by Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 04/01/08
The Nikon Coolpix L15 is small, pocketable and easy to operate with its bounty of automatic settings. With an 8.0-megapixel CCD and 3x optical zoom lens, the Nikon L15 captures good detail in normal, well-lit conditions. A selection of preset Scene modes rounds out the standard Auto exposure mode, and the user has control over important features such as White Balance, Exposure Compensation, Color, etc. Nikon standards like true optical Vibration Reduction, Face-Priority AF, and D-Lighting are useful tools for common mistakes and exposure troubles.
The camera's large and bright 2.8-inch color LCD monitor is great for composing and reviewing images, offering accurate and easy framing even under bright sunlight. Camera controls are minimal and easy to understand, making the Nikon Coolpix L15 quick to learn and simple to operate. It has a helpful One-Touch Portrait mode that can focus on as many as five individual faces, and a useful array of Scene modes that takes the guesswork out of tricky exposure conditions. The Coolpix L15 retails at $149.99 or less.
by Stephanie Boozer
Inexpensive, compact and easy to use, the Nikon Coolpix L15 is a very user-friendly point-and-shoot style digital camera aimed at novices who want the camera to do most of the work. Loaded with automatic options controlling everything from exposure to scene settings, the Coolpix L15 leaves very little for the user to fuss with. With two automatic shooting modes, a One-Touch Portrait mode, and 15 preset Scene modes, the Coolpix L15 can handle a variety of situations. It features an 8.0-megapixel CCD and 3x optical zoom lens with additional 4x digital zoom, as well as a big and bright 2.8-inch LCD monitor for image framing and review.
Small and light weight at 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.2 inches (91 x 61 x 29.5 millimeters) and 4.4 ounces (125 grams) without battery or card, the Coolpix L15 is pocket friendly. The no-frills matte silver plastic body keeps the weight down, and should prove fairly durable. External controls are minimal, and because most of the camera's operation is automatic, users shouldn't need too much time to get to know the camera. Despite the seemingly simplistic design, Nikon did include their optical Vibration Reduction (VR) technology, as well as ISO sensitivities as high as 1,000 (automatically controlled). It's also important to note that the Coolpix L15 features several popular Nikon digital camera features, such as D-Lighting, Red-eye Fix and Face-Priority AF. So, for a MSRP of $149.99, you actually get a lot.
Look and feel. With its simple design aesthetic and minimal protrusions, it's clear that the Nikon Coolpix L15 is meant for travel. Its pocketable body measures 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.2 inches (91 x 61 x 29.5mm) and weighs a trifling 6.1 ounces (174g) with battery and card, making it a natural travel companion, as it's easily slipped into a front jeans pocket, small purse or even a shirt pocket. A tiny wrist strap adds peace of mind when leaning over boat railings or peering over a rocky cliff, and the matte-silver plastic body panels will hide some minor abrasions and smudges. With its gently curved handgrip on right side, I found the Nikon L15 easy to hold with a comfortable grip. A set of raised bumps on the rear panel made a good thumb rest, and the minimal external controls made it easy to operate one-handed.
The large, bright 2.8-inch color LCD monitor made framing and image review a snap, and I appreciated the dull surface of the display, reducing glare outdoors. Through the Setup menu, you can control the amount of information displayed on the LCD monitor, as well as the overall brightness of the display. Unfortunately, the information overlay does not include the aperture and shutter speed settings, so you don't have much of an idea of what the camera is up to exposure-wise. On the upside, though, there is an available framing grid, which can help frame linear subjects by dividing the image area into thirds horizontally and vertically.
The Nikon L15 features a fairly standard 3x zoom lens, equivalent to a 35-105mm zoom on a 35mm camera. Zoom motion is slightly sluggish through the optical zoom range. Additionally, I found the transition from optical to digital zoom very slow, and had to hold down the telephoto portion of the Zoom lever a little too long. To combat minor blurring from slight camera movement, Nikon included Optical VR (Vibration Reduction) image stabilization technology, which is a true lens-shift design rather than a digital simulation. VR is useful when shooting at full telephoto, where slight camera movement often results in a blurred image.
Overall, the Nikon L15 offers straightforward shooting and a nice design with a simplified user interface. It's a good bet for novices who need something small they can slip into a pocket and go.
Interface. As I've mentioned, the Coolpix L15's user interface is straightforward and simple to navigate. The Power and Shutter buttons are well-placed on the top panel, and the few remaining controls are neatly arranged on the rear panel. The Mode button controls the main shooting mode, and there's a standard four-way Multi-controller on the rear panel for menu navigation and other shooting functions. A Playback button on the rear panel switches to Playback mode, and you can either hit the Shooting Mode button or the Shutter button to get back into record mode. LCD menus are short and to the point. Though you'll definitely want to read through the manual on some of the more detailed shooting modes and options, most users should be able to start snapping pictures with the camera right out of the box.
Modes. The Nikon Coolpix L15 operates under automatic control most of the time, offering only a handful of user-selectable shooting options. The Shooting Mode button on the rear panel offers Easy Auto, Movie, Scene, One-Touch Portrait, and Auto modes. Easy Auto mode puts almost everything under automatic control, with the exception of macro, exposure compensation, flash, and the self-timer. You can also set the image resolution. Standard Auto mode expands the Shooting menu to include white balance, color, etc. Metering and ISO remain under auto control at all times, though the camera uses three metering settings depending on the conditions, and an ISO range from 64 to 1,000 equivalents.
The Nikon L15's Scene mode offers 15 preset modes, which include Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Backlight, and Panorama Assist. Each of the modes is pretty self-explanatory, designed to optimize the camera for special conditions.
For moving subjects, the Nikon Coolpix L15 features a Continuous Shooting mode, as well as a Movie mode. Within the Continuous mode, options are standard Continuous, Best Shot Selector (BSS) and Multi-shot 16. BSS mode captures a small series images, then automatically selects and saves the sharpest image -- an excellent idea for trying to photograph kids. Multi-shot 16 mode captures 16 small frames at approximately one frame per second, and displays them as a single 3,264 x 2,448-pixel index image.
Within the Nikon L15's Movie menu, you can choose between 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120-pixel resolutions with differing frame rates, or opt for Stop-motion movie mode. Stop-motion mode shoots a number of still images, then strings them together as a movie file, but you manually press the Shutter button to make each exposure. After the first shot is captured, it is superimposed over the framed image so you can line up your next shot.
Special Features. The Coolpix L15 also features Nikon's D-Lighting adjustment, which enhances contrast and brightness in dark images. Accessed through the Playback menu as a post-capture editing tool, D-Lighting comes in quite handy when you've snapped a photo in less-than-ideal conditions.
For better portraits, the Nikon L15 features a One-Touch Portrait shooting mode, which uses Nikon's Face-Priority technology. Accessed through the Shooting Mode menu, One-Touch Portrait mode uses the same exposure presets as Portrait mode, plus Face-Priority AF, and automatically enables the Red-Eye pre-flash. When the camera detects a face in the frame, it displays a yellow border around the face. The camera can distinguish as many as five faces in one frame, making One-Touch Portrait good for small group shots as well.
Storage and battery. The Nikon L15 uses two AA-type batteries for power, and comes with set of ordinary alkalines. Battery power is about average with alkalines, but much improved with a set of rechargeable batteries.
For image storage, the camera offers about 25MB of internal memory, but also has an SD card slot. No card comes with the camera, however. The internal memory will hold about six full resolution images, or about 189 of the lowest resolution. (Compare this to about 60 full resolution files on a 256MB memory card.) For movies, the internal memory can hold about 23 seconds of the highest resolution setting, though a 256MB card can hold a lot longer at 4 minutes, 20 seconds. Thus, you definitely have some flexibility to grab images with the camera straight out of the box, but I'd recommend picking up a large capacity SDHC/SD memory card pretty quickly so you don't get caught trying to erase files to make room for new ones on the spot.
Shooting. Overall, shooting with the Coolpix L15 was fun and straightforward. Zoom speed through the optical zoom range was a little slow, as was overall timing, probably the biggest downfall I noticed while shooting. Shutter response at both wide angle and telephoto was slightly slower than average, and shot-to-shot cycle times were also on the slow side. The camera's Continuous mode also dragged a bit, capturing only 1.03 frames per second at full resolution. My sense is that shooting normal landscapes and posed people shouldn't prove a problem, but if you're trying to freeze action or get a sharp image of a moving subject, you're better with a different camera.
Shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, the Coolpix L15's LCD monitor handled the challenges of bright lighting well, thanks in part to its anti-reflective surface. I liked the camera's small size and control layout, and loved that I could easily slip it into my front jeans pocket. If I didn't need to make any adjustments or change mode settings, the camera's Auto settings streamlined shooting so that I could literally point and shoot.
Nikon Coolpix L15 Image Quality
Given its automatic nature and abundance of automatic exposure controls, the Nikon Coolpix L15 performed fairly well in my informal outdoor shooting, producing good overall color and exposure in a variety of settings. Color saturation was just about right, though the camera pushed strong reds a bit, and actually undersaturated some greens and blues.
Where the Coolpix L15 got into trouble was in the area of fine detail. The crop at left from the Still Life image includes what should be an intricate mosaic pattern close to the center of the frame. As you can see, details here are very soft, without really any definition on the mosaic at all. Noise pixels are fairly bright and intrusive, but noise suppression is a major contributor to the soft detail here.
4x Digital Zoom
The shots above demonstrate the Coolpix L15's 3x optical zoom range, which covers the equivalent of a 35-105mm zoom on a 35mm camera. Results are pretty good, though with blurring in the corners at both zoom settings, and slightly soft fine details. The 4x digital zoom shows strong losses in resolution and detail. Zoomed into 100%, details in the digital zoom image appear illustrative rather than photographic, with strong pixel-shaped artifacts in the fine foliage.
Good color and exposure,
at the default setting.
Slightly soft detail rendering.
The boat image above was taken about mid zoom range, close to sunset. Color and exposure were both good, but details are soft
Appraisal. Overall, the Nikon Coolpix L15 performed well in terms of exposure and color accuracy outdoors. However, detail definition and noise performance were disappointing when the camera needed to raise the ISO setting. Under brighter conditions, the Nikon L15 captured much better detail. You'll get the best results when shooting in good lighting, but expect higher noise and noise suppression when shooting at lower light levels without the flash. I was also disappointed with the camera's speed, which was on the slow side of average or worse, with a markedly slow flash recycling time of 12 seconds. That's a lifetime when you're waiting to photograph a group or children. By the time the flash recharges, the moment's gone. On the upside, the Nikon L15 offers a lot of fun features like D-Lighting, Face-Priority AF, creative color modes like Cyanotype and a nice bounty of preset scene modes for a very low price. Like most things, you get what you pay for. With the Nikon Coolpix L15, you get a nice selection of features, with good exposure and color, for around $150, though you lose definition in the details in some instances. Most readers who care enough to read a review like this should probably steer clear, as there are better offerings even in this price range.
- 8.0-megapixel CCD delivers image resolutions as high as 3,264 x 2,448 pixels
- 3x optical zoom lens, equivalent to 35-105mm zoom on a 35mm camera
- As much as 4x digital zoom
- 2.8-inch LCD monitor
- Automatic exposure control
- Maximum aperture from f/2.8 to f/4.7, depending on zoom setting
- Built-in flash with five modes
- USB interface and cable for connecting to a computer
- AV cable for connection to a television set
- Power from two AA batteries, with a set of alkaline disposables included
- Images stored in 25MB internal memory or to SD memory cards (not included)
- Vibration Reduction using lens-shift for still images (electronic VR for movies)
- Adjustable AF mode with manual selection and face-priority options
- 15 preset Scene modes
- Movie mode with sound
- One-Touch Portrait recording mode
- 256-Segment Matrix metering (Center-Weighted, and Spot metering when using digital zoom)
- User adjustable white balance setting with seven modes, including a manual option
- Continuous, Best Shot Selector, and Multi-shot 16 shooting modes
- Auto ISO from 64 to 1,000
- Color menu option for special effects
- D-Lighting Playback option to correct contrast and brightness post-capture
In the Box
- USB Cable UC-E6
- Audio Video Cable EG-CP14
- Two alkaline AA batteries
- Strap AN-CP14
- Dock Insert PV-15
- Nikon Software Suite CD-ROM
- Soft leather case
- Additional battery pack
- AC adaptor
- A large capacity SDHC/SD memory card
Sleek, compact, and handsome, the Nikon Coolpix L15 records good color and exposure in bright light, but quality quickly degrades indoors or in low light. Detail is fairly obliterated by high ISO settings, limiting print sizes to 5x7 or less at ISO 400. Though the Nikon Coolpix L15 includes nice features like Face-Priority AF and even Vibration Reduction, the lens and sensor combination isn't worthy of the 8-megapixel name, since many other 8-megapixel and even 7.1-megapixel cameras outperform the L15 at all ISOs. Though it has a low price and bounty of features, the Coolpix L15 is only a good choice as an inexpensive camera for the kids or those who won't print larger than 4x6; but most should look at other options.