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Digital Camera Chronicles

11 -- Milestone digital cameras: the Nikon Coolpix 990 (Apr 2000)
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

The world of marketing is quite for to me. I have no idea how advertising and marketing people do their magic. However, there's no denying that a good ad campaign or a catchy slogan can make or break a product or a company. There are commercials that go down in history, like for example Apple's "Big Brother" spot announcing the Macintosh that aired during the 1984 Super Bowl. And there are catch phrases and jingles that stay with us for years and even decades.

Here are some that have taken permanent residence in my brain: "From the mind of Minolta," "From Sharp minds come sharp products," and (going back to my childhood in Switzerland "Und ewig knipst die Leica" which roughly translates into "Leicas are forever." As for jingles, I'll probably never forget General Electric's catchy "We bring good things to life," especially since I know that one did come from some fancy ad agency but from the maintenance man at an Albany, New York company I worked for in the mid 80s. The guy was a weekend musician, and GE, located in neighboring Schenectady, had paid him a few bucks to come up with the little tune.

In addition to unforgettable lines and jingles, people also seem to develop brand loyalty that are hard to explain. Why does the populace divide into Ford, Chevy, and Mopar people? Or into Apple and PC loyalists, each as fiercely devoted to their platform as liberalestions? and conservatives to their political affiliations? Why is a preference for Coke or Pepsi that important? Who knows? These things are just part of us.

In the realm of photography, I know that my grandfather was a Leica man and my dad never used anything but Rollei cameras. My dad was also particular regarding the type of paper he used. For him it was Kodak or nothing. Agfa made bluish prints, he believed. Myself, I got hooked on Konicas early on until they sort of faded into the second tier. Ever since, I've liked Nikons. I know that Nikons are the best just like I know that Omega, not Rolex, makes the best watch and Mercedes Benz the best cars, and that Pepsi tastes better than Coke. These things may or may not be true, but the part of my mind I can't really influence with logic tells me that. It's probably a right-brain thing.

Anyway, though my earliest experiences with digital cameras were with Apple's Quick-Take (another pioneering effort that Apple managed to blow), and it was the amazing Olympus DL-300 that made me want to start this magazine, I've really remained a Nikon man at heart. I still use the Coolpix 900 I bought from Nikon after the evaluation period was over on an almost daily basis, and I've report on my experiences with the 900 in several of my past editorials. My Coolpix grew obsolete far too quickly, at least in terms of resolution, but I was never really tempted to re it with one of the many newer, fancier digicams that came across my desk, not even with the Coolpix 950.

The brand-spanking new Coolpix 990, however, just may make me switch. Trekkers know that while Warp 9 is unimaginably fast, Warp 9.9 is many times faster. Similarly, while the Coolpix 900 remains a certain future in into the Digital Camera Hall of Fame, the 990 offers so much more of that same goodness that, as the Borg would say, resistance is futile. For a detailed preview of the Nikon Coolpix 990 check out Vincent Versace's piece on page 22 of this issue; I am just going to give you the right-brained version of it.

Essentially, the Coolpix 990 looks like the folks at Nikon spliced a good deal of the company's technological heritage code into the DNA of the Coolpix9OO. Retained are the innovative practical two-piece swivel design that doesn't only look great but makes it equally easy to take pictures using the viewfinder or the LCD monitor. But that basic design now looks much more like a "real" Nikon, as if it were the off of a union between my old Nikon 8008 and the Coolpix 900. The charcoal-gray 990 with its new curves and bulges looks more sub and more businesslike than the playful black and silver 900. The controls remind me much more of conventional Nikon SLRs than of its Coolpix predecessors. The LCD status display and much of the camera's operation, like are more reminiscent of a Nikon SLR than earlier models. Personally, I can take or leave these changes. I always liked the way my old Nikon 8008 felt and handled, but I also liked the Coolpix 900's controls. And while the heftier body with its very pronounced "power bulge" is definitely easier to hold in your hand, I don't know why the bulge is there as it accommodates the same four AAs as the 900. I'd probably take the slenderness of the 900 over the slightly grippier body of the 990. And even the 990's user interface is derivative and somewhat clumsy, and not what digital cameras eventually will end up with. Still, even from the out the 990 is everything the 900 was, only bet and more functional. This is a serious tool.

The really exciting stuff is under the hood. While the 900's 1.2 megapixels were a revelation at the time of its introduction, they pale compared to the 990's 3.1 megapixels, which translates into 2,048 x 1,536 pixels--enough for perfect8x 10s and great 11 x 14s. Gone is the seemingly interminable wait when switch from recording mode to playback mode. It now takes three seconds or so--perfectly acceptable. Gone, too, is the painfully slow play of the 900; on the 990 pictures pop up in and there is barely a lag when you flip through images.

For comparison's sake, I took a bunch of identical test shots with the 900 and the 990. The Nikon trademark high quality optics and electronics of both cameras made for excel shots even in automatic mode, but when you zoom in, the 990's huge megapixel advantage is immediately obvious. It's not even close.

Now I'll need to find a good home for my trusty 900. It won't be hard to find a taker. It's good to see how quickly digital cameras de and become better and better. I only wonder what Nikon will call the next top of the line Cool pix. The 995? The 999?

Digital Camera History
01 - The Newman Factor

02 - Living with digital cameras

03 - Traveling with digicams (I)

04 - Traveling with digicams (II)

06 - All isn't well yet

07 - Digital camera experiences

09 - Is it camera, or not?

10 - Go for the gold

11 - The CoolPix 990

12 - Confused by digicams?

13 - From film to digital

14 - Megapixel madness

15 - Digital film

17 - The horseless carriage

18 - Why I wish the Mac had won

19 - What makes a good image...

20 - The Coolpix 995

22 - 9/11 - A low point

23 - Time is precious

24 - A bright, sunny morning

25 - Digicams and road warriors

26 - Wonders of digital imaging

27 - We've come a long way (I)

28 - Beyond image capture

29 - Digital passes film

30 - Where are we headed?

31 - Digital imaging saves lives

32 - Making hard copy

33 - PictBridge, PIM, Exif, etc

34 - Strugglingw ith autofocus?

35 - We've come a long way (II)

36 - Zoom-zoom

37 - Megapixel madness (II)

38 - What should I buy?

39 - Changes in digital cameras

40 - Konica Minolta RIP

43 - What separates cameras today?

46 - Digital cameras at the end of 2007