Nikon L1 Review

 
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Nikon Coolpix L1 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Slightly oversaturated color (especially reds and blues), very typical of consumer digital cameras. Generally good hue accuracy.

Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image
In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Coolpix L1 follows this trend, though it tends to overdo the strong red and blue tones a bit, particularly the reds. Deep greens are also pumped up a bit, which can be seen in the very rich foliage colors the L1 captures. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. The L1 did render skin tones slightly on the pink side in most cases, but our sense is that most consumers would find the L1's color very appealing.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. Here, the Coolpix L1 did quite well. Like most digital cameras, it shifts cyan colors toward blue, to produce better-looking sky colors, but the rest of the hues were quite accurate.

Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Overly warm cast with both Auto and Incandescent white balance settings. Excellent results with Manual white balance though. Average exposure compensation required.

Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image
Auto White Balance +1.0EV Incandescent WB +1.0EV
Manual WB +1.0EV

Color balance indoors under both Auto and Incandescent lighting was rather warm-toned, ranging from rather yellowish in Auto mode to somewhat reddish in Incandescent mode, although the Incandescent results may be acceptable to some users. In contrast, the color balance with the Manual white balance option was excellent, with very natural skin tones and other colors. The Coolpix L1 required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

Outdoors, daylight
Good color balance, very bright colors. Better than average exposure accuracy.

Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image
Auto White Balance
Auto Exposure
Auto White Balance
Auto Exposure

Outdoor shots generally showed accurate exposure with a tendency to slightly blow out highlights. Shadow detail also tended to fall apart, but nothing that would raise an alarm for a consumer digicam. Sunlit shots showed high contrast and somewhat oversaturated colors, while overcast scenes managed a more accurate portrayal. Exposure accuracy overall was better than average, the camera requiring less exposure compensation than we're accustomed to seeing with the consumer-level digital cameras we test.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, 1,300 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,300 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 1,600. (The camera did produce slight color artifacts at lower line frequencies though, visible in the full-sized res target shots.) Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear several times, so the lines you see at 1,500 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image
Strong detail to 1,300 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,300 lines vertical

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images, with some blurring of detail from noise suppression.

Pretty good definition of high-contrast elements. Subtle detail: Hair

The Coolpix L1's images are quite sharp, without little or no evidence of over-sharpening or over-enhancement of contrasting edges on the camera's part. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop at far right shows this, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing only limited detail, even though individual strands are quite visible against her cheek in the uncropped image. (The level of detail loss shown here isn't all that obvious on prints 8x10 inches or smaller though.)

ISO & Noise Performance
Moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, very high noise that blurs detail at the higher settings.

ISO 50 ISO 100
ISO 200

The Coolpix L1 automatically sets sensitivity between ISO 50 and 200 equivalents, depending on the lighting conditions. The only point in our tests that produced a reasonable range of different ISO values was the Flash Range test. The crops above show results from 8, 11, and 14 feet, which correspond to ISO values of 50, 100, and 200 respectively. As you can see, some noise is present even at ISO 50, and the level increases significantly as the camera increases the ISO value. These crops of flat-tinted areas don't show the extent to which fine detail suffers as the ISO is increased, a fairly significant factor.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, but high contrast and limited shadow detail. Acceptable low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and slightly darker conditions, but image noise becomes a factor under dim lighting.

Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image
Normal +0.3EV +0.7EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The Coolpix L1 had a little trouble with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, producing very high contrast with washed-out highlights and deep shadows. Many consumer digital cameras have a hard time with this test, the Coolpix L1 a bit more than most. (In "real life" of course, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.7 lux
(Variable
ISO,
automatic
control)
Click to see CPL1LL03.JPG
1/1 sec
f2.9
(ISO 159)
Click to see CPL1LL04.JPG
1 sec
f2.9
(ISO 178)
Click to see CPL1LL05.JPG
1 sec
f2.9
(ISO 200)
Click to see CPL1LL06.JPG
1 sec
f2.9
(ISO 200)
Click to see CPL1LL07.JPG
1 sec
f2.9
(ISO 200)

Low light:
Our low light testing revealed some limitations in the lens and sensor's ability to gather and process light, but the Nikon L1 does manage to capture good-looking photos under light levels corresponding to typical city street lighting at night. (The 1 foot-candle example in the series above.) Noise does become a factor under dim lighting, where the L1 raises its ISO setting, so don't plan on making large prints from your after-dark shots: You'll be much happier if you don't try to print such photos any larger than 4x6 inches.

The Coolpix L1's autofocus system is also a bit limited, able to focus on a stationary, contrasty subject down to light levels a bit more than half as bright as those of typical city night scenes. (It should thus do just fine for well-lit outdoor shots after dark.)

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
The L1's small flash has a limited range, but works pretty well in typical indoor scenes. Our standard shots required roughly average exposure compensation.

Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image
38mm equivalent 190mm equivalent
Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera image
Normal Flash +1.0EV Slow-Sync Flash +0.7EV

Flash coverage was rather uneven at wide angle but very good at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the flash on the L1 underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get reasonably bright results. (Very typical behavior for cameras on this shot.) The Slow-Sync setting produced a strong yellow cast from the room lighting.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see CPL1FL08.JPG
1/73 sec
f4.2
ISO 50
Click to see CPL1FL09.JPG
1/114 sec
f4.4
ISO 67
Click to see CPL1FL10.JPG
1/170 sec
f4.5
ISO 92
Click to see CPL1FL11.JPG
1/209 sec
f4.8
ISO 106
Click to see CPL1FL12.JPG
1/256 sec
f4.9
ISO 130
Click to see CPL1FL13.JPG
1/304 sec
f5.0
ISO 154
Click to see CPL1FL14.JPG
1/383 sec
f5.0
ISO 194

Even at 14 feet, our farthest test range, the flash illuminated the DaveBox target adequately, but did so by boosting the ISO setting to progressively higher levels, starting at 8 feet. This is a fairly common tactic for consumer digital cameras, but it means that longer-range flash shots will show much more image noise.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, very usable 11x14 inch prints. Images shot in dark conditions (where the camera boosts its ISO automatically) aren't usable above 4x6 inches.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

With the Coolpix L1, we found that it had enough resolution to make very crisp 8x10 inch prints. At 11x14, its prints were a little softer looking, but more than adequate for wall or table display. As mentioned earlier, the Nikon L1 automatically boosts its ISO (light sensitivity level) under dark conditions or when shooting at moderate distances with the flash enabled. This inevitably increases the noise, but the amount of ISO boost and the noise that will result is a little hard to predict at the time of shooting. Typical home or office interiors are bright enough that the camera generally shoots at a very low ISO, producing nice-looking images. Shots outdoors at dusk or city scenes after dark will be very noisy indeed. Such shots really aren't usable at print sizes any larger than 4x6 inches, and can look a little rough even there.

At high ISO, image noise levels are held in check, but at the cost of rather soft-looking images. ISO 200 photos look OK printed at 8x10 inches, but ISO 400 ones are marginal even at 5x7 inches, but look fine at 4x6. Color-wise, the Coolpix L1's images looked really great when printed on the i9900, with bright, vibrant color. Users who prefer more subdued, technically accurate color saturation levels may find the L1's images a little too bright, but most consumers will probably find the L1's bright, snappy images very appealing.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon Coolpix L1 Photo Gallery.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon Coolpix L1 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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