Nikon Coolpix L4 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The Coolpix L4 is the "little brother" of the L2 and L3. These simple to use models include various fully automatic exposure modes that are great for those who are just now getting their feet wet with digital or like the ability to just point and shoot. The L4's movie mode lacks the sound and 30fps capture rate of its more expensive siblings, and has a lower resolution 4-megapixel imager, but retains their scene modes, D-lighting, Red eye fix, and Face-priority AF features.
Ergonomics are good. The "L" models are very compact, being able to be tucked away in almost any size pants pocket or purse, the enlarged handgrip ensures a secure grip while shooting and makes one-handed shooting very easy. Although the L4 does not include an optical viewfinder, it features a high-quality 2.0-inch glare-resistant LCD display. I found it worked very well outdoors, with the anti-reflective surface making it usable even in the brightest conditions. Indoors or whenever shooting in marginal lighting conditions, the display "gains up" to help aid in framing.
The L4 is not what I would call a robust performer. Power up to first image captured measured 3 seconds, much of which is consumed by extending the lens. Shutter lag averaged 3/10 of a second when pre-focused, including about 1/10 second delay in the LCD viewfinder's live image; autofocus shutter lag averaged 7/10 second. When shooting in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay measured approx. 3 seconds between frames without use of the flash and between 5 and 9 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery condition. 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.
Three Sequential Drive shooting modes are available, Multi-shot 16, Sports scene mode and Sports composite. Using Sports mode, I was able to capture 3 2-megapixel JPEG images in about 1.5 seconds; the camera froze for nearly 3 seconds before the next burst could be captured. Multi-shot mode captures 16 frames in 10 seconds and combines them into a single 4M/Normal image. Sports composite captured 16 images in 1 second, combining them into a single 2-megapixel image. The LCD viewfinder only briefly displays the last image captured in any Continuous mode, making it difficult to follow moving subjects; this is when an optical viewfinder would come in handy. All tests were done using a high performance SanDisk Ultra II 256MB SD card, using 4M/Fine size/quality, welcome screen off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The overall image quality of its 4-megapixel High quality mode was very good. Our outdoor samples were sharp, well exposed and had pleasing color saturation. The exposure system did a great job of capturing sky detail, although whites were sometimes blown-out in bright sunlight. Like the other members of Nikon's L-series, ISO sensitivity is fully automatic; there's no manual adjustment available. I saw very little noise when the camera was using a lower ISO setting, but as with most consumer models, these levels will become more noticeable as the sensitivity is increased. Its Nikkor 3x optical zoom lens offers the typical amount of versatility when composing your shots, and covers a 35mm equivalent range of approx. 38 - 114mm. Although it favors the telephoto end of the zoom range, the 38mm wide angle extreme will be sufficient for most indoor shooting as well as landscapes. The lens exhibited noticeable barrel distortion at full wide angle, but essentially no pincushioning at the telephoto end. Chromatic aberration, also known as "purple fringing", was very well controlled, with only very slight amounts present around highlights or brightly lit subjects.
The L4's indoor results are handicapped by the limited range of its flash. While it was sufficient for some individual and couple portraits, it lacks the power to illuminate small to mid sized rooms. While Nikon's D-lighting feature helps brighten underexposed areas of your images, noise does become much more noticeable. However, you'll still be able to produce pleasing 4x6-inch prints. Dim ambient lighting is a problem for the L4's autofocus system; absent a focus-assist lamp, the L4 frequently fails to achieve autofocus, especially at the telephoto end of the lens zoom range. The L4 works best indoors using its fill-in or forced flash mode and shooting in rooms with plenty of ambient light. Its "Face-priority AF" portrait mode did well at finding the subject face when doing close-up portraits, but it was inconsistent when shooting screen filling head shots. I noticed some traces of red-eye in our subjects even when using red-eye reduction mode; I attribute this to the weak pre-flash output. Red-eye reduction mode blanks the LCD viewfinder during pre-flash, so you have to ensure your subject keeps still. You can include yourself in group portraits thanks to the tripod socket and self-timer.
Like the L2, the L3 includes two unique features that help you overcome common causes of poor images:
Movie mode allows you to record video at resolutions of 640x480, 320x240 or 160x120, all at 15fps. The length of these clips is limited only by the amount of available memory. The L4 has no microphone, resulting in silent movies; despite the absence of sound, the L4 prevents the use of the optical zoom during recording. The Digital zoom can be used, but image quality will be degraded. You can set Full-time AF on in movie mode; there's no audio track for the AF noise to ruin. Our movie samples were average, their smoothness limited by the 15fps capture rate.
The L4's battery life was good; a pair of NiMH 2500mAh rechargeable batteries captured 120 images and powered the camera through other testing without displaying a low battery warning. 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.
The bottom line - the Coolpix L4 is very similar to its 6-megapixel L2 and 5-megapixel L3 siblings. It offers good image quality as well as lots of user-friendly exposure options, however its sluggish shooting performance and weak flash range were disappointing. With a street price of under $140, it does offer a good value if you take the majority of your pictures outdoors in the bright sun light and don't need blazing fast speed. If you need more than 4-megapixels of resolution, or require movies with sound and a 30 fps capture rate, consider the 6-megapixel Coolpix L2 or the 5-megapixel Coolpix L3 ($60 to $100 more expensive), but they share the L4's slow performance and weak flash output.
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