DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 800
by Jeff Keller [DCRP Creator/Webmaster]
Last revised: Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Nikon's two megapixel line of cameras two extremes: On one end, you have the Coolpix 950, which is fully loaded, and costs almost $1000. On the low end, you have the zoom-less Coolpix 700 for half that. The Coolpix 800 comes right in the middle, at $699, and also takes the middleground on features. Read on...

Above: Here's the camera with everything turned on.

What's in the Box

Like the Coolpix 950 that I own, I feel that Nikon has cut a few corners in this department.

Inside the box for the camera, you'll find:

  • The 2.1 Mpixel Coolpix 800 camera
  • An 8MB CompactFlash card
  • 4 AA alkaline batteries (boo!)
  • Hand strap
  • Camera bag
  • Video-out cable
  • Serial cable with Mac adapter
  • Software package including NikonView and more.
  • "Fast Track" guide
  • "Pocket guide"
  • Lens cap
  • CD-ROM containing full manual (!)

There are several problems with what's included here:

  1. No manual, again. Sure, there's the fast track guide and the pocket guide (which doesn't fit in any of my pockets, by the way), but just like with the Coolpix 950, the real manual is on the CD, as a PDF file. If they could print a 100 page pocket guide, why not the full manual as well?
  2. NikonView 2.5 doesn't work with MacOS 9, and won't for about another month. I recommend using Cameraid instead, which works fine.
  3. No rechargeable batteries included

Nikon seems a bit behind the times here.

The camera uses the same lens cap that the Coolpix 950 had. As a result, I highly recommend finding a way to tether it onto the camera before you lose it.

Look and Feel

Looking at the camera from the front, it looks as sturdy as my Coolpix 950. But when I picked it up, there was definitely a difference. Instead of the metal casing of the 950, the 800 is plastic, where in some areas, it looks really tacky, especially on the back of the camera. To Nikon's credit, the camera fits very well in both hands.

Above: The strangely barren backside of the camera. Note the cheesy plastic on the left side. And look at the reflection in the dusty LCD screen (whoops!) - it's the Coolpix 950!

Let's begin our tour of the camera, starting with the back. Strangely enough, there's very little on the back of the CP800... it's all on the top. The monitor button cycles through showing the LCD with info, without info, and turning it off. The menu button speaks for itself.

The two zoom buttons above the LCD double as menu navigators, and are also used for manually focusing the camera.

You'd have to be creative to smudge your nose on the LCD, since the optical viewfinder is off to the left corner. It lacks a diopter correction but is otherwise usable. The LCD display is one of the best on any digital camera, though like most, it washes out in bright sunlight.

Looking at the top of the camera, you can see that this is where the action is. The mode dial is identical to the Coolpix 950, having play, manual-record, and auto-record modes.

The LCD info display tells you what flash mode you're in, the status of the battery, your photo quality settings, remaining photos, and metering mode. If you were in continuous shooting mode, or messing with any manual settings (exposure compensation for example), then it would display on this display.

Below that, there are buttons (from left to right) for: Landscape/macro/self-timer, exposure compensation, quality, flash settings. Why they put the macro and self-timer features on the same button is beyond me... the CP950 is the same way. When I take photos of the other camera, I want to use both macro and self-timer modes, to prevent any camera shake. You can't do this!

If you hold down the first button, you enter manual focus mode, where you'd then use the zoom buttons to focus. You can choose from a variety of focal lengths, from 7cm out to infinity.

The Coolpix 800 has several quality modes: High, fine, normal, and basic. You can choose between the standard 1600x1200 resolution, and VGA (640x480). That "High" mode is indeed an uncompressed TIFF mode, a rarity for cameras in this price range.

If you're feeling daring, and have lots of bandwidth, you can download a 4Mb TIFF file that I took in my room. It's even a flash shot for those folks who think I never take them! (They're usually right, too...)

I'll cover what these buttons do in more detail in the next section.

One of the complaints lodged against the Coolpix 950 (and not just by me, either) is the flimsy door panel on the bottom of the camera. Things aren't any better on the 800, and to make matters worse, the "ejector" button doesn't do a very good job of getting the CompactFlash card out of the slot. Sometimes you really have to try to dig the card out of there. If you're on a tripod, you cannot change cards without taking the camera off the tripod.

Looking at the side of the camera, you can make out the three ports which are under a rubberized door. You've got the DC in port (for an optical AC adapter), a digital I/O port, and a video out port. Sadly, this latest addition to the Coolpix line doesn't include USB support. A card reader is a must! Mac users should not that Nikon's software is NOT cooperative with USB-to-serial adapters. Use Cameraid!

Using the Nikon Coolpix 800

There are only a few modes on this camera: auto record, manual record, and play. I'll cover them in that order.

Starting up the camera takes about 3 seconds, and then you're ready to go.

Auto record (also known as program mode on some cameras) is just that -- point and shoot. Aside from flash, quality, and macro settings, there's nothing else you can change.

When you do finally take the picture, there's no noticeable shutter lag. You will have to wait three or four seconds between shots, however. You can review photos (and delete them) before they are written to the card, though you'll have to do some finger gymnastics to do it quickly.

The 2X optical zoom is quick to react to the buttons being pressed, and is quiet. The lens barrel is threaded, so it can take the same attachments as the CP950.

One interesting feature you'll notice on the preview LCD (see above) is that the shutter speed turns green when the camera things you should use a tripod. This happens when the speed is either really slow, or really fast, where even if you have still hands, it'll blur.

Another thing on the image above is that "s-curve" icon on the right. This shows that the camera is using a sensitivity adjustment (equal to either ISO 200 or 400). In auto mode, you can't change the sensitivity, but in manual mode, you can choose between Auto, 100, 200, and 400.

Manual record has a few more features, but it certainly doesn't allow many manual controls. Unlike the Coolpix 950, there's no shutter or aperture priority mode. About the only thing you can controls is exposure compensation, and manual focus.

There are some other options you can access from the menu, though...

  • White balance
  • Metering: Multi, spot, center-weighted
  • Continuous shooting modes
    • Single
    • Continuous
    • 16 Shot (takes 16 shots in a row, combines them into a 4x4 collage)
    • VGA continuous (2 frames/sec at 640x480, normal)
    • Ultra high speed (30 frames/sec at 320x200, up to 40 frames)
  • Image adjust (contrast, brightness)
  • Sensitivity (Auto, ISO 100, 200, 400)
  • Best Shot Selector (see below)
  • VGA mode (switch to 640x480)
  • AE lock (useful for panoramas)
  • Black & White

Best Shot Selector (BSS) is also on the Coolpix 950. What it allows you to do is take up to 10 photos in a row, and it then decides which is the sharpest, and saves only that one. This is best when you're taking photos in any situation where camera movement may blur the photo.

Another interesting feature on the 800 (which I'd never noticed on the CP950 until now) is a way to really control when the LCD is used. Though the naming convention is a bit weird, the manual explains:

  • ON&C-AF: The monitor is always on in record mode, and the camera is continuously focusing until you press the shutter halfway. This is the default.
  • ON&S-AF: The monitor is always on, but the camera only focuses when you push the shutter halfway.
  • Fast Review: The monitor is always on, the camera is always focusing, but the LCD turns off after you take the picture.
  • Review only: The LCD only comes on after you take the photo. Focus is adjusted when the shutter button is pressed halfway. (This is a good mode for battery savings!)
  • LCD off: hmmm....

The Ultra high speed mode isn't really a substitute for a movie mode, like some other cameras have. It can only take 40 frames worth of photos, and even then, you've got to string them together if you want it to be a movie (about 1 1/3 seconds long, at that).

A feature that the CP800 unfortunately brought over is the unintuitive menu system. If you make a choice, you're sent back to record (or play) mode. It makes more sense (to me) to return you to the menu system.

Play mode has the usual features such as slideshows, photo protection, and zoom. One nice thing is two thumbnail modes: Push the button once, you get nine photos on the screen. Press it again, and get four. Again, and just one.

Scrolling between photos is pretty fast, since the camera first shows you a low-res image, and then draws the high-res version over it.

While there is a zoom feature, you cannot scroll around in it like with other cameras (Coolpix 950 included).

You can delete one photo easily, using the button on the top of the camera (see earlier image of top of camera). If you want to delete a few, or all of your photos, you can do that too.

How does it compare?

The Coolpix 800 is definitely a good upgrade to the 700 model that it replaces. It's unfortunate that many of the silly design flaws haven't been addressed that were noted in the other Coolpix models. It keeps a good camera from being a great camera.

That said, the photo quality is very good, almost as good as the Coolpix 950. Without manual control of shutter and aperture, low-light shots suffer a bit, as you'll see in the gallery.

What I liked:

  • Small, light body
  • Quality Nikon optics
  • Very good photo quality
  • Manual focus mode
  • LCD display bright and smooth
  • Uncompressed TIFF mode

What I didn't like:

  • Same stupid design flaws as Coolpix 9xx series: Button placement, CompactFlash cover, lens cap, etc.
  • No manual controls other than focus.
  • In play mode, you can zoom into photos, but then can't move around in them!
  • Cheesy plastics on part of the case
  • No USB support
  • Manual is still on a CD.

The Coolpix 800 is great for those who want Nikon quality and point-and-shoot simplicity. Those looking for manual controls, movie modes, or fast photo transfer should look elsewhere. The other cameras that I think are competitive are the Kodak DC280 (around the same price; see our review), Casio QV-2000UX (about $100 more; see our review), Epson PhotoPC 850Z (a little more; review coming soon...) and the Toshiba PDR-M5 (a little more; see our review).

As always, we encourage you to head to your local retailer to try this camera out (and the others I just mentioned) before you purchase!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? Maybe a third?

Check out Imaging Resource Page review of the Coolpix 800. Or, how about Steve's Digicams review too?

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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