Nikon Coolpix L5 Review
Nikon's Coolpix L5 holds the "top of the line" spot in their affordable "Life" series of digital cameras. The L5 Boasts 7-megapixels of resolution, a 5x optical zoom lens, Vibration Reduction, VGA sized movie mode as well as Nikon's exclusive D-Lighting, Red-eye fix, and Face-Priority AF technologies. Like all of the "L" series models, the L5 is a simple point-n-shoot offering loads of user-friendly exposure modes, which are fully automatic, helping users capture great photos without having to deal with complicated camera settings, etc.
Although a bit larger than its siblings, the L5 can still be tucked away in a large pocket of small handbag. The enlarged right hand side of the body offers a nice comfortable feel in your hands, and allows for easy one-handed shooting. The various controls are well placed over the body, and I found the menu system was easy to navigate. You can even choose the "theme", by selecting "Text" or "Icons" under the Menus option in the setup menu. The L5 features a large 2.5-inch LCD, that works great well outdoors, even in bright sunlight, thanks to the anti-reflective surface. Indoors or whenever shooting in marginal lighting conditions, the display "gains up" to help aid in framing.
I was a bit disappointed with the L5's shooting performance. Power up to first image captured measured 4.5 seconds, much of which is consumed by extending the lens. While the shutter lag averaged just 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, it slowed to 7/10 of a second including autofocus time. When shooting in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay measured approx. 2.5 seconds between frames without the use of the flash and between 4 and 6 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. 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.
Burst mode was also sluggish. You can choose between two Sequential Drive shooting modes (Continuous or Multi-shot 16.) Using Continuous mode, I was able to capture 10 images in about 12 seconds. It seems you can continuously capture images at this rate without filling the buffer. Multi-shot mode captured 16 frames in 2.8 seconds, combined them into a single 7M/Normal image. The LCD viewfinder only briefly displays the last image captured in 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 Patriot 2GB 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.
I was very pleased with our 7M/Fine image quality results. Outdoors, there was no problem capturing beautiful photos with good exposure and rich colors. Like most "L" series models, ISO sensitivity is fully automatic; there's no manual adjustment available. I saw very little noise when the camera used a lower ISO setting, but as with most all consumer models, these levels will become more noticeable as the sensitivity is increased. The Nikkor 5x optical zoom lens offers much more versatility than your typical 3x zoom, covering a 35mm equivalent range of approx. 38 - 190mm. Though favoring the telephoto end of the zoom range, the 38mm wide angle extreme will be sufficient for most indoor shooting as well as landscapes, while the 190mm telephoto end is great for close-ups as well as bringing distant subjects closer. I noticed moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle, as well as slight pincushioning at the telephoto end, respectively. Chromatic aberration, also known as "purple fringing", was very well controlled, with only very slight amounts present around highlights or brightly lit subjects. The L5 also feature Nikon's VR (Vibration Reduction) technology, which helps minimize the effects of camera shake by shifting the lens elements. There are 2 user-selectable modes to choose from (Normal and Active.) This technology gives you the ability to shoot at slower than normal shutter speeds (up to 3 stops) in marginal lighting.
The L5 boasts a powerful flash range of approx. 18 feet at wide angle. While sufficient for individual and group portraits, don't expect it to have the power to illuminate large open rooms (like gymnasiums, chapels, etc.) While Nikon's D-lighting feature really helps brighten the background (see our samples page) of your indoor or marginal lighting shots, contrast, saturation and image noise does noticeably increase. However, you'll still be able to produce pleasing prints with these images. I was able to achieve the best results when using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range, shooting from about 5 - 6 feet away. When doing so, our images showed good flash exposure and pleasing skin tones. The "Face-priority AF" portrait mode did well at finding the subject's face when doing close-up portraits, producing sharp facial details. I noticed some traces of red-eye in our portraits when using the Auto flash mode, luckily this model features an effective red-eye reduction mode; unfortunately the pre-flash does add almost 1 second to the capture time, 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 its siblings, the L5 includes many unique features that help you overcome common causes of poor images, like
Movie mode allows you to record video at resolutions of 640x480, 320x240 or 160x120, with a fixed frame rate of 30fps. The length of these clips is limited only by the amount of available memory. The L5 includes a microphone and movies are always recorded with sound; as a result, the optical zoom can be used to compose movies before recording starts, but not during recording. Our movie samples were good, showing average compression artifacts, and the VR system helps keep things steady; something those of you with shaky hands will appreciate.
The L5 is powered by two standard AA type batteries, and Nikon claims you can capture up to 150 shots using Alkalines, or approx. 250 shots with NiMH cells. Using NiMH 2100mAh rechargeable batteries, I was able to capture about 70 samples (with several short movie clips) and conclude many of our other tests before a low battery warning occurred. We always recommend using NiMH batteries when possible, they last longer, and will save you money in the long run.
The bottom line - Nikon's Coolpix L5 is an appealing entry-level model. While suffering from poor shooting performance, like we have seen with all of the "L" series models, it does offer great image quality along with various high-end features. With a street price of US$249 or less, it offers an Ok value for a 7-megapixel digicam. If you liked the L5, but want a more compact model, be sure to check out our review of the 6-megapixel Coolpix L6, which can be had for about $50 less.
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