Nikon L14 Review
|Full model name:||Nikon Coolpix L14|
|Dimensions:||3.6 x 2.4 x 1.1 in.
(91 x 62 x 27 mm)
|Weight:||5.2 oz (147 g)
Nikon Coolpix L14 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 03/21/08
The Nikon Coolpix L14 features a seven megapixel CCD linked to a Nikkor-branded 3x optical zoom lens, in an understated, stylish and relatively compact body. The Coolpix L14 offers a 2.4-inch 115,000 pixel LCD for framing and playback, but like many other small cameras these days, the L14 includes no optical viewfinder.
Nikon is known for a few special features that are included in the Nikon L14, including D-Lighting (which enhances darker images to improve shadow detail), Best Shot Selector mode (which takes a series of shots, letting the camera automatically pick the sharpest shot and discard the others), Red-Eye Fix (which automatically finds red-eye in your images and eliminates it), and finally Face-Priority AF (which, as the name implies, automatically focuses on faces).
Other Coolpix L14 features include a 64 to 1,000 sensitivity range, 23MB of built-in memory, a Secure Digital slot which is also compatible with newer SDHC cards, as well as USB and NTSC/PAL video connectivity. The Coolpix L14 draws power from two standard AA batteries, with lithium disposables included in the product bundle.
The Nikon Coolpix L14 ships from September 2007, priced at US$129.95. For only US$20 more in list price, the Coolpix L15 offers higher resolution, a wider, optically stabilized lens, and a larger, higher resolution LCD.
Nikon Coolpix L14 User Report
by Mike Pasini
One Nikon Coolpix L14 for one hundred smackeroos. That's the game, folks. Who can build the $100 digicam? Nikon's L-series has dipped as low as $85 but as it hits its teens, we're seeing it pegged at the $100 level.
If price is the defining feature, what's the point of a technical review? Well, for one thing, you might want to know what you're getting for your smackeroos. And, even more importantly, what's missing from the Nikon L14? But most of all, you want to know what kind of fun you can have with a $100 digicam.
Real fun, it turns out. You're getting a pretty nice camera with the Nikon Coolpix L14. And you won't miss what's not included. It's bare bones, but sometimes bare bones get the job done. Ask any butcher at a dinosaur exhibit.
Look and Feel. Pictures don't do the Nikon L14 justice. It looks -- in pictures -- rather pedestrian. Clean lines, yes, but boxy and bulky. It isn't boxy and it isn't bulky. It fits my hand like a glove and slips lightly into any of my pockets.
That light weight matters. It subtracts from the non-ultra compact form factor to make it a more congenial companion than any ultracompact digicam I've used.
The bulge that gives the Nikon L14 that bulky appearance is actually minimal. But it's just enough to provide a real grip. It isn't some half-hearted attempt. It's a real grip. And it comes in handy not only when you're shooting, but when you're slipping the Coolpix L14 into your pocket or fishing it out. You can get a grip on this baby.
There are almost no controls to speak of. You turn it on and press the shutter button. From power on to your first shot is about 2.3 seconds. It won't win any awards, but it's fast enough that the Nikon L14 won't disappoint.
The Nikon L14's back panel has a zoom lever and a four-way navigator with the usual Nikon options of Flash, EV, Macro and Self-Timer settings. There's an OK button in the middle, a Menu button above and a Trash button below. That's it. Nothing to remember, really. That's fun.
On the top panel, you'll find a slim Auto/Movie/Scene mode button next to a slim Playback mode button. The Playback mode button does not turn the camera on. The L14 avoids complexity like the plague. Only the Power button turns the camera on or off. A kid could figure it out.
Once you've turned it on, the LCD draws your attention. It's generous, considering this is a $100 device; although at 2.4 inches it's a hair under the 2.5-inch LCDs commonly available at the low end. The LCD is what you use to compose your shot, since there's no optical viewfinder, and this one shows a pretty accurate view of what you're going to get, with 102.6 percent at wide angle and 97.2 at telephoto. The screen is pretty good in direct sunlight; about as washed out in shade as it is in direct sun, and you can see well enough to compose an image. You're not allowed to complain at $100.
The 3x Nikkor zoom pops quickly out of the body and retracts just as fast. Start up and shutdown times -- if you disable the Welcome screen -- are speedy. It may be a basic 3x zoom, but it's a Nikkor, fully coated to avoid glare, and it's made of real glass. Serious fun.
Interface. This part of the review is usually a tour of the buttons and menus but like any recent Coolpix, the Nikon L14 has one of the most intelligent menu systems around. That means it can rely on just a few essential buttons, the most important of which is the four-way navigator.
This isn't a particularly fancy navigator (it doesn't spin) but it is round (not four dinky buttons) and it does do useful stuff. You can toggle through the Nikon L14's Flash modes with the Up button (Auto, Auto with red-eye reduction, Off, Fill flash, Slow sync). You can adjust exposure (which is all automatic on this camera) with the Right button. You can easily toggle Macro mode with the Down arrow and the Left arrow toggles Self-Timer mode. Like every other Coolpix.
The Nikon L14's Power button is easy to find and the Shutter is nice and large. The two Mode buttons are easier to use than a dial and discretely chiseled into the edge of the top panel. And that's all you really need.
Two things about the Nikon L14's menu system (just press Menu to activate it) that I particularly like are the color scheme (a gray with yellow highlights that never confuses you about what's being selected) and the layout. You can opt for text descriptions (like your computer's menu bar) or icons (like a toolbar). The icon display fits everything on one screen and still has room to tell you what each icon refers to.
Oh, there's a third thing I like. The Help button. In the menu system, pressing the Telephoto end of the Zoom lever displays a help screen for whatever option is selected. Press it again and you're back in the menu system. Very simple, very nice. Why should Help be hard to use? On the Nikon L14 it's kind of fun.
Speaking of which, the manual is particularly well done. Nicely laid out and written in clear English.
The Nikon L14's LCD isn't the largest one on the planet and it doesn't have the highest resolution either, but how much did you pay again? LCD size is where a lot of inexpensive cameras cut corners. Nikon at least gives you a 2.4-inch LCD.
Modes. There aren't a lot of fancy shooting modes on the Nikon L14, but you do get all the essential ones.
There's a very simple Auto mode called Easy Auto. Everything on the Nikon L14's navigator is available to you but the menu system only lets you change the image size. That's no small potatoes, it turns out, with a 16:9 aspect ratio option and up to seven megapixels (a very sweet number).
Focus, by the way, is achieved via contrast detection, so you have to have some sort of sharp contrast in the scene for the camera to focus. Sometimes you think you do but the Nikon L14 blinks back its red AF warning instead of chiming the green focus OK target. You may just need to shift into Macro mode (you're too close, in short). In other situations I didn't see the red warning.
Auto mode adds a few more options to the menu system including White Balance, Shutter mode (Single, Continuous, Best Shot Selector or Multi-shot 16), and Color options (Standard, Vivid, Black-and-White, Sepia, Cyanotype). You can think of it as the Nikon L14's Fun mode while Easy Auto makes sure no desperate fingers change any essential settings.
There are 15 Scene modes on the Nikon L14. I haven't met anyone who actually uses Scene modes, although I do know one person who has tried them. Still, they can come in handy when you look down at your shot and aren't very happy with what you got.
Here's the list: Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Backlight, Panorama Assist.
Say you're at the beach with your Nikon L14 and you take a picture of the waves rushing up to your castle, and it just looks too dark. Every picture. You could figure this out and change the EV so the exposure meter isn't fooled by the bright sand. Or you could just switch the Beach/Snow and reapply your sun screen.
Or you want to capture that cool sunset under a canopy of glowing red clouds, but Auto just doesn't get it. Just switch to the Coolpix L14's Sunset mode.
Beyond Scene modes there is a special One-Touch Portrait mode on the Nikon L14 that's worth getting to know. It taps into face-priority auto focus (so the camera focuses on the two guys in the picture, not the mountain 30 miles behind them) and enables red-eye reduction in the Flash (although you can turn that off). The menu button also lets you select between Normal, Brighter, and Softer for added effects. Skin tones are brighter and clearer with Brighter, and Softer softens the overall image.
Movie mode is fun on any camera, and on the Nikon L14 it's really fun with options that range from full broadcast quality to stop-motion animation. Optical zoom isn't available during shooting, but you can use up to 2x digital zoom. That's not much, but it is something.
Options include 640x480 at 30 frames per second, 320x240 at 30 fps, 320x240 at 15 fps, 160x120 at 15 fps, and a silent set of 640x480 images (254 frames fit in internal memory, or the maximum 1,800 in a 256MB card) for playback at 15 fps. Maximum file size is 2GB.
Playback. The Nikon L14's Playback mode has everything you need to look at an individual image, zoom in as much as 3x, or run a slide show. You can also tag images for printing and finish the job when you connect the camera to a PictBridge printer (which most are these days), using the camera's LCD as a sort of printer kiosk.
In-Camera Editing. The Nikon L14 has some handy in-camera editing features not to be ignored, particularly since the person who has one of these probably won't be very comfortable doing contrast masks in Photoshop.
D-Lighting can save a lot of pictures (so many that Nikon now includes it in its high-end dSLRs). Were the faces in the image too dark? D-Light it. Was everything too light? D-Light it. Just select an image and press Menu to choose D-Lighting make a new copy of your image with enhanced brightness and contrast.
You can also crop an image in the Nikon L14 (assuming it's already large enough), using the Zoom lever to display the part of the picture that you want to save. Just press the Menu button and confirm you want to save the image as it's displayed. A new file will be created with the cropped image. Simple (and fun).
Finally, you can make a smaller copy of your larger images. Three sizes are available: 640x480 (your standard TV size), 320x240 (Web page size), 160x120 (email efficient). Frankly, I'd email the 640x480 without any qualms.
Storage and Battery. The Nikon L14 uses an SD card (even an SDHC card) for storage beyond its 23MB internal storage. Toss in a 2-GB Eye-Fi card and you've just added WiFi transfers to it, BTW.
The seven megapixel maximum image size will let you store about six images in internal memory or 70 on a 256MB SD card. The card slot is located on the right side of the camera by the camera strap eyelet and USB port. But remember, the Nikon L14 is fun, so you're going to want a bigger card, something like a 2GB.
To power the L14, Nikon chose the commonly available AA battery. Two of them fit into the slim grip compartment. I used Energizer lithiums, rated for 1,000 shots. You can leave them on the shelf for 10 years without depleting them, great for intermittent use. Another bright alternative are rechargeable Sanyo Eneloop batteries, commonly available at camera stores, that should last 19 years with heavy use. They hold most of their charge over months, unlike normal NiMH rechargeables. Again, great for intermittent use.
Performance. Even an inexpensive camera wouldn't be any fun if it didn't perform well. Fortunately, the Nikon L14 is good news here.
The Nikon L14 starts up slowly according to our lab tests, taking 2.3 seconds. But if you disable the Startup screen it gets a little faster. It also shuts down with reasonable speed, taking 1.3 seconds to stow the lens and power down.
The Coolpix L14 also scores above average marks where it really counts: in shutter lag performance. Both combined autofocus (wide and telephoto performance) and prefocus lag are better than average, taking just 0.52 and 0.57 second respectively. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.088 second.
Flash cycling was below average, taking almost 10 seconds to recover after a full blast. That can be a misleading figure. In practice, I was able to light up a large room and shoot right away again. You need flash on a little camera like this and you aren't getting short changed with the Nikon L14's flash.
USB download speeds were below average, a USB 1.1 connection the reason. I prefer to remove the card and pop it into a PCMCIA adapter or, better yet, use a folding SanDisk Plus card which turns into a USB connector. Very handy.
LCD size is just a hair under average, optical zoom is average and weight is above average (meaning pretty light for its class).
In short, Nikon isn't short-changing you on performance with its $100 Coolpix L14. That's rather remarkable.
Shooting. So let's get back to the fun meter. How much fun was it to shoot with the L14?
Nikon says the L14 automatically adjusts up to ISO 1,000 but I didn't see it. Even in a dim restaurant with the flash off, I didn't get even half of that. And there isn't a Scene mode for low light or high ISO, nor any ISO setting.
Macro shooting was as fun as I expect on any Coolpix, with the preferred range down at wide angle so you are pretty close to the subject. That opens a whole new way of looking at the world, though, and will be most welcome by people new to digital photography.
Zoom is limited to 3x optical, not unusual in a camera of this class. Digital zoom was trying. It racks up in steps and it racks up very slowly. I kept pushing the Zoom lever harder and harder to get it to zoom faster, but no go. And when the Nikon L14 finds focus in digital zoom, it doesn't look very sharp on the LCD. Press the Shutter button, though, and it displays a much sharper capture than the preview.
Oddly enough, the Nikon Coolpix L14 is advanced enough to offer a 16:9 aspect ratio. I love shooting at that wide screen view and it looks great on any HDTV, too.
Movie mode, however, doesn't keep up, offering just the usual 4:3 aspect ratio, even if at 640x480 and 30 fps it's near-broadcast quality. You can also shoot a time-lapse movie, great fun for the kids.
I used two Energizer lithium batteries in the L14 over several weeks, shooting flash shots, leaving it on the shelf and taking my normal gallery shots. The batteries never failed. Nikon says you can get 1,000 shots out of them. More than I had time to test.
Image Quality. Our favorite test shot for evaluating image quality is the high resolution Multi shot. You can zip from corner to corner to see the L14 isn't particularly sharp in the corners and that unfortunately isn't limited to the outside edge of the frame. Even the resolution targets at the middle are soft at the maximum 1,200 lines the lens can hold.
The Still Life test shot confirms the general softness of the capture, with the mosaic tiles on the Hellas wine vinegar bottle barely detectable mid-frame, something a 7.1 megapixel imager ought to do better.
But our gallery shots do show excellent color, whether it's a macro shot of some coins, or a cityscape under the clouds.
The 3x optical zoom is wide enough to see the room and with the 4x digital zoom, you can get pretty close to landmarks without reparking the car. And digital zoom shots weren't much softer than the optical zoom shots (which, admittedly, is a backhanded compliment).
The macro shot of pink wildflowers (YDSCN0327.JPG) is, however, a sharp image. The petal structure of the backlight flowers is clear and sharp as are the tiny spines on the green leaves.
Appraisal. The big feature of the Coolpix L14 is its low price but Nikon didn't scrimp on performance, delivering above average shutter lag and startup/shutdown times. It's also an unusually comfortable camera body to hold and pocket. What the lens lacks in sharpness, the sensor captures in color fidelity. Digital zoom is sluggish but the results won't disappoint and greatly extend the range of the 3x optical zoom. This is not what you want if you're looking for crisp images that you can enlarge and frame, but it serves well as an inexpensive and fun snapshot camera.
- 7.10 megapixel sensor
- 3x optical zoom Nikkor lens (38-114mm 25mm equivalent)
- 4x digital zoom
- Bright 2.4 inch LCD with 115,000 pixels
- ISO sensitivity range from 64 to 1,000
- Max Aperture: f/3.1
- SDHC/SD memory card
- Two AA batteries for power
- Easy Auto Mode
- Auto ISO adjusts to ISO 1,000
- Face-Priority autofocus
- Stop Motion Movie mode
- D-Lighting, Crop and Small Picture editing options
- In-camera Red-eye Fix, Face Priority Autofocus, D-Lighting
- Best Shot Selector
- 23MB internal memory
In the Box
The Nikon Coolpix L14 ships with the following items in the box:
- Nikon Coolpix L14 camera
- Two 1.5v LR6 AA-size Energizer e2 lithium batteries
- UC-E6 USB cable
- EG-CP14 Audio Video cable
- AN-CP14 strap
- Software suite CD-ROM
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. These days, 2GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case like the grey fabric case for Coolpix L Series cameras for outdoor and in-bag protection
- MH-71 battery charger
- EN-MH1 NiMH rechargeable batteries
- EH-65A AC adapter
On the fun scale, the Nikon Coolpix L14 scores big. It's light enough to take anywhere and compact enough to fit anywhere, too. Controls are so simple you won't forget them. And the menu system is the clearest and easiest to use I've seen. If you don't understand an item, there's a very easy to use help system available, too.
Digital zoom was annoyingly slow and image sharpness too soft for our taste. But color rendition was exemplary and in-camera editing features like D-Lighting really worth getting to know. Movie mode even offers a stop-motion option.
There's no question that the Nikon Coolpix L14 a lot of fun to shoot with. If it weren't for the general softness of its images, it would have easily scored a Dave's Picks. Given the $100 price point, if you intend to keep your prints to 4x6, the Nikon L14 could serve as a great choice for the kids.
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