Nikon Coolpix L820 review: 30x zoom on the cheap

Key specs Nikon Coolpix L820
Price (MSRP) $279.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.4x3.1x3.4 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 17 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 920K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 30x, f3.0-5.8, 22.5-675mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC H.264 (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 pixels at 30fps (progressive)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life AA size (4, alkaline included), 320 shots
Battery charged in camera No
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC (not included)

Again, there is no viewfinder, so you're relying on the 3-inch LCD for framing your shots. Although it gets reasonably bright if you crank the backlight up, it's still going to be difficult to see in bright sunlight.

With the camera loaded with its four AA-size batteries, it has a nice weight to it, and the ample handgrip gives you something substantial to hold. Unfortunately, without a viewfinder, the camera can be difficult to keep steady with the lens extended.

On the bottom is a locking door covering the SD card slot and batteries. You can use alkaline, NiMH rechargeables, or lithium AA batteries. Nikon includes alkaline batteries, which will last for up to 320 shots; lithium batteries should last for nearly 870 shots. NiMH rechargeables are rated for up to 540 shots.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

On the right side of the body is a covered panel with a small DC input for an optional AC adapter while on the left you'll find a Micro-HDMI port and a somewhat proprietary Micro-USB/AV port (it's not the widely available type used with many smartphones or other devices, but is easy to find inexpensively).

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix L120
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
White balance Auto, Custom, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash
Recording modes Easy Auto, Scene, Smart Portrait, Auto, Movie
Focus modes Center AF, Face Detection
Macro 0.4 inch (middle zoom position)
Metering modes Evaluative, Center-weighted (when using up to 2x digital zoom), Spot (digital zoom of 2x or more)
Color effects Standard, Vivid, Sepia, Black & White, Cyanotype; Sepia, High-contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Six shots

Thanks to its CMOS sensor, Nikon was able to pass down several shooting options from its higher-end Coolpix to the L820. Regardless, the camera is still packing mainly auto shooting options, and almost no direct control over results. There are two Auto modes: one is Nikon's Easy Auto mode, which adjusts settings appropriately based on six common scene types. If the scene doesn't match any of those, it defaults to a general-use Auto. Then there is an Auto mode, which is like the Program mode on other point-and-shoots. You can change ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation as well as continuous-shooting modes, but that's it.

There are 18 scene modes with standards such as Landscape and Portrait as well as a Pet Portrait mode that will automatically shoot when it detects a cat or dog face, and an Easy Panorama mode. Just press the shutter and pan the camera left, right, up, or down to create a panorama in-camera. You also get access to an HDR option via a Backlighting mode and Hand-held Night Portrait and Landscape modes as well.

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Selective color -- available when shooting and in playback -- lets you highlight a color and turn the rest of the picture black and white. Joshua Goldman/CNET

Nikon puts several extra editing features in the playback menu, as well. These include D-Lighting, which helps enhance highlights and shadows; Quick Retouch, which punches up contrast and saturation; several filter effects like fish-eye, miniature, and selective color, which lets you pick a color in your scene and turns the rest of your photo monochrome; and Skin Softening, which smooths lines and blemishes.

Video options include 1080p, 720p, 540p, 480p at 30fps as well as high-speed slow-motion settings: 1080p15, 720p60, 480p120, and 240p240 (though that last one is pretty unusable).

Basically, if you're considering the Nikon Coolpix L820 for its lens and AA batteries for daylight shooting, you'll be in good shape. Just don't expect too much: despite appearances, this is not a digital SLR.

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