Nikon Coolpix L12 Review
Nikon continues to add models to their popular "Life" series line of Coolpix cameras for 2007, with the latest additions being the L10, L11 and L12 (as of 5/2007). The Coolpix L12 is a simple to use point-n-shoot, designed for the beginner to novice user, with fully automatic exposure control. There's also 17 pre-programmed Scene modes, like One-touch Portrait, that will help users capture great photos in wide variety of different shooting situations. The L12 offers 7-megapixels of resolution, a 3x Nikkor optical zoom lens, 2.5-inch LCD, Nikon's exclusive technologies (D-Lighting, Face Priority, Lens Shift VR, etc.) as well as high ISO capabilities (up to 1600), all packaged in a compact and stylish shell.
The L12's body design is almost identical to it siblings, compact yet still comfortable in your hands thanks to the enlarged right hand side. Controls are well placed, just within reach of your finger tips. The L12 adds two new buttons on top, Anti-shake and One-touch Portrait. They allow you to quickly use those exposure modes, without having to enter the menu system or slide the mode switch to the Scene position. I found the 2.5-inch LCD worked very well outdoors, and the anti-reflective surface made the display usable even with harsh sunlight beating directly upon it. When indoors or shooting in marginal lighting conditions, the display also "gains up" nicely to help aid in framing your subject.
Shooting performance was similar to past "L" series models, sluggish when using the flash. Power up to first image captured measured 2.7 seconds, much of which is consumed by extending the lens. The shutter lag, time from depressing the shutter release to capturing an image, averaged just 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, slowing to a 6/10 of a second including autofocus time. When shooting in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay measured approx. 2.3 seconds between frames without use of the flash and between 7 and 8 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. While the flash is recharging, the viewfinder blacks out completely. I also noticed that when using the camera's red-eye reduction flash mode, the viewfinder blanks during the pre-flash, a critical period of just under one second.
You can choose between two Sequential Drive shooting modes (Continuous or Multi-shot 16.) Using Continuous mode, I was able to capture 4 images in about 2 seconds, with subsequent images ever 1.1 seconds. Multi-shot mode captured 16 frames in 8.4 seconds, then combined them into a single 7M/Normal image. The LCD viewfinder only briefly displays the last image captured in Continuous mode, which made following moving subjects difficult; this is when an optical viewfinder would come in handy. All tests were done using a Lexar 1GB SD card, using 7M/Fine size/quality, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
When using the 7M* (7-megapixel Fine/High) image quality mode, the L12 captures nice photos both indoors and out. Outdoors, our sample images were relatively sharp with good color saturation. The exposure system seemed to do well in most lighting situations, however on overcast days it did tend to overexpose the sky a bit. I also noticed a bit of edge softness along the sides of the frame in several of our photos, but this is typical with consumer cameras. Like past models, ISO sensitivity is fully automatic, and even though the L12 boasts such high sensitivity at ISO 1600, there's no manual adjustment available. Noise levels were typical for a camera in this class, becoming more noticeable when the camera selects a higher settings. You can also choose to use the Anit-Shake mode, which uses VR, BSS and ISO 1600 to help you capture blur free photos in marginal lighting. However, its results weren't to impressive. I used this mode to take a photo of a subject indoors, with only the light coming in from a very large picture window. The camera used a very high ISO setting, and image noise is horrible. In fact, the photo itself is not even usable for a 4x6-inch print. You can see for yourself by taking a look at our samples page.
The Nikkor 3x optical zoom lens offers a 35mm equivalent range of approx. 35 - 105mm. With a typical amount of versatility in composing your shots, the 35mm wide angle extreme should be sufficient for most indoor or landscape shooting. While the telephoto end is best used for close-up photography (portraits, macros, etc.), just don't expect it to bring your distant subjects up close. I noticed moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle, but relatively no pincushioning at the telephoto end. Chromatic aberrations, a.k.a. "purple fringing", were very well controlled, with only very slight amounts present around highlights or brightly lit subjects. There were also traces of "vignetting" or darkening of the outer edges in many of our images.
Nikon claims the L12's flash can cover up to 26 feet at wide angle or 14 feet at full telephoto. This is a very impressive range for such a small camera. I found when using the "One-touch Portrait" scene mode, shooting from about 6 - 7 feet away, the L12 produced pleasing close-up portraits that show sharp facial detail, good exposure and accurate skin tones. However, like we saw with the Coolpix S200 , the Face Priority AF system is very slow. It would take as much as 2 or more seconds for the AF bracket to appear around the subjects face. This was very frustrating, but luckily if you hurry and press the shutter release, the normal AF system will lock focus and snap the shot.
Movie mode allows you to record video at resolutions of 640x480 (30), 320x240 (30 or 15fps) or 160x120 (15fps.) The length of these clips is limited only by the amount of available memory. The L12 includes a microphone and movies are always recorded with sound; as a result, the optical zoom can be used before recording starts, but not during recording. The Digital zoom can be used, however image quality suffers. You can also select Continuous AF in movie mode, but the noise it produces ruins the audio track. Overall, our samples showed average compression artifacts, but for some reason the last second of video contains no audio.
Battery life was good. The L12 is powered by two standard AA type cells. Nikon claims with AA Alkaline batteries you can capture 150 shots, 370 shots with rechargeable NiMH cells or up to 600 shots with one-use lithium batteries. Nikon includes a set of Alkaline batteries in the camera outfit. Using a set of 2700 mAh NiMH batteries, I was able to capture about 85 samples and several short movie clips as well as conclude all of our other tests, with plenty of power to spare. We always recommend using NiMH batteries when possible, they last longer, and will save you money in the long run; just be sure you have an extra set charged and ready. Also, be sure you select which battery type you are using in the camera, via setup menu, as this may effect batter life.
The bottom line - the Nikon Coolpix L12 is an average 7-megapixel compact digicam. While it does offer good image quality and plenty of useful features, the slow flash recharge time (which also effects shooting performance) and horrible noise in "Anti-Shake" mode really effect its overall curb appeal. With a price tag of US$199 or less, I feel the L12 only offers an Ok value for a 7-megapixel consumer model. If you don't need this much resolution but lie many of the features found on this model, be sure to take a look at our reviews of the 6-megapixel Coolpix L11 and 5-megapixel Coolpix L10.
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