Bill Pierce
Nuts & Bolts

Nikon Coolpix 950 Review

Digital still cameras that break the two megapixel level aren't new, but ones that do it without breaking the bank are new.  

While "professional" digital still cameras can cost up to $30,000, the Nikon CoolPix 950 packs 2.11 million pixels and has a list price of $1,000. Street prices are considerably cheaper.

None of this would mean anything if the CoolPix 950 was a second-rate camera. But it isn't. While clearly designed with a broad consumer market in mind (the first one I saw was in the hands of a contractor using it to document interiors), it has the quality needed to deliver professional images to newspapers and magazines.  

No bigger than (excuse us, Nikon) a Leica, and considerably lighter, the 950 is ideal for the traveling Platypus who is lugging equipment for several media. It also delights me because it is a camera that can deliver quality results without attracting much attention to the photographer. Here are the more important specifics about the 950.

Images are stored on an 8MB CompactFlash card. If you want, you can take one 6MB Tiff image without any compression. I cannot think of a single reason to do that; the difference between that and the top level of compressed JPEG image is, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable.  You can do eight images on a card with a 1:4 JPEG. Sixteen and thirty-two images per card produce an image with less information. In many journalistic applications, however, the high quality of the 1:4 JPEG would be wasted. Go with the bigger "film load."

The lens is a 7 to 20mm zoom with a macro mode; that's the equivalent of 38 to 115 mm in a 35-mm camera. There are fisheye, wide-angle and telephoto adapters available. The aperture is f/2.6 to 4. There is a digital zoom (think of it as in-camera cropping) that goes to 2.5X.  Shutter speeds go to 1/750 sec.

The film speed equivalent is EI 80. Gain boosts to 2EV are possible (think of this as electronic "push processing").

The "frames-per-second," or capture speed, runs between 1 and 2 frames per second, depending on the mode.

Two shooting modes are available. One, is essentially a point-and-push mode. The other, allows considerable control, making possible a variety of white balances, exposure (shutter priority, aperture priority, program) and metering (matrix, spot, center-weighted) modes, plus changes in brightness and contrast.

There are two viewfinders. The first, is an optical finder that automatically changes magnification as you zoom. The second, is an LCD monitor. This also shows you the image you just captured. In playback mode, you can review all your pictures on this screen, but to really evaluate the image it makes much more sense to plug the camera into your computer or television and get the big picture. There are also readers that will display the image on your computer directly from the flash card.

And, of course, once that JPEG is in the computer, you can email it.  Every photographer is his own wire service.

As cameras (film or digital) become more automated, the delay between pushing the button and taking the picture becomes greater and greater.  It can be quite noticeable in highly automated SLR film cameras in certain shooting modes. In some "point and push" and electronic still cameras it can get downright annoying, especially if you are doing moment-sensitive news pictures. The 950 delivers the goods in a little less than half a second. But, if you press the shutter halfway down and do your metering and automatic focusing the moment before you take the picture, the lag is down considerably. I have no way of measuring the exact delay, but the 950 is "moment capable" and not all electronic still cameras are.

It took me about as long to understand and get on top of the operation of the camera in the "professional" mode (the one where I had to make the most choices) as it did with a conventional film camera. Because these images are "electronic" I can share with you some of the first pictures I took with the 950--just hours out of the box. 

The most email I have ever received about my column, on this site, was when I wrote about the illness of my elderly German Shepherd, Marilyn. Forget articles that discussed the principles of our craft, or of our purpose in life as photojournalists. The woofster won hands down. Thus, Marilyn, a little older and a little stiffer, as seen by the Nikon CoolPix 950.

For a more complete list of the technical specs for the 950, visit the Nikon website at

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