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The Nikon 995, improvements that are more than the sum of their parts
by VividLight Staff 
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Our first impression of the 995 was big broad grins.  It does so many things right, and it's improvements over it's predecessor the 990 are many - particularly when used with the optional flash bracket and lenses.

However, living with the camera day to day pointed out some irritating little habits.  Granted these were mostly small things and you'd probably get used to them if this were your regular camera.  

When we're wearing our camera techie hat we're all smiles and in love with this thing, but when we're wearing our consumer hat there are some things here that we weren't thrilled with.  

Your happiness level with this, or any digital camera, is still related directly to your tolerance for tech.

Now let's dive in and take a look at the details.  I unpacked the 995, got it going, and snapped the first few images without bothering to look at the manual.  If you're familiar with digital cameras this is a pretty straightforward process.  If not the manual will walk you through it in a few simple steps.

The manual is important for digital camera users, even more so than for SLR users, and Nikon did a good job with this one.  At 179 pages it's no lightweight, and it may initially be intimidating for novice users, but for the most part it is well written and well illustrated making the camera very approachable.  Step one is to understand the user interface for the camera, which is logical, makes sense, and becomes intuitive quickly.

Shooting in AUTO mode simplifies using the 995 and will generally give good, well exposed images.  This is where most folks will start out.  And unlike the program modes on some digitals it still allows you control of depth of field (landscape/close-up modes), flash mode (normal/redeye), exposure compensation (+/- 2 stops), and a self timer through buttons on the body.  These features allow you a degree of control while letting the camera worry about most of the details.

Shooting in AUTO mode under a variety of conditions, our shots were crisp and color and saturation were impressive. 

We picked up the 995 just before departing on the Chesapeake trip featured in this issue so we didn't have a lot of time to play with it in advance.  The plan was to take it along on all of the shoots planned for this issue including the Chesapeake and Atlantic City shoots, and on a portrait shoot, plus using the 995 for general shooting.  We reasoned that at $900 this is no entry level camera, and that a serious photographer would use the camera for many different types of photography.

The shape of the 995, with it's folding body, doesn't look as radical today as it once did.  But for those new to this type of camera body it does take some getting used to.  I never felt as though I was really holding the camera steady enough because I couldn't get good contact with my forehead.  Also in many shooting circumstances you'll want to use the LCD rather than the rangefinder site because the range finder doesn't show all of the image you'll be capturing at wide angles.  After a while I found myself just using the LCD for all of my shots.

After taking a shot the 995 has a quick review feature that pops up your last shot in a small picture in picture window.  While this is convenient, I preferred switching the camera into play mode to review images.  

Through the LCD you can view individual images, multiple images, and tag images for printing, locking (to prevent deletion), and deletion. 

One of our early shots was the fish mailbox at the top of this page.  Viewing it on the LCD we were impressed, particularly the tonal range and color, when we zoomed in and examined the image in detail.  Uploading it onto a laptop we were even more impressed.  I would sharpen this image prior to printing anything over a 4" print but the results certainly rated some oohs and ahhs.

When we reached St. Michael we had a chance to shoot outdoors under heavy overcast and rain.  Shot under less than ideal conditions these images, taken in landscape mode, held detail nicely.  In the marina images below you can see that the two detail areas (shown at full scale 1:1 resolution) show good detail on both the post in the foreground and the house in the background (at the end of the line of posts in the full image).  Depth of field was excellent and the lack of contrast in this image had more to do with the conditions than with the camera.

Dark areas didn't block up the way I've seen from some digitals, and images taken in low light, later imported into Photoshop, showed good detail in shadow areas that could easily be brought out if you chose.   We found that noise in shadow areas was minimal in higher resolution modes, but more noticeable in lower resolution modes.

But these low light shots pointed out the weakness of the 995's on board flash.  While it is a huge improvement over the flash on the 990, particularly for reducing red eye, it's really only effective for fill flash and is too weak for any kind of serious flash work.

Our camera had arrived before it's accessories.  When we returned we found a goody box from Nikon in our office that included the flash bracket for the 995.  This bracket, which is bundled with the adapter cord, allows you to use any Nikon compatible flash with the 995.  The 995 works with Nikon flash units in TTL mode but not matrix mode.  A nice feature is the 995s ability to vary the output of the flash through manual mode and to turn off the onboard flash when using an external flash unit.  You'll want to do this as the 995 won't fire the external flash unless the internal flash is in the up position.

Set up with the flash bracket and an SB-28 the 995 had a nice well balanced, heavy feel.  The only thing we wished for was a handle for the left side of the bracket.  Since the bracket is predrilled for one this may be an option down the road.

Heavy use of the flash pointed up something that is a problem with almost every digital camera - battery life.  A battery charger is included with the 995 but ours didn't arrive until the goody box arrived.  So for the first few days we were using the 995 with off the shelf 2CR5 lithium batteries.  With heavy fill flash use we averaged about 50 images before the battery had to be replaced.  At $10 per battery that's a healthy appetite.  The good news is that the camera does ship with a rechargeable.  For any digital we'd recommend that you buy three batteries if you're going to be doing a lot of shooting.  One goes in the camera, a spare goes in your camera bag, and the third can be charging while you're out shooting.  Nikon has however, made strides in reducing the battery appetite of it's digitals compared to previous models.

Other items in our goody box included a 64mb memory card.  Whoever decided to ship a $900 camera with a 16mb card should be taken out to the woodshed and beaten with a stick.  On the subject of memory cards, the 995 takes CompactFlash type II cards.  There has been a lot of talk around Internet news groups that the 995 will work with IBM Micro drives (up to 1GB).  The Nikon manual cautions against this so use these drives at your own risk.

Also in the box were two of Nikon's accessory lenses for the 995, the 2x converter and the wide angle lens.  The 995 comes with a 4x optical zoom standard that give you coverage equivalent to 35-152mm in 35mm format.  The 2x converter takes you out to the equivalent of 300mm while the wide angle lens expands your view out to 24mm.  Since these are screw mount lenses you need to switch from AUTO mode to Manual mode and set the camera for the lens being used so that it can make adjustments as necessary.

Not surprisingly Nikon has done a fine job on the optics.  The built-in zoom lens is made up of 10 elements in 8 groups and 2 aspherical elements.  All elements are glass with Nikon's SIC (Super Integrated  Coating).  The lens is capable of producing good close-up images from objects as close as an inch from the front of the lens.  When setting a shallow depth of field out of focus items in the background have a smooth even look that is missing from some other cameras.

We did experience some focusing problems in low light though.  At times the camera would hunt, or lock onto the wrong object leaving the main subject out of focus.  A focus assist would help in this area and we're a little surprised that Nikon left this feature off.

Image quality from the two accessory lenses was also exceptional, although I had problems handholding this camera at 230mm - a length where I'm perfectly comfortable with an SLR.  Also when using the accessory lenses you'll be composing with the LCD as both lenses blocked the range finder.

A feature we found useful during out wet weather shooting was the saturation adjustment.  This feature allows you to vary the saturation of the image up or down, and even allows you to shoot with the 995 in black and white.

The 995 features Nikon's matrix metering.  For the most part, both the meter and the white balance controls were right on.  However we did manage to fool the meter badly when we took the 995 into the studio.  At the end of the portrait shoot we hooked up a flash slave (the 995 has no PC connection).  Our test shots were terribly overexposed.  We used the 995's exposure compensation to underexpose our images by 2 full stops (the maximum exposure compensation).  This resulted in images that looked good on the LCD, but turned out to have burned out highlights when uploaded to the laptop.  Unfortunately we didn't have Nikon's optional "CoolPack" which includes a 2 stop neutral density filter.  With this and exposure compensation we could have dialed the camera in and gotten more usable images.

One final accessory you'll want for any kind of tripod work is the remote cord which allows you to control playback and zoom in addition to the shutter.

Uploading images from the 995 is easy.  On a PC simply attach the USB connector to the camera while it's turned on, and the NikonView software will automatically be started on your PC.  Nikon View allows you to save, rename, or delete images.  There is also a print function but it seemed to have some issues printing 4x6 prints and we found it easier to print the images from PhotoShop than to spend too much time figuring out why.  Also bundled with the 995 are seven image editing, printing, and manipulation programs including Genuine Fractals Print Pro which will allow you to scale images up for big prints with virtually no loss of quality.  Time didn't permit us to evaluate all of the software shipping with the camera.

Are we asking too much of this camera by taking it into a studio and out shooting in soggy conditions?  We don't think so.  Street price on this camera is going to be around $900.  With the accessories we would outfit the camera with, the price is up to around $1,600.  That amount of money buys a lot of film camera.  So our expectations are high, and we think that the expectations of the average 995 buyer are likely to be those of a serious photographer.  

We've heard many folks assert that the 990 is the standard by which digital cameras are judged (excluding the pro digital SLRs).  We think that the 995, while not without a few quirks, continues to set the standard for image quality.  This is a versatile camera, and every time we use it we discover, or rediscover, a feature.  The biggest thing missing for us is time.  There are so many features, and settings on this camera that we expect it will take 995 owners a bit of time to fully master their cameras.
In mid June we received an updated production version of the 995 with new firmware that addressed some of the focus and exposure problems reported here.  Click here to see how it did.

 
 

Our list of "must have" accessories for the Nikon 995


Battery Charger

The way this thing devours batteries the charger is a necessity.  Ours originally arrived without a charger and chewed through 2CR5 lithium batteries at an alarming rate.  We'd recommend at least one spare rechargeable battery so you always have a backup handy, serious shooters may want two spares.


Remote Cord MC-EU1

A must for tripod work.  You know why.


Flash Bracket SK-E900

The internal flash is a bit weak, and while we're glad Nikon included one, it's really only suited for basic fill work.  For serious flash work you'll want one of Nikon's excellent flash units.  We used the SB-28 but any TTL flash is a big step up from the on board unit.


External Flash SB-28


More Memory 25097 (64MB) or 25098 (96MB)

The guy who made the decision to only include a 16mb memory needs to be taken out to the woodshed for a liberal beating!  We'd recommend 64mb as the minimum.  1gb drives are rumored to work but I'm too paranoid to leave that many images in the camera before downloading into a computer.


Wide Angle Lens WC-E63

These two lenses are up to Nikon's high optical standard and combined they really extend the range of the 995.  Both block the viewfinder and will require you to use the LCD panel.  Both also require you to switch to manual mode to use them.  We found handholding the 2x at full zoom  almost impossible without a tripod because you can't get a third point of contact on your forehead and still see the LCD panel.  A 3x zoom is also available but wasn't tested.


2x Zoom Lens TC-E2

 

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Your happiness level with this, or any digital camera, is still related directly to your tolerance for tech

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUTO mode simplifies using the 995 and will generally give good, well exposed images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick review feature that pops up your last shot in a small picture in picture window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We'd recommend that you buy three batteries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uploading images from the 995 is easy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

text and photography copyright 2001 Vivid Light Publishing