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CoolPix 995 Macro Demo

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Views since 10/29/2008

We had a nice chat going on in the RV group on Usenet about cameras and I brought up the topic of macro capabilities in a non-SLR format.  One of the guys had just gotten a really slick Canon SX-10.  Looks like a must-have camera IFF the macro is up to par.

I decided to write this article to demonstrate what I'm used to in macro performance and what the 995 can do.

Coolpix 995

This is a cranky old camera with a mere 4 megapixels.  When I bought it, it was considered the top of the line in non-SLR cameras and I paid a cool $grand for it.  It focuses slowly, the shutter delay is intolerable, it need practically black on white vertical lines to auto-focus (I carry one of those cheap lasers that projects a line to give the damned thing something to look at.  But damn if it doesn't have a good lens.  Especially the macro.  Rumor had it that Leica and Nikon worked together on this lens but it is just a rumor that I've never tried to confirm.

The thing is also a battery hog which is why in the photo below you'll see the nice little DigiPower DPS-9000 attached.   A slick little affair.  Two 2200 mah 18650 standard laptop Lithium laptop batteries in a nice plastic case.  For cameras like the 995 that use two Li batteries in series, all that is required is a jumper.  For cameras that use a single cell, it comes with a step-down regulator built into the adapter cord.  I think I paid $30 for the thing, about half what Nikon wanted for a lame little 650 mah battery.  From looking up that URL, it looks like the street price is still about the same.  Good gear!

Without further ado, let's get to the good stuff.

Here he is in all his shining glory.  I love the swivel body.  I can take a photo at an extreme angle up or down and still be able to look at the screen.  I REALLY miss that feature in more "modern" cameras.  Note the tiny little flicker.  I can't really call it a flash.  It's good up to oh, 6" or so.  No really, this is the lamest flash I've ever seen on an expensive camera.  It can use and external flash. More on that later.


Another view of the camera.  I like the 2nd LCD on top and the scroll wheel.  Too bad the software is so awful that both are fairly useless.  To change modes, I have to hold one of the buttons adjacent to the wheel and then somehow turn the wheel with another finger.  Nikon really needed an ergonomics engineer on the team!

You might also notice the threaded lens barrel.  Nikon offered a wide selection of lenses for this camera.  I bought most of 'em.  Nice lenses, though the telephoto is a bit too strong and/or the exit pupil is too small. The camera must be zoomed in almost completely to avoid the tunnel vision effect. Neat if you're counting the hairs on the fly on the cow 500 yards away...  the wide angle lens is REALLY nice for indoor work.  The fisheye lens does what a fisheye lens is supposed to do - distort the hell out of everything while looking at about a 180 deg hemisphere.

Macro Mania

Now down to the good stuff.

This first shot was just playing around.  It is the "Z" key on my very worn out laptop keyboard.  It illustrates the dept of field of the lens when adequate light is available.  My ring light is elsewhere so I illuminated this with a hotrod LED flashlight. 

You can see the Z.  You can see the very fine cat hair on the key.  You can see skin cells on the bevel.  You can see the "stuff" that collects under the keys.  Impressive.  Now let's get down to business.

Here's what we're going to photograph.  Click on the image to see anything at all other than the mini-screwdriver to show some scale.  These are a few grains of Wallyworld house special Great Value Pure Arabica coffee grounds.  The little circle shows what we'll be looking at.


In this picture we see a coffee ground surrounded by a couple of grains of powder.  The square shows what will be in the next photo.  At this point the lens is almost touching the ground and is resting on the wood background.  Lighting is difficult without my ring light.  Nonetheless, I got this one good shot by using an LED flashlight to shine in from top left.  The flashlight's computer's PWM brightness control was having Happy Psycho-Daze with the camera, making the image go on and off.  Fortunately the actual image capture didn't show that.

This is cropped out of the above photo along the dimensions of the red rectangle.  Even this photo doesn't show the macro capabilities at its best.  I need the ring light for that.  With the ring light, all of the coffee ground, the dust particles and the wood would be in perfect focus.  The ring light (homemade, of course, provides enough light to let the lens stop down fully and get maximum depth of field.  Of course I can turn down the light if I need some other effect.


I've held on to this creaky old camera for several years just for this one capability.  Not only can I photograph anything most people can see but with my bad vision, I can use it as my magnifying glass and microscope.

Mr Nikon and Mr John Learn a New Trick

One of the things I love about writing these articles is how much it makes me learn.  In the 5 years of owning this camera, i never thought to try the macro and the 3X tele-converter at the same time.  Tonight the idea dawned.

Here's the camera with the tele-converter attached.  Big bright mutha, ain't it?  Turns out to work well with my Canon pocket rocket too, though I do have to hold it in place.  On to the results. 



Here's that same screwdriver and coffee ground.  This time the lens is over a foot away!  I have cropped this just a little because my LED light would not illuminate the whole field of view.



Here's the photo cropped some more.  As you can see, the camera auto-focused on the wood instead of the screwdriver or the ground.  Nonetheless, both are in clear enough focus to see detail.  The LED flashlight was quite bright so I'm sure the lens was stopped down.  Hmmmm, from the EXIF data, F4.5 and 1/168th of a second. So much for that thought! :-)  I should have used aperture priority and set that sucker to about F/12 or thereabouts.  Anyway, this certainly demonstrates a new mode of operation, one that I'm going to have to play with.

That Flash Thing

that I briefly mentioned above.  The 995 book recommends the very high end, very smart SB80 flash for this camera.  The flash uses TTL metering, varies the flash focus to follow the lens, provides a bring focusing and modeling light and a few other goodies.

None of which are available with the 995

Nikon flat lied.  I popped down about $400 (impulse buy at a camera store) for this strobe, only to find out that not only does it not auto-focus and all that other stuff, it doesn't even do TTL metering.  The camera has an external flash metering photocell just like every $10 K-mart strobe has.  The photocell on the strobe does a better job. 

The result?  I have to set everything manually, mentally translating what, say, 100 mm  for a 35mm camera on the strobe means on my digicam.  No focusing light so I have to either use a flashlight or the laser line generator.  Worst of all, no TTL metering.  Back to guessing and bracketing.  At least I can see the result on the digicam.  Needless to say, I'm pissed.  But it doesn't stop there.

Gratuitous Change

A friend bought whatever was the highest end pro camera Nikon offered a couple of years ago.  He's a pro and can use it.  I had little use for the SB80 so I offered it to him cheap.  We got together to try it. Snapped right on the camera

But..... No workee

Looked on the net - no good.  No info.  Then I got out his camera manual.  Waaaaay back in the back in the lawyer print was a note that the SB80 was not compatible with this camera, that it required an SB80X*!  They intentionally screwed up the camera-strobe data stream to make the two incompatible.  The screams you periodically hear are those of a photographer upgrading his Nikon to the latest and greatest, only to find that his $400 flash no longer works. *That might not be the right number.  It's been 2+ years.  But you get the idea.


I still have the flash and both my friend and I have sworn off Nikon.  "Hey smart-ass guys at Nikon".  You've lost one good customer and one GREAT customer and after people read this article, no telling how many more.

Whatever I buy in the future, it will NOT have a Nikon label on it.  Ever.  I'd learn to paint before I'd buy another Nikon!  And I'm going to do everything I can to discourage others.  Such as with this article.  Canon might give me a screwing like this but at least it'll be a different screwing.

Bye y'all!