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Nikon Coolpix L100 Mega Zoom Camera Review
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Date: Jul 13, 2009
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction


Don’t be fooled by the Nikon Coolpix L100’s DSLR-like looks. Although the L100 looks like a high-end camera that could compete with the functions of a DSLR, it’s really a relatively simple point-and-shoot with a wide angle 15x zoom lens as well as image stabilization, a 3-inch LCD, and a high speed burst shooting mode of 13fps that surpasses that of many cameras.

The L100 is part of Nikon’s Life series of digital cameras that are known for their simple and easy to use functions. As Nikon describes it, the Life series is “Powerfully capable–yet simple, at an entry-level price.” Indeed, the L100 offers plenty of fully automatic controls for the user who wants to simply point and shoot. In fact, unlike a lot of mega zoom cameras on the market today, the L100 was designed for fully automatic use and doesn’t offer many manual controls at all.



With an MSRP of about $280, the L100 has a lower price tag than most mega zoom cameras currently available. Beyond the wide angle zoom lens with an equivalent focal length range of 28-420mm, the L100 doesn’t have the same number of bells and whistles as you’ll see on the L100’s higher-priced mega zoom competitors. However, the L100 isn’t completely bare-bones. It still features a 10 megapixel sensor, Nikon’s latest EXPEED image processor, 4-Way VR Image Stabilization, and Nikon's Smart Portrait System which includes red-eye fix, face detection, smile mode, and a blink warning feature. The L100’s high speed burst rate that can capture up to 30 images at 13fps is also sure to attract the attention of users who regularly capture action shots.

Automatic controls, ease of use, and an affordable price tag are certainly appealing, but what’s really important is how well the L100 performs. Carry on reading to find out if the L100 deserves to be your next camera.

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Bundle and Specifications


The Nikon Coolpix L100 comes with the following accessories included in its retail bundle:

  • Coolpix L100
  • 4 AA alkaline batteries
  • USB Cable
  • Audio/Video Cable
  • Strap
  • Lens Cap
  • Software Suite for COOLPIX CD-ROM


You’ll notice the L100 comes with four alkaline batteries; the camera only accepts alkaline or lithium batteries. The average rechargeable batteries won’t work in the L100. If you want rechargeable batteries for the camera, you’ll need to look into the Nikon EN-MH2-B4 Rechargeable Batteries or the EN-MH2-B4/MH-73 Kit that Nikon offers. 

Specifications

Image Sensor Type

CCD

Sensor Size

1/2.33 inch

Image Area (pixels)

3648 x 2736 (10MP)

LCD

3.0 inch TFT LCD with 230,000 dots

ISO Sensitivity

ISO 80 - 3200

Storage Media

SD, SDHC

Internal Memory

Approximately 44MB

Image Stabilization

Optical

Movie Modes

Movie with sound; TV movie (640x480), Small size (320x240)

Interface

Hi-speed USB

Lens Specification

15x Optical Zoom-NIKKOR Glass Lens, f3.5 - f5.4

Focus Range

Approx. 1 ft. 8 in. (50cm) to infinity; Macro close-up mode: 0.4 in. (1cm) to infinity.

Exposure Modes

Auto, Scene, Scene Auto Selector

Scene Modes

Portrait, Night Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Party, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Museum, Fireworks Show, Close Up, Copy, Back Light, Panorama Assist, Food

Battery Type

4-AA Alkaline or Lithium

AC Adapter

EH-67 AC Adapter (optional)

Approx. Dimensions

2.8 x 4.3 x 3.0 inches (HxWxD)

Approx. Weight

12.5 ounces

Other Features

Face Detection (up to 12 faces can be detected), Scene Auto Selector (camera automatically changes up to 6 scene modes to match scene), Motion Detection (camera detects camera shake or subject movement and makes adjustments reduce image blur), Smile Timer, and Blink Warning (camera detects up to 3 smiles and automatically fires shutter while warning you if one or more subjects has blinked)

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Features and Technology


Nikon’s new Sport Continuous Scene Mode is one of the big attractions of this camera. This mode lets you capture up to 30 images at up to 13fps. There’s a catch, however: In order to get this quantity of images and this speed of shooting, you must accept that the camera will lower the image quality to 3MP. For times when you don’t want to miss an important shot and you’re willing to put up with a smaller file, the function works very well. After enabling the Sport Continuous Scene Mode, all you have to do is hold the shutter while the camera captures the pictures.



The L100 also has another burst mode that lets you take advantage of the camera’s 10MP resolution while still capturing action shots. As you should expect, this continuous shooting mode is slower than the Sport Continuous Scene Mode. While in the full-resolution continuous shooting mode, you’ll be able to capture up to seven pictures at a rate of about 1.2fps in 10MP Normal (3648) mode.

Although we’re not sure how useful it is, the L100 also offers a Multi-shot 16 mode. This mode takes 16 shots at a rate of about 7.5fps each time the shutter button is pressed. The camera then arranges these pictures into a single picture. Image mode is locked at 5MP Normal (2592) when shooting in auto mode and locked at 3MP Normal (2048) in high sensitivity mode.

To help users take the best possible portrait shots, the L100 uses Nikon’s Smart Portrait System. This system integrates in-camera red-eye fix, Face-Priority AF, Smile Mode, and a Blink Warning feature. The Enhanced Face-Priority AF feature can detect up to 12 faces from a variety of angles. Smile Mode releases the shutter when the camera detects your subject is smiling. Finally, Blink Warning will display a message to let you know when the camera has detected that your subject blinked during a shot.



The L100 uses 4-Way Vibration Reduction (VR) Image Stabilization in order to reduce the effects of camera shake and increase your chances of having a sharp picture. The four components that make up this feature include Optical VR image stabilization, Motion Detection, High ISO 3200, and Best Shot Selector.

The Optical VR image stabilization helps to compensate for movements by moving the image sensor. This is particularly helpful in low-light and unsteady conditions. Motion Detection works by detecting moving subjects and adjusting the camera’s shutter speed and ISO setting to help compensate for the movement and stop the action. A high ISO capability up to ISO 3200 enables the L100 to capture images even in low light conditions without a flash. Using the maximum ISO setting may not be your best option, however, since you’ll be limited to 3MP images and have a much greater chance of noise within the picture. Finally, Nikon’s Best Shot Selector feature takes up to 10 pictures automatically while the user holds the shutter button and then automatically saves the sharpest image.

You won’t find a ton of creative effects on the L100, but the camera does offer five different color options that you can apply before shooting. Here’s a closer look at each of them:

 
Standard Color

 
Vivid Color
 


Black and White
 



Sepia


Cyanotype


Click to enlarge


The L100 uses a 1/2.33 inch CCD sensor which is common for this type of camera. Compared to a DSLR’s image sensor, this sensor is significantly smaller. As a result, the quality of images can never be quite as sharp or exact as a DSLR with the same megapixel rating. Despite this, the average user who should be happy with the image quality a 1/2.33 inch CCD sensor can provide. This is especially true for users who seldom print enlargements since the quality difference between the two sizes of sensors is extremely hard to differentiate with your average 4x6-inch print.

You’ll find five white balance options on the L100. Four of these options (auto, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, and flash) are predefined. The fifth option, called Preset Manual, lets you measure a portion of the scene (preferably a white area) and create a custom white balance.
 
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Body Design and Feel


The L100 measures 4.3 x 2.3 x 3.0 inches, and weighs approximately 12.5 ounces. When compared to today’s tiny point-and-shoot cameras, the L100 is a bit chubby, but it's definitely not cumbersome to carry around for a full day. Overall, the camera fits very nicely in the hand and offers well-placed areas for your fingers.

A large lens dominates the front of the Nikon Coolpix L100, even when it is retracted into its housing. When you power the camera on, the lens extends assuming you remembered to remove the lens cap beforehand. If you forget, the camera will display a message reminding you to remove the lens cap and then power the camera off and on again.



When the camera is powered on, the lens remains pretty consistent since most of the zooming appears to take place inside of the lens. You will notice some external movements, however. The lens itself is rated at f3.5 at the wide end and f5.4 on the telephoto end.

The L100’s large grip also extends outwards from the main part of the camera. The grip’s size is largely due to the fact that it houses four AA batteries. This grip is very comfortable and easy to hold largely because the sizeable grip provides ample room for your hands.



Between the grip and the lens, you’ll notice the L100’s AF-assist illuminator. The flash sits above the lens. One interesting thing to note is that the flash will not pop up automatically, so if you want the option of using the flash, you must pull it up before capturing a photo. Within the flash control settings, there is an auto mode. When selected, the camera will only fire the popped up flash when it’s needed. A built-in microphone appears at the upper-right corner of the camera near the flash and the lens.



On the top of the camera, you’ll notice the shutter button which is surrounded by zoom controls as well as the power button. During playback, the zoom controls can be used to access a thumbnail view as well as to zoom in on an area of an image. The Telephoto end of the controls also provides access to the camera’s built-in help displays when they are available.



The left side of the camera houses the L100’s built-in speaker as well as the cable connector (A/V out, USB) and DC input connector (for an AC adapter that’s sold separately).



The majority of the L100’s controls are located on the back of the camera next to the 3-inch LCD. This LCD provides the only way to frame your images since the L100 doesn’t have an optical viewfinder. The screen’s 230,000-dot display is decent, but it’s certainly not as nice as some of the high-resolution displays we’ve seen on much higher priced DSLRs.

Working our way from top to bottom, you’ll notice a flash lamp followed by a shooting mode button and playback button. The shooting mode button provides access to the camera’s shooting modes: easy auto, 14 predefined automatic modes, sport continuous modes, movie mode, and full auto mode.

Below these controls, there’s a four-way multi selector button with an OK button in the middle. In addition to helping you navigate the L100’s menu system, the four-way multi selector button provides easy access to the flash, timer, exposure control, and macro controls. Below the four-way multi selector button, you’ll find the Menu button and delete button.



On the underside of the L100, you’ll find a standard tripod socket as well as the battery chamber and memory card slot. A single door provides access to the battery chamber and memory card slot. When this door is opened, there is nothing holding the batteries in place, so if you happen to tilt the camera when changing a memory card, the batteries could fall out. The L100 has approximately 44MB of internal memory, which is helpful if you want to capture a few pictures and don't have a memory card on hand, but you’ll definitely want a separate card for serious shooting.




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Controls, Response, and Menus


As we alluded to earlier, the L100 focuses on automatic controls and offers very little in terms of manual controls. In fact, the L100 is one of the most highly automated cameras we've tested so far. You may have already picked up on this since the camera lacks manual, shutter priority, and aperture priority shooting modes. What may not be quite as obvious is that the camera doesn’t let you change the ISO sensitivity. All of the camera’s shooting modes control the camera’s shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. In Easy Auto mode, the only settings that you can change are the flash and resolution settings. The camera does the rest, choosing what it determines to be the most appropriate scene mode (i.e. Portrait, Landscape, Night, etc.).



Ironically, the automatic mode offers the most options that are within your control. In this mode, you can select the flash mode, self-timer, macro mode, and exposure compensation. You can also enable or disable the vibration reduction system, switch the Motion Detector on or off, turn on Distortion Control, set the white balance, pick a color option, and select from a number of drive modes including single shot and continuous.



The L100 has a single AF point located in the center. To focus on an off-center subject, you’ll need to press the shutter halfway while your subject is within the AF point and then recompose your shot before fully depressing the shutter button. When the camera has successfully focused, the box that surrounds the AF point will turn green. There were a number of times during my tests that I struggled to get that little green box that indicated the camera had successfully focused on my subject, particularly when shooting indoors. In many of these instances, I could still take a relatively sharp picture.



The menu system on the L100 is relatively simple and easy to use. When shooting, you’ll see two tabs on the left: Shooting Menu and Set Up. In playback mode, you’ll see the Playback Menu and Set Up tabs. The Shooting Menu provides access to the image quality settings, white balance options, continuous shooting modes, color options, and distortion control when shooting in Auto mode. When you’re in Easy Auto mode, one of the preset shooting modes, or movie mode, the only options you’ll see when pressing the Menu button are image/movie size controls. In Sport Continuous mode, you’ll get continuous shooting options as well as image quality options.



The Set Up menu provides access to basic camera settings and features, such as the ability to set the date and time on the camera, the ability to turn on/off vibration reduction and motion detection, sound settings, language controls, and a handful of other options.



The Playback menu is relatively simple, providing access to the L100’s D-Lighting feature, Print set (to print directly from the camera), Slide show, Delete, and Small picture options.



Regardless of which menu you are in, you’ll need to press the Scene button or the Menu button in order to get back to the playback and shooting screens. There’s nothing wrong with this implementation, but since many cameras let you switch back to playback/shooting screens by pressing the shutter button, some users will need to retrain themselves on how to exit the menu system.

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Sample Images


Although a camera’s controls and features are obviously very important, the quality of images that the camera can produce is obviously crucial as well. Since we couldn’t perform our standard ISO testing like we do with other cameras, we’ve included various test shots below with information about the ISO the camera chose for us. You'll notice the L100 doesn't necessarily stick to the standard ISO stepping rules. In other words, the camera can choose ISO settings such as 484 or 97. Regardless of which ISO the camera chose for us, we noticed that many pictures weren’t quite as sharp as we would have preferred. Colors were also a bit off, though it’s not so bad that you couldn’t adjust the colors in an image editing program. Most of the noise and lack of sharpness were most noticeable when viewing the photos at 100%. If the images were printed at a standard 4x6 inch print size, that noise and lack of sharpness would be much less visible.

 
ISO 80

 
ISO 400

 
ISO 484

 
ISO 97

 
ISO 80

 
ISO 400

 
ISO 120

 
ISO 400

 
ISO 400

Click to enlarge

A 15x optical zoom certainly gives you a good variety of shooting options from wide to telephoto. To give you a better feel for what a 15x optical zoom can do, here’s a comparison:


Click to enlarge


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Conclusion


The L100 is designed to be an easy-to-use, point-and-shoot digital camera with some attractive features, such as a 15x optical zoom lens with an equivalent focal length range of 28-420mm. The camera’s high speed burst shooting mode at 13fps for up to 30 images is certainly appealing as well, even if these images are limited to 3MP shots.



Overall, the camera was very comfortable to hold and to use. Although we prefer more manual control options, there are plenty of users who prefer a no-frills model that does the work for them. The L100 is designed to meet the needs of this latter bunch of users.

We were somewhat disappointed with the amount of noise and the sharpness of some of our test images. The lack of ISO controls contributes to some of this noise and can mean that image quality suffers even when it shouldn’t, such as when you’re using a tripod.


 

It’s worth noting that the L100 has a lower price tag than some of its competitors. Certainly there’s a bit of the “you get what you pay for” mentality going on here, but that’s not necessarily all bad. The L100 offers some very respectable features and cuts out other features that some users would never use anyway.

If you’re expecting the performance of a DSLR simply because the camera vaguely resembles one, you’re going to be disappointed. This isn’t the batch of users Nikon is targeting with the L100 though. If, however, you’re looking for a basic point-and-shoot with a wide-angle lens and a 15x zoom, then Nikon had you in mind when they created the L100.

     
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Fast burst speed
  • 15x zoom lens
  • Almost no control over ISO
  • Cannot use standard rechargeable batteries
  • Picture quality is a bit soft



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