Nikon Coolpix 995
WHAT'S HOT: For photography buffs, Nikon's Coolpix 995 is a hot camera. It supplies enough controls to satisfy the most inveterate photo tweaker. For example, a new white-balance bracketing feature gives you three versions of the same shot--one using your chosen white-balance setting, one that uses a more reddish cast, and another that uses a bluish cast. Another new control lets you adjust the saturation of a captured image. An on-board histogram shows you how many pixels an image contains for a particular brightness level, and overexposed areas of your photo blink.
Though it's not new, one feature we found particularly useful for creative effects lets you choose which portion of the frame to autofocus on. For example, you can shoot a picture of a person holding up your company's product and make the camera focus on the product instead of the person. A thorough manual, complete with an index, explains all functions.
Photographers accustomed to 35mm single-lens-reflex film cameras will be comfortable using this camera's aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes or taking the full-manual path. You can adjust image quality independently from image size, for many different combinations. The camera can memorize three different combinations of settings, which you recall from the menu. But even with the full-automatic settings, the Coolpix 995 takes fabulous pictures. In our high-resolution test, the Coolpix 995 captured awesome sharpness and beautiful color. It did not quite match the detail captured by the Toshiba PDR-M65, but its color reproduction was far better.
A single rechargeable lithium battery and an external battery charger come with the camera; previous models depended on four AA batteries. As a result, battery life improves markedly: The Coolpix 995 lasted a record 4 hours and 16 minutes on a single charge, good enough for 363 shots. Those marks are particularly impressive considering that the camera's default setting allows the lens to focus continuously, which caused a serious drain on earlier models' batteries. For reference, the Coolpix 990 we tested a few months ago lasted only 1 hour and 50 minutes on a charge.
A new quick-review button lets you see images you've taken while you're still in shooting mode; it's especially useful because the camera can take several seconds to shift from shooting mode to the full playback mode. You can set the button to display shots in the entire LCD screen or just a portion of the live view. However, you cannot delete images when this mode is active.
WHAT'S NOT: If you just want a basic camera with a few simple controls, this isn't the camera for you. The menus stored within the LCD panel are laid out logically and don't require much effort to navigate, but those settings are just the beginning. To adjust image size, for instance, you must hold down the Quality button below the LCD panel and then rotate a wheel on top of the camera; the number representing the size appears in the monochrome LCD panel on top.
Another example: You cannot use the white-balance bracketing feature if you're using the exposure lock mode, the noise reduction mode, or any of the multiframe shooting modes. That makes sense for some modes, but rather than giving you an error message telling you where you went wrong, the camera simply doesn't allow you to select the option, which prompts a trip to the manual. You can choose the full-automatic mode, for which the camera offers few options, but if you're going to depend on that mode you can get by with a less-expensive camera.
Though the camera feels well made and fits easily in your hands, it's a bulky, heavy piece. The autofocus lens moves very slowly and groans throughout its travel. The focus does not lock on as reliably as we'd like, particularly in manual mode or in low-light situations.
WHAT ELSE: A new pop-up flash replaces the one integrated into the previous model's body. Nikon says the new location offers better flash coverage and reduced chance of red-eye, but now you must flip a switch to activate the flash, which is a bit inconvenient. However, you can now use Nikon's optional lens attachments (for example, wide-angle or telephoto adapters) and still use the company's external flashes; previous models couldn't use both at the same time. Shutter speeds range from 8 seconds to 1/2300 second, in addition to a new bulb setting that will keep the shutter open for up to a minute.
A diopter setting on the optical viewfinder adjusts the magnification to help eyeglass-wearers focus without their specs. The rotating lens module lets you view the LCD viewfinder from almost any angle, including for a self-portrait, but if you're picturing yourself, you can't verify that the focus has locked on.
You can capture QuickTime movies with surprisingly good image quality, though the frame rate is somewhat choppy. A 40-second movie took up 11MB on the 16MB memory card. However, the camera cannot capture audio.
BEST USE: People who want excellent performance and maximum creative capabilities will like the Coolpix 995. But less-enthusiastic users may prefer something less complicated.
Nikon Coolpix 995
3.34 megapixels, 2048 by 1536 maximum resolution, 38mm to 152mm focal range (35mm equivalent), f2.6 to f14 aperture range, shutter speeds from 8 seconds to 1/2300 second (plus bulb up to 1 minute), optical and LCD viewfinders, USB and video connections, bundled 16MB CompactFlash card, one rechargeable lithium battery, external recharger, 16.2 ounces with battery; Canto Cumulus 5.0 Demo, ArcSoft PhotoStudio 2000, Arcsoft VideoImpression 1.5, Arcsoft PhotoPrinter Pro 2000, Arcsoft Panorama Maker 2000 software. One-year parts and labor warranty; 24-hour toll-free support, seven days a week.
Street price: $899