Nuggets: Nikon CoolPix 990 is a top-class challenger

Some would say it's pretty challenging as well -- but keep at it and you'll take some damned fine snaps

There are a few expectations that come along with a label. The tag assures us of quality, ease of use and so on...

So what's the expectation with a Nikon product? Well, to be fair, the company's photographic equipment is renowned for being right at the top of its class. Imagine my surprise when I took the CoolPix 990 out of its box and couldn't for the life of me figure how the thing worked (and truly I've tested around 50 digital cameras in my time!).

OK, so it's a top of the range compact, but come on guys. Pretty much every other manufacturer on test managed to have the reviewer taking snaps within a minute or so. Not the 990. After you've gotten used to the swivel design -- brilliant for awkward shots -- you have to then figure out how to get the best out of the camera... and it's not easy.

A full hour reading the manual and a fair few shots later and the 990 was ready. There's a fantastically powerful zoom, 3x Zoom-Nikkor lens with focal range of 8-24mm plus a 4x digital zoom. But, as with all digital zooms, if you do go to the max pictures become unforgivably grainy.

Quality of the images was excellent, although you are advised to experiment often with the camera settings to see which work best in specific circumstances. Switch to manual mode and you can really get some great effects you'd usually associate with an SLR, although be warned, this camera has a mountain of features and to really make them all come together you need to sit, grab a cup of tea and concentrate on assimilating the camera's myriad abilities.

If there is a major complaint about the 990 it is its software. On two PCs and one laptop, the camera was not recognised despite employing USB (wasn't USB supposed to fix all these connectivity problems?) and reinstalling at least five times. We used a smartcard reader to get the pics off the camera but frankly for a machine that costs in excess of £700 Nikon really should sort this out.

Oh, and Nikon forgot to supply a charger for the camera's batteries. if that happens to you, make sure you get a big bag of AAs: the 990 is a power hungry machine, particularly if you use the LCD screen

The overall impression is that this camera is not for a beginner or even someone with limited experience of using a camera with more than a "shoot" button. Once you've worked out how the darned thing works, it takes great pictures which is what you want at the end of the day... right?

Price: Two variants, one comes with a 32MB card and costs £849, but if you want to stick with a paltry 16MB that'll be £749. Available at these prices starting 1 January 2001

Nikon's 990 at a glance:

  • 3.4 megapixel CCD for ultra high definition 2,048 x 1536 pixel images

  • Superior 3x Zoom-Nikkor lens with focal range of 8-24mm combined with 4 x digital zoom

  • Manual exposure gives creative control, but do experiment

  • Seven blade motor driven iris assists with manual exposure

  • Macro range of 2cm supported by a super AF system with 4,896 steps

  • High precision five-area multi AF as with Nikon Pro SLR's

  • Four exposure metering modes including a new Spot AF

  • M-Peg mode enables reproduction of 40sec. of moving image

  • USB interface for fast data transfer at 1 image in "Fine" mode per second

  • Extended battery life of approx. One 1/2 hours with 4 standard alkaline batteries

  • Comes with 16Mb CompactFlash memory card, 4 x NiMH rechargeable batteries and charger as standard (not if they forget to pack it you don't!)

  • Photoshop 5.0 LE and Fotostation included and both are excellent

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