Nikon Coolpix 885: High-Res Features at Low-Res Price
Shooting to bolster the lower end of its digital-camera line, Nikon released the Coolpix 885, an update to its earlier 880 model that includes many design elements of the less-expensive, lower-resolution Coolpix 775. Aimed at users who want a high-resolution camera in a small package, the 885 packs a lot of features -- many borrowed from Nikon's higher-end Coolpix 995 -- and squares off against cameras like the Canon S300 Digital Elph (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Images taken with the Nikon Coolpix 885 (top) compare favorably with those taken with sharpshooters like the Canon S300 Digital Elph (bottom), although the latter's colors are even more saturated than the Nikon's.
Though the 885 is an update to the Coolpix 880, it actually looks and feels more like the Coolpix 775. Sporting the same all-plastic body and square design as the 775, and weighing about 8 ounces (without batteries), the 885 is probably the lightest 3-megapixel camera you'll find. The camera's molded handgrip is very comfortable and makes for a sturdy hold while providing easy access to the camera's simple controls (see figure 2). But despite its well-designed body, the Coolpix 885 -- like the 775 before it -- feels very "plastic-y." When compared to the all-metal body of Canon's competing S300 Digital Elph, the 885 feels positively fragile.
Figure 2: The 885 looks and feels like the 775, making it possibly the most lightweight 3-megapixel camera out there.
While its form factor is more akin to the 775, the 885's resolution, at 2048 x 1536 pixels or 3.2 megapixels, is in the same league as the 995. The 885's lens is a Nikkor 8-24mm (38-95 in 35mm equivalence) f2.8-4.9 3X zoom lens. In terms of length and zoom capabilities the 885's lens is about midway between those offered in the 775 and 995. As a bonus, the 885 can use the 990/995's lens attachments.
The 885's design differs from the 775 in a few ways. The 885's larger-diameter lens is protected by a removable (and losable) lens cap rather than an automatic lens cap. In addition, the camera's mode dial is much simpler, offering only six settings. The back of the camera holds the zoom buttons, a large four-way navigation button, and a few other simple push-button controls.
Like the 775, the 885 provides an LCD display that delivers a clear image, but could sorely use some kind of anti-glare coating. Unfortunately, the 885 lacks a separate LCD status display. So, if you're shooting with the LCD off, you'll have no way of knowing how much space you have left on the camera's Type 1 CompactFlash card (it ships with a 16MB card), or how the camera is configured. But, because the camera's optical viewfinder only provides 80 percent coverage of your final image, and lacks parallax or focusing guides, you'll probably find that you'll almost always want to use the LCD screen.
Like the 880 before it, the Coolpix 885 does not use AA batteries. Instead, Nikon ships the camera with a 2CR5 non-rechargeable lithium battery. While these batteries provide a good amount of power, they're no substitute for a rechargeable battery. Unfortunately, Nikon offers the Li-ion rechargeable battery pack as a $40 option (the recharging unit is another $70 or so, according to published prices). This seems a very disagreeable choice. If Nikon is not going to support a standard rechargeable format, then they should at least provide a rechargeable battery and charger with the camera.
Shooting with the 885 is easy and straightforward. In addition to its full automatic mode, the 885 also includes a set of canned exposure modes for different situations. After setting the camera's Mode dial to Scene mode, you need to enter the camera's menu system to select the type of scene you're shooting in. The camera will then adjust its exposure and shutter speed accordingly. The 885 provides Scene presets for the following situations: Portrait, Party/Indoor, Night Portrait, Beach/Snow, Landscape, Sunset, Night Landscape, Museum, Fireworks, Close-up, Copy, and Backlight.
For the user who wants more control, the 885 provides CustomSetting Menu (CSM), an exposure mode that provides access to custom white balance controls and other specialized functions. CSM mode also lets you have manual control over shutter speed and aperture, however the 885 only has two aperture settings, f2.8 and f7.6.
The Exposure Compensation button on the back of the camera provides convenient access to the camera's +/-3 stop exposure compensation features. Pressing the button in conjunction with the four-way navigation control also provides a quick way to change shutter and aperture if you're in manual mode or ISO setting if you're in Program exposure mode.
The Coolpix 885 has inherited a lot of nice features from its higher-end Nikon brethren. In addition to its thorough white balance control (which provides presets for six different types of lights as well as full manual control), the 885 also includes Nikon's Best Shot Selection feature, multi-spot autofocus and four different light meters (matrix, spot, center-weight, and spot area). This is a tremendous amount of control for what is ostensibly a small snapshot camera.
The list of similarities goes on. The 885 packs Continuous features that are identical to the 990. In addition to shooting bursts in various resolutions, the 885 can also shoot silent QuickTime movies. You can select from three ISO settings (100, 200, or 400) or let the camera select ISO automatically. The 885 also boasts an auto-bracketing feature. Finally, the camera's playback mode provides several screens full of data for each image, including a histogram display. As with the 995, the Coolpix 885 includes a new Quick Play button, which lets you quickly view your images without a time-consuming switch into playback mode. This is a great feature that more vendors should adopt.
If you've ever used a Coolpix 990 or 995, this might all sound very familiar. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that, feature-wise, the 885 is really just a small Coolpix 995 with an f2.8-4.9 lens.
In shooting with the 885, our biggest complaint was the camera's slow boot time. As with the 775, the 885 takes almost 10 seconds to boot up, extend its lens, and prepare to shoot. This is, obviously, more than enough time to miss your shot. Though the camera will fall into a power-saving sleep mode, we never felt comfortable leaving it this way, as the camera's lens remains extended. Given the fragile feel of the camera, we couldn't help but worry about whacking the extended lens on something as we carried the camera around.
As one would expect, the 885 delivers very good image quality, though it wasn't without its imaging quirks, some of which we recognized from other Coolpix cameras. The camera delivered its best results in daylight shots, and we were surprised by the lack of purple fringing. As with the 775, the 885's zoom lens suffers from barrel distortion at the wide end, but we saw little pincushion distortion when fully zoomed.
The 885 seems to deliver more saturation and brighter colors than the 995. This is great for users who want the best results they can get, straight out of the camera. For users who want more accurate color for editing purposes, the 885's extra saturation might be a bit frustrating. In general, we were pleased with the overall image quality when shooting in bright daylight. The camera does exhibit some slight noise in darker, shadow temperatures, but the noise level is perfectly acceptable for a camera at this price point.
Figure 3: The 885 produces nice outdoor photos, delivering images with bright colors and minimal artifacts.
We were less pleased with the camera's indoor, low-light performance, and were particularly disappointed with the camera's flash results. When shooting with the camera's built-in flash, flesh tones developed ugly red artifacts, and colors in general became noisier and more washed out.
Figure 4: Images taken indoors with the 885 show some artifacts, such as slight halo effects around the seat cushion.
You couldn't ask for a camera with a better feature set or more thorough controls, particularly for $600. If you're an experienced photographer, you'll appreciate the fine degree of control provided for everything from white balance to focus modes to light metering. The lack of more than two apertures is frustrating, but again, this is predominantly a snapshot camera.
If you're a beginning digital photographer, the Coolpix 885 gives you some room to grow, while still providing enough automatic features to ensure that you'll get good results in the meantime.
As mentioned above, the 885 has some imaging problems, but so do all digital cameras. While we prefer some characteristics of the Canon Digital Elph (along with the Elph's form factor) you might find the 885's images more to your tastes, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a 3-megapixel camera as small, light, and full-featured as the Coolpix 885.
Read more by Ben Long.