Nikon Coolpix L6 Overview
by Dan Havlik
Review Date: 03/15/2007
Beginning at the PMA convention in Florida last year, Nikon has been making a bold effort to breathe new life into its entry-level "L" series cameras. Nikon adds to this "Life Support" with the Nikon Coolpix L6, a slim-and-trim, budget-buster model that has the look, feel, and features of a more expensive camera. Though it has a six megapixel CCD imager, a Nikkor-branded 3x optical zoom, a 2.5-inch LCD display, and ISO sensitivity to a maximum of ISO 800 (though it's not manually adjustable), the real news on the Nikon Coolpix L6 is its extraordinary battery life.
According to CIPA -- the Japanese Camera and Imaging Products Association which has set the standard for camera battery testing -- the Nikon Coolpix L6 can capture 1,000 shots on a single set of AA Lithium batteries. The Coolpix L6's great battery life doesn't just include pricey Lithiums -- which can cost as much as $6 for a two-pack. With more reasonably priced AA alkalines, you can squeeze off 400 shots with the Nikon Coolpix L6, while AA-sized NiMH rechargeable batteries will give you an impressive 540 shots.
Other benefits the Coolpix L6 offers are Nikon's tried-and-true in-camera technologies including D-Lighting exposure correction technology, a face-priority AF function, an in-camera red-eye-fix function, and Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode, which automatically chooses the sharpest picture from a series of images. The Nikon Coolpix L6 also comes with 15 beginner-friendly scene modes including four with Scene Assist; an option that lets you tweak the color of your images before you take the picture, and a date counter that tells you how many days are left until a special occasion. The best part of all, though, might be the Nikon Coolpix L6's price. While it's listed at $200, is being offered for as low as $150 at some online retailers. Read on to see if this low-end model in Nikon's Life series gets our support.
Nikon Coolpix L6 User ReportLooks Sharp. Nikon's L Series cameras are some of the most attractive entry-level models around, and the Coolpix L6 is no exception. Though it's made primarily of polycarbonate, the Nikon Coolpix L6'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 Coolpix L6 -- from the user's perspective -- provides a good handgrip, and the solid metal shutter button is satisfying to press. At 3.6 x 2.4 x 1-inches (91 x 61 x 26mm), the Nikon Coolpix L6 is small enough to fit into a purse or handbag, and at just 6.46 ounces (183 grams) with the batteries and memory card, it won't weigh you down.
For my money, the Nikon Coolpix L6 is one of the best looking and best designed cameras in its price range. While some might argue that good looks are only superficial in consumer electronics, for many prospective buyers, a stylishly functional design can be a strong selling point. Anyone who's been enamored of Apple's beautifully designed products, particularly it's best-selling iPod music players, will firmly attest to this point.
Unlike some other models in Nikon's L line, the Coolpix L6 provides just enough resolution (115,000 pixels) on the camera's 2.5-inch LCD screen for decent live preview and image playback. The screen has user-controlled brightness adjustment to five levels and the picture was quite clear overall with easy-to-read on-screen data and settings. Like the Nikon L2 before it, however, I was a bit flummoxed by lack of a "Show and Hide" setting on the Coolpix L6 for photo info on the screen. Where most digital cameras hide the image data after showing it to you for a few seconds on the screen, the Nikon Coolpix L6's LCD defaults to a setting that only shows the photo with the info. Because there's so much data -- good for photo junkies but not necessarily the typical novice Coolpix L6 user -- it clutters up the screen, making it difficult to see the picture. This was more of a problem on the L2, which had a smaller screen; but it is still a distraction on this camera.
Though you can change the setting in the menu system, it's more complicated than it should be, requiring you to go to Set Up and then choose Monitor Setting and then make the adjustment. The alternative, however, is to have playback of images without any info. A "show and hide" setting would have been preferable. On the other hand, the Nikon Coolpix L6's scroll speed is pretty quick and the camera transitions into its multi-frame playback with just a 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.
Decent Speed. While I've complained about the operating speed of some Nikon L series cameras before -- most recently on the sluggish top-of-the-line Coolpix L5 model -- the Nikon Coolpix L6 had decent all-around speed. Taking just 1.7 seconds to power on, deploy its 3x lens, and get to first shot, the Coolpix L6 is a great camera for candid photos. Unlike some competing models, I wasn't afraid to power down the Coolpix L6 when not in use, knowing it would be ready fairly quickly. Shutter lag time wasn't a noticeable problem either, with the camera taking 0.85 second to capture an image at the full autofocus wide angle position without pre-focusing. When you do pre-focus with the Nikon Coolpix L6, it's one of the fastest cameras I've tried in the entry-level class, taking just 0.074 second to snap off a picture.
Shot-to-shot cycle times were also fairly brisk on the Nikon Coolpix L6, with the camera averaging 2.85 seconds per shot over 20 shots. While not blazingly fast, that's not bad for a camera that costs less than $200. The only major speed stumble this camera took was in flash recycling time. According to our tests, it takes a glacial 10 seconds for the flash to recycle before it's ready for another shot.
Mediocre Image Quality. While the Nikon Coolpix L6 has a lot going for it, image quality isn't one of them. The quality of pictures I took with the camera, in most cases, was just average and oftentimes, such as in low light situations, below average. Like a lot of cameras in the entry-level class, the Nikon Coolpix L6's 3x optical (38-116mm) had a lot of problems handling exposure. Though it has a Nikkor-branded lens -- the name used for Nikon's top-of-the-line glass -- it wasn't particularly fast, with camera-controlled apertures ranging from f/3.2 to f/6.4. Many of my shots in bright outdoor light were blown out, so much so that I had to tamp down the exposure by as much as a full stop in most cases. Exposure Compensation is one of the few manual adjustments that this camera, thankfully, comes equipped with. But because most beginners won't likely use it, they may be disappointed by the blown-out highlights in their bright outdoor shots.
I also found colors captured by the Nikon Coolpix L6 to be flat in all but the softest of lighting conditions. For many of my shots I switched the camera to its Vivid Color setting to punch up the hues, but this produced only mixed results with blue skies looking unnaturally saturated. I got better results with the Coolpix L6's other color options, including cool Sepia and Cyanotype, which give your pictures an interesting, old-timey look.
The Nikon Coolpix L6 was also quite susceptible to motion blur. Some of my shots -- particularly close-up macros -- that appeared sharp on the Coolpix L6's screen, showed slight motion blur when I looked at them on the computer later, even though I had kept my hand steady when shooting. Nikon's lens-shift VR (Vibration Reduction) technology -- a form of optical image stabilization -- would have been a welcome addition here. It's currently available on the more expensive Coolpix L5 model, and on Nikon's advanced "P" series cameras. On the plus side, there was very little to no purple fringing in images I took with this model. Some entry level cameras frequently show purple fringing, especially in shots with high contrast, such as where tree branches meet the sky in the corners of the image.
Shots in the Dark. Where the Nikon Coolpix L6 struggled the most was in low light. Though Nikon boasts that this camera has an ISO sensitivity rating of up to 800 -- which should, theoretically, help you shoot low-light pictures without a flash -- it is not manually selectable. In most cases under adequate lighting conditions, the camera chose to hover around ISO 50. However, when lighting is poor and the flash is not engaged, the Coolpix L6 will show an ISO icon on the screen and automatically boost the ISO. While it is capable of going to ISO 800, in all but very dark circumstances the camera selected ISO 200 or 400. In fact, I had a lot of trouble getting the Coolpix L6 to select ISO 800 when taking a picture.
When I did get Nikon Coolpix L6 to go to ISO 800 -- which happened when I took a shot of a pair of my shoes in a dark closet -- results were poor. Not only did the ISO 800 setting produce images that were mottled with chroma noise, I had trouble getting any of the pictures in focus. Most of my ISO 800 images caused the camera to produce a Blur Warning prompt, which tells you that the image you've captured is blurry, and asks if you want to save it. If you really want to use the ISO 800 setting on this Nikon Coolpix L6, I would recommend setting the camera on a table first, or using a tripod. However, since pictures at ISO 800 are quite noisy, you might be disappointed with the results even if your shots are in focus.
Easy Features. It's too bad that the Nikon Coolpix L6 suffers from mediocre image quality and low-light annoyances since, as I mentioned before, it has a lot going for it otherwise. For one, the camera is incredibly easy to use, with a very clear menu system. Though the buttons are quite small on the back of the Coolpix L6 and the zoom rocker really should be bigger, I had no trouble navigating my way through the various special automatic functions on this camera. Nikon certainly has loaded up on the extras here.
A strong selling point for the Coolpix line is Nikon's Feature System which 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 Coolpix L6 screen and then locks into a box when it detects a face. The only apparent blip in the technology is that since it detects the presence of two eyes and a nose, it cannot lock in a profile, only a face that is looking straight at the camera. On the Nikon Coolpix L6, Face Priority AF is accessed through the Portrait Mode.
D-Lighting works in playback mode as a virtual fill 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.
Leave the Driving to Us. Though manual control is extremely limited on the Nikon Coolpix L6, it makes up for it in 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. Four of the special scene modes on the Coolpix L6 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, Backlight and Panorama assist. Add in a Voice Recording mode and BSS (Best Shot Selector) and this palette of tools makes the Nikon Coolpix L6 extremely flexible in a variety of conditions, providing relatively worry-free operation.
The Nikon Coolpix L6's Movie mode, which is accessed by turning the mode switch to the movie camera icon, is decent for an entry-level camera offering 640x480 resolution at 30 frames per second with mono sound in its "TV Quality Movie Mode."
All Charged Up. As mentioned before, the Nikon Coolpix L6 offers extremely long battery life especially if you use pricey AA Lithium batteries. While they cost nearly $3 a battery, two lithiums will give you 1,000 shots with the Coolpix L6. To get you hooked on these long-lasting batteries, Nikon includes two Energizer AA Lithiums with the camera. Other batteries fare pretty well in this model too, with two alkalines able to capture 400 shots with the Coolpix L6, and two AA-sized NiMH rechargeable batteries capable of producing 540 shots, according to CIPA standards.
The Bottom Line. The trim and stylish Nikon Coolpix L6 is impressive for an entry-level model that sells for less than $200. With a 6-megapixel CCD image sensor, a 3x optical zoom, a 2.5-inch LCD, and a host of easy-to-use in-camera Nikon technologies such as D-Lighting, Red-Eye Fix, and Face Priority AF, the Coolpix L6 would appear to be a steal for beginning photographers. The real news, though, is the Coolpix L6's extraordinarily long battery life, with the camera able to capture up to 1,000 shots on a pair of AA Lithium batteries. Despite its positives, I was disappointed in the image quality produced by the Coolpix L6, particularly its exposure issues, lack of sharpness, and struggles in low light. While the Nikon Coolpix L6 has a great design and a load of helpful features, there are other entry-level models on the market that simply take better pictures.
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Nikon Coolpix L6
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- Two AA Energizer Lithium batteries
- PictureProject CD-ROM
- Quick Start Guide and Instruction Manual
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card, 512MB as minimum
- Soft camera case
- Additional batteries, preferably Lithiums
For a such a competitively priced, entry-level camera, the Nikon Coolpix L6 has a lot going for it, including a decent 6-megapixel CCD image sensor, a capable 3x optical zoom, a bright 2.5-inch LCD, and a host of easy-to-use in-camera Nikon technologies such as D-Lighting, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, and Face Priority AF. Another strong selling point for this model, especially for anyone who's been frustrated when their camera suddenly runs out of gas on a vacation trip, is the Coolpix L6's extraordinary battery life. According to CIPA, the Nikon Coolpix L6 can capture 1,000 shots on a single set of AA Lithium batteries, 540 shots on a pair of AA-sized NiMH rechargeable batteries, and 400 shots on alkalines. Beginners will also see a benefit from the camera's 15 scene modes including four with Scene Assist. The slim and trim Nikon Coolpix L6 is also one of the most attractive entry-level models I've tried.
Where the Nikon Coolpix L6 disappointed me was in its image quality. Along with consistently blowing out highlights and producing color that lacked punch in all but the softest of lighting circumstances, the Coolpix L6 struggled in low light with its extremely inflexible and erratic ISO settings. I had a tough time capturing any decent shots in low light with the Nikon Coolpix L6 without turning on the flash. Also, many of my shots, particularly close-ups in the Macro mode, suffered from motion blur. So while there's a lot that I liked about the Nikon Coolpix L6's looks and operation, its image quality issues prevent me from making it a Dave's Pick.