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Lifewire / Scott Gercken
Feels good in your hand
Easy to use controls
Excellent photo quality
Long wait time between shots
Scene menu navigation is not intuitive
Even HD video is noisy
Can’t switch out the SD card while the camera is on
The Nikon COOLPIX A10 makes taking quality photographs easy if you can get it right on the first shot, but the wait time between shots makes using it a frustrating experience.
The Nikon COOLPIX A10 is the latest in Nikon’s line of entry-level digital cameras. Designed to be the perfect pocket camera, it promises high-quality photographs without the learning curve. We tested the Nikon COOLPIX A10 to see how effectively it fills that role.
The Nikon COOLPIX A10 is a nice looking camera with a flashy silver front and black rear. It’s 3.5” wide, 2.25” tall, 0.75” deep on the narrow side and 1” deep on the wide side. The right side of the camera, the one with all the controls, has a rounded bulge that grows from 0.75” to 1”, perfectly designed to fit the hand (the camera would otherwise have been too narrow to hold comfortably). There are several controls on the top of the camera—the on/off button, the shutter, and the zoom controls.
On the reverse you’ll see several buttons, including play, menu, and video. There’s also a directional input that both navigates the menu and allows you to control the flash, self-timer, expose, and macro view. To access the SD card, you have to open the battery chamber, which means you can’t switch it out without turning off the camera. The Nikon COOLPIX A10 uses standard AA batteries, so you can use any old battery you buy at the store. When you turn the camera on the lens cover opens, and the lens extends from the camera out to a maximum of 2 inches. The camera weighs 5.7 ounces, just the right weight to feel sturdy but not so heavy that it’s awkward to use.
Like most point-and-shoot cameras, setup is simple. We just inserted the included AA batteries, put in the SD card (not included), and turned it on. The camera ran us through the standard steup (date, time, etc.) and then was ready to go.
Figuring out the controls was a different matter. There are a lot of buttons on the back of the camera, the most complicated of which is the “scene” button. Once you press it, a menu opens with a scene auto selector option, a series of scene options, selective color, smart portrait, and auto mode. There are 15 different scene modes including things like beach, portrait, night landscape, sports, and pet. We’ll talk about those a bit more in the section below.
The menu button takes you to the nuts and bolts of the camera, but it’s not complicated. The photo and video settings are simple and intuitive. You don’t really need to look at the rest of the settings, except date stamp and electronic vibration resistance (EVR). EVR is off by default, so if you have shaky hands, that’s the place to go.
The headline number for every point and shoot digital camera is megapixels, and the Nikon COOLPIX A10 has a fairly standard 16 MP ceiling. But the megapixel count doesn’t express much about the quality of the camera or the photographs it takes. We took the Nikon COOLPIX A10 out to see what it could do, taking photos in every setting we could think of, from night landscapes to indoor pet shots. The COOLPIX produces quality photos in most circumstances.
We were most impressed when it came to image stabilization and zoom. In one test, we gave the camera to our most shaky tester, and we had him take a photo at every zoom level, through both the optical and digital zoom range. Despite his shaky hands, the photographs came out crisp and beautiful.
The sheen of high quality images quickly fades when you’re staring at a warning indicator for long, static moments.
Nearly every camera can perform well in great light, but the real test is at night, so we also took some late night photos of the Chicago skyline using the A10’s “night landscape” scene mode. Our first couple of photos were crazy blurry until we stabilized it and got a nice evening scene. We took a couple sunset photos, too, both in auto and in “sunset mode.” Both modes did a good job capturing the scene, and “auto” focused on the foreground while “sunset” focused on the sun. We also liked the “pet” mode, which gave the option to shoot continuous photos, useful for trying to get a cat to perform. Beyond a few useful features, though, a lot of the settings were bloat, and many of them felt designed more as marketing bullet points than for their real world utility.
The core experience of taking a photo was also frustrating. If we tried to use the camera shortly after taking a photo, it brought up a warning message: “Please wait for the camera to finish recording,” creating a massive delay between shots. The Nikon COOLPIX A10 has lots of cool features, but they don’t help much if you’re waiting forever for the camera to finish recording. At first we thought it was standard shutter lag, but the interim between photos belied that explanation.
The Nikon COOLPIX A10 isn’t just point-and-shoot, though. You can manually set both white balance and ISO from the menu section (though these options are only available in the menu if the camera is in auto mode and not scene mode). Manual white balance made a really big difference for indoor photos. The auto camera mode did a pretty good job, but the photos were still a bit yellow. Once we changed the white balance, the colors were much more accurate. ISO options are straightforward, ranging from 80 to 1600. The Nikon COOLPIX A10 also allows you to change exposure settings, ranging from -2.0 to 2.0 on ⅓ increments. It’s useful if the auto gets it wrong, but the camera usually did a good job with exposure.
Video capabilities seem almost like an afterthought for the Nikon COOLPIX A10. The camera allows lots of options and settings for photographs, whether you want to manage them manually or through a preset scene. There isn’t anything like that for video. The only options you have are in resolution: 720, 480, or 240. When recording, the screen also doesn’t show any stats or information like it does when you’re taking a photo. You can zoom in or out, but you don’t know whether it’s using optical or digital zoom.
We took video both indoors and outdoors, in shade and in the sun. Indoor video was very noisy, and it didn’t get much better when we went outside in great light. We took a comparison video with an old iPhone SE (12 MP camera), and the iPhone had drastically better video quality in all kinds of light. If quality video is important to you, this is not the camera for you.
The Nikon COOLPIX A10 uses .jpg files for photographs and .avi for movies. While the easiest way to retrieve your photos is through the SD card, Nikon has its own software to pull both photos and videos off the camera, a suite called ViewNX-i which includes both photo software and video editing software as well. One problem: we couldn’t figure out how to install it on the Mac we tested. We downloaded the right files and followed the instructions (several times), but nothing happened.
While the Nikon COOLPIX A10 takes beautiful photos, the user experience ruins the camera.
Fortunately, the COOLPIX A10 works easily with other photo library software, so we didn’t have to rely on Nikon. You should note, however, that the COOLPIX A10 does not come with a USB cord, an annoying oversight. The Nikon COOLPIX A10 also has some basic editing features, but they aren’t worth using if you have a competent PC. You can apply a couple gimmicky filters, and you can crop photos, but why would you try to do any editing on this tiny screen when you could use your computer? It feels like a feature set that some marketing exec dreamed up so they could claim the COOLPIX is ready for Instagram.
The Nikon COOLPIX A10 has a list price of $75, around the same price as many entry-level digital cameras. It takes decent photos, so you can grab some nice vacay pictures at the beach or camping without exposing expensive gear to the weather. Our only major hesitation is around the lengthy delay between taking photos.
iPhone 6s: It’s becoming more and more difficult to justify a separate digital camera from our phones. The iPhone 6s does have a 12 MP camera against the COOLPIX’s 16, but that really only matters if you’re looking to print large photos or need extremely high resolution images. Often, it takes better photos than the COOLPIX A10, and it’s video capabilities are much better.. It doesn’t, however, have the ISO, white balance, or exposure options that the Nikon COOLPIX A10 has, and comes with a slightly larger price tag. We saw prices between $100 and $250 depending on the options, but for that price you also get an iPhone and all the additional functionality that comes with it.
Polaroid iS048: The polaroid iS048 is a barebones digital camera. While it doesn’t have nearly as many features as the Nikon, it’s half the price. It’s designed to be the durable outdoor camera you give to the kids and is waterproof to ten feet. For $40, the iS048 is a viable outdoor alternative to the COOLPIX A10.
Beautiful photos but a frustrating user experience.
While the Nikon COOLPIX A10 takes beautiful photos, the user experience ruins the camera. It’s difficult to use and locks up for a few seconds after every photo. The sheen of high quality images quickly fades when you’re staring at a warning indicator for long, static moments. Other entry-level cameras perform much better.