Mastering the Nikon COOLPIX A (2014)
Chapter 1. Basic Camera Setup
Congratulations on your purchase of the exciting new Nikon COOLPIX A, the premium-quality, compact digital camera in Nikon’s brand new genre of small cameras.
The Nikon COOLPIX A (also known as the A) comes with a large DX (APS-C) sensor normally found only in digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. Additionally, it has no anti-aliasing (AA) filter in front of the sensor, so the camera is capable of extreme sharpness. The permanently attached lens on the A is an amazingly sharp 18.5mm f/2.8 Nikkor (28mm equivalent in the FX world), which is highly optimized for the sensor and provides image quality that is normally available only when you use professional lenses on a DSLR.
Figure 1.1: Nikon COOLPIX A, front view
The A has all the controls—both automatic and manual—that are expected in a true enthusiast’s camera. It has the potential to be used as a point-and-shoot camera for good times with friends and family, and with the turn of the Mode dial it becomes a serious imaging device for creative photography. The 16.2 megapixel DX sensor is vastly larger than consumer-level COOLPIX cameras, making the COOLPIX A unique in Nikon’s lineup of fine compact cameras. It has virtually all the controls you need to take complete control of your photography, just like a DSLR camera. However, the tiny size of the A means you can carry it with you everywhere you go for instant capture of unique images and life events.
The Nikon COOLPIX A is in a class of cameras that appeared only recently. Although it is not strictly a mirrorless interchangeable lens compact (MILC) or an electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens (EVIL) compact, the COOLPIX A follows the mirrorless idea, with similar specifications to MILC and EVIL cameras, except it has a noninterchangeable prime lens. I propose a new camera category called the mirrorless prime lens compact (MPLC) camera. That classification best describes the COOLPIX A.
The image is what counts, and the A will deliver some of the highest-quality still images you will ever take. It also has full high-definition (HD) video capability that allows you to create 1080p and 720p video for display on your home television via the camera’s included HDMI port or for posting to online video sites, such as YouTube.
Who was the COOLPIX A designed for?
You might think the COOLPIX name means Nikon intended this camera to be used primarily by point-and-shoot photographers. Although an inexperienced photographer can put the camera in Auto mode or one of the Scene modes and simply take great pictures, there is so much more available in the A. You can use the camera in semiautomatic modes, such as aperture (A) or shutter priority (S), programmed auto mode (P), or fully manual mode (M). The A is designed with the external controls found on a DSLR, giving you full creative control when you need it.
Figure 1.2: Nikon COOLPIX A, back view
Additionally, the fact that the camera can capture both 8-bit JPEG and 14-bit RAW (NEF) files allows you to shoot the best file format for the subject. In a pinch, you can shoot at four frames per second to capture action. Does that sound like an amateur camera? I think not!
The majority of photographers who will buy a COOLPIX A are those with experience and enthusiasm. The cost of the camera is too high for most consumer-level photographers, placing the COOLPIX A soundly in the enthusiast camp. Maybe you bought the A so you can carry a capable camera in your pocket or handbag. The A is small enough to be unobtrusive, allowing you to do things like street photography or to take quality pictures in places where a much larger DSLR would call attention to yourself.
Figure 1.3: Nikon COOLPIX A, top view
I have been able to capture some pictures with my A that I would never have attempted with a DSLR, due to the A’s diminutive size. No one seems to give me a second glance when I am at the mall or on the street with my camera. I know from experience that using a DSLR for public photography tends to draw immediate suspicion and sometimes security guards. It’s sad that we live in a world that requires such concerns; however, the COOLPIX A has made my life easier as a photographer who likes to roam the streets seeking cool pictures. I simply look like a tourist with my tiny COOLPIX A—no one to be concerned about. Yet I can bring home DSLR-quality images!
I will feel much better when I shoot an event, knowing that my COOLPIX A is in my pocket in case my DSLR dies at an inopportune moment. I can just remove my Speedlight flash from my DSLR and attach it to the A’s accessory shoe and keep on shooting. This may be a little bit of hyperbole, for it would look silly to see an SB-910 Speedlight perched on top of a COOLPIX A. Silly or not, the A is capable of supporting Nikon’s DSLR accessory equipment, so it has inherent capabilities and value as an emergency backup camera.
In this book I am not going to teach you about photography. If you are willing to spend the money for a premium compact camera, you are likely an experienced enthusiast, or even a professional photographer, and are aware of at least basic photography techniques. This book will teach you about all the hidden details in your high-end compact camera. It will discuss not only the how, but also the why and when, for each setting in the camera, along with suggested settings based on various photography styles.
If you are an amateur photographer, with little knowledge of things like the relationship among aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, I suggest that you get a copy of my book Beyond Point-and-Shoot, published by Rocky Nook. You can find information about the book at this website:
Beyond Point-and-Shoot will help you learn how to fully control your camera so you can use the advanced features on your new COOLPIX A.
First Use of the Camera
We will discuss basic camera setup in this first chapter. The upcoming sections and chapters are best read with your camera in hand, ready for configuration. There are literally hundreds of things to configure on this advanced compact camera. This chapter will give new COOLPIX A users a place to start. Later, as you progress through this book, we’ll look at all the buttons, switches, dials, functions, and menu settings in detail. That will allow you to fully master the operation of your camera and discover features you may not know it has.
Each menu system in the camera has its own chapter or section. You will access the menus by pressing the camera’s Menu button. You can also configure your camera via the Information display, which you access by pressing the i button. We will cover both methods.
Battery and Memory Card
Let’s start by examining how to insert a memory card and battery in the camera. As an experienced photographer, I’m sure that by now you know how to do this, but the COOLPIX A can be a little confusing because you can insert the EN-EL20 battery in up to four directions, and the memory card in two directions, but only one direction will work.
Figure 1.4: Insert the memory card and battery with their labels facing the back of the camera
As shown in figure 1.4, you insert the battery and memory card with their labels facing the back of the camera. Notice the small yellow clip at the red arrow in figure 1.4. It holds the battery in place and latches when the battery is inserted correctly. To release the battery, you push the clip back. When you insert the memory card, simply press it to make it latch into place, then press it again to release it.
Five Steps to Basic Camera Configuration
This section is devoted to the five screens you will see when you first turn your camera on. You can do nothing with the camera until you configure the five settings we will consider. Then it is ready for use.
Step 1: Setting the Language
The COOLPIX A is multilingual and multinational. As partially shown in figure 1.5, the menus can be displayed in one of 22 languages. Most likely the camera will already be configured to the language spoken in your area since various world distributors have the camera somewhat preconfigured.
The following is a list of the display languages available in the camera, using firmware version C1.01 (Setup Menu > Firmware version):
• Chinese (Simplified)
• Chinese (Traditional)
• Portuguese (European)
Figure 1.5: Setting the Language
Here are the steps to select your language:
1. Refer to figure 1.5 for the screen you’ll use for configuration and a partial display of the Language list the camera presents on startup. All 22 of the languages are named in the previous list.
2. Use the Rotary multi selector on the back of the camera to scroll up or down until your language is highlighted.
3. Press the OK button in the center of the Rotary multi selector to select your language.
Next, we’ll set up the Time zone so the camera will know approximately where you live.
Step 2: Setting the Time Zone
This is an easy screen to use as long as you can recognize the area of the world in which you live. Use the map shown in figure 1.6 to find your area, then select it.
Figure 1.6: Setting the Time zone
Here are the steps to select the correct Time zone for your location:
1. Refer to figure 1.6 for the Time zone screen. You’ll see yellow arrows pointing to the left and right on either side of the small black and gray world map.
2. With the Rotary multi selector, scroll to the left or right until your location is highlighted in yellow. You will see either a vertical yellow strip or a thin yellow outline with a red dot. At the bottom of the screen you will see the currently selected Time zone. Mine is set to New York, Toronto, Lima (UTC-5), as shown in figure 1.6.
3. Press the OK button to lock in your Time zone.
The camera will now present you with the next screen in the series, the Date format screen.
Step 3: Setting the Date Format
The English-speaking world uses various date formats. The COOLPIX A allows you to choose from the most common ones. There are three date formats you can select (figure 1.7):
• Y/M/D: Year/Month/Day (2013/12/31)
• M/D/Y: Month/Day/Year (12/31/2013)
• D/M/Y: Day/Month/Year (31/12/2013)
US residents usually select the M/D/Y format. However, you may prefer a different format.
Figure 1.7: Setting the Date format
Here are the steps to select the Date format you like best:
1. Refer to figure 1.7 for the Date format screen.
2. Using the Rotary multi selector, scroll up or down to the position of the date format you prefer. M/D/Y is selected in figure 1.7.
3. Press the OK button to select the format.
Settings Recommendation: This information appears in the internal metadata of each image. Therefore it is important that you select your country’s date format for ease of use later. When you have selected a Date format, the camera will switch to the Daylight saving time screen.
Step 4: Setting Daylight Saving Time
Many areas of the United States observe daylight saving time. In the springtime, many US residents set their clocks forward by one hour on a specified day each year. Then in the fall they set their clocks back, leading to the clever saying, “spring forward and fall back.”
Your camera can help you remember whether daylight saving time is active with this setting. Unfortunately, this is not an automatic function. You must manually change it every six months or your camera’s time will be off by one hour for several months of each year.
Figure 1.8: Setting Daylight saving time
To enable or disable the Daylight saving time setting, follow these steps:
1. Refer to figure 1.8 for the Daylight saving time screen.
2. There are only two selections: On and Off. Choose the one you prefer by scrolling with the Rotary multi selector.
3. Press the OK button to select your choice.
Settings Recommendation: Be sure to change this setting in the spring and fall of each year, whenever you change the clocks in your home.
Step 5: Setting the Date and Time
This screen allows you to enter the current date and time. It is in year, month, day (Y, M, D) and hour, minute, second (H, M, S) format.
Figure 1.9: Setting the Date and time
Here are the steps to set the Date and time:
1. Refer to figure 1.9 for the Date and time screen.
2. Use the Rotary multi selector to scroll to the left or right and select the various date and time sections. Scroll up or down to set the values for each one. The first set of numbers shown in figure 1.9 includes the year, month, and day (Y, M, D). The second set of numbers shows the hour, minute, and second (H, M, S). The time values use a 24-hour clock, or military time. Use the 12- to 24-Hour Time Conversion Chart (see sidebar) to convert the 12-hour time you are probably using (for example, 3:00 p.m. is 15:00:00).
3. Press the OK button when you have entered the Date and time.
This completes the initial camera setup, and you are now ready to start configuring other parts of the camera in whatever order you find convenient. You’ll use the Information display and the menu system, as described in the next section, to access individual configuration screens. In later chapters, each configuration step described in this book is accompanied by all the screenshots you’ll need and step-by-step instructions for choosing configurations.
Let’s look at an overview of the menu system.
Accessing the Information Display and Menus
To access the various configurable settings in the COOLPIX A, you’ll use the Menu and i buttons on the back of the camera (figure 1.10, red arrows).
There is one Information display with its 14-item Quick Menu, and six primary menu systems in the camera. This book has a chapter devoted to each one. Let’s take a brief look at the opening screens of the Information display and standard menus.
Figure 1.10: Press the Menu button or i button to open the settings screens
Information Display (Quick Menu)
To open the Information display, simply press the i button, then scroll up or down on the selections with the Rotary multi selector. Press the OK button to enter a configuration screen for the highlighted function. You can then configure that particular function (figure 1.11).
The Information display is simply a subset of the primary menu systems, with some of the most important camera functions available on a shortcut menu system that can be accessed very quickly with the i button. Figure 1.11 shows what the Information display looks like.
Figure 1.11: The Information display (Quick Menu)
Notice the menu along the right and bottom sides of the display. As you scroll up or down, the selected function name will show above the basic camera information screen in a blue box (shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and how many more images can be stored on your memory card). Notice in figure 1.11 that Image quality is selected and FINE is highlighted in yellow. If you press the OK button, the camera will enter the QUAL menu and let you select an Image quality setting. We’ll consider each of the 14 selections on the Information display’s Quick Menu in the chapter titledLive View, Information Display, and Quick Menu.
Now, let’s look briefly at the much more extensive camera menu system. Although there are six menus available in the menu system, the camera displays only five of them. My Menu and Recent Settings cannot be used at the same time; they are mutually exclusive. Either of them can be selected with the Choose tab selection at the bottom of each menu. Both My Menu and Recent Settings has a Choose tab selection at the bottom. Selecting it switches to the other menu.
You get to the six standard menus by pressing the Menu button and scrolling up or down with the camera’s Rotary multi selector. A selector bar with tiny icons will appear along the left side of the monitor when you press the Menu button. You can see the selector bar at the left of each menu in figure 1.12. As you scroll up or down in the selector bar, you’ll see each menu appear on the monitor, with its icon highlighted in yellow on the left side of the screen. The name of the menu you are currently using will be displayed at the top of the screen. We will discuss how to configure each menu in chapters 3–7.
Figure 1.12: The six camera menus
The order of the six menus in the COOLPIX A is as follows (figure 1.12):
• Playback Menu
• Shooting Menu
• Setup Menu
• Retouch Menu
• My Menu
• Recent Settings
My Menu is much more functional for most people, so it is the default menu at the end of the menu list. The chapter titled My Menu and Recent Settings covers both of these options in detail so you can choose which one you want to appear most of the time on your camera.
My Menu allows you to add the 20 most-used menu items from any of the other menus to your own personal menu, and Recent Settings displays the last 20 menu items you changed. Notice how the last two images in figure 1.12 show several items I have already configured on my camera, and notice the Choose tab selection that toggles My Menu and Recent Settings.
To avoid unnecessary repetition in the upcoming chapters, I won’t often mention that you need to press the i button or Menu button to access the camera’s configurable settings.
We will go into extensive detail on all these menus and their internal functions starting in chapter 3. This is merely a brief overview of how the menu structure looks so you will be more familiar with it when we study each menu.
Camera Settings Recommendations
All through the book I offer my recommendations for settings and how to use them. Look for the Settings Recommendation paragraph at the end of most sections. These suggestions are based on my own personal shooting style and experience with Nikon cameras in various types of shooting situations. You may eventually decide to configure things differently, according to your own needs and style. However, these recommendations are good starting points while you become familiar with your camera.
Now, let’s begin our journey through the camera by examining the most frequently used screens in the camera—the Information display with its Quick Menu, and the Live view display. You’ll use these screens constantly as you make camera adjustments and take pictures and video. Learn them well!
Note: Be sure to review the Camera Control Reference in the Appendix to familiarize yourself with all the external camera controls and their functions.