It's completely reasonable to expect a particular product, in this case a camera, to get better with each generation. That's not the case with the Nikon Coolpix L810.
Sure, on paper, Nikon is offering more for your money than the L810's predecessor, the L120. But that's simply specs; you get a wider, longer lens and a higher-resolution sensor, neither of which get you better photos.
Also, despite its looks, the L810 is very much a basic point-and-shoot camera, offering little more than fully automatic shooting. Not that that's a bad thing and, in fact, if all you need is a decent auto mode, a long lens for shooting in daylight and if your photos are going straight to Facebook, the L810 is plenty.
Design and features
There are two auto modes on this camera. Easy Auto, which uses scene recognition (Nikon calls it Scene Auto Selector) and adjusts settings appropriately, is based on six common scene types. If the scene doesn't match any of those, it defaults to a general-use Auto. Then there is an Auto mode, which is similar to the program AE modes on other point-and-shoots, giving you a modicum of control over your end results. You can change ISO, white balance and exposure compensation, as well as colour, flash and continuous shooting modes. Light metering is locked to multi-pattern, unless you're using the digital zoom and the focus area is fixed to the centre of the frame.
The L810 is easy to use out of the box. However, with no viewfinder, the 26x zoom is tough to keep steady without a support.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
If you're able to decipher the type of scene you're shooting, it may correspond to one of the camera's 16 selectable scene modes. All of the scenes are standards, like Portrait and Landscape, and there is a Panorama Assist for lining up a series of shots that can be stitched together, with the bundled software. Nikon's Smart Portrait System gets its own spot in the shooting-mode menu. Basically, it combines Blink Warning, Skin Softening, Smile Shutter and Face Priority AF (autofocus) features into one mode. The system works well, in particular, for self-portraits, allowing you to take pictures without pressing the shutter release or setting a timer (limited to one, 10-second option).
Using the L810 is straightforward. The controls and menu system are fairly uncomplicated, so out-of-the-box shooting shouldn't be a problem. The menu system is broken into three tabs: Shooting, Movie and Set up. The layout keeps you from doing too much hunting through settings, not that there's all that much to adjust. (For example, you can't even turn off the digital zoom.) That's not to say that it won't take a little effort to get the most from this camera, but the basics of shooting a photo or movie are easy.
With the camera loaded with its four AA-size batteries, it has a nice weight to it, and the ample hand grip gives you something substantial to hold. Unfortunately, without a viewfinder, the camera is difficult to keep steady with the lens extended.
On the bottom is a locking door, covering the SD card slot and batteries. You can use alkaline, NiMH rechargeables or lithium AA batteries. Nikon includes alkaline batteries, which will last for up to 300 shots; using lithium batteries should last for nearly 750 shots. NiMH rechargeables are rated for up to 450 shots. On the left side of the body is a covered panel with a small DC input for an optional AC adapter, a Mini-HDMI port and Micro-USB/AV port.
Shooting performance is slow, though it's on par with other lower-end compacts. The camera starts up and shoots in 2.3 seconds, in good lighting. Its shot-to-shot times are about 3.3 seconds without the flash and 4.1 seconds with — both slower than the model it replaces. The camera can continuously shoot at full resolution up to four photos, at a rate of about 1.1 frames per second, which is decent, but focus and exposure are set with the first shot, so it's not ideal for fast-moving subjects. Shutter lag — how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed, without pre-focusing — is also worse than the L120, at 0.5 second in bright lighting and 0.8 second in dim conditions. Worth noting, too, is that its autofocus is very slow when you extend the lens. What this all means is that the camera is too slow for getting specific shots of active kids or pets, sports or fast-moving wildlife without practice and a lot of luck.
Like most entry-level point-and-shoots, you'll want to give the L810 as much light, as possible. Photos are best at, and below, ISO 200. As the sensitivities increase, so does the noise and smeary details from noise reduction. Also, colours appear slightly washed out and muddy from noise, at ISO 400 and above. This, combined with the increased softness at higher sensitivities, means the indoor and low-light photo quality just isn't very good. So, again, as long as you have plenty of light and don't do more than share photos online or make the occasional 4x6-inch print, the L810 has good snapshot quality.
(Credit: Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET)
The camera's colour performance is its best attribute, though again it's dependent on using ISO 200 or lower. At those sensitivities, colours appear bright and vibrant. Exposure is good, but as usual with compact cameras, highlights will occasionally blow out. Its white balance is good overall, though the auto white balance is warm under unnatural lighting.
With enough light, the L810 produces good close-up shots. This is a 100 percent crop from the inset photo.
(Credit: Joshua Goldman/CNET)
Video quality is the same as photo quality; good enough for web use at small sizes. Panning the camera will create a little judder, and you may notice some motion blur with fast-moving subjects; that's typical of the video from most compact cameras. The zoom lens does work while recording, which is definitely a selling point with such a long lens. Its movement is slow — as is the autofocus — if it focuses at all — and you will hear it moving in your clips.
If you like to shoot close-ups, the L810 can focus as close as 1cm from your subject, but to do so ,you need to zoom in a little; an arrow on the onscreen zoom indicator turns green when you're at the right length. Worth noting is that, if you try to use the flash when shooting close-ups, depending on how close you are, you can end up with a shadow from the lens barrel (common for long-zoom cameras).
The Nikon Coolpix L810 is not a camera we would easily recommend. If you simply must have a 26x zoom lens and AA batteries for power, it's OK, especially for its price. However, you may want to seek out the older L120 if it's still available.