My wife and I awoke in our apartment the Monday morning after Hurricane Sandy hit to find we had no power and, worse, no plumbing and, even worse, no Internet. As for cell service, it was ridiculously spotty. We were 16 floors up, our apartment surrounded by water, with a production meeting scheduled with my clients from Nikon’s Tokyo ad agency K&L, who had arrived from Japan just before the storm. We were supposed to shoot a worldwide marketing and ad campaign for a top-secret new camera, the COOLPIX A. And Nikon was also planning to shoot a video of me working with this new camera, directed by the distinguished director Naoki Fukada. I hadn’t seen the camera, let alone learned how it worked or used it. Let’s just say I was very nervous.

Our clients—who were on the 16th floor of the Standard Hotel—also awoke to find they had no power, toilets that didn’t work, and no means to communicate. My studio building on West 26th Street, which houses my servers, computers, and gear, was flooded, along with the whole neighborhood. The basement and first floor remained underwater, with crews pumping water like mad into the street. I called 300 hotels to try to find a place to stay, with no luck. Finally, after a frantic few hours, I managed to secure a friend’s empty apartment uptown where my wife and I could evacuate. I got our stuff up there and myself back down to my studio to secure our servers and get ready for the production meeting.

We met in my freezing, dark studio to plan the shoot, which started on Wednesday and ran through Friday. Mr. Miyama, the veteran producer, and his associate Naoya Watanabe were already hard at work booking talent who’d been cast the Friday before. We had about 20 talent to locate in the middle of a disaster, all around the boroughs. Real people plus the model agencies had to be contacted and logistics arranged for talent and crew. Everyone on our crew and most of the talent were without power or transportation. How would the talent even get into Manhattan? The bridges and tunnels were closed, and subways and trains were all down. It was hard to see how we could manage all this. I was more than worried at this point.

The meeting started. I asked Gen Umei, my longtime friend and client from K&L, if he thought we should reschedule the shoot. “No! Absolutely not! We must proceed!” Then he smiled and we both laughed, because over the last 10 years we had shared some amazing but extremely difficult shoots for Nikon around the world. This would be no different.

The producers and agency folks were also talking about our predicament when suddenly everyone got quiet. Gen was opening a black bag and pulling out three prototypes of the new Nikon COOLPIX A. He instructed us to never say its name, as it was so top secret. We all signed nondisclosures and agreed to no Facebook or Twitter postings. We decided to call it our “friend” for the rest of the shoot. I would be the first in the world to use it, and I was beyond excited.

The COOLPIX A looks like a gorgeous, small black rangefinder, but actually is the world’s smallest compact DSLR with a DX CMOS sensor. When I held it, I was surprised to feel that it was made of metal, not plastic. And it came with a fixed 18mm 2.8 lens (equivalent to 28mm), which was a fine idea, the 28 being a classic lens for street shooting. I was in love. I’d been hoping Nikon would make something like this for years. My favorite thing to do is walk the streets and document what I see, and I’d always wanted a very lightweight, unobtrusive camera that could also deliver high-quality files. Well, here it was. I read the specs: 16.2 mp files, 4 frames per second, and full 1080 p HD video with stereo sound. And I could shoot manual. Clearly, this was designed to be more than an advanced amateur point-and-shoot; it would also meet the needs of pros. There was more to learn, but I wanted to go shoot with this thing, storm be damned.

We produced shoots with some very interesting talent and situations, and it was pretty wild getting around the city, to Brooklyn and back, with our driver sitting on a gas line for three hours every night. Mr. Miyama and his team managed to get almost all the talent to all the shoots, although almost all our locations were closed due to flooding. Most of our shoot was to take place on the High Line, for example, and months of meticulous location scouting and planning had been invested, but the High Line was closed down. We scrambled for replacement locations.

In between the produced shoots, they let me roam freely around the streets so I could grab real moments. Although they were paying me to test the camera and appear in a promotional video, I have never promoted something that did not truly work for me. The COOLPIX A was a dream to shoot with. Fast, quiet, small, and nonthreatening. Fun. And after I got the files downloaded, I confirmed they were beautiful. Outstanding results for such a small package, the lens bokeh was lovely, and it was superb at low noise in low light, as expected with anything Nikon.

By Friday, we had a great range of stuff from all around downtown, from West Chelsea to the Lower East Side to DUMBO. But we were all completely exhausted. (It also felt surreal not to be covering the disaster itself.) I had been driving pre-dawn every day from the Upper West Side—I still didn’t have power at my apartment—down to our shoot. I was really missing my home, clean clothes, and the other things we take for granted. But as I learned the extent of the damage that the horrific storm caused in the other boroughs, I realized how incredibly blessed I was compared to those who lost everything.

I said goodbye to Gen and my clients that night and started to drive uptown to my wife, Tereza. As I reached the corner of 26th Street and 10th Avenue, there was a surge of light all around as the power was switched on after five days of complete darkness in lower Manhattan. Tenth Avenue had been under water, but now lights were glowing all the way down the avenue. What an incredible sight. We got our shoot done despite Sandy, and I was going to go home after all.

March 2013
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  1. Ben Ruffell says:

    Wonderful looking camera. Thanks for the review Doug.

    I just wish it had built in time lapse. I can’t see why they omitted the intervalometer. I would buy one in a heartbeat.

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