Nikon Coolpix L14 digital camera review

Nikon’s “L” or Life series of digital cameras have received a double update in the shape of this the Coolpix L14 and the yet to be tested L15. The camera is eminently pocketable and though of plastic build is well made. It comes in two colours, the dark blue with silver accents, (tested here) and the more traditional-looking silver livery.

Interestingly Nikon has actually reduced the specification when compared to the L12, the proceeding, and range-topping model with a smaller 2.4-inch colour screen but with the same 115k-pixel resolution and the optical image stabilisation has been removed as well. Another trimmed feature is the sensitivity, which has been dropped from a maximum of ISO 1600 in the L12 to ISO 1000 here.

The styling has been improved; the new camera having a slicker-looking body and while on the face of it this might seem to add up to a lesser camera, which could be jumping the gun rather. For a start the 7.1-megapixel sensor is the same as that found in the L12 and the reduced ISO actually benefits image quality since you cannot load so much image noise into the higher sensitivity images you take.

The camera’s 3x optical zoom lens is different with a 38-114mm focal range (the L12 had slightly wider 35-105mm zoom) and the internal memory has been bumped from 21MB (L12) to 23Mb in the L14. However, external storage now encompasses SDHC (high capacity) cards and a significant improvement is centered on the battery life.

The camera uses dual AA cells but the battery life (for Lithium batteries (you get a set supplied)) is boosted from 600-shots in the L12, to a claimed 1000 continuous snaps in the new model. And during my test after about 200-shots with plenty of flash use and reviewing, the battery indicator had not budged.

Either way, if you get anywhere near a 1000-shots, it’s darn good performance in that respect and Nikon claims it: “Offers best battery performance in 3x zoom compact class as of August 30, 2007 (according to research conducted by NIKON CORPORATION)”. Use “normal” alkaline AAs and the battery life drops to a still respectable 440-shots.

Dedicated shooting and playback buttons on the top plate make control simple and straightforward as do the camera’s 15-scene modes and the clever combination of Face Priority AF, D-Lighting technology (this helps get better balanced shots in high contrast scenes), in camera redeye fix and an Easy Auto Mode where the camera does all the thinking in terms of settings for you.

Having written that, it’s worth pointing out that the camera has no manual controls outside the Easy Auto Mode either, well, other than exposure compensation to +/-2EV via a direct button on the camera’s four-way jog button on the back. The same control provides for macro, flash and self-timer settings plus you get self-explanatory direct delete and menu buttons.

In terms of the way the camera handles the image data, the inclusion of Nikon’s new EXPEED digital image processing helps both power consumption and the way the camera deals with noise, colour and detail and when you look at the images they are good.

Because you have no control over ISO (or anything else) you rely on the camera to get things right and generally it does. However, the problems with not being able to control the ISO show up in low light (even with flash) where noise starts to pile into the images. Should you want (or need) to control the ISO, say, you wanted to support the camera and use a lower ISO to help keep noise down, then you can’t so this camera is not for you.

Exposure control is good though and the Face AF system works well enough but is slow, as is slight shutter lag, which will quickly frustrate you, as will the time it takes for the camera to replenish the flash; around nine seconds from shot to shot and during which time the camera locks up.

However, the balance Nikon has achieved between the camera’s point and shoot capability, image quality at lower ISOs and ease of use is well struck. Plus, you get some very funky and fun features such as the stop-motion movie mode a 640x480 high quality movie setting, and a movie setting for email or web use.

A One Touch Portrait setting helps to get flattering and redeye-free people pictures while interestingly, you get a level of more advanced control over white balance. As well as the usual array of perfectly adequate auto white balance modes, you get a manual white balance mode that’s very simple to use that makes is a significant improvement for images taken in difficult or mixed lighting.

All this makes the L14 is a bit of a mixed bag, on the one hand you get less in terms of spec, while on the other hand, the tweaks have not hindered the camera for its target market and have – on balance – improved overall image quality, so no bad thing.

Verdict

Easy to use with good image quality at lower ISOs the Nikon Coolpix L14 makes a good budget snapper but one that has real problems in terms of speed of use.