The L100 is the new top-of-the-range; long zoom snapper from Nikon topping its "Life" range of easy to use budget models. It’s 10-megapixel sensor sports sensor shift VR (Vibration Reduction) to help things stay steady at longer zooms and in low light and this works very well indeed. And the 28-420mm focal range on offer (in 35mm terms) provides a fantastic shooting range encompassing everything from wide scenes to more challenging zoom work such as wildlife shots.
The lens is crisp and without much in the way of distortion, which is excellent and quite remarkable given the cameras price point of a penny shy of £240. The sensor and lens combine well with the cameras automated shooting systems, which this camera has at its core. Like most of the "Life" models from Nikon, the ethos is on ease of use and simplicity and the L100 has that in spades. Expect simplified menus, no control over ISO or much else for that matter.
Resolution and white balance can be adjusted, however, while there are a range of colour options and scene modes that include the usual suspects such as landscape and portrait modes. Alongside these there’s a neat, three tier continuous shooting Sports mode. Here you get 13fps in high, 6.5fps in medium and 4.3fps in low speed settings that more or less ensures you can capture that fleeting decisive moment.
One disappointing drawback was the LCD blacks out between each exposure and the resolution drops to 3MP. However some of the other clever auto modes includes the Scene Auto Selector that assess the scene and tries to set the shooting mode to suit, which makes things very simple for the user indeed and it works rather well too.
Backing this mode are automatic portrait modes within the Smart Portrait System, these include Smile mode (for smile detection) and a Blink Warning that lets you know if someone in a photo has their eyes shut in a shot. Both these systems use the fast and accurate Advanced Face Priority AF, that can recognise faces in a scene but also provides a swift and fast focus system for most subjects.
I found the AF struggled a little more in macro snapping, where the undoubtedly impressive 1cm macro close focus distance and some complex scenes forced a little hunting; the AF could not get a good, immediate bite on some subjects. However, given the lens and the price, it’s still better than many other models from another makers at similar prices.
In terms of control, the camera has well proportioned buttons and in a nod to more advanced users, there’s direct flash mode access and exposure compensation both housed on the jog buttons surrounding a central OK button. The shutter release is encompassed by the lens zoom control that propels the optics from 28mm to 420mm in about 1.5 seconds, while start up is just under 2 seconds.
In terms of picture quality, the main bugbear resides around the sensitivity settings. Auto modes run from ISO 80 to 800 with an ISO 720-3200 boosted range to help stop subject blur, for example. That’s all quite commendable but at ISO 800, noise is already way to heavy for anything other than normal (6 x 4-inch) prints so bumping it further does help back up the excellent VR system but ladles in more noise. Like the fast continuous shooting mode, image file size drops to 3MP to get this "advantage".
I for one would much rather have control of ISO and, perhaps, forgo control of the white balance (WB), which the L100 does have for the usual array of settings such as sunlight and incandescent light sources, plus a very simple to use manual control. But I can’t help feeling, at this level in the market, control of noise - in other words the sensitivity - might be a better option when the Auto WB setup does such as good job as it does here on the L100.
The images are detailed and sharp, with less of the distortion I thought there might be given the camera’s challenging optical tasks; though a distortion control is an option within the very simplified menus and actually makes an impressive job of sorting the barrel distortion that is evident at the 28mm end of the zoom. Leave it switched on, just in case.
And so what do we have in the Nikon Coolpix L100? Simply put, the L100 provides a fleet of foot, all-auto snapping experience that can provide a superb level of zoom-ability for those that want to get close, then closer still. It offers an easy to use interface, a great "Help" system (via the lens zoom control when in menus), that explains the menu options further if you’re unsure, and it can help you create stonking pictures, quickly and reliably.
Make no bones about it, the L100 is a pared down, simple to use model that, while top of its respective Nikon tree, offers a no-frills shooting experience. Advanced users need not apply.
Nevertheless, some of Nikon’s automated shooting technologies such as the Face AF, VR and Smile Detection all work very well and allow the camera to be a hassle free snapping device that provides a remarkable shooting range thanks to the long optical zoom lens. And the results more than live up to my expectations with vibrant and crisp results the order of the day.
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