Nikon Coolpix L11 Review

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Nikon Coolpix L11

Steve's Conclusion

Nikon continues to add models to their popular "Life" series line of Coolpix cameras for 2007, with the latest additions being the L10, L12 and L11 (as of 5/2007). The Coolpix L11 and L10 are entry-level point-n-shoot models designed for the beginner, with fully automatic exposure control as well as 16 pre-programmed Scene modes, that will help them capture great photos in wide variety of different shooting situations. The L11 offers 6-megapixels of resolution, a 3x Nikkor optical zoom lens, 2.4-inch LCD, and Nikon's exclusive technologies (D-Lighting, Face Priority AF, etc.), all packaged in a compact and stylish shell.

The L11'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, and the menu system is very simple to navigate with only a few options available in Auto mode (White balance, Color Option, etc.) The L11 features a 2.4-inch LCD which worked very well outdoors, thanks in part to its anti- reflective surface. When indoors or shooting in marginal lighting conditions, the display also "gains up" nicely to help aid in framing your subject.

Shooting performance was much better than past "L" series models, even when using the flash. Power up to first image captured measured 2.3 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 5/10 of a second including autofocus time. When shooting in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay measured approx. 2 seconds between frames without use of the flash and between 4 and 5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. While the flash is recharging, the viewfinder blacks out completely; luckily it recharges in about 2 seconds. 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 7 images in about 3.9 seconds, with out filling the buffer. Multi-shot mode captured 16 frames in 6.4 seconds, then combined them into a single 6M/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 Sandisk Extreme III 1GB SD card, 6M/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.

The L11's image quality results when using the 6M* (6-megapixel Fine/High) image quality mode were very pleasing. In fact, I even feel they look better than its big brother's (L12) images. Our outdoor samples are sharp, well exposed (even sky detail is nice) and show good color balance. Like past models, ISO sensitivity is fully automatic; 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. The Nikkor 3x optical zoom lens offers a 35mm equivalent range of approx. 37.5 - 12.5mm. While favoring the telephoto end, the 37.5mm wide angle extreme should be sufficient for most indoor or landscape shooting, and the telephoto end will help you produce nice close-up portraits or macro shots. Overall the lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle, but relatively no pincushioning at the telephoto end. However, I did see some traces of Chromatic aberrations (a.k.a. purple fringing) around subjects with highlights or high contrast.

When shooting in marginal lighting, like indoors, you'll have to work with the short range of the L11's flash unit. Nikon claims the flash can cover up to 9 feet 6 inches at wide angle or 8 feet 2 inches at full telephoto. While this is average for a camera in this class, I found it was able to produce nice flash exposures from about 5 - 6 feet away using the mid telephoto end of the zoom. I was a bit surprised when using the "One-touch Portrait" exposure mode to capture close-up people photos. Unlike the L12 and Coolpix S200 , the Face Priority AF system on the L11 was much more responsive. Taking only a second or less to find and lock on a face (compared to 2 seconds or more with the other models.) Overall, our portraits turned out very nice, with sharp facial features and pleasing skin tones.

Movie mode allows you to record video at resolutions of 640x480 (30/15fps), 320x240 (30 or 15fps) or 160x120 (15fps.) The length of these clips is limited only by the amount of available memory. The L11 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. Our movie samples were good with low compression noise. However, you can see every time the exposure system adjusts, as the screen gets darker and lighter.

Battery life was good. The L11 is powered by two standard AA type cells. Nikon claims with AA Alkaline batteries you can capture 250 shots, 300 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 2500 mAh NiMH batteries, I was able to capture about 55 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 - Nikon has created a very nice 6-megapixel entry-level model. It's compact, offers great image quality, good performance (the best in series thus far), as well as plenty of useful exposure settings to help you capture great photos. With an MSRP of US$149 or less, I feel the Nikon Coolpix L11 offers an outstanding value for a camera in this category; just be sure you get a set if NiMH batteries and a large SD card right away!

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