Nikon L4 Review

 
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Nikon Coolpix L4 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good overall color accuracy and saturation, though some oversaturation in the 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 L4 does oversaturate the strong red and blue tones (blues more than reds), but end results are still quite pleasing. 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 L4 did render skin tones a bit on the pink side in most cases, but again, the results were good and well within acceptable boundaries.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. The L4 produced good-looking color overall, though it did push yellows toward green and reds toward orange. Overall though, nice color from the L4.

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

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Manual white balance setting. 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 with both the Auto and Incandescent white balance settings, though the Manual option produced more accurate results. The Coolpix L4 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +1.0 EV. Overall color with the Manual white balance setting is quite good, though the blue flowers are a bit dark and purplish. (A common occurrence with this shot.) 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 U.S.

 

Outdoors, daylight
Bright colors overall, though a tendency toward high contrast under harsh lighting. About average exposure accuracy.

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

Outdoors, the Nikon Coolpix L4 performed well, though with a tendency toward high contrast with deep shadows. Overall color is good and vibrant, especially the blues and greens above, without any strong color casts. The strong highlights do show limited detail, as do the deep shadows, though midtones are still pretty good. The L4 generally required the average amount of positive exposure compensation, and in some cases (such as the portrait above), slightly less. Good results overall.

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

Resolution
High resolution, 1,000 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,000 lines per picture height (though you could argue for 1,100), with extinction at around 1,650-1,700. 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. So the lines you see at 1,400 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

Strong detail to
1,000 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,000 lines vertical

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

Sharpness & Detail
Reasonably sharp images overall, though some edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects. Noise suppression limits detail in the shadows.

Somewhat blotchy treatment of high-contrast elements, with visible edge enhancement. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression processing significantly blurs detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

The Nikon Coolpix L4 captures fairly sharp images overall, considering its low resolution, though a fair amount of edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left. (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 above right shows this quite dramatically, with both darker and lighter areas of Marti's hair showing significant blurring. Still, some individual strands of hair of sufficient intensity peek from the very blotchy blur areas. Some of the worst noise suppression we've seen in awhile.

ISO & Noise Performance
Significant noise with the L4's automatically controlled ISO.

ISO 50

The Nikon Coolpix L4 does not offer a user-adjustable ISO setting, but instead automatically controls the sensitivity based on existing conditions. On the Indoor Portrait, the camera selected ISO 50, which resulted in moderate noise in the shadow areas, though fine detail is pretty good considering the resolution and over-aggressive noise processing.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, but high contrast and limited shadow detail. Surprisingly good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and much 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 L4 responded to the harsh lighting of the test above with high contrast and washed-out highlights. Shadow detail is modest, with some visible noise suppression as well. Though some areas look a little dark at +0.7 EV, I preferred it to the image at +1.0 EV, which had too many blown highlights for my preference. (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 CPL4LL03.JPG
1.2 sec
f2.8
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1/1 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPL4LL04.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPL4LL04N.JPG
1.2 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPL4LL05.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see CPL4LL05N.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPL4LL06.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPL4LL06N.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPL4LL07.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPL4LL07N.JPG
2 sec
f2.8

Low light:
The Nikon Coolpix L4 captured bright images down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level (about 1/8 as bright as average city street lighting at night) in its normal exposure mode, which was surprising given the lack of ISO and shutter controls. In the camera's Night mode, images weren't even bright at the one foot-candle light level, the top end of our test. Overall color is a bit warm from the dim exposure and the Auto white balance setting, but still pretty good. The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to just above the 1/8 foot-candle light level without assistance, which is in line with its capabilities. Do keep in mind though, that the very long shutter times necessary here absolutely 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 quite a bit of positive exposure compensation.

38mm equivalent 114mm equivalent
Normal Flash +1.3 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 L4's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, though even an EV boost of +1.3 EV only slightly brightened the overall exposure. The dim exposure results in a strong pink color cast. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced much brighter results at its default exposure setting. However, the longer shutter time results in a much stronger orange color cast.

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft
Click to see CPL4FL06W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 92
Click to see CPL4FL07W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 92
Click to see CPL4FL08W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see CPL4FL09W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 130
Click to see CPL4FL10W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 168
11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft
Click to see CPL4FL11W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 200
Click to see CPL4FL12W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 200
Click to see CPL4FL13W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 200
Click to see CPL4FL14W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 200
Click to see CPL4FL15W.JPG
1/60 sec
f2.8
ISO 200

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft
Click to see CPL4FL06T.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.9
ISO 92
Click to see CPL4FL07T.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.9
ISO 100
Click to see CPL4FL08T.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.9
ISO 130
Click to see CPL4FL09T.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.9
ISO 200
Click to see CPL4FL10T.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.9
ISO 200
11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft
Click to see CPL4FL11T.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.9
ISO 200
Click to see CPL4FL12T.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.9
ISO 200
Click to see CPL4FL13T.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.9
ISO 200
Click to see CPL4FL14T.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.9
ISO 200
Click to see CPL4FL15T.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.9
ISO 200

 

Flash power remains pretty strong to about 12 feet at wide angle, with only slight falloff in intensity at 15 feet. At telephoto, the flash is bright to about 10 feet before decreasing in intensity. 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, good color, acceptable 11x14 inch prints, better at 8x10.

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 iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

With the Nikon Coolpix L4, we found that it had enough resolution to make acceptable 11x14 inch prints of our Still Life, but not as good of our model shot. At 8x10, its prints were better, and got better as they got smaller to 5x7 and 4x6. We recommend this camera for 4x6 printing only, though, due to the very aggressive anti-noise processing that muddies detail badly.

 

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon Coolpix L4 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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