Nikon Coolpix L18 Review
New to Nikon's "Life" series is the Coolpix L18, an 8-Megapixel, entry-level digicam. The compact camera features a 3.0" LCD screen for framing and viewing all of your images, a 3x optical zoom lens, the new EXPEED image processor, Face detection that can detect up to 12 faces at a time, and 15 scene modes to assist you in almost any shooting situation. The Life series cameras are designed to be incredibly easy to use and do not feature manual modes. These cameras are for someone who would like to pull out a small camera whenever it is needed and point and snap photographs. The camera also captures video with a resolution of 640x480 at 30 fps (standard TV resolution).
The L18 is a little thicker than a lot of the newer compact cameras, which makes it very comfortable to hold. It can be operated using one or two hands, thanks to the grip on the right side and the convenient, simple placements of the function buttons. On top you have the power and shutter release, along with your shooting mode and playback buttons. On the back, the zoom controls fit comfortably under the thumb. Under those are the menu button, 4-way controls and the delete button. To keep with the ease of use of this camera, the menu systems are very simple and easy to navigate. The options that you have are also very limited. The rest of the back is taken up by the large 3" LCD screen. The screen makes framing and viewing your images very easy. It is bright and easy to see, even in direct sunlight.
Performance from the L18 is pretty good for an entry-level camera. It is a little slow on the startup, taking 3.2 seconds before it is able to capture its first image. The shutter lag (time it takes the camera to capture the image after the shutter release is pressed) when the camera is pre-focused is just 1/10 of a second and 8/10 of a second including autofocus. With the camera in single shot mode, I was able to capture 5 images in 7.3 seconds without using the flash. With the flash, it is about 3 times as long as the flash has to recharge after each shot. The camera also has a burst mode, which is able to capture 8-megapixel images at approx. 1fps. All of our tests were completed using a Sandisk Ultra II 1GB SD memory card, Auto mode, Auto ISO, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The quality of our outdoor images is Ok for an entry-level camera. It produces good exposures with vivid colors. However, we did noticed an above average amount of edge softness in the majority of our outdoor photos. The 3x optical zoom has a 35mm equivalent of 35-105mm. While this is a typical zoom range for a compact digicam, it does offer a sufficient filed of view for decent landscapes at full wide angle. The mid and telephoto ranges are great for portraits as well as helping you frame a shot.
Since the camera does not allow you the option to manually set the ISO, all of our samples were taken with Auto. They produced good results with and without the flash. However, the ISO settings were a little higher that we would like to see, which caused the grain that you see in our indoor samples. In portrait mode, the camera is able to detect up to 12 faces, but when it comes to younger subjects, it can take a little longer; if it detects them at all. On the plus side, our portrait sample was the best one taken by the camera. The image is crisp and the colors and skin tones are very natural.
Video quality is also "Ok" from the L18. The sound was clear and the video itself runs smoothly. The color is good but there is a lot of grain throughout the video. The camera allows for video to be captured in 640x480 at 30 fps or 320x240 at two different frame rates to save on memory. Other than that there are no other options available for video capture mode.
The L18 is powered by two standard AA type cells. Using two 2650mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries I was able to capture just under 100 images, several movies and completed all of our tests on a single charge with power to spare. Nikon claims that using NiMH batteries, the camera can capture up to 300 images, or 650 images using Lithium batteries. Another good thing is that if your batteries run low, you can pick up two new AA batteries almost anywhere. 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.
Bottom Line - Nikon's Coolpix L18 is a very simple 8-megapixel entry-level model. Overall performance was decent for a camera in this class, but image quality is lacking a bit. With a MSRP of US$140, the Nikon Coolpix L18 is not our top pick, we suggest you look at the other entry-level cameras before making a purchase.
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