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DCRP Review: Nikon
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 15, 2004
Last Updated: March 26, 2008
This review has been completed using a production model Coolpix 8800. Product shots have been reshot where necessary, and all sample photos are from the production camera.
At first glance, the Nikon Coolpix 8800 ($999) looks like the Coolpix 8700 from earlier this year but with a 10X zoom instead of 8X. That's true, but there's more to the story than that. The CP8800 is the first Nikon digital camera with VR (vibration reduction) technology -- the same image stabilization technology used on Nikon's 35mm lenses. Now you can take those telephoto shots without worrying about camera shake!
Other new features on the CP8800 include a larger, much sturdier body, i-TTL support with select external flashes, improved battery life, and a new "digital flash" technology known as D-Lighting.
If you're ready to learn more about those features (and more), I'm ready to tell you. Our review starts now!
Since the cameras are so similar, I've reused a lot of text from the Coolpix 8400 review here.
What's in the Box?
The Coolpix 8800 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Continuing a trend that they started with the Coolpix 8700, Nikon has stopped including a memory card with their high-end cameras. Many people upgrading to this camera probably have a few CompactFlash cards already, but if you don't, you'll need to factor this into the purchase price of the camera. I recommend a 512MB card as a "comfortable" size to start with. The camera can use Type I and Type II CF cards, including the Microdrive.
The Coolpix 8800 uses the brand spankin' new EN-EL7 lithium-ion battery. This battery packs (no pun intended) an impressive 8.1 Wh of energy into its plastic case, which is a nice step up from the 5.0 Wh number on the old EN-EL1. Nikon says this translates into 240 shots per charge using the new CIPA battery life standard. The old CP8700 got 210 photos per charge, though the CIPA standard wasn't used back then so the numbers really aren't comparable. The closest competitor to the 8800 is probably the Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200, which can take 260 shots per charge.
The usual negatives about proprietary batteries apply here. For one, they're expensive -- an extra battery (which I recommend) will run you nearly $50. Secondly, if you ever run out of juice, you can't just pop in regular batteries like you can on a AA-based camera.
For more power, check out the optional MB-CP11 battery grip ($170). This holds six AA batteries and also has extra zoom and shutter release buttons. I don't know how many more shots you get out of this, but with the right batteries you can probably double the 8800's battery life.
When it's time to recharge, just pop the EN-EL7 into the included external charger. It takes about 2.5 hours to recharge the battery. This isn't one of those nice "plug it right into the wall" chargers that I like so much -- you must use a power cable.
The 8800 comes with a big ol' lens cap (and retaining strap) to protect that huge piece of glass.
Something else that comes with the camera is a wireless remote control. As far as I can tell it's only used for taking pictures (and not even operating the zoom).
There are many accessories available for the CP8800, which I've compiled into this handy table:
That's a nice selection of accessories!
PictureProject main screen
Nikon includes a brand new software product with the CP8800 called PictureProject. It's nothing to write home about. The main screen is your typical photo organizer, letting you put photos in folders, give them keywords for easy searching later, rotate them, etc.
Note that my 8800 came with version 1.0 of the software. A new version 1.1 is available from Nikon's website and I recommend the upgrade.
PictureProject edit screen
The edit screen lets you adjust a few things, such as brightness, color, and sharpness. The Photo Effects option lets you quickly change the image to black and white or sepia. You can straighten crooked images, or adjust the D-lighting feature that I'll discuss later. There are also buttons for instant photo enhancement or redeye removal.
Photoshop RAW plug-in
The software can also be used to convert RAW images into other formats, but you can't actually perform any of the adjustments that make RAW useful. For that you must use the included Photoshop plug-in, and you can use the one included with the camera or Adobe's own Camera Raw plug-in that comes with Photoshop CS. Loading RAW images in PictureProject takes an eternity, by the way, and this is on a dual 2Ghz PowerMac G5.
E-mail your photos in PictureProject
PictureProject can also be used to e-mail or print your photos, or share them online via NikonNet. A slideshow feature lets you put your photos to music.
The camera manual is much like the camera itself: complex, but complete. You'll have to dig a little to find what you want, but odds are that your question will be answered in the manual.
Look and Feel
If there was ever a camera that was the definition of "built like a tank", this is it. Well, except for the door over the CompactFlash slot. The CP8800 is larger, heavier, and bulkier than its predecessor but most won't mind. The Coolpix feels like a $1000 camera. It has a nice big grip for your right hand and the huge lens barrel leaves plenty of room for your left. All the important controls are well-placed and comfortable to operate.
Here's a look at how the CP8800 compares to some other cameras in terms of size and weight:
It's not often that you actually see a camera get bigger, but that's just what happened with the CP8800!
Now let's take a tour of this camera, beginning with the front.
That is one huge piece of glass on the CP8800! This is an F2.8-5.2, 10X optical zoom Nikkor lens, which contains ED elements that help reduce the purple fringing that is common on big zoom cameras. The focal range of the lens is 8.9 - 89 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 350 mm. As I mentioned, you can add wide-angle, telephoto, and fisheye conversion lenses to this camera (and filters too!). The filters and wide lens don't even need an adapter, you can just screw them right onto the lens.
Up above the lens is the pop-up flash. The flash has an impressive working range of 0.5 - 6.0 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 3.0 m at telephoto. The 8800's flash performance is quite a bit better than the DiMAGE A200 at wide-angle, and they are about equal at telephoto (keep in mind that the A200 has a 7X zoom). If you want more flexibility, the camera's hot shoe can help. More on that later.
Just to the upper-left of the lens is the camera's microphone. To the left of that is the AF-assist lamp, which helps the camera focus in low light. Interestingly enough, the CP8800 doesn't have the hybrid focusing system that the cheaper CP8400 does. After using the 8400, the 8800 seems VERY slow in terms of focusing performance.
Just above that red thing on the grip is the remote control receiver.
The CP8800 has the same flip-out, rotating LCD as its predecessor. It's 1.8" in size and has 134,000 pixels. The screen is sharp and bright, and motion is very fluid. In low light the camera automatically boosts the gain on the LCD, allowing you to see what you're looking at (although it's a bit grainy).
The screen rotates 270 degrees, from pointing at the ground all the way around (counterclockwise) to facing your subject. Rotating LCDs may sound gimmicky but they come in very handy when shooting over crowds or doing ground-level shots. The screen can also be put in the traditional position (see below) or it can be closed altogether.
The CP8800 has the same electronic viewfinder (EVF) as its predecessor. An EVF is a tiny LCD screen that you view as if it was a regular viewfinder. The good news it that you see the same thing that you would on the LCD (including menus) and that it shows 97% of the frame without parallax error. The bad news is that it doesn't compare to the "real thing" and that it puts an extra strain on the battery. The EVF has a decent resolution of 235,000 pixels but it isn't nearly as good as the one on the Minolta DiMAGE A2 (though its comparable with the one on the A200). A diopter correction knob, located on the side of the EVF, is used to focus the image on the screen. As with the LCD, the EVF gains -up automatically in low light.
To the lower-right of the EVF is the button which switches between the LCD and EVF. To the right of that, you'll find the AE/AF-lock button as well as the zoom controller. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just over two seconds. By making quick presses on the zoom button, you can make very precise adjustments to the focal length.
At the top-right of the photo is the command dial, which is what you'll use to adjust the camera's manual settings.
To the right of the LCD are four buttons plus the four-way controller. The buttons are as follows:
The four-way controller is used for menu navigation and a few other things that I'll touch on later.
Here's the top of the camera with some assistance from an Olympus lens cap.
The camera's hot shoe is the place to put an external flash. While the manual only mentions the SB-600 and SB-800 (as they integrate with the camera and it's i-TTL flash metering system), the CP8800 should support any modern flash, though you may have to choose the flash's settings manually. The manual does say that Advanced Wireless Lighting, auto FP high-speed sync, FV lock, and the AF-assist lamp features on an external flash will not operate, regardless of the flash you're using.
Moving to the right, we find the LCD info display. This shows things like battery power, aperture, shutter speed, flash setting, shots remaining, and more. Pressing the light bulb button to its upper-right turns on a nice green backlight.
The next item over is the 8800's mode dial, which has the following options:
I'm so glad that the 8800 finally has a real mode dial! No more holding down buttons and turning dials like on the 8700! I don't like having ISO, image quality, and white balance up there -- I'd rather have them in the top-level menu, which thankfully you can do since the menu is customizable.
Some of you may say "where is the custom option on the mode dial?", but you need not be concerned, as the camera lets you store two sets of your favorite camera settings for later retrieval. To get to these saved options just use the record menu.
Back to the tour now. At the top-right of the photo above you'll find three more buttons plus the shutter release with the power switch wrapped around it. The buttons do the following:
By default the function button can do the following: In scene and movie mode, it lets you quickly changed the scene or resolution without opening the menu. In full manual mode it switches you between adjusting the aperture and shutter speed. If those don't excite you, feel free to customize its function in the setup menu. You can use it to quickly change the user setting (favorite camera settings), white balance, image quality, image size, ISO, and continuous shooting mode.
Well that's it for the top of the camera -- let's move on.
One of the nicest changes to the CP8800 can be found on this side of the camera. Gone are those tiny buttons that were so annoying (in my opinion) on the 5700 and 8700.
There's just one button here and it's the AF button. Press it once for landscape focus or twice for macro. Hold it down and you can use the command dial to manually adjust the focus. A guide is shown on the LCD/EVF but unfortunately it doesn't tell you the actual focus distance, which would've been really helpful. There's no center-frame enlargement, either, which is handy for checking focus.
The next item on the side of the CP8800 is what makes the camera unique: the VR, or vibration reduction function. This shifts an element in the lens which counteracts "camera shake". Camera shake usually rears its ugly head near the telephoto end of the lens, because tiny movements of the camera mean big movements in the picture, resulting in a blurry image. VR will allow you to use a slower shutter speed in those situations, reducing the likelihood of a blurry image. It won't work miracles but it definitely helps.
The VR system seems to be a little more advanced that other stabilization systems that I've seen. The camera is able to "filter out" panning movement of the camera, so if you're following a subject along the X-axis, it will only stabilize the Y-axis. An "active" mode helps reduce shake when it's really bad, such as when you're taking pictures from a moving vehicle.
Want to see some examples of how well the VR system works? I have two. First, have a look at this movie (756 KB), which was taken with and without VR. For some photo evidence, check out these crops:
VR on, 1/15 sec shutter speed
VR off, 1/15 sec shutter speed
The last two items in the above photo are the I/O ports and speaker. The I/O ports, kept under a plastic cover, include USB + A/V (one port for both) and DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol, but don't worry, it'll still work if you have USB 1.1.
Here's the other side of the camera with the lens fully extended. The only thing to see here is the memory card slot, which is protected by the same cheap plastic door that has been with us for many years. The CP8800 can use Type I or Type II CompactFlash cards, including the Microdrive.
Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. You can see the metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. The tripod mount is located roughly in the center of the body. The door covering the battery compartment is fairly sturdy, but could be better.
The included EN-EL7 battery is shown at right. Notice the hologram sticker with the Nikon logo... so you know you're getting a real Nikon battery and not an imposter.
Using the Nikon Coolpix 8800
The Coolpix 8800 takes about 3.4 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures -- an unspectacular time.
You'll get a live histogram in record mode
A half-press of the shutter release results in focus lock in about 0.6 - 0.8 seconds in most cases. It can take a second or longer near the telephoto end, or in more tricky situations. The Coolpix 8400 really blows the 8800 away in this area. Low light focusing was better than average (thanks to the AF-assist lamp), but not the best I've seen.
Shutter lag was not a problem, even at slower shutter speeds. And thanks to the VR system you can shoot at slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise!
Shot-to-shot speed was rather slow, especially considering the price of the camera. The camera locks up for 3.8 seconds after taking an image at the JPEG/Fine setting. That delay jumps to 13 seconds in RAW mode and 14 seconds in TIFF mode. I used a SanDisk Extreme card for these measurements, which is almost as fast as they come.
The CP8800 has the same, strange "camera lockdown while writing to the memory card" issue as the 8700 before it. If the "writing to card" icon is on the LCD then you can't do anything with the camera until it turns off. You'll really notice this after taking a bunch of shots in a row.
I couldn't find a way to delete a photo as it's being saved to the memory card. You must enter Quick Play mode.
Now, here's a look at the many image size and quality choices available on the Coolpix 8800:
Wow, that's one of the longest lists of all time! There a few things that I want to cover before we move onto menu discussion.
RAW images are uncompressed, unprocessed image data that is, just like TIFF, as close to perfect as you'll get out of the camera. As an added bonus, you can edit many properties of the image (such as white balance, sharpness, and color saturation) after the photo is taken without any loss in quality. The catch is that you must process each RAW image on your computer before you can convert them to other formats and share them with friends. The included software doesn't let you edit all of the RAW properties -- Nikon wants you to buy their Capture 4.0 software in order to do that.
TIFF mode is, like RAW, uncompressed image data. It takes up more space than RAW and has none of the "virtual reshoot" benefits, either. Most software will read TIFF, though.
Images are named DSCN####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.
Okay, now we can move on to the menus!
The Coolpix displays a customizable "My Menu" that is shown before the full menu. You can put whatever you want in this menu, and personally I'd move sensitivity and image quality into it, as it takes too much work to change it otherwise. The full menu can be entered by choosing the "show all menus" item on that first page. The menu system is more complex than most, and it takes some digging to find some options.
Here are the options that you'll find in the full record menu:
Time for some further explanation on some of those.
The Coolpix 8800 has impressive white balance controls. First, you can use the white balance preset feature to use a white or gray card as a reference for accurate color in any lighting. Also, for all modes except auto and preset, you can fine tune the white balance, from -3 to +3 in 1 step increments. As you lower the number, the colors move toward yellow and red. As you raise the number, images tend to be more blue. There are also three fluorescent white balance settings: white, daylight/neutral white, and daylight.
One thing I wanted to mention about the high speed continuous shooting mode is that the LCD/EVF is off during shooting, making following a moving subject impossible. The screen isn't shut off entirely at regular speed, but it's still blacked out for far too long, in my opinion.
Nikon's trademark Best Shot Selector (BSS) does double duty on the 8800. The original BSS feature is still here: take up to 10 pictures in a row, and the camera magically picks the sharpest one, and tosses the rest. But wait, there's more: now there are three exposure-related BSS modes:
Do note that the camera takes five, rather than ten, images in the exposure BSS modes.
The auto bracketing feature will take 3 or 5 shots in a row, each with a different exposure compensation value. You can choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, and ±1.0EV. White balance bracketing works in a similar way. One shot is taken with the currently selected white balance, another with a reddish cast, and one more with a bluish cast.
A setup menu is also available, and you get to it via the mode dial. The options found here include:
Well, enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
Macro focusing has always been one of the Coolpix lines strong suits, and that continues on the 8800. By putting the lens in the macro "sweet spot" (when the little flower on the LCD turns green), you can get as close to your subject as 3 cm.
The results of our standard macro test shot are very good. Mickey is ultra-sharp, with plenty of detail (you can easily see the dust on his ears). Colors look good -- accurate and saturated.
Aside from being crooked (I fixed the thumbnail), the night shot performance from the 8800 was impressive. The camera was able to take in plenty of light (thanks to manual shutter speed control), everything is sharp, and there's no purple fringing to be found. Noise levels aren't super-low, but they're comparable to other 8 Megapixel cameras.
Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images. You can click on the thumbnail to see the full size images.
The 8800 didn't perform terribly well at high ISOs, at least in this test. While you should be able to use images at ISO 50 - 200, the ISO 400 image is quite noisy, with a lot of missing detail. I did, however, take a shot at dusk which I'd say is still usable (if downsized).
There is moderate barrel distortion at the wide-angle of the 8800's 10X lens. You'll notice this if you take pictures of things like buildings, where they appear to curve, instead of going straight up.
No redeye -- way to go Nikon!
Since I had both the Coolpix 8800 and DiMAGE A200 at the same time, I decided to break out my new comparison scene once again. You can click on the links above to see the original (and unrotated) images from the two cameras, or you can just look at my crops below. Photos were taken with 600W quartz studio lamps at F4.5 on both cameras with image stabilization turned off (since I was using a tripod).
Coolpix 8800 at ISO 50
DiMAGE A200 at ISO 80
Coolpix 8800 at ISO 400 (its highest option)
DiMAGE A200 at ISO 400
DiMAGE A200 at ISO 800 (its highest value)
After comparing those, I'd say that the Coolpix has slightly better color accuracy, while the A200 has slightly better sharpness (after my experiences with the A2, I can't believe I'm saying that). At high ISOs, the DiMAGE does a bit better than the Coolpix, in my opinion.
Overall, I was pleased with the photo quality from the Coolpix 8800. Images were generally well-exposed, with accurate color (though one or two images seemed a bit yellow) and little-to-no purple fringing. Noise levels are a bit higher than some may be accustomed to (especially if you're coming from a 4-5 Megapixel camera), but that's just how it is with 8 Megapixel cameras. Image sharpness is about average -- in some shots I was happy with, and in others I wanted to turn up the in-camera sharpening.
As I always say, don't just take my word for all this. View our photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the Coolpix 8800's photo quality meets your expectations.
The good news is that the Coolpix 8800 can record VGA (640 x 480) movies at 30 frames/second, with sound. The bad news is that the clip length is limited to just 60 seconds, regardless of the size of your memory card. A high speed memory card is not required.
To take longer movies, you can downsize to 320 x 240, 15 frames/second -- at this setting you can record until the memory card is full. You can record in color, black & white, or sepia tone.
A "time lapse movie" mode is also available. The camera takes a still photo at a set interval, and throws it into a silent movie up to 35 seconds in length (at the VGA resolution). The interval can be 10 sec, 30 sec, or 1, 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes. You can use the AE lock feature to base the exposure on the first shot taken.
The camera uses the VR system to reduce camera shake in your video clips, too.
You cannot use the zoom lens while filming. Movies are saved in QuickTime format.
Here's a sample movie for you. Thanks to Amtrak for actually showing up on time for a change.
Click to play movie (16.7 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Coolpix 8800 has a very nice playback mode. All the basic features are here, including slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, voice captions, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you zoom into your photo by as much as 10X, and then scroll around in the image. This feature is well-implemented on the 8800. Once you're zoomed in, you can crop images into a new file.
Shot, as taken
Same shot with D-Lighting
A very interesting new feature on the CP8800 is known as D-Lighting. This is similar to the "digital flash" feature on some HP cameras in that it brightens dark areas and improves detail in the highlight areas. While not the best example, hopefully you an see the difference in the crops above.
Other features include a resize image function (down to 640 x 480 or smaller) and the ability to convert RAW images to TIFF format right on the camera.
One thing I've always liked about Nikon cameras it their ability to delete a group of images, rather than just one or all. That's still a feature on the 8800.
If you like extra info about your photos, then this is your camera. Normally you don't see much, but by rotating the command dial you can get a lot more, including the screen on the right.
The 8800 moves through images at a rather sluggish pace. It shows a low res version instantly, with the high res image appearing about 2.5 seconds later.
How Does it Compare?
The Nikon Coolpix 8800 is a high resolution ultra zoom camera that I can recommend to everyone except action shooters. That's because I found the 8800's performance to be, shall we say, a little lacking. This is especially noticeable in terms of focus speed (average at best), shot-to-shot delays, and image playback speed. Continuing shooting was frustrating due to LCD blackouts between shots. If these things aren't critical, then the 8800 is a heck of a camera. It features a 10X optical zoom lens with VR image stabilization technology that works very well. Photo quality is good, with fairly sharp photos, accurate color, and nearly no purple fringing. As is the case with other 8MP cameras, noise levels are above average, especially at higher ISO sensitivities. And, just like with other Nikon cameras, macro performance on the 8800 is very good. The movie mode is nice too, but it would be a lot better without the time limit at the highest quality setting.
The 8800 is a big, bulky camera that's built like a tank. Despite that it's easy to hold and operate. It features a flip-out LCD display and an electronic viewfinder, both with average resolution. Low light performance was good on both. And speaking of which, the AF-assist lamp on the front of the camera helps it focus in low light situations. The camera is feature packed, with full manual controls and then some. Nikon's exclusive Best Shot Selector helps you pick the best photo in a series based on exposure or sharpness. White balance can be fine-tuned and bracketed, as well. The 8800 has customizable menus, which are powerful but confusing. In addition you can save two sets of your favorite camera settings for later retrieval. The "D-lighting" digital flash feature helps brighten underexposed areas of your photos without raising noise levels too much.
I already mentioned a few downsides above. Other annoyances include a RAW converter that doesn't take full advantage of the format and a manual focus mode that could be a lot better. While I'm at it, how about a manual focus ring Nikon?
There's one more thing worth considering. The street price of the Coolpix 8800 is just under $900. For a little less, you could buy a Canon Digital Rebel, or for a little more, the Nikon D70. That buys you a much more capable camera, albeit one with lower resolution and no bells and whistles like movie mode. However, duplicating the 10X stabilized lens will cost you -- probably more than the D-SLR body itself. Food for thought.
If photo quality and manual controls are higher on your "must have" list than camera performance, I recommend the Coolpix 8800. For the people who are really after fast action shooting, I point you to the digital SLRs I just mentioned.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Other big zoom, high resolution cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot Pro1, Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2 and A200, Olympus C-8080WZ (only 5X zoom), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 (only 5MP), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828.
Also consider these digital SLRs: Canon Digital Rebel, Nikon D70, Olympus EVOLT E-300, and the Pentax *ist DS. Remember that comparable lenses cost a lot of money!
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix 8800 and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photo quality turned out in our gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read other reviews at Steve's Digicams and Imaging Resource.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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