Nikon Coolpix L5 Overview
by Dan Havlik
Review Date: 03/19/2007
Although it's the new flagship digital camera in Nikon's L-series, the Nikon Coolpix L5 borrows the look, feel, and some of the features of Nikon's advanced P-series ("L" stands for "Life" and "P" stands for "Performance"). The Coolpix L5 includes a 7.2-megapxiel CCD sensor and a Nikkor-branded 5x optical zoom (38-190mm in 35mm format) and the company's lens-shift VR (Vibration Reduction) technology, making for one heck of a sophisticated camera for entry-level users. Throw in the host of other features that Nikon crams into Coolpix L5's understated, stylish, and relatively compact body -- including D-Lighting exposure correction technology, a face-priority AF function, an in-camera red-eye function, and Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode -- and you have a very advanced model that's being offered for as low as $200 at some online retailers.
Though it owes something to Nikon's "P" line, this is an "L" series camera through and through. For starters, there's very little manual control on the Nikon Coolpix L5. You won't be able to make your own adjustments to things like shutter speed or ISO. Like previous L-series models, the Nikon Coolpix L5 is also on the sluggish side when performing basic functions. On the plus side, the Nikon L5 has a 2.5-inch LCD and a choice of 15 different scene modes -- including four with Scene assist -- along with a one-touch Portrait button on top for easily optimizing photos of friends and family. And though it's slightly bulkier than most L-series cameras -- and leans more towards Nikon's P cameras in looks -- it's still surprisingly slim despite its long lens and AA battery power supply. Read on to find out if the Nikon Coolpix L5 is the camera you've been looking for.
Nikon Coolpix L5 User ReportSmooth Style. I really like what Nikon's designers have done with the L-series cameras lately. While many competing entry-level models -- especially those that take AA batteries -- can look awkward, bulky, and sometimes just plain ugly, the latest Nikon Coolpix L cameras have smooth curves, stylish designs, and feel comfortable in your hand. Though the Nikon Coolpix L5 is bulkier than the lower-end L models -- looking a little like the Coolpix P cameras -- it's still pretty slim considering that it houses a 5x optical zoom lens. Dimensions of the camera are 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.8 inches (97 x 61 x 45mm), and it weighs just 7.73 ounces (219 grams) with the batteries and SD memory card installed. Though the lens housing still protrudes over half an inch when powered down the overall profile of the Nikon Coolpix L5 is quite slender compared to some competing models with similar size zooms.
Made primarily of polycarbonate, the Nikon Coolpix L5's sparkly silver chassis has a nice metallic feel to it, accentuated by a stainless steel band that loops over the left side and top of the camera. The slight swell on the right side of the Nikon L5 provides a good handgrip and the solid metal shutter button is satisfying to press.
While the Nikon Coolpix L5 is one of the best looking cameras I've tried for its feature set and price range, buttons are quite small, and the zoom rocker really should be much wider (there's plenty of room!) to make zooming easier. This is the same complaint I had with the lower-end L models, but it's even more pronounced with the new L5 because of the 5x optical zoom.
The screen is also a bit disappointing, not for its size but for its resolution. Though it's a 2.5-inch LCD, it only has 115,000 pixels, so images look slightly soft in playback. This is especially pronounced during instant review when the Nikon L5 displays a low-res version of the your shot for a second or so before automatically returning to shooting. While this might be fine for just checking to see if you got the shot, it tells you nothing about whether the image was in focus; in fact, it makes you think every image you capture is out of focus. During playback, images also take a second to "rez up" to their full resolution, which is annoying. On the other hand, though, the split-second low-res playback does increase scroll speed when reviewing images. The camera also transitions very easily into its multi-frame playback (4, 9, or 16 thumbnails at once) with a simple tap on the zoom rocker. It's also very easy to add voice memos to your pictures -- if that's your thing -- by simply pressing and holding the shutter button during playback.
Slow Habits. One of my major complaints about the last batch of L-series cameras was their sluggish performance, and that hasn't changed much with the Nikon Coolpix L5. According to our tests, it takes nearly three-and-a-half seconds to power-on the Coolpix L5 and capture the first shot. Though having a 5x zoom in a camera this small and inexpensive is great, the trade-off is that it takes a mighty long time to deploy and retract the lens. (Shutting down the camera is also slow, taking three full seconds.)
Once the camera is ready to go, it takes a second to capture the first shot and 4.5 seconds to display a large/fine file image file immediately after capture. Displaying images during playback is a slow process with the Nikon Coolpix L5 unless you don't mind quickly looking at the low-res versions that pop up at first. The full resolution shot takes 1.6 seconds to appear, according to our tests. Shutter lag on the Nikon L5 could have been better too, with the camera taking almost a full second to snap a picture at the wide-angle setting without pre-focusing. When the camera's fully zoomed to 5x, it's also quite slow, averaging 1.18 seconds to capture a shot. It's still no speed demon when you pre-focus, but not terrible at 0.151 second.
The camera was also quite slow shot-to-shot, averaging almost three seconds per shot in Large Fine JPEG mode, according to our tests. While under normal circumstances the Nikon Coolpix L5 doesn't suffer from "early shutter penalty" -- a scenario in which some cameras refuse to snap another picture if you release and press the shutter too quickly -- when you engage the flash, it does succumb to this problem. I had this happen to me several times when trying to take a flash photo of a cat on a window sill on a cloudy day. The main reason for this could be that the flash takes such a long time to recycle, a full 12 seconds according to our tests. Overall, the Nikon Coolpix L5, unfortunately, seems to have picked up the slow habits of its predecessors.
Shaken and Sometimes Blurred. I generally liked the quality of images I captured with the Nikon Coolpix L5, though I found the camera's Vibration Reduction (VR) optical image stabilizer to be less effective than competing technology on other brands. This is in stark contrast to what we've experienced with other Nikon VR cameras. It was definitely a boon to have VR on shots when I engaged the full 5x zoom, helping to steady a series of pictures I took of a pigeon perched regally in the upper window of an old school. In low light, however, the Coolpix L5's VR was less effective. Many low-light pictures I took without a flash with the Nikon L5 suffered from slight motion blur. This issue is compounded by the camera's limited ISO capabilities; but more on that later.
On the Nikon Coolpix L5 -- as on the Coolpix P4 and P5 --VR comes in two flavors. Normal is the default setting, and you can also choose Active. In Normal, the best choice for most shooting situations, VR is engaged and effective even when panning. The Active setting is designed for severe-shake conditions, such as when shooting from a moving car or boat, though panning is not supported in this mode (the camera would misinterpret panning as extreme motion and attempt to compensate). The settings can be turned on or off via a small VR button on top of the camera.
Low-Light Limitations. The Nikon Coolpix L5's low light sensitivity ratings are better than its predecessors, but not by much. Like the L2, L3, and L4, you cannot manually select an ISO setting on the Coolpix L5. For those readers not familiar with the term "ISO," it means how sensitive the camera's imaging sensor is to light. When ISOs are set to a higher number -- 800 and above -- the camera is able to shoot under lower-light conditions without a flash. At higher ISO settings, though, image noise can increase.
With the Nikon Coolpix L5, the camera pretty much stays locked into ISO 80. (On the Coolpix L2, incidentally, ISO was locked at 50.) However, when lighting is poor and the flash is not engaged, the camera will show an ISO icon on the screen and automatically boost the ISO. The range is limited, capping off at just ISO 400. (This is better than the earlier models which only went to ISO 200.) With most entry-level cameras offering manually selectable ISO of up to at least 800 -- and some higher-end compact models offering ISO 1,600 and beyond -- it's disappointing that the Nikon Coolpix L5 has such a limited range that's not manually adjustable. Though talk of ISOs and light sensitivity might seem complicated to beginning users, with picture-takers getting tired of blowing out their subjects with flash, it would have been nice for Nikon to offer more low-light shooting capabilities on the Coolpix L5.
The Nikon Coolpix L5's flash range of 1 foot, 7.7 inches to 18 feet, 0.5 inches (0.5-5.5m) at the wide end is an improvement on the earlier L-series models, and more than adequate for snapshooting purposes.
Smooth, Warm Color. In good lighting conditions, the Nikon Coolpix L5 produced nice images with very warm color, a subtle dynamic range, and a smooth, film-like quality. I think consumers will be pleased with pictures they take with this model even in larger print sizes. I was very happy with the detail the camera's 7.2MP sensor produced in 8.5 x 11-inch prints I made on an inkjet printer at home. I was less than impressed, however, with the overall sharpness of the camera's Nikkor lens, which features a decent aperture range of f/2.9 - f/5.0, and is automatically set by the Nikon Coolpix L5 depending on the shooting conditions.
Images I took with the Nikon Coolpix L5 weren't particularly sharp in the corners, even though I had VR turned on and in many cases was shooting in adequate lighting conditions. One other glitch on the Coolpix L5 for those who like to shoot with a tripod, is the placement of the tripod socket on the bottom of the camera. Since the socket is on the very left of the camera, it's virtually impossible to make a secure and level tripod mount on this camera. This design flaw drove our testing crew in Imaging Resource's lab positively batty!
Suite Features. Though Nikon's L-series cameras will likely frustrate anyone who likes to take manual control of their camera, the Nikon Coolpix L5, like its predecessors, has an excellent suite of automatic functions designed for the beginner. Along with automatic Vibration Reduction, Nikon's Feature System on the Coolpix L5 includes In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, Face Priority AF and D-Lighting. In-Camera Red-Eye Fix combines a pre-flash with in-camera processing to reduce red-eye in portraits. In Face Priority AF, which is the real gem of the system, a yellow smiley face appears on the screen and then locks into a box when it detects a face. When more than one face is detected, the closest face is framed by a double border while the others are framed by a single border, with the camera focusing on the closer face. The only apparent blip in the technology is that since it detects the presence of two eyes, it cannot lock in a profile, only a face that is looking straight at the camera.
D-Lighting works in playback mode as a virtual "fill-in flash" to increase brightness and clarity in underexposed areas of a picture by automatically adding light and detail where needed. This is also a fairly effective feature for beginners but should only be used for images that are slightly underexposed. Images with extremely dark shadow areas will become noisy after being adjusted with D-Lighting.
Just a Touch. The Nikon Coolpix L5 features a one-touch portrait button the combines the features into one function. Just press the button -- located on the top panel of the camera and identified with an icon of a person -- and portrait-taking is optimized.
The Nikon Coolpix L5 also has a rich and varied group of special scene modes. Switching into Scene Mode is simple -- just adjust the mode switch on the back to where it says SCENE, and you're ready to shoot. Because there are so many scene modes -- as well as variations on each one -- make sure you know which setting you're in. The new Coolpix line features a revamped GUI (Graphic User Interface) that's an improvement on the previous version. The GUI is pleasing to look at with black and gray selections highlighted yellow as your scroll through. Though some of the iconography is difficult to understand, there are descriptions at the top of the screen in fonts that are easy to read. There's also a setting to make the menus text-driven rather than icon-driven, depending on the user's preference. I recommend the Text setting because it's clearer.
Making a Scene. Four of the special scene modes on the Nikon Coolpix L5 have Scene Assist -- Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Portrait. Scene Assist is a selection option that helps the user compose pictures with the help of framing guides displayed on the monitor. There are also 11 advanced Scene Modes -- Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night landscape, Close up, Museum, Firework show, Copy, Back light and Panorama assist. There's also a Voice Recording mode, BSS (Best Shot Selector) and Exposure BSS. Though actual manual control is lacking, these tools make the Nikon Coolpix L5 extremely flexible in a variety of conditions, providing relatively worry-free operation.
The Nikon Coolpix L5's Movie mode, which is accessed by turning the mode switch to the movie camera icon, is decent for an entry level camera offering 640 by 480 resolution at 30 frames per second with mono sound in its "TV Quality Movie Mode."
The Nikon Coolpix L5 uses two AA-sized batteries for power, either alkaline or NiMH type. I strongly advise picking up a couple of sets of rechargeable batteries and a charger, and keeping a spare set freshly charged at all times. Based on CIPA standards, the Nikon L5 can capture up to 150 images with a pair of alkaline batteries. With AA NiMH rechargeable batteries, however, capacity rises to 250 images. AA lithium batteries on the Nikon L5 yielded even better results at 490 images.
The Nikon Coolpix L5 stores its photos on SD / MMC memory cards or in approximately 8 MB of internal memory, and no card is included with the camera. I strongly recommend buying at least a 512MB card, preferably a 1 or 2GB one, to give yourself extra space for extended outings. Because the SD card is accessed on the Nikon Coolpix L5 via the battery door, removing the card can be a chore.
The Bottom Line. There's no doubt that this new flagship model in Nikon's L series of digital cameras has a lot going for it. With a 7.2-megapxiel CCD sensor and a Nikkor-branded 5x optical zoom (38-190mm in 35mm format) with the company's lens-shift VR (Vibration Reduction) technology, the Nikon Coolpix L5 is a very sophisticated camera for entry-level users. While the camera's very limited manual control will frustrate all but the most beginning of users -- along with its slow overall performance -- the Nikon Coolpix L5 is an understated and stylish model that manages to cram a host of features into a relatively compact body. Features like D-Lighting exposure correction technology, a face-priority AF function, an in-camera red-eye function, and Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode are worth the price of admission -- in this case, as low as $200 at some online retailers -- while the Nikon Coolpix L5's one-touch portrait button is the icing on the cake for entry-level photographers.
- 7.2-megapixel CCD (effective) delivering image resolutions as high as high as 3,072 x 2,304 pixels
- 5x optical Nikkor zoom lens, equivalent to a 38-190mm lens on a 35mm camera
- 4x digital zoom
- 2.5-inch color LCD monitor with 115,000 pixels of resolution and brightness adjustment
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to four seconds
- Automatic exposure control
- Built-in flash with five modes
- Maximum aperture from f/2.9 to f/5.0, depending on lens zoom position
- Images stored on SD/MMC card (8MB of internal memory)
- Power supplied by AA-type batteries (pair of alkalines included)
- Nikon Picture Project software for both Mac and Windows
- Vibration Reduction (VR) optical image stabilization
- Icon or Menu interface with Help button
- Face Priority AF to focus on faces automatically
- Movie mode with sound
- Continuous Shooting and Multi-Shot 16 mode
- 15 preset Scene modes, including four with scene assist
- Red-Eye Fix automatic red-eye correction
- D-Lighting for in-camera optimization of dark images
- Best Shot Selector mode
- One-touch Portrait button
- Self-timer for delayed shutter release
- Macro lens adjustment for close-ups up to four centimeters
- White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes
- 256-Segment Matrix and Center-weighted metering
- ISO equivalent sensitivity 80 with auto gain to ISO 400
- PictBridge compatibility
- DCF, DPOF and Exif 2.2 support
- USB cable for quick connection to a computer
- Video cable for connection to a television set
In the Box
The Nikon Coolpix L5 ships with the following items in the box:
- Coolpix L5 digital camera
- Wrist strap
- A/V cable
- USB cable
- Two alkaline AA batteries
- CD-ROMs loaded with Nikon Picture Project software and reference manual, and drivers
- Quick Start Guide, Instruction Manual and registration kit
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. 1MB or 2GB cards are quite affordable.
- Two sets of NiMH AA batteries and a charger
- AC Adapter
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
- Understated, stylish, and relatively compact body
- Long, 5x optical (38-190mm 35mm equivalent) zoom lens
- Nikon's VR (Vibration Reduction) technology helps steady long zoom shots
- Images had nice, warm color with smooth, film-like dynamic range
- Good resolution from 7.2-megapixel CCD sensor produced nice letter-sized prints
- Excellent macro performance
- Loads of helpful scene "assist" options for novices
- D-Lighting corrects underexposed images right in the camera
- Helpful Best Shot Selector feature
- Face Priority AF knows how to take a portrait
- Red-Eye eliminated in camera with post processing
- Max ISO sensitivity limited to 400 and always set automatically; otherwise camera stays locked at ISO 80
- This iteration of Nikon's VR Optical image stabilization does not seem as effective as competing systems
- Slower than average operation speed; noticeable shutter lag and slow shot-to-shot speed
- High image noise in dim light and when flash is used at distances much beyond 11 feet
- Resolution low for 2.5-inch LCD screen
- Modest battery life
- No Shutter, Aperture priority, or manual exposure modes (common in other entry-level cameras though)
- Very small buttons and zoom rocker
- Tripod socket placed in awkward location
If you're an entry-level photographer happy to let your digital camera do all the work, the Nikon Coolpix L5 may be right for you. Packed with advanced features taken from Nikon's higher-end P-series, the Nikon Coolpix L5 is a very sophisticated model at a very attractive sub-$300 price. (We've even seen it for as low as $200 at some online retailers.) In addition to a long Nikkor-branded 5x optical (38-190mm lens on a 35mm camera) zoom lens, the Nikon Coolpix L5 features Nikon's lens-shift VR (Vibration Reduction) optical image stabilization technology which helps steady long-range shots.
Designed for the family snapshooter, there's very little manual control on the Nikon Coolpix L5, which will likely frustrate more advanced users. (Advanced users should look at the Nikon Coolpix P4 or P5 instead.) Along with not offering Shutter, Aperture priority, or manual exposure modes (though common in some competing entry-level cameras), there is no manual control of the Coolpix L5's ISO range. This commonly used setting stays locked at ISO 80 on the Coolpix L5 unless the camera detects a low-light situation; and even then it seldom goes up beyond ISO 400. The Coolpix L5 doesn't have much to offer if you like to shoot low-light pictures without flash. The Nikon Coolpix L5 -- like its predecessors the L2, L3 and L4 -- is also a slow all-around performer which will frustrate all but first-time camera users.
Still, the Nikon Coolpix L5 has too much going for it not to warrant a recommendation. Nikon's suite of helpful picture-taking technologies -- D-Lighting exposure correction technology, a face-priority AF function, an in-camera red-eye function, and Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode -- alone are worth the price of admission here. The Coolpix L5's impressively long zoom, VR image stabilization, and low price makes it an easy Dave's Pick.