Nikon Coolpix L6 Review
The Nikon Coolpix L6 is the 2007 upgrade of the popular and L2 from last year. These models share almost identical specs, like 6-megapixels resolution, VGA movie mode, Nikon's exclusive technologies (D-Lighting, Face Priority, etc.), however, the L6 includes a larger, higher resolution 2.5-inch LCD. The L6 is a simple to use point-n-shoot model with various fully automatic exposure modes that are great for those just entering the digital world, and want care-free shooting, without much fuss.
The L6's ergonomics are good, Nikon's "L" series models are very compact, and can be tucked away in almost any size pants pocket or handbag. The enlarged handgrip helps ensure a secure grip while shooting one-handed. Controls are just within reach of your finger tips, however I did have some problems with the sliding mode switch, which requires you to change position to switch between Auto, Scene and Movie modes. The new 2.5-inch LCD worked very well outdoors, having the anti-reflective surface made the display usable even in the brightest conditions. When indoors or shooting in marginal lighting conditions, the display "gains up" to help aid in framing.
Shooting performance was similar to the L2, sluggish. Power up to first image captured measured 3.1 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 a leisurely 1 - 1.2 seconds including autofocus time. When shooting in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay averaged approx. 2.4 seconds between frames without use of the flash and between 6.5 and 8 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.
You can choose between two Sequential Drive shooting modes (Continuous or Multi-shot 16.) Using Continuous mode, I was able to capture 6 images in about 2.9 seconds, before the buffer filled. Only taking about 2 seconds to clear the buffer, before I was able to continue shooting. Multi-shot mode captured 16 frames in 6.9 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 Lexar Professional (133x) 1GB SD card, using 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.
While the L6 is not a robust shooter, capturing nice photos is no problem. Its image quality was similar to the L2, outdoors, our sample images were sharp and showed accurate exposure and pleasing color saturation. Like past models, ISO sensitivity is fully automatic; there's no manual adjustment available. Noise levels were low when the camera was using a lower ISO setting. However, as with almost all consumer models, these levels will become more noticeable as the sensitivity is increased. The Nikkor 3x optical zoom lens offers the typical amount of versatility when composing your shots, and covers a 35mm equivalent range of approx. 38 - 116mm. Though the lens favors the telephoto end of the zoom range, the 38mm wide angle extreme will be sufficient for most indoor or landscape shooting. I noticed moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle, but relatively 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. I also noticed a bit of "vignetting" or darkening of the outer edges of the image.
The L6 features a much more powerful flash range of up to 16 feet at wide angle (compared to the L2's 9 ft. 10 in.) While sufficient enough for individual and group portraits in mid-sized rooms, I found there to be a problem when trying to illuminate large open areas. You can see an example on the samples page where we shot a large group at a local restaurant. Nikon's D-lighting feature really helps brighten the background of your indoor or marginal lighting shots, but contrast, saturation and image noise do increase. However, you'll still be able to produce pleasing 4x6-inch or even 8x10-inch prints with these images. The "Face-priority AF" portrait mode did well at locating the subject's face when shooting close-up portraits, which helped in producing sharp facial details. Red-eye was common in subjects when using the Auto flash mode, luckily it does feature 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(s) keep still.
The L6 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 (30 or 15fps), 320x240 (30 or 15fps) or 160x120 (15fps.) The length of these clips is limited only by the amount of available memory. The L6 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 were good, with average compression noise.
Battery life was good. The L6 is powered by two standard AA type cells. Nikon claims with AA Alkaline batteries you can capture 400 shots, 540 shots with rechargeable NiMH cells or an amazing 1,000 shots with Energizer lithium batteries. Nikon includes a set of lithium batteries in the camera outfit. Using NiMH type AA 2100mAh rechargeable batteries, I was able to capture about 75 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.
The bottom line - Nikon's Coolpix L6 is a mixed bag. While this model does offer great image quality and some very appealing features, it is disappointing with its overall sluggish shooting performance. At about US$199 or less, it does offer a good value, as long as you don't plan on capturing fast moving subjects (like kids running through the house.) If you like the L6 but would like a bit more resolution and a broader zoom range, then be sure to check out our review of its 7-megapixel brother the Coolpix L5.
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