Nikon L12 Review

 
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Nikon Coolpix L12 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good overall color, only slight oversaturation in strong reds, blues and greens

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 Nikon Coolpix L12 produced good overall saturation, with only slight oversaturation in the strong reds, blues, and greens. Better than average results, in that the colors should be bright enough for most consumers, without offending those who prefer more accurate rendering.

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. Here, however, the L12 produced good results.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. The L12 did push some reds a little toward orange, and oranges toward yellow, but overall color looked good and realistic. All in all, better than average color handling, surprising in a camera this inexpensive.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Very good color balance with the Manual white balance option better than average with Auto, about average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance +1.0 EV Incandescent WB +1.0 EV
 
Manual White Balance +1.0 EV  

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was a little warm and pinkish in Auto white balance mode (better than most cameras manage though), and the Incandescent setting resulted in stronger yellow color balance. However, the Manual option produced nearly accurate results, if just slightly greenish. The Nikon Coolpix L12 required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment for a bright exposure, which is about average for this shot. Overall color looks pretty good, though the blue flowers came out purple. (Many digital cameras push the blue flowers toward a darker, more purple hue.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.

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

Auto White Balance, +0.3 EV Auto White Balance, Auto Exposure

The Nikon L12's Outdoor shots generally showed accurate exposure with pretty good highlights. Shadow detail was limited, with some visible noise suppression artifacts. Exposure accuracy overall was quite a bit better than average, the camera requiring less exposure compensation than we're accustomed to seeing with consumer digicams.

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

Resolution
High resolution, 1,300 ~ 1,400 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to 1,400 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,300 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns from the Nikon Coolpix L12 down to about 1,400 lines per picture width horizontally, and about 1,300 lines per picture height vertically, with extinction at around 1,600 - 1,700. 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.

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

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

Slightly soft edges between high-contrast elements. Some visible edge enhancement as well. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

The Nikon Coolpix L12's images are fairly sharp at wide angle and slightly soft at telephoto. I noticed only subtle over-sharpening and edge enhancement on the camera's part in high contrast scenes like the one above. (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, which shows lower detail than most, because the L12 chose ISO 400 for this shot.

ISO & Noise Performance
The Coolpix L12's automatically controlled ISO setting produced moderately high noise.

ISO 400

The Nikon Coolpix L12 automatically adjusts the ISO sensitivity, anywhere from 50 to 1000, so we couldn't produce our usual table of results at different ISO settings. The shot above was taken at around ISO 400, and shows moderately high image noise, with somewhat soft fine detail. The resulting images were rather soft and a little noisy looking at 8x10 inches, but good at 5x7, excellent at 4x6.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with pretty good overall detail, though limited shadow detail. Limited low-light capabilities.

Default +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

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 Nikon Coolpix L12 had a little trouble with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, producing high contrast and a dim overall exposure, but it underexposed less than most cameras we test. Detail is limited in the shadow areas, partly from some noise suppression. There's a bit of a trade-off between the two images that are closest to the correct exposure. Though some areas are still a little dark at +0.3 EV, I preferred it to the image at +0.7 EV, which had far too many blown highlights. In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; 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
0.67 lux
ISO
800
Click to see CPL12LL03.JPG
0.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPL12LL04.JPG
0.6 sec
f2.8
ISO
910
Click to see CPL12LL05.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
ISO
1000
Click to see CPL12LL06.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPL12LL07.JPG
1 sec
f2.8

 

Low light:
Here again, the Nikon L12's auto ISO adjustment prevented us from making our usual table showing performance as a function of ISO setting, but the results do show how it behaved at light levels typical of outdoor, after-dark photography. On the whole, the Nikon Coolpix L12's exposure system was somewhat limited in low lighting. Both ISO and shutter speed are fully automatic on this model, and since the longest shutter speed is one second, the camera boosted ISO instead, resulting in rather noisy images. Although the camera captured bright results down to the 1/4 foot-candle light level, it had to use ISO 910 to achieve it, and the noise levels were pretty high. Still though, at the one foot-candle level (about equivalent to city street lighting at night), the image quality is good enough for very good 4x6 inch prints, and acceptable 5x7 inch ones. The camera's autofocus system worked well down to just below the 1/2 foot-candle light level unassisted. Do keep in mind though, that the longer shutter times associated with the Night modes demand the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

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
A slightly weak flash, our standard shots required less than average positive exposure compensation.

35mm equivalent 105mm equivalent
Normal Flash +0.7 EV Slow-Sync Flash +0.7 EV

Flash coverage was uneven at wide angle, though much more uniform at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the Nikon Coolpix L12's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a less than average +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get reasonably bright results. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode also produced good results with +0.7 EV exposure compensation, though the background incandescent lighting results in a strong orange-yellow cast.

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see CPL12FL06W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 50
Click to see CPL12FL07W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 79
Click to see CPL12FL08W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 95
Click to see CPL12FL09W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 124
Click to see CPL12FL10W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 165
Click to see CPL12FL11W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 201
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see CPL12FL12W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 231
Click to see CPL12FL13W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 258
Click to see CPL12FL14W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 276
Click to see CPL12FL15W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 336
Click to see CPL12FL16W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 345

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see CPL12FL06T.JPG
1/120 sec
f4.7
ISO 85
Click to see CPL12FL07T.JPG
1/120 sec
f4.7
ISO 97
Click to see CPL12FL08T.JPG
1/120 sec
f4.7
ISO 125
Click to see CPL12FL09T.JPG
1/120 sec
f4.7
ISO 171
Click to see CPL12FL10T.JPG
1/120 sec
f4.7
ISO 202
Click to see CPL12FL11T.JPG
1/120 sec
f4.7
ISO 248
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see CPL12FL12T.JPG
1/120 sec
f4.7
ISO 286
Click to see CPL12FL13T.JPG
1/120 sec
f4.7
ISO 316
Click to see CPL12FL14T.JPG
1/120 sec
f4.7
ISO 440
Click to see CPL12FL15T.JPG
1/120 sec
f4.7
ISO 440
Click to see CPL12FL16T.JPG
1/120 sec
f4.7
ISO 500

 

There is no way to force the L12's ISO sensitivity to 100 for our standard flash range test, but as you can see, results are quite bright at 8 feet using ISO 95 at wide angle. Image brightness remains fairly constant as the camera boosts ISO to compensate for the added distance. At telephoto, the ISO 97 image taken at 7 feet is a bit dim, but again brightness does not fall off.


Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Wide Angle Telephoto
Click to see CPL12FL_MFR262WA92.JPG
26.2 feet
Auto ISO 92
Click to see CPL12FL_MFR148TA0514.JPG
14.8 feet
Auto ISO 514

Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims. In the shots above, the L12 seems to perform exactly as Nikon says it will, producing good exposures at the rated distances with its ISO set to Auto, however it had to boost sensitivity quite a bit to IS0 514 to remain bright at full telephoto. (The underexposure at wide angle and 26 feet is undoubtedly because the white wall and doors to the studio reflected too much light back at the camera. - We need to paint those walls a darker color, to help cameras with flash ranges beyond about 20 feet!)

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, good color, very usable 11x14 inch prints.

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 Pro 9000, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon PIXMA Pro 9000 review for details on that model.)

With the Nikon Coolpix L12, we found that it had enough resolution to make very crisp 8x10 inch prints. At 13x19 inches, its prints were softer, but probably adequate for wall or table display, though the softness in the corners of the frame does indeed show up at this size. High-ISO performance under dim lighting will be something of a turkey-shoot, as the fully automatic exposure system leaves you never knowing just what ISO setting the camera is going to choose. That said though, even its highest-ISO shots will make 4x6 inch prints that will be acceptable to many (if not most) users. The lighting for our "indoor portrait" test is somewhat brighter than you'll find in most residential interiors in the US, and at that level produced ISO 400 shots that looked quite good at 5x7 inches, but rough at 8x10. So give it as much light as you can, but expect 8x10 inch prints from indoor shots to be soft and noisy. If you can get by with 4x6 inch snapshot prints though, you'll probably be happy with shots captured by the L12 under almost any condition.

Color-wise, the Nikon Coolpix L12's images looked great when printed on the Pro 9000, with bright, vibrant color that stopped short of being too bright. To our eyes, the Nikon L12 strikes just the right balance between color saturation and believability in its images. Very well done.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon Coolpix L12 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 L12 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!

Nikon L12

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