When the Coolpix 8800 is activated it automatically stands in the automatic 'P' mode. In this mode the symbol 'P' enables some 15 preset scenes, 3 more than available on the Coolpix 8700. A large part of these scenes are familiar to the user: portrait, landscape, sunset and close-up, completed with Party/inside, Night portrait, Beach/snow, Night landscape, Fireworks, Copy, Backlighting, Panorama Assist, Twilight, Action and Sunset. The Panorama Assist is a useful function to make a marvellous panorama image, consisting of more than one image. The white balance and the light metering will be set during the first image thus ensuring that the images taken thereafter will be equally captured to be combined to one single image in the end. The description above about the preset functions means it is nice to use that function and the result is incredibly good, but to be honest, it's boring for this camera to only be used like that and the real possibilities of the camera keep hidden and not used. The command dial on top of the camera gives access to the main settings. Beside eight different settings, the camera can be programmed through the SET-UP setting to ones own preferences. The main possibilities are Auto, Shutter or Aperture Priority, Program, Manual and it gives access to the preset scenes. Beside that the Video Clip function and the Play mode are available. And we find three separately adjustable settings on the command dial too, the white balance, ISO and Image quality/format. An overview appears from the before mentioned options when the menu is activated, showing all possible options for the concerning part. The navigation happens smoothly through the multi-functional button on the back of the camera.
The Coolpix 8800 is equipped with a rather bright lens with an opening from f2.8 until the maximum f8. When aperture priority mode is switched on, the camera will choose the matching shutter speed, depending on the metered exposure. Aperture value will be shown on the LCD monitor as well as on the electronic viewfinder. Irrespective of focal range the maximum aperture will stick to f8. The aperture can be set precisely with 1/3 EV stop in 10 small steps through the aperture priority button.
The camera's automatic focus system uses a contrast detection system. The focus area or if it's accomplished completely automatically can be decided through the Set-up menu. For example; selecting the area yourself and combining it with a spot metering makes working and metering using a tripod very precise without having to move the camera from its spot. When the camera automatically decides the focus area it gets data of the subject's position compared to where the camera is. It is also possible to deactivate this function so a more traditional way of focussing can be used. Personally I prefer the latter way, focussing from the centre of the image. Setting the focus manually and changing the composition gives you the feeling you have done it yourself, which gives you the feeling of being in control. Two focus modes are available; Continuous AF and Single AF. Continuous AF keeps focussing the subject continuously which is very useful when trying to capture moving subjects. The Single AF works quite simply by pressing the release button half way down to be able to decide the correct focus at any time. A disadvantage of the continuous AF is the enhanced energy consumption. Of course the camera also offers a manual focus. Pushing the button on the side of the lens and then turning the command dial the manual focus can be selected. A distance scale will be shown on the LCD monitor enabling focussing with your own eyes. Extremely useful is the possibility to activate a focus confirmation through the menu. It will make the monitor shortly hyperactive (in brightness) when the subject is rendered sharply. Clever thinking and obviously functional!
Focussing with the camera is fine. A useful built-in assistant is the AF Assist Illuminator. It doesn't look like the effectiveness of focussing is improved compared with the Coolpix 8700. The AF Assist Illuminator comes in handy in dim light conditions. It takes a few seconds for the camera to be able to focus but at least it is possible to focus. I have to mention that contrast is needed in order to focus correctly and the telephoto images seem to have more trouble to focus than wide-angle images. Colour rendition is bright and clear, with a fine saturation, especially on images with rich contrast. The natural skin tones of a portrait catch the eye immediately, an outstanding result.
Adjustments to ones own preference can be made through the menu. In my opinion it's more than ok how the Coolpix 8800 captures these images with standard values. The automatic white balance handles all thinkable situations effortless, with excellent results. The overall image quality is remarkably well and will please the user enormously. However; we are somewhat less enthusiastic about the noise ratio. The camera offers low ISO values of 50 and 100 at which the noise ration is fine. At ISO 200 some noise is visible, not too disturbing but rather unexpectedly. The ISO 400 shows obvious noise and is therefore less versatile applicable and less suitable to have large size images printed out. The details are less clear at such an ISO value compared with the low ISO images. Night images show a high noise level at ISO 400 even when the noise reduction is activated. There is some improvement, but still too much noise is present. The 50-100 ISO night images are beautifully clearly exposed and well fit for use.
If we take a look at the Nikon Coolpix 8800's exposure we find a very good quality and precise exposure with high contrast. The images look lively, at times there is an image which is slightly underexposed but using the exposure compensation this small miss disappears fast. The optical zoom lens is of its own class. Some chromatic aberration is found at a few wide angle images and we discover a bit more distortion in wide angle mode. Slightly zooming in improves it immediately at which telephoto stands out showing no distortion at all. The brightness is terrific with clear and bright edges of the subject. The standard images taken from wide angle until and including telephoto are of high quality and effortlessly compete with any other digital competitor. The Macro function is the strong trump of de Coolpix digital cameras. Just like its predecessors the Coolpix 8800 scores exceptionally high on this area! The macro images' resolution is very high so rich detail is ensured. The corners tend to get a little unclear but in general the clearness is kept well. As mentioned before, using the flash when taking macro images is almost impossible because of the lens sticking out of the body of the camera and the flash being placed on top of the camera. The only solution is to use an external flash, or even better a flash unit.
It's obvious that we are impressed by the image quality and the settings of the Nikon Coolpix 8800. The digital camera is a worthy successor of the Nikon Coolpix 8700 with many possibilities to grow to a professional level together with its user.