Nikon Coolpix L11 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 7/30/07
The Nikon Coolpix L11 features a six megapixel CCD linked to a Nikkor-branded 3x optical zoom lens, in an understated, stylish and relatively compact body. The Coolpix L11 offers a 2.4-inch display with 115,000 pixel resolution, but like many other small cameras these days, includes no optical viewfinder.
Nikon is known for a few special features that are included in the Nikon L11, including D-Lighting (which enhances darker images to improve shadow detail), Best Shot Selector mode (which takes a series of shots, letting the camera automatically pick the sharpest shot and discard the others), Red-Eye Fix (which automatically finds red-eye in your images and eliminates it), and finally Face-Priority AF. This last feature will initially keep you and your friends dancing around in front of the L11 to watch it put a "focus box" around your faces, but once you get used to the mode, you'll find it very reassuring to know that your loved one's faces will indeed be in focus, before you take the shot.
Other Coolpix L11 features include a 64 - 800 sensitivity range, 7MB of built-in memory, a Secure Digital / MultiMediaCard slot which is also compatible with newer SDHC cards, as well as USB and NTSC / PAL video connectivity. The Coolpix L11 draws power from two standard AA batteries, with alkaline disposables in the product bundle.
The Coolpix L11 ships in the USA from March 2007, priced at US$150.
Note: The Nikon Coolpix L10, L11, and L12 are very similar in their operation. You'll thus find that the User Reports for the three are very similar. Here's a brief summary of differences and similarities between the three models:
|Coolpix L10||Coolpix L11||Coolpix L12|
|64 - 800||64 - 800||50 - 1,600|
|7 MB||7 MB||21 MB|
Nikon Coolpix L11 User Report
by Mike Pasini
Intro. My nephew wanted a camera for Christmas the year he started First Grade. His prudent parents, who themselves owned a couple of digital cameras, bought him a disposable film camera to see if it would outlast his interest.
It didn't, so the next year he got an entry-level digicam which presented only two problems: remembering to charge the batteries between infrequent uses and remembering to download images from the large SD card. The latter was the bigger problem because he didn't have a computer of his own.
But he loves his digicam and wants to save every picture he ever took on that SD card. He likes looking through them. Especially if there are gag shots he took with his little brother. Well, at least now there's some evidence.
High tech gadgets trickle down slowly to children. The safety of having a cell phone was obvious, but putting an expensive and fragile device in small hands was just as obviously a short term solution. So the cell phone industry started making phones designed for kids.
The digicam industry hasn't been quite so swift (despite a few toys), but its low-end, entry-level offerings are approaching that market. These products repackage older technology (particularly smaller LCDs) with a frill or two in the $100 to $200 price range.
Nikon's recent stratification of the Coolpix line into three series -- the Life series L models, the Style series S models and the Performance series P models -- targets different kinds of photographers with each line. The L series is designed "with the casual snapshooter in mind," Nikon says. It's the company's lowest priced line with list prices running from $120 to $200, which translates to street prices from $110 to $150 -- and I've seen the L10 for as little as $85 recently.
But Nikon's L series is not just for kids. They're packed with the company's trademark in-camera enhancements: Best Shot Selector, D-Lighting, Red-Eye Fix and Face Priority Auto Focus. Every one of those is a useful tool you'll miss in cameras that don't have them. So they'd be ideal for anyone entering their second childhood, too, who might enjoy a simple digital camera to get shots of the grandkids.
The lightweight and attractive design of the L series is also something of a bonus compared to other entry-level offerings. These are good-looking cameras.
And they all come with Nikon glass. The L10 and L11 use the same 38-113mm 3x zoom, while the L12 uses a 35-105mm 3x zoom that adds Vibration Reduction to the package (again, a real bonus).
The main distinctions between models are sensor size and LCD size. The L10 is a 5-Mp digicam with a 2.0 inch LCD while the nearly identical L11 is a 6-Mp digicam with a 2.4 inch LCD. The L12, which stands alone anyway with its VR lens, is a 7.1-Mp digicam with a 2.5-inch LCD. And it's a bit more sensitive, too, raising the maximum ISO level to 1,600 from the 800 of the other two models.
There's one more distinction worth noting. Like the L12, the Nikon Coolpix L11 has an ImageLink connection on its base and includes a plastic dock insert for use with Kodak EasyShare dock printers. But the L10 does not have an ImageLink connection.
I shot with all three for a couple of weeks and found them to be sturdy, reliable little cameras, easily pocketed and ready for action. I found them a little slow on the trigger compared to higher end models and had some trouble focusing in Macro mode (normally one of the Coolpix line's great strengths). But you expect some shortcomings at this price level.
Design. Pictures just don't do it justice. The L11 is really smaller than it looks. The bulging grip is in just the right place for your thumb to slip between the W and T on the Zoom lever. It's very nicely balanced.
The brushed chrome look is balanced, too, by chrome highlights around the lens, on the eyelet for the wrist strap and on the top panel. It's not flashy, but it's attractive -- much more attractive than its price tag would suggest.
Even with a pair of AA rechargeables loaded in the grip, it isn't heavy. And yet it has enough heft that pressing the Shutter button won't jar the camera and blur the picture. Balance.
The controls on the back panel are minimal so there isn't a lot to confuse anybody who picks it up. You'll find the Zoom lever right away (with its handy Help function for any Menu option on the T side) and right below it the Menu button. Shooting options like Flash, EV compensation, Focus mode and the Self-Timer are tucked into the Multi Selector, a single ring with an OK button in the middle. A Playback button and an Erase button sit just above the small Mode switch with settings for Auto, Scene and Movie modes. Very simple.
About the size of a wallet, it fits in your pants pocket or anything else as large, ready to go anywhere. And at this price, you won't worry too much if you leave it there, either.
Display/Viewfinder. Inexpensive digicams get that way by forgoing optical viewfinders. Optical viewfinders are helpful when the sun beats down on your LCD, making it hard to see what the camera sees. But they are pretty inaccurate and not otherwise much missed. Small price to pay.
The Nikon Coolpix L11 uses a 2.4 inch LCD with 115,00 pixels while the L10 uses a smaller 2.0 inch LCD with 153,00 pixels to display the large-type menus of the Nikon Coolpix system. It's one of the distinguishing features between these two cameras. Although it obviously doesn't do anything for the size of the type, the higher resolution of the L10's smaller screen does make it more readable than it might be otherwise. The L10's LCD is also a bit brighter than that on the L11.
The LCD itself is usable in full sun, something I can't say about every one I've tried. It also resists fingerprints very well, another rare attribute. It has just enough resolution at 115K to show you what you've captured as well as display the large type menus Nikon is famous for.
You can adjust the monitor brightness over five steps in the Setup menu from its default setting of 3 to 5 (brighter) or 1 (darker), too.
Performance. There's a trick to powering up a Coolpix. On the Setup menu, you'll find a Quick Startup option that skips the usual icon or animation and just gets down to business right away. Even with the telescoping lens, Quick Startup gets the camera going quickly. I was never bothered by the startup time when I shot with either the L10 or L11.
Zoom performance was a different matter. Optical zoom was fine, smoothly moving from wide angle to telephoto. But digital zoom steps more slowly through its range. That was annoying. But a disincentive to use digital zoom isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The Nikon Coolpix L11 offers three capture modes worth exploring: Single, Continuous and Multi-Shot 16. In Single mode, the camera reconsiders everything about the shot (focus, white balance, etc.) each time you press the Shutter button, causing quite a delay between captures. If you're trying to catch the action, Continuous is quicker, capturing two shots/second with a fast enough memory card (we used a Kingston 133x SD card to test with), and provided that you're shooting in "Normal" rather than "High" quality mode. This isn't at all bad for an economy-priced digital camera. You can capture 16 small images with a single shutter press in Multi-Shot 16 mode (at 2 frames/second, regardless of the speed of your memory card), which can be fun for stop action photography.
The Nikon Coolpix L11 can take you a little deeper into the magic of photography with its Scene modes. These include Face-Priority AF, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Back Light, Panorama Assist, and Voice Recording. Each of these settings configure the camera so you don't have to worry about how to get the shot.
Sports, for example, behaves a lot like Continuous capture mode, capturing 2.0 frames second after fixing focus. Night Landscape lets you get those National Geographic shots of ribbons of traffic light streaming through skyscrapers at night (if you use a tripod). Museum turns off the flash and enables Best Shot Selector so you can shoot in art museums without attracting a guard. Scene modes are worth trying out, they make it easy to get tough shots.
The same lens is used on the L10 and L11, but it's a different lens than the optically stabilized lens on the L12. VR is worth every penny it costs and on the L12 it costs very few of them. It not only gets rid of the blur in telephoto shots, it lets you capture natural light images at shutter speeds so slow you normally would only get blurred images. (Of course, it only helps with camera shake, moving subjects will still be subject to blurring.) But you just might find the lens used on the L10 and L11 a bit sharper than the L12.
Macro mode is one of the hallmarks of the Coolpix line. Focus was hard to fix in Macro mode, but when I was able to do it, I had some fun. The flower shots are good examples. On the Nikon L11, Macro focuses from about 5.9 inches out, about the same as the L12. But where the L12 can focus in Macro mode at the telephoto end of its range, the L11 focuses at the wide-angle end. Still Macro really adds another dimension to the fun of owning a Nikon Coolpix, no matter your age.
While our Test Shots show higher than average barrel distortion at wide angle, almost every digicam shows some -- if it's got any wide to its wide angle. More interesting is the severe vignetting or dark corners at wide angle that you can see in my Twin Peaks and beach shots at 6.2mm (37mm in 35mm equivalent). That was a surprise.
Digital zoom was something of a disappointment on the Nikon Coolpix L11, but hardly worth complaining about. The shot of of downtown at 74.4mm (452mm in 35mm equivalent) is digitally zoomed and lacks detail.
While the L12 cranks up the sensor's sensitivity as high as ISO 1600, the Nikon L11 is limited to ISO 800. Expect to use the flash in low light. Fortunately, Nikon's in-camera Red-Eye Fix is a nice way of handling red-eye.
In fact, over the years, Nikon has built a suite of in-camera enhancements that really make a difference in typical photography. This started with Best Shot Selector, which simply checks the file size on a set of images, saving the largest (and, by definition, the most detailed). But it has continued with several other now common tools.
D-Lighting can brighten faces that were captured as shadows because of a bright light like a sunset behind them. Red-Eye Fix can find and remove any red-eye it inevitably finds in a flash image. And the newest kid on the block, Face-Priority Auto Focus can find the faces in the scene and set the focus on them.
Nikon gets a lot of shots out of two AA batteries, particularly if you use NiMH rechargeables. In my usual photo safaris around here, I never had a low battery warning with the L11. You can get about 300 shots with NiMHs, which is more than you'll want to show anybody at one sitting anyway.
If NiMHs and a charger are too much of investment for your junior photographer, though, there are a couple of interesting alternatives. Oxyride AAs are good for 250 shots and lithium AAs for 600. The lithiums won't lose a drop of energy sitting undisturbed in the camera either. So if your photographer won't take more than 600 shots all year (well, up to 10 years), they may make sense.
Shooting. The most trouble I had shooting with these Coolpixes was right at the start. I couldn't find the Mode dial. Of course, I was looking for a dial, not a switch, and I was looking for it up top near the power button. Once I found it, I got back to work.
The Mode switch has three options: Auto, Scene and Movie. Playback mode is accessed via a separate button on the rear panel. The advantage of that approach is that you can hold in the Playback button and it will power the camera on without extending the lens. Very handy for showing off your pictures.
My first outing I took all three L Series Coolpixes up to Twin Peaks for the zoom range shots. You can carry three of these, they're that small.
Many of the shots were taken from exactly the same spot, so you can compare the three cameras.
Shooting in bright sun and trying to evaluate exposure on the LCD was not easy. The LCD doesn't show you the full range of tones to begin with (no LCD really does), so your images will look a lot better on a computer monitor.
A number of shots were taken into the sun on that walk. With a histogram display, I might have ratcheted the exposure down a bit, although the L12 did better than its siblings holding onto the highlights.
But the main virtue of the L series Coolpix models is how simple they are to use. Pop one out of your pocket, press the Power button a second and line up the shot using the Zoom lever to compose the image. Then just press the Shutter button.
It's that simplicity that wins you over.
Movie mode was likewise a breeze. Just flip the Mode switch to Movie and, if you want, press the Menu button to set a movie size. They all fit on one screen.
The Nikon Coolpix L11 offers five movie options. If you have a fast (10MB/s) SD card, you can shoot "broadcast quality" video at 640 x 480 pixels and 30 frames a second. Otherwise you can shoot 640 x 480 at just 15 frames a second. You can shoot up to two gigabytes at a time, an impressive 39+ minutes in best quality mode, 56+ minutes one step down. You can also shoot at 30 fps but capture only 320 x 240 pixels. And you can capture 320 x 240 at just 15 frames per second, too. A much smaller 160 x 120 capture size is available at 15 fps, for a very compact video format.
Printing. Printing has never been as simple as it should be, however. And mistakes can be quite expensive. No matter the age of the photographer though, a print is the reward for a picture well taken. The Nikon Coolpix L11 gives you a lot of options when it comes to printing.
Before you even get near a printer, you can mark the images in your Nikon L11 for printing. Insert the memory card in any DPOF-compatible printer, and it will recognize which images to print and how many copies of each to make.
To do that, you simply press the Menu button in Playback mode, and choose the Print Set option. There are two options displayed after that: Delete Print Set, and (the one you want) Print Selected.
A thumbnail index of 12 of your images is displayed for you to scroll through with the Right, and Left arrow keys. When you come to one you want to mark, press the Up arrow key. For more than one copy, press the Up arrow key again. To unmark the image, press the Down arrow key until the check mark disappears. Simple.
Press the OK button on the camera's back, and you can also choose to print the date, and some exposure information on the currently selected image. When you connect to a DPOF-compatible printer, your print order will be fulfilled.
Even more impressive is the Nikon Coolpix L11's ability to connect to an ImageLink printer like the Kodak printer dock plus series 3 pictured here. A clear plastic dock insert is included with the L11 to attach to the printer. The L12 is also ImageLink capable, but not the less expensive L10.
Make sure you change the USB option in the Setup menu to PTP rather than Mass Storage when connecting to a printer though. I used a SanDisk Ultra II SD/USB card so I can leave the USB setting to PTP, and just pop the card into a USB port rather than change the USB setting to Mass Storage, and connect the camera to a USB cable.
With the camera off, you attach it to the dock insert, which has a small USB connector to connect to the camera. The camera will initialize the printer (as its LCD will explain), and then display the first stored image. Use the arrow keys on the camera to scroll through your images, select them for printing, and set the print options.
It's so easy, a child could do it.
Appraisal. The virtue of this well-balanced compact camera is its simplicity. You could hand this to anyone and they'd be able to take pictures, video or record a voice memo. They'd know just how to hold it and which button to press to get a picture. Slide the Mode switch and they could take movies. And show them the Scene mode for a Voice Memo and they'd be able to record their thoughts, too. As a bonus, it offers several key Nikon technologies, including Face-Priority Auto Focus, that are really quite useful. It's a nice little package, a real camera, at a very affordable price.
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. These days, 512 MB is a good trade-off between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
Of the three L-series Coolpixes, the L10 and L11 are much more basic than the L12, with lower resolution sensors (5.0-Mp and 6.0-Mp vs. 7.1-Mp), a lower maximum ISO (800 vs. 1,600), and a simple 3x zoom vs. the L12's optically stabilized lens. The L12 also captures AVI movies rather than the MOV movies of the L10 and L11, which may or may not be a factor for you. (AVI came from the Windows side of the world, MOV came from the Mac, readers for both are available on both platforms these days though.) The L11, like the L12, can be used with printer docks. And the L12 delivers all that for just $20 or so more than the L11 with a similar body style.
At this modest price level, you can't expect high-end performance but you do get good performance along with a suite of in-camera image enhancement tools that really matter. And you get Nikon's excellent Macro performance, too, although it's less remarkable at wide-angle on the Nikon Coolpix L11 than on the more versatile L12.
I do miss manual control of aperture, shutter, and even ISO, but no child will. And certainly not an adult whose main interest is just in catching the moment. They'll find the camera easy to carry and use, especially with the large type in the LCD menus.
And that's the real charm of these L Series models. They're as simple as it gets -- with a little in-camera magic to help you handle the hard stuff. I'd make this a Dave's Pick along with the L10 and L12, but I think that either of those models offers a slightly better value proposition (taking nothing away from the L11's abilities). Looking at the bottom line, the L11 seems a bit too much in-between the other two models. While it does give you ImageLink printing over the L10, I'm not sure that's worth the ~30% higher street price relative to the L10. On the other side of the coin, the L12 offers the (big) benefit of an image-stabilized lens for only $20 more. To my mind, that leaves the Nikon Coolpix L11 in an awkward position, I think most consumers will either spring the extra $20 for the L12 or decide to save $30 and go with the L10. All three are nice little cameras though, proof that you don't have to spend a lot of money to get decent digital photos.