Take a look at the photo quality from Nikon's Coolpix L24, a 14-megapixel entry-level compact.
This is a 100 percent crop from the center of our test scene. The L24 has no control over ISO, so there was no way for us to conduct our usual ISO comparison shots. The camera picked ISO 80, which is the lowest sensitivity available. When viewed larger, you're able to see noise, but otherwise the results are good. Basically, if you have a lot of light and a motionless subject, you'll be able to get decent snapshots for prints 8x10 or smaller and for Web use.
Again, if you have good lighting, the L24 does well. This is a 100 percent crop from the inset photo. If you take a closer look, you can see there's nice fine detail like my facial hair and eyebrows. However, details like my hair are smeared and mushy, so at smaller sizes my face is sharp, but my hair is overly soft.
This is a 100 percent crop of the inset photo. Taken inside under indirect lighting (unlike our test scene), the L24 picked ISO 400, which is a typical setting for indoor shots. When viewed at full size you can see that there is no fine detail left--everything is very soft and there is heavy noise and color issues. At small sizes, these things are less of an issue. The bigger problem is that the L24 really doesn't like to go above ISO 400 and will drop the shutter speed instead. The combination makes the L24 a poor choice for shooting indoors without a flash.
Shooting close-ups is one of the few things the L24 is good for--as long as you have steady hands or a tripod. It can focus as close as 2 inches from a subject and the results--assuming you have plenty of light--can stand up to large prints or heavy cropping.
Like almost all cameras in its class, the L24 has slow shooting performance. Its shutter lag--the amount of time from when the shutter release is pressed to when an image is captured--is long at 0.5 second in bright light and 0.9 second in dim lighting. Shot-to-shot times averaged 2.3 seconds without the flash and 4.9 seconds with it. It does have a continuous shooting option, which was used to get this photo, for capturing up to 3 shots at 0.7 frames per second. This was actually not the shot I wanted, and that's really the problem. The L24's performance is too slow for moving subjects such as active kids and pets or sports. You will get a shot, but it likely won't be the one you wanted or it may be blurry because the camera used a slow shutter speed instead of raising the ISO.
Colors are pleasing from the L24 (and probably the best thing about this camera). It seems to struggle with some reds, such as the flowers on the lower left, but otherwise, subjects were bright and vivid. However, that changes as more noise is introduced at higher ISO sensitivities. The auto white balance is somewhat yellow-green under fluorescent light and warm under incandescent. Oddly enough there is a manual white balance that works really well, but it's only available in Auto mode.
The limited 3.6x zoom on the L24 is normal for its class. The lens unfortunately starts at a narrow 37mm (35mm equivalent). That really limits your framing. Plus, competing models can be found with wide-angle lenses like Canon's PowerShot A1200.
There is little sign of barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens, but oddly there is some at the telephoto end. The lens is pretty sharp at the center; it gets softer at the edges and in the corners. The lower left side and corner of my review camera was noticeably softer than the rest of the lens.