One of threesome of new cameras added to Nikon's "Life" line, the Nikon Coolpix L2 is targeted at the photographer who wants a simple to use, compact, high quality digital camera. Featuring simple operation, the Nikon Exclusive Feature System, and an affordable price, the Coolpix L2 is worth taking a look at when you are shopping for a camera.
Among the three new cameras, alongside the Nikon Coolpix L3 and Nikon Coolpix L4, the L2 has the highest specs - shooting at 6 megapixels with a 3x optical zoom and 2 inch LCD. The L3 is a 5.1 megapixel camera and the L4 is a 4 megapixel camera (with same zoom and LCD).
As I just finished a review of the Nikon Coolpix P3, you'll notice that I've borrowed some parts from that review.
Included in the Box
In the box, along with the camera, you'll find starter pack of 2 AA alkaline batteries, USB cable, AV cable, wrist strap, software CD, and user's manual.
The Nikon Coolpix L2 is built for simplicity, so the spec sheet is too. The L2 shoots up to 6 megapixels with a 3x optical zoom. Frame and review your images on a 2 inch LCD with 86K pixels of resolution. If you want to go cheaper, consider the L3 and L4 which simply drop in sensor resolution and price.
The latest cameras from Nikon, including the L2, have the "Nikon Exclusive Feature System" that consists of the In-Camera Red Eye Fix, Face-Priority AF, and D-Lighting. As I'm sure you know what the Red Eye Fix does, I'll skip over that and give a quick explanation of the latter two. Face-Priority AF is activated in the Portrait scene mode. It detects a face in the frame and sets the focus point on that face. The D-Lighting feature allows you to automatically correct lighting issues after you've taken the shot.
For still capture modes, you have your choice of Automatic and Scene modes. Full automatic does everything for you and lets you set the flash mode, toggle Macro mode, and use a self-timer (10 sec). If you want to control some more settings, just click Menu to adjust image resolution, compression settings, white balance, exposure compensation, continous modes, enable or disable the Best Shot Selector, and change color options (Standard, Vivid, Black and White, Sepia and Cyanotype).
Shooting Menu (view large image)
The Scene shooting mode has four modes with "Scene Assist" and 11 other modes. While in Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night Portrait you can choose additional parameters to best suit your shot. For example, when you enter Portrait mode, you can choose Face Priority AF, Portrait, Portrait Left, Portrait Right, Portrait Close-up, Portrait Couple, and Portrait Figure. The remaining scene modes are pretty typical: Party/Indoor, Panorama Assist, Night Landscape, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Fireworks, Backlight, Close Up, Museum, Copy, and Voice Recording. To change which scene mode you want to use, just use the Menu button again.
Scene mode menu (view large image)
Design and Build Quality
The Nikon Coolpix L2 is pretty compact. It is easily pocketable and as a nice "battery bump" that aids the grip-ability of the camera. Despite being an entry level model, the build quality is excellent - the camera is solid and doesn't feel cheap. The glossy finish and rounded corners give it a stylish look. The L2 has a nice "gunmetal" color that sets it apart from the standard issue silver camera.
On the top of the camera, you'll find the speaker, power button and shutter release. Some slight texture on the shutter release provides a little extra grip when taking shots.
The lens of the camera has a built-in cover. Also on the front of the camera, you'll see the flash and the focus assist lamp that helps the camera focus in low light conditions. There is no optical viewfinder on this camera. The microphone can also be found here.
On the back of the camera, you'll see the 2 inch LCD. A horizontally oriented zoom rocker switch provides control over the zoom while capturing and reviewing images. Just below the zoom rocker is the Menu button that provides access to camera settings while in Auto mode; to scene modes while in Scene mode, and playback options while you are reviewing images. A 5 way directional pad provides easy access to flash modes, timer modes, and Macro mode. At the bottom, there is a button to toggle between playback mode and capture mode; and a delete button. Below those is a 3 position slider switch to switch between Auto mode, Scene mode, and movie capture mode.
The bottom of the camera has a tripod mount and the access door for battery compartment (that holds 2 AA batteries).
The right side of the camera (as you're looking towards the back of the camera), has the access door for the SD memory slot and a place to attach the wriststrap.
The left side of the camera has a small rubber flap to attach the USB and AV cables.
Image Quality and Performance
The Nikon Coolpix L2 is a nice little camera. Usability was good, speed of operation was adequate, focus performance was good and zoom performance was good.
The zoom performance was good. The camera moved through the zoom range quickly, but also slowly enough to allow good control over the framing.
Auto focus performance was good. The camera has fixed focus point so if you need to focus on an off-center subject, you'll have to center the focus point, get focus lock (by pressing the shutter partway), and then re-frame the shot.
Battery life was excellent, when using the right batteries. I used 2300 mAh rechargeable NiMH batteries and got over 150 shots without a battery warning. I didn't get a chance to fully exhaust the batteries, but Nikon claims 180 shots with alkaline batteries, 600 shots with lithium-ion, and 320 shots with NiMH batteries.
The speed of the camera was good overall. Shutter lag was very good for this class of camera - I was able to catch my running 4 year old without a problem. My only complaint with the speed of the camera was the cycle time when using a flash indoors. My batteries were approximately at half capacity and it was taking no less than 4 seconds to cycle between shots. However, it seemed like this was just the pause while the flash was recharging - not write times to the SD card.
I was impressed with the image quality. Colors were accurate and skin tones looked good and weren't too warm or reddish. Exposure was good outside and handled tough lighting well (full sunlight and shaded areas). Indoor shots were typically underexposed, but I have a hunch that this was done on purpose so that the results of applying D-Lighting to the image would work out. It's always possible to lighten an under-exposed image than it is to darken an over-exposed image. When images are over-exposed, details are completely lost. If you don't like the under-exposure, just bump up the exposure compensation via the shooting Menu. If you have a lot of fine details around the edges of your frame, you may notice some softness around the margins of the image. Chromatic aberration was well controlled.
I couldn't do a noise comparison with this camera since I can't set the ISO manually. However, I didn't notice any high noise levels in the variety of shooting conditions that I used.
The Macro focus range was unimpressive. Even though the focus range is as close as 3.9 inches, I had difficulty focusing on a subject that was 5-6 inches away. The pictures taken while in Macro mode were just fine, but the focus range wasn't quite accurate with the spec sheet.
If you're in the market for a simple to use, affordable camera, the Nikon Coolpix L2 is an excellent option (as are its siblings, the Coolpix L3 and Coolpix L4). The ease of use of this camera is hard to beat and it produces consistently good images. Most entry-level users will also be pleased with the Nikon Exclusive Feature System - the Face Priority AF makes focusing a portrait a no brainer and the D-Lighting will correct the lighting on shots to provide pleasing results. The use of AA batteries removes the need to carry around an extra charger and the battery life is very good. I would highly recommend getting high-capacity NiMH rechargeables - not only do they last longer in the camera, but they become very cost-effective over their lifetime. The compactness of the camera also makes it easy to slip into a shirt pocket, pants pocket, or purse. If you're looking for a wealth of features and settings, this camera is not for you. Nikon has done a good job of providing an affordable camera and removing a lot of features that its target user will never use.
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