Nikon's CoolPix 990 offers highresolution images and excellent control over the photographic process, as well as a good value
Less than a year ago, you could get a good 1 megapixel digital camera for
just under $1,000. Nikon Corp.'s new CoolPix 990, however, makes that deal
look pretty sad. The 990 delivers 3.34 megapixels for a list price of $999.
The 990 offers the same ease of use as its predecessor, the CoolPix
950, but delivers significantly higher resolution and more controls over
focus and exposures. The 990's maximum image size of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels
is nearly a third larger than the 950's top size of 1,600 by 1,200 pixels.
Taking photos with the CoolPix 990 in automatic mode is very simple,
thanks to the unit's smooth and fast automatic focus, autoflash and easy-to-reach
zoom controls. Handy toggle buttons on the back of the CoolPix make it easy
to zoom in and out without having to take your eye away from the viewfinder.
The unit, by the way, offers a stepless, motor-driven 3X optical zoom.
What's more, once you've gone to the maximum optical zoom level, you can
kick in the digital zoom, which will achieve a zoom factor of 4X. The only
awkwardness we encountered is that you have to hold down the zoom button
for two seconds in order to get the digital zoom to kick in. By then, a
photo opportunity could have vanished.
We also like the fact that the CoolPix saves images on its memory card
in JPEG format. That means you don't need any special software to download
files from the CoolPix to a computer. We simply connected the camera to
a computer using a Universal Serial Bus cable and then accessed the memory
card on the camera just as if it were a hard drive. (You can also connect
to the computer via serial port, though this will, of course, be a slower
The 990 generally takes great pictures in automatic mode, but if you've
got special challenges — such as varied lighting or complex depth-of-field
requirements — you can kick the device into manual mode. In addition to
manual focus — which can be controlled in 50 steps from 0.8 inches to infinity — manual mode gives you control over setting the focus area and "film" sensitivity.
You can also control shutter speed, aperture priority and white balance,
as well as a half-dozen other controls that you may never need but that
can make a big difference if you're facing especially challenging conditions.
One unfortunate consideration with the CoolPix — as with other digital
cameras — is the tradeoff between image resolution and memory storage. At
"fine" resolution, under which images are stored in JPEG at a ratio of 1
to 4, only 10 images can be stored on the 16M card that was delivered with
our test unit. At standard resolution, which saves images in JPEG at a ratio
of 1 to 8, 20 images can be stored on the same card. You can, of course,
review and delete images using the LCD monitor on the back of the camera,
thus freeing up space for more images without having to download them to
your computer. Also, you can spring for a 94M memory card. That will allow
you to store 61 fine images or 121 normal images.
There's also a Hi resolution mode that saves the image in an uncompressed
TIFF format instead of the usual JPEG. That means there's no image detail
lost through compression into JPEG. On the other hand, you can only store
a single Hi resolution shot on a 16M memory card.
The 990's monitor is easy to view and controls allow you to view saved
images either one-by-one or in a palette of thumbnails. The system works
well, though the controls for scrolling through and deleting images are
a bit nonintuitive.
In fact, we found that in general the CoolPix wasn't as easy to learn
to use as some other digital cameras. In part that's because the device
offers so many adjustable settings. But we also feel that Nikon could have
designed a more intuitive interface. This is especially true for the configuration
menus accessed on the unit's LCD monitor.
Once you've gotten familiar with all the nooks and crannies of the CoolPix
990, however, you'll find it easy enough to use. And we haven't seen a camera
for under $1,000 that delivers a better image or as much control over the
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