Design and features
The ridiculously priced Coolpix L120 has set the bar high for aspiring superzoom wannabes. This camera packs a 21x optical zoom lens in a stylish body all for under AU$300.
The L120 is also, dare we say it, a little sexy in its appearance — in the red colourway at least it's all glossy cherry red curves and shiny black accents. The effect is actually really refreshing, particularly as most other superzoom-esque cameras come in black, black and more black. The hand grip, shaped around the battery compartment, is made of a textured rubbery plastic, with the shutter button and zoom rocker sitting directly above it.
Next to the high-resolution 3-inch LCD (920,000 dots) are the standard Nikon buttons for scene selection, playback and adjusting shooting parameters. While the superzoom appearance may hint at manual controls, there's unfortunately no modes beyond easy automatic, scene modes, smart portrait, continuous and standard automatic.
Vibration reduction, Nikon's way of saying image stabilisation, is here, and while the lens itself doesn't have the widest maximum aperture (f/3.1-5.8), it's decent enough for the price. It's also a wide angle of 25mm. Connectivity includes mini-HDMI, AV out and a standard 5V DC input for external power. Plus, you get HD recording at 720p and the addition of a dedicated video record button and a stereo microphone on top of the pop-up flash.
We love the zoom rocker on the lens barrel. (Credit: CBSi)
One really useful feature on the L120 that we haven't seen on a camera of this type before is the zoom rocker located on the lens barrel itself. It's positioned in such a way that makes zooming smoother and easier when shooting videos, but we found it's also useful for shooting in portrait orientation when you want to zoom in or out.
It's also one of the only cameras in the 2011 crop of compacts and superzooms that use AA batteries rather than rechargeable Lithium-ion. Though the prospect of constantly throwing out batteries will cause palpitations for the environmentally conscious, many photographers and travellers value the convenience of always-available AA. The batteries also add to the weight of the L120, which at about 431 grams puts it firmly in the league of other cameras like the more expensive Canon PowerShot SX30 IS or Nikon's own "proper" superzoom, the P500.
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Nikon Coolpix L1201.43.00.1
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Nikon Coolpix L1200.7
Nikon rates the battery life of the L120 at 330 shots using standard Alkaline AA batteries. The L120 can also take 20 photos in 1.5 seconds at a reduced resolution (1024x768) in sports continuous mode.
For all the bells and whistles that the L120 has hidden beneath its cherry red exterior, we were expecting a bit more from its images. So it's with a heavy writing hand that we say the images from the L120 aren't the most amazing quality for photo purists.
For photographers who want images for web display though, the L120 is fine. Distortion at the wide end is kept to a minimum and colours are reasonably accurate, with a slight over-saturation of the red channel. Lens sharpness is strongest at the centre of the frame, dropping off towards the edges. Automatic white balance is quite cool. As there's no manual focus it can be pretty difficult to get the L120 to lock on to a particular subject, especially when the lens is extended more towards the telephoto end.
It took us a while to lock onto this spider, as the L120 has no manual focus. We had to trick the camera by zooming in, entering macro mode and focusing the centre portion of the image on the dangling arachnid. See the image sample section below for the full resolution version. (Credit: CBSi)
Artefacts and over-processing become evident on JPEG images when you zoom in to 100 per cent magnification, and images at high ISO levels end up messy. As with any superzoom, obtaining a steady handheld shot at the telephoto end is really very difficult. Make sure you use a tripod for these sorts of shots.
Unfortunately, video quality is one of the worst we've seen on any compact camera with HD. The video image lacks detail while appearing blocky and grainy, but the sound from the stereo microphone is decent.
Click each image for full-sized samples from the L120. No post-processing has been done to alter these photos.
Exposure: 1/250, f/3.1, ISO 180
Exposure: 1/60, f/3.1, ISO 80
Exposure: 1/50, f/5.7, ISO 400
Exposure: 1/800, f/8.7, ISO 1600
Those not too fussed about perfect image quality will love the Coolpix L120 with its budget price-tag and huge array of features. Those wanting to make enlargements or shoot lots at high ISO levels will want to look elsewhere.