Nikon L3 Review

 
Camera Reviews / Nikon Cameras / Nikon Coolpix i Full Review

Nikon Coolpix L3 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good overall color, though some oversaturation in strong reds and blues.

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 L3 produced good overall saturation, with slight oversaturation in the reds, blues, and yellows. 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 the L3 produced slightly warm skin tones, though results are still quite passable. Blues are pumped far higher than we're used to seeing.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. The L3 did push reds a little toward orange, and oranges toward yellow. It also deepened blues toward violet, but overall hue was still pretty good.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color balance with the Manual white balance option, 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 warm and reddish in Auto white balance mode, and the Incandescent setting resulted in stronger yellow color balance. However, the Manual option produced nearly accurate results. The Coolpix L3 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 are purplish. (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 bulb, 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. Good exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance, +0.7 EV Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoor shots generally showed nearly accurate exposure with slightly hot highlights. Shadow detail was slightly limited, with some visible noise suppression. Exposure accuracy overall was 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, 1,100 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,100 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 1,600. (The Coolpix L3 also produced minor color artifacts at lower line frequencies.) 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.

Strong detail to 1,100 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,100 lines vertical

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

Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images, though some blurring of detail from noise suppression, and some edge enhancement.

Good definition of high-contrast elements, though somewhat mushy in spots with evidence of oversharpening. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here. We can also see some color fringing and noise.

The Nikon Coolpix L3's images are sharp and well defined overall. I noticed some over-sharpening and edge enhancement from the camera 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 slightly, though there is still a considerable amount of visible noise, as well as a lot of fine detail in the strands of hair.

ISO & Noise Performance
The Coolpix L3's automatically controlled ISO setting produced moderate noise.

ISO 100

The Nikon Coolpix L3 automatically adjusts the ISO sensitivity, anywhere from 50 to 200. The shot above was taken at around ISO 100, and shows moderate image noise, with only slightly blurred fine detail. Artifical purple highlights appear in the hair as well.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail. Limited low-light capabilities, though capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and slightly darker conditions.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 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 L3 had a little trouble with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, producing high contrast and a dim overall exposure. The shadow areas show fairly good detail, though it is slightly limited from noise suppression. The difference between the exposures taken at +0.3 and +0.7 EV is very slight, though the jump to +1.0 EV results in too bright of an image. (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
200
Click to see CPL3LLN03.JPG
1/1 sec
f3.2
Click to see CPL3LLN04.JPG
1.27 sec
f3.2
Click to see CPL3LLN05.JPG
2 sec
f3.2
Click to see CPL3LLN06.JPG
2 sec
f3.2
Click to see CPL3LLN07.JPG
2 sec
f3.2
ISO
200
Click to see CPL3LLP03.JPG
1.14 sec
f3.2
Click to see CPL3LLP04.JPG
2 sec
f3.2
Click to see CPL3LLP05.JPG
2 sec
f3.2
Click to see CPL3LLP06.JPG
2 sec
f3.2
Click to see CPL3LLP07.JPG
2 sec
f3.2

 

Low light:
The Nikon Coolpix L3's exposure system was somewhat limited in low lighting, though the camera captured fairly bright results down to the 1/2 foot-candle light level in its Night Portrait mode. In its Night Landscape mode, images were just a little dim at even the one foot-candle light level (about the equivalent of average city street lighting at night). The camera's autofocus system worked well down to 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.)

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 the maximum positive exposure compensation available.

38mm equivalent 116mm equivalent
Normal Flash +2.0 EV Slow-Sync Flash, Default Exposure

Flash coverage was uneven at wide angle, though much more uniform at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the Nikon Coolpix L3's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a much higher than average +2.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get reasonably bright results. Even here, the exposure is a little dim. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced much better results, and at its default exposure setting. Coverage is much more even, though the background incandescent lighting results in a strong orange cast.

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft
Click to see CPL3FL06W.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.2
ISO 50
Click to see CPL3FL07W.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.2
ISO 65
Click to see CPL3FL08W.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.2
ISO 83
Click to see CPL3FL09W.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.2
ISO 112
Click to see CPL3FL10W.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.2
ISO 155
11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft
Click to see CPL3FL11W.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.2
ISO 166
Click to see CPL3FL12W.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.2
ISO 176
Click to see CPL3FL13W.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.2
ISO 200
Click to see CPL3FL14W.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.2
ISO 200
Click to see CPL3FL15W.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.2
ISO 200

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft
Click to see CPL3FL06T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.3
ISO 91
Click to see CPL3FL07T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.3
ISO 101
Click to see CPL3FL08T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.3
ISO 132
Click to see CPL3FL09T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.3
ISO 152
Click to see CPL3FL10T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.3
ISO 186
11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft
Click to see CPL3FL11T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.3
ISO 200
Click to see CPL3FL12T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.3
ISO 200
Click to see CPL3FL13T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.3
ISO 200
Click to see CPL3FL14T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.3
ISO 200
Click to see CPL3FL15T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.3
ISO 200

 

Flash power remains pretty strong to about 10 feet at wide angle, and decreases slightly in intensity from there. At telephoto, the flash is bright to about six-seven feet, decreasing in intensity with each additional foot. Nikon's own specs rate the flash as effective to over nine feet at wide angle, and to almost six feet at telephoto.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, very usable 11x14 inch prints. High ISO images are very soft at 11x14, but good at 8x10 and lower.

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 Nikon Coolpix L3, we found that it had enough resolution to make crisp 8x10 inch prints. At 11x14, its prints were a bit softer, but more than adequate for wall or table display. ISO 200 photos look good printed at 8x10 inches, with some minor noise if you look closely, but it's not until 5x7 that it ceases to matter. Color-wise, the Nikon Coolpix L2's images looked great when printed on the iP5200, with bright, vibrant color. Users who prefer more subdued, technically accurate color saturation levels may find the Nikon L2's images a little too bright, with blues that positively pop, but the target market will like the Nikon L2's colorful images.

 

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 L3 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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