Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
"The Dada movement was consumed by anti-rational approaches, most notably the
creative technique that is based on chance and accident. Art that was created on
accident was very Dada."
The Nikon Coolpix 775 is a lightweight, compact 2-megapixel camera with a zoom
lens providing 35mm equivalent focal lengths of 38 to 115mm. At 6.5 ounces (185
g), without battery or memory card, this all-plastic camera is nearly as light as
the lightest 35mm point-and-shoots. The Coolpix 775 is small enough to fit into a
shirt pocket. The lens cover is powered and automatic. A weak built-in flash sits
just above the lens. As of August 2001 the camera was selling for around $400 at
Other than exposure compensation and a bunch of "scene modes", the Nikon
Coolpix 775 provides no creative controls. The scene modes include "portrait",
which tries to keep a wide aperture, "party/interior", which slows the shutter
speed enough to capture ambient-lit background as well as the foreground objects
lit by flash, etc.
It is very difficult to know when you've taken a picture with the Coolpix 775.
How can this be? You're the photographer. You pressed the shutter release. So you
ought to know. Not exactly. As with many other digital cameras, the Coolpix
imposes warm-up delays that range from 0 to 9 seconds. As with many other
automatic cameras, the Coolpix may delay exposure until it is able to achieve
autofocus. For a fully warmed-up camera on a sunny day with a high-contrast
subject, exposure should be within 1/2 second after the shutter release is
pressed. If the camera is on but has not been used for 30 seconds, a 5-second
delay is to be expected. If the light level is low and the camera is having
trouble autofocusing, it is really anybody's guess.
Competitive digital cameras usually beep or produce a simulated shutter click
upon exposure. The Nikon Coolpix 775 does not. If you're all by yourself in a
quiet country house there is a subtly audible click. But outdoors you can forget
it. Shortly after exposure, a green LED next to your eye will start blinking as
the image is written to the flash card (during this time the camera is locked and
you cannot take another picture).
If it very difficult to know what you're taking a picture of with the Coolpix
775. The optical viewfinder shows a slightly off-center inner 85 percent of the
image to be captured. The LCD viewfinder is impossible to view outdoors and very
hard to use in practice in any case.
This then is the Dada camera. You're not sure what you're photographing.
You're not sure when you're photographing.
what I thought I was photographing
what the camera captured
started to put camera down after 4 or 5 seconds, not believing that it would
take longer than this
a guy stepping onto the tram
full warmed-up camera still 1/2 second slower than photographer expects
One nice thing about the
Coolpix 775 is that there is only one display: the rear LCD monitor. The big
brother Nikon Coolpix 995 forces a photographer to check both the top-deck LCD
and the rear LCD monitor to find out how the camera is set. With the 775, the top
deck is clean except for an on/off switch and an "auto/playback/scene mode"
Nikon could have made better use of the LCD monitor. For example, when you
turn the scene/mode dial to the little icon that looks like an exploding
firework, a little icon that looks like an exploding firework appears in the
upper-left corner of the monitor. This merely duplicates what is printed on the
top deck dial. Why not print out, either temporarily or when the menu button is
pressed, the words "party/interior mode; slow shutter speeds; use a tripod"? As
it is, the only way to figure out what these cryptic icons mean is to carry
around the 166-page owner's manual.
No information about exposure is presented, neither aperture nor shutter
Wait... then Hurry Up
power-on, the camera takes 8 or 9 seconds to warm up. If you're taking pictures
with the monitor off and decide to turn the monitor on, you're treated
to an hourglass "wait" icon for about 5 seconds. The photographer is supposed to
wait for the camera.
After exposure, assuming the power-sucking monitor has been left on, the
camera displays the recorded image for a few seconds. The image disappears after
this brief interval, even if the photographer has kept his or her finger on the
shutter release button. If the monitor was off, or the image timed out, the
photographer must press the "quick playback" button to view the image. Then click
it again to enlarge the playback to full screen. This takes about 5 seconds of
"thinking time" by the camera. The camera is, apparently, not supposed to wait
for the photographer.
Canon does this much better. Without adding a single button to its digital
cameras, Canon gives the photographer complete control over how long a
just-exposed image stays on screen for review. How? If the photographer continues
to hold the shutter release after an exposure, the image persists on screen.
Canon is also smart about using the monitor. Even if you've turned off the
monitor during image composition, in order to save power, Canon cameras still
show you the as-taken image following exposure.
Nikon provides some useful features for macro photography. The 775 can be set
for "macro focusing and self-timer" so that a tripod-mounted camera is not
vibrated by the photographer's hand touching the shutter release. The 775 also
has "best shot selector" (BSS) in which up to 10 images are taken, as long as the
shutter release is held down, and the camera picks the sharpest for storage on
the flash card. This can be useful for macro photography without a tripod.
This camera would be a poor choice for low-light photography. The lens is
fairly slow (f/2.8 at its widest setting; f/4.9 on the telephoto end of the
zoom). The sensor speed is equivalent to ISO 100 film and can be boosted at best
to ISO 200. Competitive full-sized point and shoot digital cameras often go to
ISO 800, allowing lower light photography without flash.
If you're planning to use an IBM Microdrive, this is not the camera for you.
It only takes Type 1 CompactFlash cards.
The Coolpix 775 cannot trigger or control external flashes.
Nikon provides a rechargeable
Li-ion battery. This is specified to provide 100 minutes of use with the monitor
on. The battery must be removed and charged in a separate charger. The battery
compartment is physically compatible with disposable 2CR5 lithium batteries. So
if you run out of power while out and about, you can stop into any drugstore and
pick up a fresh battery. In practice, the rechargeable battery provided enough
power for one full day of travel photography.
The clock is supposed to run on an internal battery that is recharged from the
main battery. In practice this did not work well. After the main battery was
removed overnight for charging and reinserted, the camera had a 50 percent chance
of losing all of its default settings and showing a little flashing clock face
icon in the LCD monitor.
Note: this section is copied from our review of the Nikon 995
The Coolpix 775 comes with Nikon View 4, a program whose capabilities are
limited to viewing and copying photos that are in the camera or on a flash card.
I.e., it cannot be used to manage a library of photos on disk. Nor can it be used
to perform basic image editing.
Nikon also provides a program called ArcSoft PhotoImpression 3.0. This program
is capable of basic image editing functions, but it is clunky and not suited to
performing minor edits to a set of images quickly.
After you've finished taking a bunch of pictures with any digital camera what
you basically want to do is
copy them all onto a personal computer's hard drive
expand to full-screen size the ones that look interesting
rotate any images that you exposed vertically (the current generation of
digital cameras is too primitive to notice when they are being held vertical and
correctly orient the JPEGs to begin with)
rename any images that you'll want to keep and publish (you probably want a
file named "biff-and-chip-at-the-lake.jpg" instead of "dscn0006.jpg")
Along with its digital cameras, Canon provides a single program called Zoom
Browser EX that lets you do all of these things, mostly with some right mouse
button clicks. Armed with a thorough knowledge of the Windows operating system
file system controls, you can theoretically accomplish the tasks above with the
software bundled by Nikon. But it will take you 10 times as many keyboard and
mouse operations as with the Canon software.
Our advice: find a friend who has a Canon digital camera and install whatever
software was provided. The Canon software works perfectly well for images taken
with the Nikon Coolpix 775 with the exception that recorded camera settings are
lost, i.e., you won't have a record of whether white balance was set to "auto" or
"incandescent" or whether exposure compensation was set.
[Of course, immediately after writing the above recommendation, my Canon Zoom
Browser EX version 2.2 (packaged in mid-2000) choked when trying to delete images
from the flash card and crashed. Apparently something about the way that the
Nikon 775 marks images for printing gives the Canon software fits. Anyway, the
Canon software corrupted its "database" (a cluster of files in proprietary
formats) and could no longer display any of the 2000 or so images recorded in
there over the psat year. The program would, by default, reopen this database
upon restarting, and then crash immediately. I had to edit the Windows registry
using Microsoft's operating system regedit tool before I could use
Zoom Browser again (I found the relevant key/value pair by searching for the name
of the corrupted .zdb file). All of the old photographs are recoverable as JPEGs
from the file system but they cannot be conveniently imported back into Zoom
Browser 2.2, which only takes images from flash cards fresh from a camera.
Lessons: (1) take seriously Canon's advice to make frequent copies of the
database files, (2) do not use Zoom Browser to clear out the flash card--use the
camera, (3) do not trust your image collection information to proprietary
database technology--keep it all either in plain text flat files or in a
professionally maintained relational database management system such as
The Yashica/Kyocera Finepix S3 (we've not tested it yet) is roughly the same
size as the Coolpix 775 but offers substantially higher resolution: 3 megapixels.
Canon Digital ELPH, S300 in its latest
incarnation, offers similar resolution to this Nikon (2 megapixels) but with an
improved user interface--e.g., it beeps at the moment of exposure. Sadly, the
Canon is much heavier than the Nikon 775. Digital ELPHs are all-metal and hence
are pants-pocket rather than shirt-pocket devices.
If you want to do flash photography, you'll probably be much happier with a
camera with a built-in hotshoe, e.g., the Canon G1. For macro photography and
other situations requiring specialized accessories or manual control, look at the
For a camera that is fast and responsive like a film camera, limit your
shopping to digital single-lens reflexes (SLR). The cheapest, simplest-to-use,
and most compact system is the
(down to $1150 at some shops as of August 2001). The
Canon D30 is a reasonable choice if you already own a
Canon lens system. The
Nikon D1 series offers
very high image quality but extremely complex and hard-to-use interfaces (the
newest D1X and D1H may be better but we've not tested them yet).
If you need to photograph high-contrast scenes, consider a camera that records
more than 8 bits of information per color and offers a "raw" image format in
which you can convert down to standard JPEGs post-exposure.
For vacation snapshots of static subjects (i.e., not people) and business
documentation, the Nikon Coolpix 775 offers similar capabilities to cameras that
are two or three times as large and heavy. Because of its overall sluggishness
and uncertainty as to when an exposure is being made, this camera cannot be
recommended for photographing people.
www.nikontechusa.com is Nikon's
tech support site. They offer manuals and firmware updates for some Nikon digital
cameras, but not, as of the date of this review, for the 775.
www.nikon-euro.com is Nikon's
European tech support site. They have a much more up-to-date set of
manuals for Nikon digital cameras, but not, as of the date of this review, for
The metering system in the Nikon Coolpix 775 is remarkably good. All of the
photos in this article were taken without any exposure compensation. Here are
some fairly difficult scenes:
Some fun on top of the North Tower of the Stephansdom in Vienna:
Judenplatz, in the area of Vienna's old Jewish ghetto, displays physical
reminders of all the sentiments Viennese have held toward Jews. An enormoously
intrusive Holocaust memorial occupies one third of the square. At the other end
is a building with a laudatory inscription about the expulsion of the Jews in
1421. In between is a statue of Gottfraim Lessing, a writer who preached
tolerance. Mozart lived in this square. Several cafes operate within a few steps
of Rachel Whiteread's Holocaust memorial building.