Despite all the fancy, feature-rich cameras we've seen this year, 2006 may make its mark as the year that features went by the wayside in digital cameras. Just as Olympus's FE series brings new meaning to the idea of point and shoot, Nikon's L series eschews features in favor of simplicity. Exposure control consists of scene modes and exposure compensation. Of course, if you don't want any control, there's always the full auto mode.
As you might expect, the camera's specs won't blow you away, but for its price, they're not bad. It has a 6-megapixel CCD sensor; a 3X optical, 38mm-to-116mm f/3.2-to-f/5.3 zoom lens; and a 2.5-inch, 115,000-pixel LCD screen. According to Nikon, the L6 can shoot up to 1,000 images on a pair of lithium batteries; the company even includes a pair of Energizer AA e2 lithium batteries with the camera. If you use alkaline AAs, the battery life drops to 400 shots, but that's still very impressive for a point-and-shoot camera like this.
The L6 is comfortable to hold and, with all its controls on the right-hand side of the camera, one-handed shooting is a definite possibility. Nikon makes use of the thickness of AA batteries to fashion a subtle grip on the L6's right side. Though certainly small enough to fit in a jacket pocket, the L6 has some heft; it weighed 5.4 ounces, with batteries and SD card, on our lab scale.
While they're not numerous, Nikon did include a few features. Unlike with the FE series, you can choose from a handful of white balance presets or set your own manual white balance. You can also choose various color modes, such as cyanotype, sepia, and black-and-white. The best shot selector mode in the L6 captures up to 10 images when you hold down the shutter and then saves only the one that the camera thinks is the sharpest. Unfortunately, you can't manually select your ISO. Nikon says it covers ISO 50 through ISO 800, and the camera chooses what it deems best for any given situation. Since noise always increases as ISO increases, we'd rather be able to choose a lower ISO occasionally.
Performance was rather slow in our tests. The Coolpix L6 took 2.5 seconds to start up and capture its first image and 2.5 seconds between images thereafter with the flash turned off. Turning on the flash dramatically slowed that down to 8.1 seconds between shots. If time is money, you'll likely have to triple the price of this camera, at very least, if you plan to shoot with a flash. Shutter lag measured an unimpressive 1.3 seconds in our high-contrast test, meant to mimic bright shooting conditions, and an even less pleasing 3.2 seconds in our low-contrast test, which mimics dim conditions. In continuous shooting mode, we captured VGA-sized images at an average of 1.77 frames per second (fps) and 6-megapixel images at an average of 1.59fps.
With adequate light, the Coolpix L6 can make some pleasing images. Most casual snapshooters will probably really like them. We did notice some fringing but also saw tons of fine detail and were pleased with the camera's accurate exposures. The automatic white balance did an admirable job of serving up nearly neutral images with our lab's tungsten lights. There was a slight hint of warmth, but most people won't even notice. The tungsten preset had about an equal amount of greenish cast, while the manual white balance we set was the most neutral of all. Since we couldn't select specific ISOs, we weren't able to perform our usual battery of noise tests. In field tests, we were able to force the camera to ISO 800, and while there was obvious noise, we were pleasantly surprised that it wasn't nearly as much as we would have expected.
While we were not pleased with the inability to select ISO, the Coolpix L6's biggest drawback is its glacially slow performance, especially with flash enabled. If you can get past the fact that you'll have to wait anywhere from 2.5 to 8.1 seconds between shots, and you like the idea of fully automated shooting, the Coolpix L6 could be a good choice. But your best bet is to spend a little extra cash and step up to a faster camera.