An affordable extended-zoom digicam for point-and-shoot photographers.In its Coolpix L100 model, Nikon has entered new territory with an extended zoom camera for snapshooters. Powered by four AA batteries, it provides four, highly-automated capture modes for still photography plus a movie mode that records VGA or QVGA clips at 30 frames/second. Don't expect P, A, S and M shooting modes; you won't find them. But you will find an interesting Sport continuous mode that records 3-megapixel shots at 13 frames/second for up to 30 frames. . . [more]
In its Coolpix L100 model, Nikon has entered new territory with an extended zoom camera for snapshooters. Powered by four AA batteries, it provides four, highly-automated capture modes for still photography plus a movie mode that records VGA or QVGA clips at 30 frames/second. Don't expect P, A, S and M shooting modes; you won't find them. But you will find an interesting Sport continuous mode that records 3-megapixel shots at 13 frames/second for up to 30 frames.
Ten megapixels is more than adequate for potential purchasers of the L100, most of whom will never want to enlarge their shots beyond A4 size. The high level of automation will also suit such users - although it has limitations (see the Performance section below).
Build quality is similar to the Coolpix P90, which Photo Review reviewed recently. The black plastic body feels solid enough to withstand normal wear and tear. Like the P90, the L100 comes with a lens cap and neck strap - but no lens hood.
Front view of the Coolpix L100 with the built-in flash raised.
The Zoom Nikkor lens extends by 18 mm when the camera is switched on and retracts right into its housing when powered-down. Zooming appears to be entirely internal as we found very little change in its length when we went from the 5mm focal length setting to full optical zoom at 75mm. Despite its relatively large size, this lens isn't particularly fast, with a maximum aperture of only f/3.5 at the wide position and f/5.4 at full tele zoom.
Top view of the L100 showing the limited controls.
For a long-zoom digicam, the L100 has very few controls. The top panel carries only an on/off switch and a shutter button with surrounding zoom lever. Most of the rear panel is covered by the 3-inch TFT LCD, which has a built-to-a-price resolution of roughly 230,000 dots. No viewfinder (either optical or electronic) is provided.
Rear view of the Coolpix L100 showing the LCD monitor and button controls.
Right of the LCD is the standard arrow pad with buttons above is for accessing the shooting and playback modes and buttons below for the Menu and delete functions. The four arrow pad buttons access the self-timer, flash, exposure compensation and macro settings, with an OK button in the centre to lock settings in.
The battery and card compartment is entered via a hatch in the base panel, which isn't always easy to close. It accommodates four AA batteries, making the hand grip on the L100 somewhat wider than that on the P90. This may present problems for users with small hands or limited dexterity. Beside the battery/card compartment is a metal-lined tripod socket. The left side panel carries the speaker grille, below which a lift-up rubber hatch covers the USB and DC-in ports.
Playback functions are similar to those on the Coolpix P90 and include single and multi-image (nine, 16 or 25 thumbnail index play), calendar playback and up to 10x playback zoom with cropping. In-camera editing functions include the standard D-Lighting and Small Picture resizing. The software bundle is the same as the P90's.
Focusing and Exposure
Both focusing and exposure are fully automatic in the Coolpix L100 and, despite published specifications on Nikon's website showing the camera to offer adjustable metering patterns (matrix, centre-weighted and spot), Photo Review couldn't find any evidence of metering - or exposure - adjustments in the camera's menu system. Exposure levels can be tweaked by pressing the +/- button on the arrow pad, which displays a line graph with six bars above and five below the neutral point.
The exposure compensation control.
We couldn't find any evidence of focusing controls, either, which is a pity as our experience showed they would be useful with this camera. The AF system appears to be contrast-based and has two [ ] shaped detectors in the centre of the frame that light up green when focus is achieved. A double-beep sounds to confirm focus.
If you wish to shoot close-ups you have two options: use the Close-up scene mode setting or press the Macro button on the arrow pad. The former extends the lens focal length to around 15mm and focuses to approximately 30 cm, at the same time boosting sensitivity to a minimum of around ISO 400 to counteract possible camera shake. Resolution isn't reduced.
The latter makes no focal length adjustments but also boosts sensitivity. With both options you can use the zoom lever to its full extent, which means you can focus to approximately 1 cm at the wide-angle setting.
With no selectable AF and metering patterns, shooting some types of subjects becomes a difficult - and unpredictable - exercise. (See the Performance section below.) Nikon also highlights 'four advanced image stabilising features' in the promotional materials for this camera. However, since no adjustments are provided for the VR stabilisation system, they're of little value for serious photographers.
Pressing the shooting mode button (indicated by a green camera icon) opens a menu with five shooting modes: Easy auto, Scene, Sports/High ISO, movie and Auto. Together, these options are designed to cover just about any shooting situation this camera is capable of recording.
Shooting mode options.
In the Easy auto mode, the only function you can adjust is the image size settings. The camera's Scene Auto Selector function will automatically choose the appropriate exposure and focusing settings from the following options: Landscape, Night landscape, Backlight, Portrait, Night portrait and Close-up. Face-priority AF is also applied automatically where human faces are detected and the camera can identify up to 12 human faces in a scene.
The remaining scene pre-sets are found in the Scene Mode sub-menu and include Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Food, Museum, Copy and Panorama assist. Each of the modes places specific restrictions on which functions are enabled and disabled. For example, in the portrait mode, you can't use the Macro button and the flash defaults to auto with red-eye reduction, while in the Backlight mode, the flash must be raised before a shot can be taken.
The Scene mode sub-menu.
The Sports/High ISO sub-menu contains three settings: Sport continuous, High sensitivity and Smile. In each case, the maximum image size is limited to 3M (2048 x 1536 pixels) or smaller.
Selecting the Sport continuous mode and pressing the Menu button lets you choose from three capture speeds: High at approximately 13 frames/second, Medium at approximately 6.5 frames/second and Low at approximately 4.3 frames/second. The only other adjustment provided is for image size, where you can choose from 3M, PC screen (1024), TV screen (640) and 16:9 (1920).
In the High sensitivity mode, sensitivity is set to ISO 720 or higher (up to ISO 3200 - but determined by the camera) and you can adjust image size (3M and lower), white balance, colour option and distortion control settings and access the continuous, BSS (Best Shot Selector) and Multi-shot 16 settings. In Smile shutter mode, the full range of image size settings is available - but no other menu options are accessible.
The L100's image size settings.
In movie mode, the only things you can adjust are frame size and rate and even then, options are limited to three: TV movie 640 (the default) plus two Small Size 320 settings, one with a frame rate of 30 frames/second and the other at 15 frames/second. The lens is focused at the start of a clip and focus and exposure are locked until recording is paused. You can only use digital zoom for shooting movies - and only after recording has commenced.
The rest of the controls become accessible when Auto mode is selected. But even then they are limited to image mode (size/quality), white balance, continuous, colour options and distortion control.
The L100's colour options.
Everything else - including focus and ISO sensitivity adjustment - takes place in the background (and you can't interfere). The Blink Warning, which is part of Nikon's proprietary Smart Portrait System must be switched on in the setup menu before it will activate. But it's the only novel item in an otherwise basic and sparsely populated sub-menu.
Engaging the Blink warning.
Other items that can be adjusted in the auto mode include flash settings, which are only accessible when the flash head is pulled up (manually). Five settings are provided: auto, auto with red-eye reduction, flash off, fill flash and slow sync.
Sensor and Image Processing
The sensor in the P90 is a standard '1/2.33-inch type' (6.13 x 4.6 mm) CCD chip with 10.7 million photosites (of which 10 million are used for image creation). Coupled to is is Nikon's EXPEED digital image processing system, which supports all the camera's automated shooting functions, many of which are the same as those in the Coolpix P90, which we have already reviewed.
Six 'Image size' options are available for still image capture but different compression levels can only be selected for the 10M setting. Typical file sizes are shown in the table below.
3648 x 2736
2592 x 1944
2048 x 1536
1024 x 768
640 x 480
3584 x 2016
1920 x 1080
Movie clips are recorded with monaural sound. Clip lengths are limited to 25 minutes in each of the three modes provided (see above). Typical recording capacities on a 512MB memory card are shown in the table below.
Maximum length on 512MB card
TV Movie 640
Approx 7 minutes 10 seconds
Small size 320
Approx. 14 minutes 10 seconds
Small size 320
The simple autofocusing system had some flaws in the test camera that showed up mainly when we were trying to shoot close-ups. Although the camera can focus to 50 cm at the wide position and 1.5 metres at full optical zoom, we found it difficult to force it to focus on the subject in the centre of the frame if there was anything behind the subject - no matter how far away it was.
It often took eight or more attempts to get the camera to focus on the subject, even though both AF sensors were positioned right over it. The test camera also showed a considerable tendency to hunt for focus, even in bright ambient lighting. As a result, it would focus momentarily and emit a beep before sliding off to focus on the background as the shot was taken. The two images below provide examples of how far out-of-focus the resulting images can be.
What we wanted: a sharp image of a subject just over a metre from the camera.
What we often got: a blurred image of the subject because the camera tried to focus on the background.
Metering was reasonably consistent - as long as lighting challenges were minimised. Backlit subjects, particularly those with a wide dynamic range, were often a stop or two off-the-mark and predominantly dark subjects were frequently over-exposed. The balance of flash fill was quite variable and depended on the distribution of tones in the subject. It was better balanced when dark tones were central than peripheral. (Examples are shown in the Sample Images section.)
A novel feature which didn't appear to have much effect is the Distortion control. According to Nikon's literature, it provides 'optimum quality when shooting architecture or landscapes' (we assume this means correcting verticals). Adjustments made with this control were so subtle we couldn't see much difference in shots taken with and without it.
In general, pictures taken with the test camera were similar to those from the Coolpix P90 and showed restrained saturation and reasonably lifelike colours. Although the resolutions recorded in our Imatest tests were lower than those for the P90, they were closer to expectations and lateral chromatic aberration was mainly in the Low band, whereas the P90 showed moderate to high lateral chromatic aberration. Nevertheless, we found evidence of coloured fringing in outdoor shots that were magnified to 100%, as shown below.
Imatest showed greater consistency in resolution across a wide range of focal lengths than we found with the Coolpix P90 and centre and edge resolution figures were closer. Resolution fell sharply at the 41mm focal lengths setting but this may be partly due to a swap from ISO 400 sensitivity to ISO 800 at this point (and without adjustable sensitivity we have no way to test this). The graph below shows the results of our tests at eight focal lengths.
Assessing high ISO performance was also difficult, although noise was evident in night exposures at ISO 400 without flash. However it was barely visible in flash shots, maybe because the in-camera noise-reduction processing works better with short exposures. Some image softening was seen in flash shots above ISO 3000 but images would be printable at postcard size.
Barrel distortion was noticeable at the widest focal length setting but had been largely corrected by a quarter of a way along the zoom range. Slight pincushioning set in at focal lengths of about 12mm but increased very little thereafter. Digital zoom shots were slightly soft and a little artefact-affected but better than expected for the degree of magnification provided.
Auto white balance performance was similar to the P90. The test camera failed to remove the orange cast of incandescent lighting in our standard tests but produced close-to-natural colours under fluorescent lighting. Both pre-sets over-corrected colours slightly but the manual measurement setting produced neutral colours under both types of lighting.
Using the flash for indoor shots pushed sensitivity levels up to ISO 400 and higher. The camera was well able to illuminate an average-sized room at this sensitivity and the illumination was well balanced. Movie clips were similar to those from the Coolpix P90.
The test camera took just over two seconds to power up and a little longer to shut down. Shot-to-shot times averaged just over three seconds without flash and 4.4 seconds with. It took 2.8 seconds to process each high-resolution image.
Autofocus lag was consistent at 0.8 seconds, but actual shutter lag was negligible when we switched to pre-focusing. In the normal continuous shooting mode, the camera recorded four shots at 0.85 second intervals and took 2.8 seconds to process this burst. With the Multi-shot 16 setting, 16 images were captured at 0.1 second intervals and presented as a single 2592 x 1944 pixel image file after 5.5 seconds of processing.
The Sport Continuous mode settings performed to specifications. The Continuous H setting enabled the camera to record 30 images at 2048 x 1536 pixels in exactly two seconds. The Continuous M took twice as long to record the same number of images at the same size, while the Continuous L setting took six seconds to record 30 shots.
In each case the camera took 10.7 seconds to process the burst.
Buy this camera if:
- You're a snapshooter who would like a long-zoom camera.
- You could take advantage of the Sport Continuous mode settings.
Don't buy this camera if:
- You want to shoot raw files (this camera is JPEG only).
- You require adjustable focus, exposure and ISO settings.
- You want to shoot widescreen or high-definition video (VGA at 30 frames/second is the Coolpix L100's limit).
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
Close-up with the Close-up scene mode setting. 15.1mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/255 second at f/4.5.
Close-up in Auto mode, with the Macro setting accessed via the arrow pad button. 15.1mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/263 second at f/4.5.
Digital zoom. 300mm focal length, ISO 306, 1/130 second at f/5.4.
Night exposure in auto mode; 13.2mm focal length, ISO 800, 1 second at f/3.7.
Night exposure in High Sensitivity mode; 13.2mm focal length, ISO3200, 1/4 second at f/3.5.
Flash exposure in Auto mode: 26.8mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/30 second at f/5.
Flash exposure in High Sensitivity mode: 50.4mm focal length, ISO 3155, 1/66 second at f/5.4.
Backlit subject shot with auto mode and no flash fill; 5mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/435 second at f/7.
Backlit subject shot with Backlight scene mode plus flash fill; 5mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/265 second at f/7.
Backlit subject shot with auto mode and no flash fill; 75mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/430 second at f/8.
Backlit subject shot with Backlight scene mode plus flash fill; 75mm focal length, ISO 110, 1/354 second at f/8.
Image sensor: 6.13 x 4.6mm CCD sensor with approx. 10.7 million photosites (10 megapixels effective)
Lens: 5-75mm f/3.5-5.4 zoom lens (28-420mm in 35mm format)
Zoom ratio: 15x optical, up to 4x digital
Image formats: Stills –JPEG (Exif); Movies – AVI/WAV
Image Sizes: Stills - 3648 x 2736, 2592 x 1944, 2048 x 1536, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480, 3584 x 2016, 1920 x 1080; Movies - VGA/QVGA at 30 fps
Shutter speed range: 8 to 1/2000 second
Self-timer: 10 sec. delay
Image Stabilisation: Image sensor shift VR
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV steps
Focus system/range: range: 30 cm to infinity; macro to 1 cm
Exposure metering/control: 256-segment matrix metering
Shooting modes: Auto mode, Easy auto mode (including Scene auto selector), Scene modes, BSS (Best Shot Selector), Date imprint, Movie mode, Sport continuous mode, High sensitivity mode, Smile mode, Distortion control, Colour options; 15 Scene pre-sets
ISO range: Auto (auto gain ISO 80-800); ISO 720-3200 in High Sensitivity and Sport Continuous modes
White balance: Auto, Preset manual, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash
Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, Auto with red-eye reduction, Off, Fill flash, Slow sync
Sequence shooting: Approx. 1.2 fps; Continuous H (approx. 13 fps), Continuous M (approx. 6.5 fps), Continuous L (approx. 4.3 fps); Multi-shot 16; Sport continuous mode (approx. 13 fps)
Storage Media: Approx. 44MB internal memory plus SD expansion slot
LCD monitor: 3-inch wide viewing angle TFT LCD (approx. 230,000 dots)
Power supply: 4x AA batteries (alkaline, lithium, NiMH); Approx. 350 shots with alkaline batteries; Approx. 900 shots with lithium batteries (based on CIPA standard)
Dimensions (wxhxd): Approx. 110 x 72 x 78 mm (excluding projections)
Weight: Approx. 355 grams (without batteries and card)
Digital cameras, lenses and accessories with 100% genuine Australian manufacturer's warranties.
Ph: (02) 9029 2219
Ph: 133 686
The largest speciality photographic retail chain in Australia.
CameraPro Pty Ltd
Suite 607, 180 Queen St, Brisbane 4000
Tel: 07 3333 2900
Australian owned and run company based in Brisbane.
Retailer of digital camera equipment and more.
Secure online shopping and delivery across Australia.
Ph: 1300 727 056
Ph: 1800 155 067
Digital Camera Warehouse
174 Canterbury Road 367 High Street
NSW 2193 VIC 3070
Ph: 1300 365 220
1300 801 885
Australian retailer of Vapex rechargeable batteries offering factory direct prices and fast, free shipping Australia wide.
Greg Smith's Photo Accessories
1800 50 80 82
Big range of photographic accessories, Australia-wide shipping.
285 George St
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9299 2999
Photographic Equipment & Supplies - Retail & Repairs. Click here for list of stores.
1800 186 895
Big range of cameras and photographic products with stores in most states and online.
Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.5
- Ease of use: 8.0
- Image quality: 8.0
- OVERALL: 8.5