|Secrets of Digital Photography
Nikon 775 Report! Latest update: 2/1/2002
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Tiny New Nikon!
Let's play, "What If..."
The First Look Report: (scroll down for the In-Hand Report)
I got a chance to play with this tiny gem for a few moments at the Nikon booth today (June 16) at the Photo+ Expo West in Los Angeles. The pictures of the 775 seen here were taken at the booth under very mixed lighting.
My first impression was that it looked like a shrunken 880 in satin silver. This was camera serial number .....21, so it may not be a full software or feature packed sample. Still, it worked, taking pictures and playing them back with ease.
It's so freaking cool! It has that almost-too-small-for-hands quality to its physical presence, yet when my medium size hands grabbed it, the match of fingers and controls was instant. With no instruction, all the controls and options were found immediately, just where they should be. Although it isn't the smallest digital camera, it is the smallest with all of its features.
Light weight, too! My fingers were convinced there couldn't be a battery inside, the thing MUST be empty--a prototype non-working sample, yes? No. The battery door revealed a lightweight EN-EL1 in place. At only 6.5 ounces--lighter than most cell phones--this becomes an easy-carry item for anyone. I can see that cool belt pouches are going to benefit from these, too. "I'd like something rather Sci-Fi in a Batman-size utility pouch, please..."
Scene Modes. Borrowed from the operating system of the 880, the 7 scene modes include Party/Indoors, Backlight, Portrait, Night Portrait, Landscape, Beach/Snow and Sunset. Each represents a well-considered series of adjustments and limitations to control the camera more effectively in each of these situations.
Backlight, for instance, ignores the bright image behind your subject and exposes for the light on the subject instead while forcing the flash to provide fill. Night Portrait considers the dark that surrounds your subject and exposes for the brighter nearby subject--even with the speedlight factored into the equation--while using the widest aperture and longest shutter speed to include environmental detail. In these modes, that delicious 256-element Matrix meter is behaving like a zone-system analyzer with a different goal for each setting.
What's really interesting with the scene modes is that they have uses beyond the names of the situations that they target. Try Sunset during the day, for example, for a more Golden Hour look. Try Beach/Snow on a back-lit subject for a different, moodier sort of lighting.
What's Missing? What's New? A few things that the 950 operating system includes are not here. The body doesn't swivel. Instead, it is so small, that the whole thing is only about half the volume of the 950. Contrast +/- and Brightness +/- aren't available. ISO is set to 100 and the gain goes up only on demand without direct control.
The camera comes awake in every mode except Landscape Scene with one or the other flash modes selected. Auto mode ALWAYS comes alive with Auto Anti Red Eye mode selected, unless you have previously chosen the BSS option.
The only way to preserve Sharpness and White Balance settings is to switch the camera to Playback and let it fall asleep naturally. Turning the camera off loses these settings. A tad on the un-handy side.
BSS is still here and Image Sharpening Hi/Lo/Off/Normal is available. Macro mode is easy to use, five flash options (Auto, Off, Slow, Anytime, Anti-Red Eye) can be quickly accessed and the included battery charger is fast (at least in the US).
It's like having a 950 that weighs half, takes up half the pocket space and costs under half of what the 950 did originally. But you get twice as much fun. I'll bet Nikon will sell a bazillion of them.
July for a msrp of $450 US. (Hunt around. You might find it for a better price.)
Nikon is thinking of this camera as the "On the Go Digital" answer. How On the Go is it? More on the go than many cell phones.
Their brochure touts how important One-Touch Upload to the Web is, but I think they may not be seeing this camera for what it is: Handy. Easy to use. Flexible. Sneaky, even. In a good way.
The ergonomics and speed of learning its ins and outs deserve high praise. They've managed to incorporate most of the 950 in a package about half the size, and image quality is right up there with that legendary model. In short: it makes good 8 x 10s.
There is no manual focus mode in the 775 but it appears to have an extremely good autofocus system. Like the bigger 9xx Nikons, it has Infinity, Macro and Self-Timer functions. One button selects from Self-Timer, Infinity, Macro and Macro-Self-Timer in a loop.
With the monitor on, it is continuously focusing and when you hand it to someone for the first time, they will say, "Ooo! It's clicking!"
With the monitor off, the camera only performs a single focus per shot. This generally causes focus to nail itself to the nearest object, thus avoiding "stolen focus" in which the background is sharp and nearby objects are blurred. In truth, I haven't found a valid stolen focus moment yet with either single or continuous autofocus unless I was so close that macro focus was called for. The glass, above, was shot with monitor on and Macro mode enabled yet the camera correctly focused on the nearest part of the glass.
Some users seem to have had an "issue" with the focus with the monitor off. I tried to force this "issue" on my camera and simply could not. Firmware on this one is V1.3U. They said focus took forever (anything longer than a second is forever, these days--ask the guy behind you at a green light...) with the monitor off. Mine acquires focus lock in about one second with it on or off over a wide range of lighting conditions. The mystery was resolved when the size of the CF card was revealed to be the culprit. Large capacity cards seem to bring the 775 into slow motion. In particular, the SanDisk 256 and larger cards make shooting s l o w.
In total darkness--so dark focus can't be acquired--the camera will take its time trying to get the focus before simply locking in at a reasonable hyperfocal distance and shooting the picture anyhow. But only with the monitor ON. If the monitor is Off, the camera won't take the shot at all! Moral to the story: Shoot in the dark with the monitor on!
The small 1.5-inch monitor is about as small as I would ever want to see on a digicam, but it is bright, high-contrast and even works pretty good in direct sun. Not that you can judge image quality on it under bright sunlight, but that it gives you enough to work with for viewfinding. Any shade from your head would help. Time for a hat with a nice brim?
The color quality of the monitor is exceptionally good. For night shots it will show you exactly what the colors will be in the file (see the night shot below).
Something I had not even begun to anticipate is how well it goes down in public. When you shoot a lot of images in public places, you begin to grow a different kind of hackle. Security guards love to inhibit picture taking and occasionally people don't want to be in your shot. The more your camera looks like a serious image gathering device, the more you get hassled by people who have a different opinion.
The 775 is so bright and chirpy looking that people ignore the heck out of it. That's not a BAD thing! Some think it's cute, others think it's a toy. A few think it's a cell phone. Some want to know what it is and their eyebrows zoom up to their hair line when they find out it's a Nikon.
It's a new kind of image gathering device. Quicker to bring into action than most because the operating system is easy to manipulate into place.
It has the Scene modes of the 880 and with a little extra learning on your part, these become quick access to some sophisticated orchestrations of shutter speed, iris, focus, flash and sensitivity. The Water and Coffee images are a case in point. The Water Glass was shot in the more flexible Auto mode which is more like Manual on a 950. Here things like BSS, Continuous shooting, White Balance Preset, Macro focus, EV +/- and flash control are available.
Coffee and Cream was shot using the Beach/Snow setting. The white table paper and cup are rendered appropriately brighter than they would normally, and flash control (off selected here) along with Macro focus are still available.
No Photoshop color or tonality manipulations are performed on any of the sample images in this report.
The collapsing lens design is self-capping. This is seen on most pocket cameras, these days and it avoids a whole level of finger-fumble. When the camera goes to sleep, it doesn't close (unless you were in Play mode when it dozed off), so putting it in your pocket will mean turning it off. It takes about 5 seconds to turn on and always starts in Wide Zoom position. Awakening from sleep is only about a second faster.
Sleep can be set for as brief as 30 seconds meaning that battery life is quite a few hours of looking and plinking for pictures. With two batteries, the depleted one is filled faster than the fresh one is used up! But only if you have the charger handy.
Compared to 950
I compared the 775 to my 950 Millennium for image quality and found them quite close under all-Auto settings.
Open the comparison image here in a new window for a look at the 100% size shot.
It is pretty amazing to see such close color rendition in two cameras operating with Auto White Balance, two different models and sizes of imaging chip, two different lens sizes and two different operating systems. The 950 enjoys more sharpness overall.
For a very
revealing comparison, print this combined shot out on a photo-realistic
printer at about 8 inches wide. Then pass it around to hear what
people think about the two sources.
The differences in colorimetry are quite minor. Even at full size it takes a few looks and double checks to see that the 950 has the edge on sharpness. What the images don't tell you is how they feel as you are taking the pictures.
Given: A one pound camera will go places a five pound camera will never go. How many images never get taken by owners of D1s, D30s and E10s simply because the portability factor gets in the way and the camera is back home? Where would a half-pound camera be? How about one that weighs less than that?
Professional photographers don't have this problem, but many photo enthusiasts do.
Here's a camera that doesn't have that factor at all. It joins the niche previously dominated by Canon's small digitals and it brings a different mix of features to your fingers and eyes. Nikon thinks of this as being the solution for a lot of point and shoot consumers and it is true that many will be sold into this premise.
Unlike the recent Coolpix 995, the 775 has the extreme range of Auto White Balance we have come to expect with the compact Nikons. Meaning, it can tackle the widest extremes from noon in the mountains to candle light without a hiccup.
The Auto menu puts you in touch with manual selection of Cloudy, Flash, Daylight (why on earth do they call it "Fine"?), Fluorescent (only one choice), Incandescent and White Balance Preset. All work well but you may wish to get to know that White Bal. Preset menu item. With it, you show the camera the light's color and it takes it from there. Very handy in Incandescent, Fluorescent and mixed-source lighting situations.
The stamp image shown here was shot casually by window light mostly sourcing from hazy blue sky. The White Bal. Preset gave quite good results.
The Nikon eBook has 48 color tinted filters on it that work through the White Bal. Preset feature of these cameras. The 775 responds just as well to these color filters as do the 9xx and 8xx cameras.
Nikon's near legendary macro focus mode is in the 775 allowing images with a field of view about 1.25 inches (31mm) wide. That's close enough to shoot a stamp collection. Here's one now.
Its closest focus is at full wide angle. That's also the place where the maximum barrel distortion occurs. The field of focus is not very flat so fine detail on flat objects is only about the area of the central stamp shown here. That's not a problem for close subjects like bees in flowers
The iNovaFX barrel correction filters created for the 950 work pretty well with the same settings on the 775. Here is that same picture run through the iBCZ@W950 filter and the base line of the stamps is now straight.
The 775 inherits the 880's double flash anti red eye arrangement. Sigh. That makes it very hard to remotely trigger all but a handful (if that) of slave flash units which go on the second of the two flashes. The first flash tends to close subject's irises and effectively reduces red-eye, but did they have to have the double flash on EVERY single flash mode?? The flash unit must have been designed by the Department of Redundancy Department.
Flash modes include Auto Anti-Red-Eye which only fires when needed but illuminates a white light on the face of the camera--you know, to warn people that they should think nice thoughts. Then there are Force flash which always fires, Night Portrait flash, which gives lower intensity results and is useful for Macro-close shots, Auto flash which does not do the warning light bit, and OFF which will not fire the flash at all. These are all available under Auto mode, Portrait Scene and Beach/Snow Scene only. Other Scene modes include modes only appropriate to their logic.
Good news. Nikon has produced a VERY capable IR camera in the 775. An 88A IR filter held over the lens produces some of the easiest IR images you can get.
Shutter speeds will be long (this was a lucky 1/4 sec hand-held) and you will get odd colors like this slightly pinkish sky, but it works well in full sun and keeps the IR tradition alive that the 950 is so famous for.
Someday Nikon may include IR abilities in their cameras as a natural option. Perhaps a switch would slide the IR blocking filter inside the lens away from the imaging chip. But for now, the 775 revives the idea and makes it fun.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The Coolpix 775 is not a professional's camera. It inherits many of the prosumer features from the 950 and "Lifestyle" features from the 880. The Scene modes are a definite strong point for anyone not familiar with photography, but even a professional can see them for what they really are: logical assemblies of choices for particular kinds of photos.
Of the seven Scenes only two, Beach/Snow and Portrait, give you control over the flash method to be employed. Sunset and Landscape shut all flash off which is only logical since the amount of flash this camera produces is not likely to fill in much of the shadow side of the Grand Tetons in either situation.
Only Beach/Snow and Auto allow you to set Macro for close objects. Think of Beach/Snow as an easy way to bring up the brightness of predominantly bright subjects and you won't need to dig into the menu system to set EV +0.7 for your next shot.
Backlight and Night Portrait differ in the type of flash involved. Either full blast or Auto Anti-Red Eye, respectively. The Night Portrait's Auto flash formula will prevent it from firing if there is enough light already on the subject. When the flash does fire, its light output is somewhat less than it would be in Auto under the same shooting conditions.
The Backlight Scene will force the flash, filling in shadows in bright situations. And the Party Scene seems to be a clone of the Night Portrait optimized for brighter flash results. Night Portrait is the kinder, gentler version of Anti-Red Eye and in Auto exposure mode it shows up as one of the flash type options you can manually select.
The Auto setting that lets you play with concepts like BSS, Continuous Shots, Sharpness adjustments and EV +/- correction is as close to manual as this camera gets. It has no flash synch for external speedlights, no Aperture or Shutter priority modes, no spot meter, no ability to connect with ordinary slave flash units, or even a metal tripod mounting socket. (The high tech plastic tripod socket on my 950's have never failed, so maybe that's not as big a point as one could make of it.)
The Nikon site now features a new product, the UR-E3 Converter Adapter, which for $10.00 will adapt the wide angle, telephoto and fisheye lenses to the 775. Interesting. It's so light and unobtrusive that you could leave it on the camera all the time. I do. Who knows when I might need a fisheye...
The single prosumer feature Nikon did not skimp on with this camera is the thing all camera manufacturers are awakening to: Image Quality. The components of color, saturation, sharpness, dynamic range and noise floor are very well balanced. While other cameras beat it on individual points, the combination of qualities works well.
Much of what makes it attractive is ergonomic. Speed of shoot and review, battery life, range of macro shooting, viewfinder eyepiece location, secure grip, fast controls, easy exposure regimes, monitor brightness (far better than on the 950 by the way), and even BSS all add up to good images.
Pictured: This night shot, a mixed-lighting potential image nightmare captured at 1/3 sec, was facilitated with BSS.
The image here demonstrates many of the qualities that bring a picture alive or could kill it:
The number of things that could have gone wrong with the shot are many. It could have had
yet it avoids all of these and delivers a fine image.
Better than 99% of all images will "come out" thus beating film by a wide margin. There are enough options so that fumble fingered newcomers will have the ability to potentially rise above errors by saying, "Hmm. Not the best picture... Let me try it this way..." and select a different Scene mode that may improve the shot.
Who needs it?
If you already have a 950, 990 or 995, you probably do not need it. It has fewer features and options. No external flash or remote capability, no LCD panel on top. This is a pared-down 950 in a particular sense, and although it does a few things better (monitor, Scene modes, Quick Review) it lacks significant capabilities of the larger cameras.
As a second camera it is a champ. The IR capability is much better than the 990/995 and the price is right for getting the rest of the family off your cooler Coolpixes.
If you are new to digital photography, this might make a fine introduction to the subject. If you are interested in having a camera that is an On the Go Digital, Nikon's words may become more apt. It has logical, ergonomic controls and a depth of potentials you will get to play with. If you can master the 775, you will be able to make very fine images with nearly any digital camera that follows it into your life.
I've handed it to several people who can only be categorized as rank amateurs and said, "Take my picture." The camera was off, there was no further instruction. The test photographers had never seen it before, didn't know how to operate it, never read the manual and had no preconceived notions about the 775. They started to get off on it, trying pictures this way and that, suddenly learning at the speed of feedback. Sadly, I had to ask for it back!
This is a playful camera serious photographers can like, so it is a serious camera playful photographers should like.
As a pocket camera, its small size, self-capping lens, image quality and 6.5 oz weight go far in making it appealing. As an unobtrusive camera, it will let you get away with shooting serious images in places where serious cameras are forbidden.
system isn't fully functioned the way the 995 OS is, but it has
enough flexibility to cover better than 95% of your setups. I
like it more than I thought I would.
After using it for nearly three months, I can say that it has become a very useful addition to my kit. It goes with me all the time and has captured some of my best shots.
Latest update: 10/24/01.
Read the reviews from the digital camera testers:
Learn more on the 775 forum:
Reprinting except for newsworthy mention and brief quotes are by permission only.