The Nikon Coolpix A feels light in the hands, weighing only 299g with its battery. The camera is surprising small for one with an APS-C sensor inside, especially when compared against cameras like the Sony RX1 and the Fujifilm X100S. The lens retracts when powered off, helping it to reduce its profile during storage.
But when it comes to handling, the Coolpix A feels odd in the hands. Nothing really stands out as wrong but the camera doesn’t feel exactly right either. Nikon, which nails ergonomics beautifully in its DSLR cameras, has made some curious decisions with the Coolpix A.
For one, the Power lever is difficult to flip. It sits flush against the front edge and is just near enough to the right of the camera that, when holding the camera, we have to do a little finger yoga, bending our shooting digit backwards to flip it on. The Fn1 (Function 1) button sits right beside the lens, at a spot not really convenient for either hand (well, unless you have big hands).
The Exposure Compensation button is situated on the far left of the camera, which means that you need to use both hands anytime you want to adjust composure in Shutter Speed or Aperture Priority modes.
When you press either the Fn1 or Fn2 buttons, the camera doesn’t stay inside that particular adjustment. For example, Fn2 is mapped by default to ISO, but you can’t press it and then switch ISO settings, you must press and hold it, and then use the rear control dial to change settings, which means that using either Function button is a two-handed affair. Also, you can’t use the rear control wheel to make changes to settings; it must be the rear control dial. Both design decisions don't make handling easier, only harder.
The last curious decision is how the LCD monitor displays a convenient overlay of major settings on the shooting screen, but pressing the ‘i’ button doesn’t open up those settings in an overlay screen. Instead, the Coolpix A brings you to another screen, which means you can’t see what you’re shooting through the monitor anymore. It’s a backward design for an advanced camera when even compact cameras today let you switch settings via an overlay, letting you keep your eyes on the scene.
There are some good points about the camera; the Mode dial and rear control dial feel well-made and have well-defined steps when being turned, there’s a convenient AF/Macro/MF switch by the side of the camera and the buttons feel sturdy. But overall, the Coolpix A's handling left more to be desired. Now the model we had was an early demo unit, and production models might have changes. Stay tuned for an updated review when the final sets come in.