Nikon digital camera packs more picture for the money

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

photographic process.


Nikon CoolPix 990

Grade: B+

Nikon Corp.

(631) 547-4200

Price and Availability: $999 list price

Remarks: Nikon's CoolPix 990 offers a full 3.34 million pixels and excellentcontrols over the photographic process. The excellent images deliveredby the 990 combined with an under-$1,000 price tag make the unit a strongvalue.


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