Monday, February 26, 2007

Communicator’s toolbox: Nikon Coolpix L5 Digital Camera Review

Flock of flamingos, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florda, USA

The Nikon Coolpix L5 digital camera is an excellent buy for the “prosumer” digital photographer, and an excellent choice for corporate communications departments who need a versatile, easily portable and easy to use camera occasionally or regularly.

Basic data
Size: 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.8 in.; 97 x 61 x 45 mm
Weight: 6.0 oz/170 g, without memory card or batteries
Resolution: 7.2 million pixels
CCD: 7.41 million total pixels
Lens: Nikkor 5x zoom; 6.3-31.4 mm; 35 mmm format; f/2.9-5.0
LDC monitor: 2.5-inch, 115,000 dot TFT
Price: $299.95 SRP
Complete specs: Nikon Canada

Using it
Using the Coolpix L5 is enjoyable. It’s nice and light, small and easy to transport. It starts up quickly, so you don’t miss those spontaneous shooting opportunities.
The user interface is well designed: just a few buttons take you to the functions you want, quickly. Nikon put four buttons across the top of the body: On/Off, Photo and Video modes, and of course, the shutter button. So it just takes one touch to get ready to frame your shot, and one more to take a picture. Want to shoot videos? One more touch of the Video Mode button, then frame your shot and press the shutter button once to start rolling.
There are enough automated features to make capturing excellent pictures easy. It also offers “one-touch” buttons to activate all the settings for portraits, Face-Priority auto-focus, in-camera red-eye fixing and “D-Lighting” light adjustment.
Most significantly, the Coolpix L5 delivers excellent results. This is because of a few important features: a very high resolution — 7.2 megapixels — for the suggested retail price — $379.95 CDN (although I’ve seen it advertised by some U.S. retailers as low as $219 US.) It offers a 5x zoom feature, which is very high for such a small prosumer camera, and lens-based Vibration Reduction that steadies shots, critical for long zooms.
The results are excellent pictures. Here are a few examples.

Alligator in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida, USA

Wading bird at extreme zoom, cropped.

I have very few complaints about the L5, and they’re mostly the result of somewhat unfair comparison to more expensive competitors.
First, the view screen on the back is pretty good at 2.5 inches — not bad at all for a small, consumer-level digital camera. I found it bright with a fairly good viewing angle. However, I thought the screen could have been a little bigger; even a small increase makes a big difference in user comfort.
Like all digital cameras, the Coolpix L5 has that annoying delay between the time you press the shutter button and the moment the shutter opens. I missed several candid action shots that way. However, almost every other digital camera I’ve ever used had the same issue, and the L5’s delay was shorter than most.
Battery life was occasionally an issue. The camera uses two AA batteries, and the model I received came with rechargeable batteries and a charger, so theoretically, I should always have been able to take pictures.
However, more than once I found myself caught out with dead batteries. While I didn’t measure the actual shooting time between battery failures, it did seem shorter than with some other cameras (though longer than with the Kodak EasyShare V610). Interestingly, extremely cold weather seemed to hamper the battery performance. I took the camera out for a trial run on the Rideau Canal Skateway one very cold evening, and wasn’t able to take one shot.
The L5 comes with only 8 MB of internal memory, which only holds one or two shots at high-quality mode. It has a slot for an SD card, so you can add 256 or 512 MB, or 1 or 2 GB of storage. This was initially a problem for me: I have a number of the smaller-format XD cards, so I had to go out and buy an SD card. However, Steve’s Digicams reports that the SD format memory cards are now the most popular choice for digital cameras, so Nikon may have bet on the right technology. Still, neither the SD cards no the XD offer as much capacity for the price as Compact Flash, my current favorite format.

Summing up
The Nikon Coolpix is an excellent high-end consumer, or prosumer digital camera. It has a relatively strong zoom at 5x, high resolution at 7.2 megapixels and an easy user interface.
Battery life is somewhat limited, and if you have XD memory cards, you’ll have to pay for the larger, if more popular SD cards.
The bottom line, as usual, is this: the Nikon Coolpix L5 takes excellent pictures. For the price, it’s an excellent choice.

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