Check out an examination of photo quality from Nikon's entry-level megazoom, the Coolpix L120, featuring a 25mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 21x zoom.
These are 100 percent crops from our test scene. Like most entry-level point-and-shoots, you'll want to give the L120 as much light as possible. Photos are best at and below ISO 200. As the sensitivities increase, so does the noise and smeary details from noise reduction. Also, colors appear slightly washed out and muddy from noise from ISO 400 and above. This, combined with the increased softness at higher sensitivities, means the indoor and low-light photo quality just isn't very good. The camera has two reduced-resolution high ISO settings of 3200 and 6400. Those photos are smaller at 3 megapixels and have a painterly appearance when viewed at full size; save these for emergencies only. So again, as long as you have plenty of light and aren't planning to make huge prints, the L120 presents good snapshot quality.
For close-ups, you can focus as close as 0.4 inch from your subject, but to do so the L120 requires you to zoom in a little; an arrow on the onscreen zoom indicator turns green when you're at the right length. This is a 100 percent crop from the inset photo. Under ideal conditions you can get a nice, sharp shot with good fine detail.
Color performance is very good, though again it's dependent on using ISO 200 or lower. At those sensitivities, colors appear bright and vibrant. Exposure is good, but as usual with compact cameras, highlights will occasionally blow out. Its white balance is good overall, though the auto white balance is warm under unnatural lighting.
The L120's lens offers a lot of flexibility going from an ultrawide-angle 25mm to a long 525mm, or 21x zoom. However, it is not easy to keep such a long lens steady without bracing yourself or using a tripod. Don't be surprised if you end up with some blurry shots or have trouble keeping your subject in frame. It does help that there's a secondary zoom control on the lens barrel, though.
Nikon does an excellent job of controlling lens distortion at the wide angle (top) and when fully extended (bottom). Center sharpness is very good and is consistent for the most part edge to edge. It softens some in the corners and at the very edges, however.
Fringing in high-contrast areas of photos is usually an issue for megazoom cameras, especially less expensive models like the L120. The amount is average to above average throughout the zoom range. You'll see more of it off to the sides than around subjects in the center of the frame, though.
The L120's full-resolution continuous shooting is pretty slow at 0.7 frame per second. If you need something faster than that, there's the Sport Continuous mode for capturing up to 20 photos at approximately 15 frames per second. In order to do this, the maximum resolution is reduced to 3 megapixels; the focus, exposure, and white balance are fixed at the first picture in the series; and the ISO is set to a range from 400 to 3200. These things aren't unusual for burst modes on low-end (or even some high-end) cameras, but that doesn't make the results any more usable. You'll capture something, although you won't be able to do much with them beyond Web sharing. Also, because the ISO is high, you can end up with overexposed photos if you're shooting in very bright conditions.