely proven itself to be worthy of my expectations.
The Cavanaugh Flight Museum here in the North Dallas area was the site for my first test shots. I had taken lots of pictures there before, and could critically compare the new Nikon "heads up" with my Kodak DC-210 and Agfa ePhoto 1280 cameras.
The first thing I found with the Nikon was that most of the compensations and adjustments I learned through the years with my other digicams turned out to be unnecessary.
For example, low light or high contrast shooting situations on my other digital cameras often required major compensations in camera settings or lighting in order to get workable pictures.
Anticipating similar characteristics with the new Nikon, I thought I'd be smart and adjust accordingly before I took any pictures inside the dimly lit hangars at the air museum. Wrong. Turns out I didn't need to do anything.
Not knowing what to expect for my first set of pictures inside the hangars, I took three pictures of each subject. First, I manually increased the E.V. (exposure value) by +2.0, then reduced it to +1.0, then switched to fully automatic on each subject. (I always disable the flash to eliminate glare and bounceback inside the hangars, so I was sure from previous experiences at the same location with other cameras that everything would probably be too dark unless force compensated in advance.) But it turned out that no adjustments at all were necessary. The best pictures were all on "automatic". Wow! - I thought.
Outside the hangars, it was "high noon" and extremely bright. One of my favorite airplanes was out on the tarmac under the blazing Texas sun. Usually this is a setup for pretty rough digital pictures... typically they turn out with a dark or dull fuzzy look.
I left the camera on full automatic, and had no problems. A crisp, clear, well balanced picture.
Same situation with the "macro" pictures I tried. Flash disabled, and "automatic" settings gave me the best results.
I've grown to enjoy the camera immensely for several key reasons:
- It's an eye catcher- its look of quality and design brings out lots of "ooo's and ahhh's" when people see it.
- It's very well built - solid, precise fits with the camera body and all the doors, compartments, switches, knobs, and even the carrying case.
- Fast cycle time between pictures. Approximately 5 seconds between pictures. This allows just enough time for a quick review of the previous shot on the LCD screen to confirm basic composure of the picture just taken. Any quicker, and I wouldn't be able to discern anything from the previous shot.
- Consistently clear, sharp, and balanced pictures in blazing, bright sunlight... One of the toughest tests for a digital camera.
- Simple basic controls, along with easy and uncomplicated access to the advanced controls.
- Fits in my shirt pocket if I want it to - and here's why I do that at times... First of all, for reference to every day attire, I tried it in a normal, common, size "large" Tommy Hilfiger button-down collar sport shirt with normal sized pockets. And while the camera is a little too bulky and heavy to keep in a shirt pocket all the time, it does slip into the pocket easily, which keeps the camera from swinging or bumping around when you have the camera's oversized "binocular length" carrying strap around your neck. And that's a pretty handy feature... The camera is right there, like a set of binoculars, ready to take a snapshot. Your hands and wrists are free from loops or straps as you walk around. And then it can't fall, either.
- That oversized strap I just mentioned... At first, I was leery of such a long strap, when I was used to the short ones on the Agfa and the Kodak. But now, I've grown to prefer it around my neck rather than on my wrist. It's out of the way, but right there when I need it.
- Exposure options - The ability to quickly switch to Spot, Matrix, or Center Weighted metering.
A tip for taking pictures outdoors in very bright sunlight conditions...
Set your "manual" record exposure to "spot metering". Lock onto (half way down on the shutter button) your primary subject, then compose your picture. The spot metering will help the light balance in the picture. The default metering (and the only metering available in "automatic record" mode) is "matrix", which will average in the bright sky and usually cause a "dark looking" picture.
Simple switching back and forth between the "automatic" mode and programmable "manual" mode for picture taking.
Speaking of the programmable mode (called "M Record" as opposed to "A Record" for the automatic mode) - the camera remembers all the programmable settings when you turn it off except the flash. So the next time you turn it on, you won't have to reenter all your settings. This is good.
Crystal clear LCD reviews of the pictures taken- and unlike other digital cameras, the LCD is a pretty accurate rendition of the actual exposure and balance you will end up with on your computer after uploading.
Focus settings - The ability to quickly and easily switch between auto focus, fixed focus, or macro.
Important notes on focus settings...
Autofocus - Use the default autofocus mode if you want a specific target sharply focused. While in the autofocus mode, the camera's sensors constantly work at focusing on an object in the center of your viewfinder (or LCD). You'll hear the lens focus motor going bz-z-z...bz-z-z-z...b-z-z-z. Press the shutter button 1/2 way down to lock the focus. If the camera has a stabilized focus, a "solid green light" on the right side of the optical viewfinder frame lights up and "stays solid green". (The little green light is easily seen) Don't bother taking a picture if you have a "blinking green light". (And the camera will let you take one even if blinking) If the light is blinking, the camera isn't properly focused, and your picture will probably be junk. Out of focus. Blurred looking. Fuzzy.
If you can't get the camera to lock focus on your subject, point the center of view of the camera at another object approximately the same distance, press the shutter button slightly, and see if you can get that "steady green light" which locks the focus. Then, still holding the button slightly down, move over and recenter your picture. The "solid green light" stays on, and when you snap the picture, it will be focused.
Fixed focus (Infinity) - If your picture won't lock on with the steady green light, or for "landscape" pictures where you desire great depth of field in your focus range, you probably should switch the camera to fixed focus mode. Here, the camera focus is preset at about 100 feet. Also works well for distant subjects. The "green light" always glows steadily when you press the shutter.
To switch to fixed focus, press the second button from the left on top of the camera to get the "mountain range" icon. You can switch back again, or the camera will return to autofocus the next time you turn it off and on.
Fixed focus mode is also useful for situations where you anticipate the need for an instant candid picture. No waiting time necessary for focus lock and the like.
Macro - Extreme close-ups. Also falls under the exact same "blinking green light" rules as normal autofocus. Use only for subjects around 8" to 20" distance from the camera. I've found I get sharper pictures while in macro by backing away slightly (towards the 20" limit) and then "zooming in" to frame my subject.
General Information -
"Picture storage" information with CompactFlash Disks in the Nikon 900 using 1280 X 960 resolution - At "fine" quality, approximately 1 & 1/2 pictures per megabyte. At "normal" quality, approximately 3 pictures per megabyte. And at "basic" quality, approximately 6 pictures per megabyte. In the "real world", the camera will take a lot more pictures than the estimated capacities I've listed. It all depends on how much "digital information" is in each picture. Lots of colors, depth, and detail take up "more bytes". And the published capacity estimates are pretty much based on "worst case scenario". (The same principle applies to all digital cameras)
"Formatting" your CompactFlash Disks - I strongly recommend reformatting your memory cards inside the camera before using them. Although all cards come generically "pre formatted" and will work "as is", I have found enhanced camera performance by formatting memory cards directly to the camera's operating system. Improved shutter response and picture processing times. The Nikon 900 has a menu item specifically for this. In fact, I never use the "erase all" option if I need to clear a memory card, I simply reformat the card inside the camera. (Again, this principle applies to all digital cameras that offer a "format" option.)
The in-depth camera manual on the "Reference CD" is excellent and very comprehensive. I printed the entire 77 page manual on my inkjet printer and set it into a $2.50 discount store binder. This has been great - all the answers for camera operations and functions are right in front of me to refer to if I have a question instead of having to browse through the CD on my computer using Adobe Acrobat.
Battery life has been what I consider to be "very good"... But I don't use throw-away batteries. I only use the rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries. (I keep 3 sets, just in case I go crazy and shoot zillions of pictures.) I often take 40 - 50 shots at a time on a single set of batteries when I'm in the mood to take pictures, and still have power remaining. This also includes reasonable time for playback reviews and pre-shot position adjustments. And that's even when I leave my LCD on all the time. (Which I usually do.) So before you get too frustrated with the battery situation, get NiMH's and a charger.
Also, I don't recommend battery power to upload pictures to the computer. Not only does it harshly drain the batteries, it's a very slow process. I strongly recommend a "card reader" for picture transfer.
I use an internal PCMCIA card reader, but there are also many external card readers available that simply plug into your computer. Neither type require any of your camera's power supply. External card readers are FAST. Internal card readers are almost instantaneous!
If you can't get a card reader, get an A/C power supply to upload your pictures to the computer with the cable interface.
Want Wide Angle?
I recommend Nikon's genuine "Model WC-E24 Wide Converter Lens" made especially for the CoolPix 900 & 900s. (2 sample pictures of aircraft taken with the wide angle lens can be seen in the sample pictures.)
Changes on the updated "900s" model - introduced in October 1998
Using exactly the same optics and picture taking "heart and soul" as the original 900, Nikon has added a few enhancements. (As you can see, there's no reason to panic or feel "left out" if you have an original 900.)
- A lens cap.
- User settable timeout values while in the 'record' mode.
(The default 30 second timeout is way too short for most users. The original 900 required reprogramming the camera with an aftermarket software application to modify timeout settings - and many owners were reluctant to do that.)
- 1/2 steps in E.V. (Exposure Value) compensation manual adjustments.
(The original 900 had full step adjustments of + / - 1.0 and 2.0)
- Added Flash-Synch plug-in port for external Nikon speedlights.
- Equipped with an 8MB CompactFlash memory card (instead of 4MB).
- Card format function available in the "play" mode.
- Free "Duke Nukem" software game included in the box.