This is a camera I’ve been waiting to get my hands on for quite a while. Announced over a year ago, it’s still the Big Daddy of the Nikon CoolPix range. When I say big, what I actually mean is enormous. Nearly 15cm from front to back when powered up and weighing in at 680g including the battery, the 8800 is one seriously massive camera. It must be with a sense of humour that Nikon’s corporate website lists it under ‘Digital Compact Cameras’.
To be fair, it also comes under the heading of ‘Hobbyist & Enthusiast’, and that at least is right on the money. The CoolPix 8800 may be nearly the size of an SLR, but it has the specification to match. As well as a big 2/3in 8 megapixel sensor it features a massive 10x optical zoom Nikkor ED lens, equivalent to 35-350mm on a film camera. Nikon ED glass is renowned for its optical quality, and is found in Nikon SLR lenses used by professional photographers all over the world.
Coupled to this is a versatile exposure control system also comparable to that found in Nikon’s digital SLR cameras, a tough alloy body with SLR-like handling, a hot shoe for an external flashgun, as well as the ability to record TIFF and RAW files. It’s obvious that Nikon is aiming this camera squarely at those thinking of buying a digital SLR. Heck, even the V-shaped red flash on the handgrip is exactly the same as those on Nikon’s digital SLRs. This similarity is also reflected in the price. Even shopping around online it’s difficult to find an 8800 for much less than £500, while you can pick up a D50 SLR with an 18-55mm lens for under £450. Is Nikon actually undercutting its own market here?
Of course a D50 with a 350mm lens would be a lot more expensive, and it’s here that the 8800 has its big advantage. Camera shake is a well known problem with large zoom lenses, so to combat this the 8800 is fitted with Nikon’s proprietary Vibration Reduction system, which uses motion sensors and moving lens elements to counteract shake when shooting handheld at low shutter speeds. Nikon claims 3 stops of extra low-speed shooting, and I found I was able to take sharp photos at near maximum zoom at 1/30th of a second, which is about right. This equals the performance of Konica Minolta’s moving CCD system, which in light of the recent news of Konica Minolta exiting the market, may next appear in a Sony digital SLR.