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Digital Photography
Opinions, Observations,
Articles, Insights, and Tutorials

Nikon CoolPix 990

New features and beefed up construction show
strong family ties with Nikon's Pro Class cameras...

The new CoolPix 990

Special features include -

  • Selectable 3:4 or 2:3 Aspect Ratios. (I like the 2:3 Aspect Ratio because it produces traditional 35mm film format 4x6 prints without cropping.)
  • "Flexible Program" (P*) exposure mode option, just like the better 35mm and Pro Digitals have. Automatic exposure calculations are maintained while turning the command dial to achieve different combinations of shutter and aperture.
  • Options to retain zoom position, exposure, focus, flash, and EV compensation settings in M-REC mode when power is turned off.
  • New side access memory card slot with secure, rugged hatch door.
  • New rugged, metal threaded tripod mount.
  • Well-written, compact sized owners manual.
  • Improved LCD screen allows use in most outdoor lighting conditions.
  • Easier menu control with the new 4-way multi-selector rocker switch.
  • More intuitive menu interface.
  • Surprisingly long battery life.
  • Larger, more comfortable hand grip.
  • Improved swivel joint feel and fit.
  • Improved focusing ability - less "hunting" problems for focus lock.
  • New self-timer option while using Macro.
  • The included lens cap lanyard is a natural fit over the swivel joint.
    (Sometimes the simplest things are a joy.)

CoolPix 990 Box

What's in the box?

(1) CoolPix 990 Camera
(1) AN-E990 Camera Strap
(1) Lens Cap
(1) Lens Cap Lanyard
(1) UC-E1 USB Cable
(1) EG-900 Video Cable
(4) AA Alkaline Batteries


(1) Lexar 16MB 8x CF Memory Card
(1) "Open Me First" Envelope
(1) (Printed) Camera Manual
(1) (Printed) Fast Track Guide
(1) (Printed) Menu Guide
(1) Software CD-ROM*
(1) Reference CD-ROM*

*The Software CD-ROM includes NikonView Version 3, Altimira Group's Genuine Fractals 2.0 LE, Canto's Cumulus 5.0 LE Image and Asset Management Software, IPIX's Immersive Imaging Software, and QuickTime Video Version 4.

*The Reference CD-ROM includes Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0, Instructions for Using Nikon View Version 3, and Nikon's "Guide to Digital Photography" (Online Camera Manual for the CoolPix 990).

*Note that unlike the CoolPix 800, 900, and 950, the 990 does not come with a soft case.
(A new soft case is available as an optional accessory.)

Sample Pictures

Click on the previews below for a 1024 x 680 pixel full screen jpeg image view.
(Reduced 50% from the 2048 x 1360 pixel original jpeg "fine" images.)

Green Frog
1024x680 pixels, 261 KB Macro
Bikes for Sale
1024x680 pixel, 411 KB Depth of Field
1024x680 pixels, 396 KB Closeup
Follow the Leader
1024x680 pixels, 439 KB Daylight
In the Greenhouse
1024x680 pixel, 176 KB Daylight Macro
Phantom from the Floor
1024x680 pixel, 207 KB Low Light
Dallas Skyline
1024x680 pixels, 245 KB Daylight (@ full wide angle)
1024x680 pixels, 475 KB Daylight

"Beyond Point & Shoot"

Adventures with the CoolPix 990

 Macro photography -

Magazine reviews, web reviews, newsgroup discussions, e-mail, and more... everyone talks about the awesome macro abilities of the Nikon 990. I wholeheartedly agree - this camera is a natural at macro photography, and doesn't need any 'extras' to take dramatic, sharp extreme close-ups.

Some Nikon 990 users have difficulty locking in on a macro focus. In most cases, this results from having the camera at a wide angle lens position. The macro focus works best if the camera lens is not set at full wide angle position. There's a "sweet spot" for the macro setting on the 990, it's indicated on the LCD screen by the flower icon turning yellow when the camera is zoomed into its best focal length range. If you're too close for the desired field of view at the zoomed lens position, back away from the subject rather than zoom the lens out to make your composition adjustment.


Available Light Photography* using the 990's adjustable ISO

(*Also known as "natural light", "existing light", or other similar descriptions of flash-free low light photography.)

The CoolPix 990 does very well in normal outdoor lighting, and also does well as indoors with the automatic flash.

But I also like to take indoor available light pictures... They're so 'natural' looking. They can capture the look and feel of "what you see" in dim or subdued lighting without the harshness often resulting from flash photography.

They can be difficult, though. At 'normal' camera settings, available light photography means slower shutter speeds. Any picture taken slower than about 1/30th of a second will likely be blurred unless the camera is tripod mounted or in some other way held relatively rock-solid. And then, the subject has to be virtually motionless, too.

The only ways to get faster shutter speeds are to increase the lens opening size (aperture) to let more light into the camera, or to increase the sensitivity of the camera using a higher ISO setting. Increasing both are necessary at times to reach a desired minimum shutter speed.

The adjustable sensitivity of the CoolPix 990 is a simple and straightforward way to achieve faster shutter speeds by increasing the ISO (film speed equivalent) of the camera as necessary.

Changing the camera's sensitivity to a higher ISO setting will lessen the quantity of light necessary to take a picture. Shutter speed will be faster, and at a direct mathematical ratio. As an example, with the aperture (lens opening size) constant, if the camera required 1/16 of a second to expose a picture at ISO 100, it would only require 1/32 of a second at ISO 200, or 1/64 of a second at ISO 400. Double the sensitivity (ISO number), half the quantity of light required. And faster shutter speeds lower the risk of blurred pictures. Thus, by merely increasing the ISO sensitivity settings, the risk of blurred pictures in low light conditions can be reduced.

There are plenty of other situations where the use of adjustable ISO can be helpful:

  • Sports photography - increased ISO can mean faster shutter speeds for stop-action photography.
  • Increased depth of field - at a given shutter speed, increased ISO will cause a smaller aperture (lens opening) size. The increased depth of field will mean that the range of objects in focus will be broader.
  • Shallower depth of field - at a given shutter speed, the lowest ISO setting will give you the largest possible aperture size, for that "portrait" look, with the primary subject in focus and the rest of the picture with more of a soft look.

Comments on ISO -

  • An increase in "noise" (grainy look) and a slight loss of picture quality may occur in varying degrees with increased ISO, so there may be a tradeoff to deal with when analyzing the need to adjust the sensitivity. The good news is that the CoolPix 990 is much less susceptible to "noise" at higher ISO settings than most other digital cameras.
  • Use the 'lowest' ISO possible to get the shutter and aperture range you are trying to achieve... Use the default automatic exposure setting of ISO 80 if you can. The lower ISO numbers will give you sharper, richer, "cleaner" looking pictures.
  • If you need a faster (higher) ISO to get to where you want to be, try 200 before you go all the way to 400. Because the "noise" factor and loss of picture quality, though relatively minor compared to other digitals, is still a factor to consider.

Exposure Priority (Shutter or Aperture Priority)

Exposure priority options give you the ability to capture a race car without blurring, or have the background of your picture look as sharp as an object that's only 10 feet away from you. It can get you a focused, crisp view of your primary subject and have the background be faded and blurred looking, "in the background". It can catch the splash of a swimmer in mid-air. It can give just a "slight blur" to a runner against a sharp, crisp background to give a sense of speed.

Setting exposure priority tells the camera's internal processor to "look at me first". With a priority setting made, the camera then adjusts its shutter speed (if aperture priority was set) or aperture (if shutter priority was set) to let enough light in to expose the picture properly.

You can't set both as "priority" at the same time. (It would eliminate the automatic exposure.) That's because automatic exposure is a function of aperture (how big of an opening the light passes through) and shutter speed (how fast the shutter opens an shuts to let the light through the aperture). If you manually controlled both, you would no longer have automatic exposure.

There are three primary reasons for using exposure priority:

Stop-action pictures. Use faster shutter speeds as your "priority" setting.

Controlling depth of field. By using aperture settings as the "priority", you can increase or decrease the range of sharp focus (depth of field).

To reduce the likelihood of blurring from "camera shake". Some people have a hard time holding a camera rock steady when pressing the shutter button. Also, on telephoto shots or extreme close-ups, even slight camera movement is accentuated, resulting in blurred pictures. Manually setting shutter speed is a way to deal with "camera shake".

*Rule of thumb to prevent "camera shake" - Set the shutter speed to around (1/focal length) of a second or faster. In other words, if the lens is at full wide angle position (38mm), be sure to have at least 1/30 of a second. At full optical telephoto (115mm), be sure to have at least 1/125 of a second as your shutter speed. If the automatic mode already has you in those ranges, don't worry about it.

Again, remember the basic rule of exposure priority - With a priority setting made, the camera adjusts its shutter speed (if aperture priority was set) or aperture (if shutter priority was set) to let enough light in to expose the picture properly.

Use each to your intent - if you get out of bounds enough to cause an over or underexposure problem, the camera will warn you.

  • Shutter Priority - Shutter priority speeds range from 1 / 1,000 sec. to 8 sec. After selecting the desired shutter speed, the camera automatically calculates the aperture required for a proper exposure. Note that high shutter speeds result in larger apertures, and slow shutter speeds result in smaller apertures. If the selected shutter speed will cause an over or under exposure, the shutter setting will 'blink' on the LCD screen with the shutter button pressed 1/2 way. (Choose another shutter speed or go back to the automatic mode.) The shutter speed will be shown in the control panel and LCD monitor. In the control panel, fractions of a second are shown without a numerator, with the result that a speed of 1 / 2 sec. is shown as 2, a speed of 1 / 4 sec. as 4, etc.
  • Aperture Priority - Allows you to choose your own preferred aperture setting. F-values range from f2.5 to f11.7. The 2.5 value is only available at near wide angle lens position or wider, the 11.7 value is only available at near full zoom position or greater. After selecting the desired aperture, the camera automatically calculates the shutter speed required for a proper exposure. The chosen f-number will be shown in the control panel and LCD monitor. Note that in addition to increasing focus depth, small apertures (high f-numbers) produce lower shutter speeds. Larger apertures (low f-numbers) can be used to blur background details, increase shutter speeds (up to 1/1,000 sec.), and increase the effective range of the flash. If the selected aperture will cause an over or under exposure, the aperture setting will 'blink' on the LCD screen with the shutter button pressed 1/2 way. (Choose another aperture setting or go back to the automatic mode.)

    * Additional information on using shutter and aperture control is very nicely covered in Chapter One of Dennis Curtin's "A Short Course in Creative Digital Photography"


Exposure Compensation

The automatic exposure calculations can be modified in any exposure mode by using the 'EV +/-' option. (EV stands for Exposure Value.)

* Note: A well written explanation of EV (Exposure Values) is located at Toomas Taam's Photo Website - Exposure Values .

In 1/3 steps, up to EV + or - 2.0, the exposure values will be increased or decreased. This is done by increasing or decreasing shutter speed and aperture from the standard calculated values. As such, you can "bracket" exposures on a subject to ensure the desired results... take a group of pictures above and below the standard calculated exposure and you're likely to get it "just right". Or, in a given situation, if you "know" from your experience that a picture will turn out too dark or too light, you can compensate accordingly. A general indicator of the expected results can be seen in the LCD screen before the picture is taken. (And of course reviewed in the LCD screen afterwards, also.) 

Matrix, Center-Weighted, or Spot Metering

  • 3D-Matrix Metering - This is the default metering method, and probably the best for general use. Here the camera measures the brightness and contrast of the field of view in 256 areas, and adjusts exposure to a level that captures both bright and shaded portions of the image, also taking into account the distance to the focal point. Exposure is calculated by comparing measurements from the measured areas of the field of view with a preprogrammed reference library of typical compositions, producing the best possible setting for the photo.
  • Center-Weighted - The camera measures light in the entire field of view, but assigns the greatest weight in its calculations to the center portion. Good for conditions where very dark or very bright areas in the background are of relatively minor importance in the overall picture, but could cause an over or under exposure if calculated in the overall scene.
  • Spot Metering - The camera measures light only in a small area at the center of the frame. The LCD screen clearly shows a boxed outline of the metered area. (Very useful.) The exposure is fixed and locked when the shutter release button is half pressed, so that the camera can be moved to a different point of view if desired, and still retain the original metering set point. The main intent of spot metering is to ensure that the primary subject will be correctly exposed even if the background is very bright or very dark. The secondary benefit of spot metering (because of the exposure lock) is that the primary subject can be repositioned in the field of view, yet still be correctly exposed. 

Add-On Lenses

The camera's 28mm lens threads accept readily available add-on lenses, including teleconverters, fisheye lenses, 360o special effects kits, wide angle converters, monoculars, and full sized telescope adapters.

If you prefer "factory stuff", Nikon builds high quality 2x and 3x teleconverter lenses, a fisheye lens, and a wide angle converter designed specifically for the CoolPix series cameras.

At the Dallas Farmer's Market
Click preview above for a 1024 x 768, 609 KB view

One of my favorites is Nikon's WC-E24 Wide Angle Converter Lens. It's compact, well built, comes with lens caps & a nice little soft case, and simply screws directly onto the camera's lens. (No adapter necessary.) It converts the standard 38mm equivalent wide angle view by a factor of .66 to a much wider 25mm equivalent view. As a side effect, the wide view has a mild fisheye lens effect, which can add a bit of fun, drama, or flavor to the look.

(Sample picture taken with the 990 and the WC-E24 Converter shown at left.)

Flash Options

External speedlights can provide a clean, smooth looking flash that evenly illuminates the area for a pleasant and natural look, even at close range. A close range example taken with the 990 and a Nikon SB-28DX speedlight is shown below.

SB-28 Accessory Speedlight Closeup Flash
Click preview above for a 1024x680 pixel, 335 KB view

The 990 has a feature to turn off the camera's onboard flash while using an external speedlight. This is important, because the onboard flash is extremely close to the camera lens. And the resulting near-zero angle flashback into the lens from the built-in flash is the primary cause of the notorious CoolPix "red-eye" syndrome. Turning off the camera's onboard flash is desirable while using an external speedlight, because "red-eye" is seldom a problem with an elevated or otherwise indirect flash angle.

Additionally, the power of an external speedlight can extend the flash range of the 990 to professional class distances.

CoolPix 990, SB-28DX Speedlight, and SK-E900 Flash Bracket


The Nikon SK-E900 Multi-Flash Bracket (shown at left mounted on a Bogen tripod) is made for the Nikon 900, 950, or 990. It includes a hot shoe & cable to allow the use of a Nikon compatible external speedlight in synch with the camera.

Simple to assemble and use, the camera / flash combo can be safely and securely carried around with one hand, yet quickly pulled up for steady two-handed use.

Or, it has a threaded center mount for use with a tripod, as shown.

Yes, the camera & flash are mounted reverse to what the SK-E900 flash bracket instructions show, but I prefer it this way because it elevates the flash higher to help eliminate "red-eye". The 990 / SB-28 combo fits quite nicely with this arrangement.

White Balance - Automatic isn't always the right choice.

Digital photos taken outdoors or with direct flash normally come out with very good color balance and tone. The color "temperature" of daylight and direct flash are very close to each other, and the camera's normal automatic white balance system does just fine. Slight problems, if any, are easily corrected with minor software tweaking.

But it's a different story for digital photos taken under poor or artificial lighting conditions. This goes for all digitals, including the 990.

What you see with your eyes is not necessarily what you get after the camera processes the pictures... You'll often get odd colors, unnatural skin tones, and a yellow, brown, blue, green, or red cast to your whole scene, even though it might not appear to be a problem when checked on the camera's LCD review screen. You think your pictures are ok, until you actually pull them up on your computer screen or print them. These kinds of color problems are difficult (sometimes nearly impossible) to completely correct after the fact.

The solution is to preset the camera's white balance using available predetermined settings, or measure and preset the values with the camera itself under existing shooting conditions before you take your pictures.

Available (predetermined) white balance menu settings (fluorescent, incandescent, cloudy, flash, etc.) certainly help to get the right color balance, but are still a bit of a gamble.

On the other hand, measured & preset white balance will get it right - consistently.

Some pro digital photographers measure and preset white balance wherever they shoot - outdoors, indoors, bright sun, shade, whatever... and carry a special "white card" (available at better camera stores) with them at all times just for that purpose.

I personally don't go to that extent, but I do use the back of my business card, a white envelope, or whatever I have handy that's mostly white (a bit of print here and there doesn't affect the reading) for a quick & easy reference for the camera to measure & preset white balance on most of my inside photography.

Reality -

Measured white balance preset options are available on most good digital cameras, but rarely used. Even those photographers who understand the need for accurate white balance don't like to mess with it because it can seem like such a hassle... Too many buttons to push, too complicated for practical use.

Good News -

The CoolPix 990's preset & measure white balance option is fast & easy to use, thanks a simple menu procedure using the new 4-way multi-selector rocker switch on the camera's back. Once you use it a few times, it's a cinch to master.

The procedure goes like this:

White Balance - View #1

While in the M-REC shooting mode,

  • Press the camera's MENU button.
  • The first item (by default) is WHITE BALANCE - press the right arrow on the 4-way switch, and a drop-down white balance submenu will appear.
  • Arrow down one click in the submenu using the 4-way switch to the WHITE BALANCE PRESET selection.

White Balance - View #2

  • Press the right arrow on the 4-way switch, and a drop-down option of CANCEL or MEASURE will be displayed.
  • Arrow down one click with the 4-way switch to MEASURE.
  • Point the camera at a white object and press the right arrow on the 4-way switch.


When you're finished shooting, I recommend resetting the White Balance back to AUTO, for obvious reasons... (like forgetting that you left the White Balance preset on a no longer valid white point.)

White Balance Measured Preset Example
Photo taken with available lighting (no flash).
Click preview above for a 1024x680 pixel, 431 KB view

Example - The available lighting for this scene was a combination of fluorescent strip lights and natural sunlight filtering in through the showroom windows. A near-guaranteed problem...

Test shots using regular auto, fine, fluorescent, incandescent, cloudy, and flash white balance settings all produced muddy looking, tinted (or a combination of both) results.

But the measured white balance using the "White Balance Preset" feature delivered this picture, with accurate, crisp,and clear colors.

Note: White Balance is always on
AUTO while shooting in the A-REC mode, regardless of settings made in the M-REC mode.

Good books on digital photography are hard to find... here's one!

Click to link to the "Mastering Nikon Compact Digital Cameras" website

Peter iNova's "Mastering Nikon Compact Digital Cameras" is primarily written for owners of the popular CoolPix 950 & 990 series cameras, and carries a wealth of extremely useful, accurate & interesting knowledge applicable to all kinds of digital photography.

Special Adobe PhotoShop techniques & filters will please (and surprise) even the most seasoned digital veteran. There are 245+ filter settings included with the book, preformatted as Adobe PhotoShop Actions for your use in a wide range of color correcting or special effect situations.

No matter what kind of digital camera you have, this book's a winner.

And if you have a CoolPix 990 it's a must!


Nikon CoolPix 990 Specifications -


0.8475 inch (diagonal measurement) High Density CCD.
Total number of pixels: 3.34 million

Image sizes

Full-sized @ 3:4 Aspect Ratio 2,048 x 1,536 pixels
Full-sized @ 2:3 Aspect Ratio 2,048 x 1,360 pixels
XGA-size 1,024 x 768 pixels
VGA-size 640 x 480 pixels


3x Zoom-Nikkor
35mm format equivalent to 38-115mm
Construction: 9 elements in 8 groups


Contrast-detect TTL AF
4,896-step autofocus control including macro range
5-area Multi AF or Spot AF selectable

Focus modes:

1) Continuous AF mode (when using LCD monitor)
2) Single AF mode (when not using LCD monitor and/or selectable from shooting menu)
3) Manual (50 steps from 0.8 in. to infinity with Peaking Indication)

Shooting distance:

11.8 in. to infinity
0.8 in. to infinity in Macro mode

Optical viewfinder:

Real-image zoom viewfinder; magnification: 0.4–1.1x
Frame coverage: approx. 85%
Diopter adjustment: -2–+1 DP
LED indicators for focus and flash

LCD monitor:

1.8-in., 110,000-dot, low-temp. polysilicon TFT LCD
Brightness/Hue adjustment
Frame coverage: approx. 97%

Auto OFF mode:

30 sec.; can be set manually (1/5/30 min.)


File format: Compressed JPEG or Uncompressed TIFF
Media: CompactFlash (CF) Type I Card (only)

Shooting modes:

1) Fully automatic (A-REC) mode
2) Custom (M-REC) mode*
* Three combinations of custom settings can be memorized within M-REC.

Shooting menu:

1) White balance
2) Exposure metering
3) Continuous
4) Best-Shot Selector (BSS)
5) Lens Converters (WA Adapter, Teleconverter, Etc.)
6) Tone compensation
7) Image Sharpening
8) Digital zoom option (stepless, up to 4x)

Capture modes:

1) Single
2) Continuous
3) Multi-Shot 16 (16 frames in 1/16 size)
4) VGA Sequence
5) Ultra High-speed Continuous (approx. 30 fps for 80 QVGA-size images)
6) Movie (40 sec. for QVGA-size images at 15 fps)

Exposure metering:

4-mode TTL metering -
1) 256-segment Matrix
2) Center-Weighted
3) Spot
4) Spot AF Area


Mechanical and charge-coupled electronic shutter -
Shutter Speeds 8 to 1/1,000 sec.
Bulb (maximum 60 sec.)


7-blade iris diaphragm
3 EV range in 1/3 EV steps
Aperture Ranges f2.5-f11.7 *
* f2.5 achieved only at wide angle, f11.7 only at full optical telephoto position. (As observed in my own camera.)

Exposure control:

1) Programmed Auto with Flexible Program
2) Shutter-Priority Auto (with Sensitivity control)
3) Aperture-Priority Auto
4) Manual
5)Exposure Compensation (±2 EV in 1/3 EV steps)
6)Auto Bracketing (5 steps within ±2/3 EV)


A-REC Mode: Approximately 80
M-REC Mode: Auto*, 100, 200, 400
*(Note: Auto ISO is always at 100 unless lighting conditions require higher values to achieve acceptable exposure. If so, the camera automatically raises the sensitivity to compensate, and an ISO icon appears on the LCD.)

Exposure range:

EV -2–+15.5 (W), EV -0.8–+16.7 (T) (ISO 100 equivalent)

White balance:

1) Matrix Auto White Balance with TTL control
2) 5-mode Manual with 7-step fine tuning
3) Preset


3 or 10 second duration

Built-in Speedlight:

Guide number: 30 (at ISO 100, ft.)
Flash control: sensor flash system

Flash modes:

1) Auto Flash
2) Flash Cancel
3) Anytime Flash
4) Slow Sync
5) Red-Eye Reduction

External Speedlight:

Multi-flash sync terminal connects to external Nikon Speedlight SB-28/28DX/26/25/24/22s through the Multi-Flash Bracket Unit SK-E900; Built-in Speedlight can be turned off when using an external Speedlight.

Playback menu:

1) 1 frame
2) Thumbnail (4 or 9 segments)
3) Slide show
4) Zoom playback (stepless up to 3x)
5) Histogram indication & highlight point display

Delete function:

Deletes all frames or selected frames


1) USB interface
2) Serial interface (Windows or Macintosh)

Video output:

NTSC or PAL (selectable)

I/O terminals:

Power input
Video output
Digital output terminal (USB/Serial)
Sync terminal for external Speedlight

Power requirements:

4 - 1.5V alkaline "AA"-size (L40) batteries*
*(1.2V Ni-MH or 1.2V NiCd "AA"-size batteries can also be used)
1.5V FR6 lithium for internal clock (included and installed)
AC adapter (optional) may be used instead of AA Batteries.

Battery life:

Approx. 1.5 hrs. when using LCD monitor and four 1.5V LR6 alkaline "AA"-size (L40) batteries at room temperature (68°F).

Dimensions (W x H x D):

Approx. 5.9 x 3.1 x 1.5 in.

(without battery):

Approx. 13.1 oz.