Nikon COOLPIX L1
- Surprising battery life, sharp pictures, 5x zoom
- Chunky design, Missing ISO settings, average speed
"The little dwarf" is a reasonable purchase. It has no extremely bad features, and offers some exceptionally sharp pictures in the right setting.
Price$ 449.00 (AUD)
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We aren't entirely sure what Nikon were aiming to achieve with their Coolpix L1. Its height and length would almost lend it towards being an ultra-compact model, but it is one of the widest models we've laid our hands on in recent months, with a nugget like design that looks more like a paperweight than a portable imaging device. It does produce some better than average pictures, but it only offers a very standard set of features that falls a little behind the competition
The one thing the L1 offers that is above the norm is a 5x zoom. With most point and shoot models sporting a mere 3x lens, the extra zooming power will be appreciated by some. Then again, if you are after a compact model with high zoom, we'd recommend the Ricoh R3 (with a massive 7.1x zoom) or the Nikon S4 over this model, for their superior design, style and features.
The increased zoom may be the reason for the camera's bulky design, but with vendors finding ways to cram more powerful lenses into smaller bodies, we don't really think it is justified in this case. The L1 is a chunky camera. It weighs 180g without batteries and is 47mm deep, which is more than double that of many modern models. The use of AA batteries only further increased the sizeable weight. The shell is constructed from plastic rather than metal, but feels sturdy enough to handle basic wear and tear. The rather stout design earned this model the nickname "The Little Dwarf" around the office. It is quite a bizarre looking unit to be honest, feeling much thicker than it should. It is definitely not going to be strutting down the catwalk like the Sony DSC-T5 any time soon.
The L1 bears a very simple set of controls; a standard directional pad, menu buttons and a zoom switch. They all felt responsive and well laid out but. We disliked the mode slider. however. The L1 only has three modes, photo, video and scene, but it was extremely difficult accurately land the slide on scene mode, which fell in the middle of the other two, as it. It was poorly mounted and quite loose.
Upon opening up our opening image tests, a few outdoors shots, we were extremely impressed. The crispness and clarity of the edges was way a cut above what we had come to expect from a camera in this class. There were no signs of any fringing, and the automatic settings compensated perfectly for the overexposed outdoors setting, leaving images where even the backgrounds were sharp and in focus. A common problem with point and shoot models is that strong light can drown out background detail, but we noticed none of that here.
Colour representation was slightly less impressive. In average light situations, the L1 had a tendency to overcompensate, producing overly warm shots. This affected the colours quite noticeably, with red and yellow being extremely prominent and green feeling too pale. Black was also affected, taking on a sickly orange tinge. By playing around with the flash and lighting, we managed to correct this somewhat, but for the average user who will be using automatic mode and shooting in whatever situation arises, they will not have that luxury.
We also spotted a lot of image noise in these warmer photos, most noticeable across areas of black and other uniform, dark colour. It is expected to some degree at high ISO levels, but was a little more prominent here than on some other models.
The L1 performed roughly average in our speed tests as well. It was a little sluggish to startup, taking roughly three seconds, but shutter lag was extremely minimal, and image writing took roughly two seconds.
There is a pool of features that has begun to become standardised across point and shoot models, things likesuch as white balance and preset shooting modes. These sorts of features are present on pretty much every modern camera. The L1 has most of these, but with one glaring omission; ISO level. ISO is a carry over from film cameras, used to indicate the sensitivity of the sensor. It is most often used to compensate for low light situations. For things like night shooting, it is a vital tool to help produce the best possible shots, and we were extremely disappointed not to find it on the L1. This is made worse by the fact that the warmer pictures are caused, at least in part, by ISO settings, and by removing the option to alter this setting manually, Nikon have really clipped consumer's wings with regards to fixing this.
Apart from that, the L1 offers the standard combination of preset shooting modes (15 in all), white balance, colour modes and exposure metering. There is a continuous shot function, but we found it less than satisfying, taking barely 0.8 shots per second. The best shot mode may be the only saving grace; it takes up to ten shots as you depress the shutter button, and then selects the least blurry.
To do this, it utilises a technology to detect how blurry each photo is, but as we found on the Nikon S4, this technology definitely needs some work. After shooting multiple shots from a tripod, with no possibility of human interference, the L1 was still reporting we were taking blurred shots. This sort of warning may scare some people, but it seems like regardless of what you do, the camera will detect shots as blurred.
We weren't expecting much from the battery life of the camera either. Listed at 280 shots in the specifications, and operating off rechargeable NiMH AA batteries, things didn't look too promising for this tubby little model. The L1 surprised us however, managing over 500 shots on a single charge before we ran it dead.
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