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Nikon Coolpix L5 Digital Camera Review


by Jim Keenan

1/10/2007

If its true that good things come in small packages, the Nikon Coolpix L5 has the small part down pat. Open the L5 box and youll find a camera thats about the size of a pack of cigarettes, which makes for easy carrying options. The camera is plastic but feels solid, and the silver metallic and chrome finish look modern. Fit and finish leave nothing to be desired. The L5 features a 7.2 mega pixel sensor and Nikon 5X optical zoom that provides a 35mm camera equivalent of 38 to 190mm focal lengths. Photo composition and playback are accomplished by means of a 2.5 inch LCD monitor there is no viewfinder. Despite its small size, the cameras external controls can be accessed easily without overlapping buttons. The camera also features Nikons Vibration Reduction (VR) system, which moves a lens element to help make sharper pictures at slower shutter speeds. To give you an idea of the L5s compact size, in the photo below it poses next to a Nikon D70 with the VR24-120 zoom lens, a DSLR camera with similar sensor capacity and lens focal lengths.

(view large image) A CLOSER LOOK The L5 is a new addition to the Nikon Coolpix line and is a compact digital camera with virtually every camera function automated. This camera should appeal to those who want to capture images with little or no involvement other than to point and shoot. Nikon provides a camera strap, USB and Audio/Visual cables, a pair of AA alkaline batteries, Nikons Picture Project CD-ROM, Quick Start Guide, and Instruction Manual with each camera. The L5 has an 8Mb internal memory, and also accepts SD memory cards. The cameras 7.2 mega pixel sensor will fill up the internal memory with about three shots at the highest resolution setting, so plan on going the memory card route. Camera dimensions are about 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.8 inches, with an empty weight of about 6 ounces that goes up to about 7.5 ounces with batteries and memory card installed. The L5 will capture images as JPEG files in five different size and quality levels, and movies may be recorded at 640 x 480, 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels in size.

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CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT The top of the camera body houses the shutter-release button, power switch and power-on lamp, speaker, one-touch portrait/D-Lighting button and VR button.

(view large image) The L5 VR system features normal and active modes normal is the setting for most situations, with active being used when shooting from a moving platform such as car. Nikon does not recommend using VR when the camera is mounted on a tripod. One-Touch Portrait Mode may be accessed at any time by pressing the one-touch button. This causes the camera to switch to Portrait mode from whatever mode you may have been shooting in, activates Face-Priority auto focus which automatically recognizes human faces and also activates auto red-eye reduction flash mode. Pressing the one touch button a second time returns the camera to your previous mode. Nikons D-Lighting system can be used to create a copy of a picture with enhanced brightness and contrast, typically when a photo is shot with backlight or insufficient flash lighting. The L5 user simply has to display the photo they wish to enhance on the monitor and press the D-Lighting button. The monitor now displays the original shot and the copy with D-Lighting applied, and the user can then select or reject the changes. The camera saves both the original and the D-Lighting copy if the changes are selected.

Before D-Lighting

After D-Lighting

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The rear of the camera body houses the rest of the external controls: mode selector, zoom, menu, delete and playback buttons, the multi selector and the 2.5 inch monitor. The multi selector houses buttons to display flash mode and macro menus, the self-timer, exposure adjustment settings and the OK button with which to make selections.

(view large image) The camera bottom features the battery chamber and memory card slot as well as the threaded tripod socket. The socket is of plastic or composite material, so care should be used to avoid cross-threading when mounting the camera on a tripod.

(view large image) The cable connector is found on the left side of the body.

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(view large image) The front of the camera houses the built-in flash, microphone, self-timer light and the Nikon zoom lens.

(view large image) SHOOTING WITH THE L5 Auto Mode The Coolpix L-5 comes set up for immediate shooting with auto mode, 3072 x 2304 pixel Normal quality image and normal VR all set as defaults. Just add batteries (and a memory card unless you only plan to shoot about 4 images) and away you go.

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Scene Assist Modes/Scene Modes While auto mode does quite well for many situations, the L5 also offers four types of Scene Assist Modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night Portrait) as well as eleven types of Scene Modes optimized for a particular subject type (Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Backlight and Panorama Assist).

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Sport Mode

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(view medium image) (view large image) Sunset Mode

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Exposure Compensation The L5 permits the photographer to select +2/-2 EV exposure compensation in 1/3 EV increments.

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Light Metering The default metering on the L5 is Nikons matrix metering, which takes into account the image brightness over a wide area of the frame in determining exposure. Center-weighted metering, a fixture on Nikon 35mm film cameras for years, is also available. Focus/Macro Focus The L5 uses a contrast-detecting auto focus but the camera is not equipped with a focus-assist lamp. I found focus was often problematic in dim, low contrast conditions. The L5 will focus as close as 1 foot 8 inches at wide angle, and 3 feet 3.5 inches at telephoto. Using the L5s macro mode permits focus as close as 1.6 inches

(view medium image) (view large image) Monitor The 2.5 LCD monitor on the L5 is nicely sized, but its 115,000 dot composition is quite a bit less than many other cameras. Images displayed on the monitor might appear grainier than those on a similar monitor with a higher dot composition, but in practice I found the monitor was fine for applications involving picture composition and/or editing. The monitor brightness is adjustable, but gains in brightness above the default setting are not very significant in most outdoor settings. As with any camera that relies on a monitor rather than a viewfinder, bright conditions can make composing a picture difficult. The L5 monitor was visible on a sunny day at the beach, but it takes some careful composing in such light. The monitor was satisfactory across a range of more normal daylight conditions. Flash The L5 has a strong built-in flash, ranging out to just over 18 and 13 feet at wide angle and telephoto settings, respectively. Color reproduction with flash was quite good, and even in auto mode, when the red-eye reduction feature is not enabled, the L5 will automatically process shots where it detects red-eye so as to eliminate that effect. Nikon calls this feature In-Camera Red-Eye Fix and it works well in my experience. In the photo of the cat that follows, I shot in auto mode fairly close to the subject and in a somewhat dark room conditions tailor-made to produce red-eye. The L5 processed the shot as you see here it surely would have been the kitty from hell look had the camera not intervened.

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COLOR Color rendition by the L5 in natural light was good, but to my eye, reds were shifted slightly toward orange. The L5 offers the ability to shoot in Normal or Vivid color, Black & White, Sepia or Cyanotype. Theres not much difference to my eye between Normal and Vivid settings, but B&W, Sepia and Cyanotype provide some creative options.

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(view medium image) (view large image) Black & White

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ISO The L5 has a nominal 80 ISO setting, but can range up to 400 ISO automatically. This narrow band limits low light performance without flash, and I found the flash automatically enabling quite a bit on inside shots as well as darker outdoor settings. WHITE BALANCE The L5 offers auto white balance as the default setting, but also will accept a custom setting from the photographer as well as program settings for daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy and flash lighting. Performance in auto mode was quite good and in practice could not be differentiated from the daylight setting on a sunny day. BATTERY PERFORMANCE Nikon estimates 150 shot endurance with alkaline batteries, but my experience with one set was about half that number, although most of these were shot indoors and the flash was active. Nikon also quotes 490 shots with lithium batteries and 250 shots with 2000mAh Ni-MH batteries. I used 2700mAh Ni-MH batteries and performance was much better than with alkalines, but Nikons figures are best-case scenarios and in my experience I couldnt match their numbers. A couple of pairs of rechargeable batteries with a pair of alkalines as backup should handle most shooters needs. SHUTTER PERFORMANCE The L5, as with most cameras in this class, takes some time to acquire and focus on the subject, and more time to capture the image once the shutter is depressed. This makes shooting moving subjects a challenge, although it certainly can be done. Shutter speeds may vary from 4 to 1/2000th second. In daylight conditions I would estimate it took about a second or so to acquire focus and capture the image. As I mentioned earlier, in dim conditions focus acquisition was spotty, and those times could increase dramatically.

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LENS PERFORMANCE The L5 lens seemed to perform quite well at the telephoto end of the spectrum, with even sharpness across the image face. There was barrel distortion (images where straight lines would bow out from the center of the frame) present at the wide angle end and images here seemed a little soft to my eye at the edges. In general, all images from the L5 seemed a little less crisp and sharp than would be my preference, given the nature of the camera as an easy-to-use instrument. One of the attractions of a camera like this is the ability for anyone to pop off some shots and then have them printed without further work on the images. The images out of the L5 need to be sharpened in order to maximize their potential, but there is no in-camera adjustment to accomplish this, although the images readily lend themselves to sharpening in the computer. This is not a blanket indictment of the L5 images, which are quite good, but rather a simple fact that digital images are by their very nature more soft than a corresponding film image. An in-camera adjustment to sharpen the L5 shots would be welcomed, at least to my eyes. MISCELLANEOUS The L5 has another interesting feature, the Best Shot Selector. When enabled, BSS takes about 10 shots when the shutter button is depressed, and the camera then selects the sharpest image for display. CONCLUSION The Nikon Coolpix L5 is a light compact camera with a bundle of nice features that offers novice shooters a quick and easy way to shoot digital photos under a wide variety of conditions with relative ease, as well as do some simple processing and image correction in-camera. The camera would benefit from an in-camera adjustment to sharpen the images somewhat. PROS Compact size/light weight 7 megapixel sensor Optical image stabilization 5X optical zoom D-Lighting photo correction tool In-camera red-eye correction CONS Images could be sharper out of camera Battery life marginal with alkalines Red colors slightly shifted toward orange Barrel distortion at wide end of telephoto can impact images

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