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.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bill Gates goes on tour

The fascination with Bill Gates comes from two sources: first, he’s the world’s richest man. The first time I met him, he was just “the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.” But for several years now, he’s stood on top of the world, outstripping the legendary modern Croesuses like the Sultan of Brunei.

Photo by Tom Hanson/Canadian Press; courtesy

It’s understandable that he draws crowds for that reason, alone. Everyone wants to catch some of the glow from that kind of treasure. We listen to his pronouncements, hoping to learn some clues that will help us amass our own riches.

But Gates would also command attention, without his wealth, because of his role as the head of Microsoft. Few other companies have had such a profound impact on our jobs, lives, culture, as Microsoft. (It’s hard to imagine Gates heading a company with as pervasive a reach and profound an impact as Microsoft without amassing such a fortune.)

So it’s heartening to know that Gates is now putting his intelligence and considerable star power to noble goals such as fighting AIDS and helping Africa out of its many plights. What’s going to be interesting from a communications perspective is noting what the population takes from his “farewell tour.” People accepted his predictions about the impact of computers — well, some of them, anyway. The world has bought his software.

Not only that, media has paid Gates a lot of attention whenever he’s launched new software and talked about what computers will do in the future. Now that he’s headed in a direction that’s much more difficult to follow, will the spotlight linger?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Asking questions about Islam

News. 24, Keifer Sutherland’s hit show. Documentaries, books, magazines.

Everyone is talking about Muslims, Muslim culture and especially about Muslims practicing their faith within a secular, pluralist Western society. Journalists, editorialists, politicians, casual observers are all struggling with some questions about our relationship to this significant minority. Environics Research even asked Muslims about their relationship to Canada. Their report was the top of the morning news on February 13.

What makes this remarkable are the convoluted questions they ask. Actually, the questions we all, in our secular, pluralistic society, have to ask.

Photo source:

Take, for instance, the issue of the hijab, the head-scarf that many Muslim women wear. Environics, CBC News and others ask how people feel about them. How do Muslim women feel about them? It’s not trivial: France has forbidden women to wear them in schools, and other countries have taken stands against or for them.

There’s a deep conflict that’s difficult to resolve. On one hand, we feel that people should be free to wear what they want and worship as they wish. On the other hand, wearing the hijab is not optional for many Muslims. Even in Western countries, some women feel pressured and intimidated into wearing them. So there’s the conflict.

One of the most interesting aspects is the logical somersaults that politicians, journalists and commentators make about this, trying to stand up for both sides of the issue at once. Let’s see how convoluted they get.

How do you feel about this? Should Canada ban the hijab, or legislate some way to protect those who do not wish to wear them? What about veils covering the face – should they be outlawed? What about turbans?

Are we even asking the right questions? Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Kia’s racy ad and the sensitivity of our police

Apparently, the Montreal Police Brotherhood, Quebec’s provincial police association, and, by extension, other police representatives, are very sensitive. They’ve protested Kia’s recent ad, which shows a female traffic cop passionately kissing a driver in his Kia, until they’re interrupted by a call on her car-radio.

Thanks to YouTube for the image.
It’s a cute ad, but the police in Quebec, apparently, are not amused. They want it pulled. Kia agreed to air it only after 9 p.m.

This raises a lot of questions about freedom of expression, the limits of expression in commercial and publicly-accessible television, the depiction of identifiable groups, respect for authority and the ability of any group to limit expression by crying “offensive.”

Personally, I wonder where the offense lies. What does the ad say? That driving a Kia makes you irresistible. In fact, the ad implies that police officers normally can resist temptations, but of course Kia’s product overwhelms even them.

Anyway, even if police officers are not immune to such temptations, what’s the worst that this ad says? That officers can be impulsive? Has the officer done anything wrong? She has kissed a man. No one has been hurt.

What the police associations don’t seem to realize is that we viewers aren’t stupid. We know this is hyperbole. We don’t expect to be mobbed by women when we drive a subcompact car, no matter who makes it. We also don’t really expect to be smothered in smooches when we wear any particular deodorant or after-shave. But it’s an amusing idea, nonetheless.

Get over it, officers!

What do you think?