Nikon Coolpix L120 review:

Nikon Coolpix L120

If you like to shoot close-ups, the L120 has a few ways to enter Macro mode. It will automatically switch to it if you're in Easy Auto mode. You can also select a Close-up mode from the camera's Scene options. And if you're in Auto mode, you can switch to macro focus via the control pad. 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. Worth noting is that if you try to use the flash when shooting close-ups, depending on how close you are, you can end up with a shadow from the lens barrel.

Shooting performance is generally good and Nikon has improved shutter lag, which is a problem for lower-end compacts. The camera starts up and shoots pretty quickly at just 1 second in good lighting. Its shot-to-shot times are decent, too, at 2.2 seconds without the flash and 2.5 seconds with. Other than the L120's Sport Continuous mode, it is able to continuously shoot at full resolution up to 19 photos at a rate of 0.8 frame per second, which is slow. Again, shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is low at 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.7 second in dim conditions. Keep in mind, though, that while these times are good for this type of camera, they'll still be a little too slow if you're trying to get specific shots of active kids or pets. You'll have to rely on the Sports Continuous mode for your best shot at those, but that comes with its own set of issues.

The body of the L120, though compact, leans toward digital SLR size and not a pocketable megazoom. It'll fit uncomfortably in a large coat pocket, but basically you'll need to carry it with the included neck strap or in a roomy bag. Available in black, bronze, and red versions, it's a nice-looking camera and the larger body makes it easier to steady its 21x zoom lens. The deep hand grip has a textured rubber strip on it, too, helping keep your fingertips from slipping. It's made mostly of plastic, but it doesn't feel cheap.

The controls and menu system are fairly uncomplicated, so out-of-the-box shooting shouldn't be a problem. The menu system is broken into three tabs: Shooting, Movie, and Set up. The layout keeps you from doing too much hunting through settings, not that there's all that much to adjust. (For example, you can't even turn off the digital zoom.) That's not to say it won't take a little effort to get the most from this camera, but the basics of shooting a photo or movie are easy.

As for controls, on top at the front of the hand grip is the shutter release surrounded by a zoom ring; the power button is behind it and though it's flush with the body, it is easy to find without looking. Nikon puts a secondary zoom control on the lens barrel, which can be helpful when shooting below your eyeline or when on a tripod. Down the right side of the LCD on back are the remaining controls. At the top, squeezed between the large thumb rest and the screen, is a record button for movies. (There is no Movie mode you have to enter, though it does take a couple seconds to start recording once you've pressed the button.) Below that is a shooting mode button labeled Scene with a playback button to its right; a four-way control pad with a select button in its center; and then Menu and Delete buttons at the very bottom. The control pad is used for menu and image navigation as well as setting the 10-second self-timer (there are no other options), adjusting flash and exposure compensation, and turning on macro focus. All in all, it's a pretty standard digital camera arrangement.

There is no viewfinder. You'll have to rely on the LCD for framing shots, which can make steadying the zoom lens a little frustrating and can result in a lot of blurry or missed shots. The LCD is bright enough for use in direct sunlight, however, and the high resolution helps sharpen images and text. If you use a flash at all, the one on the L120 has to be raised manually.

On the bottom is a locking door covering the SD card slot and batteries. The camera uses four AA-size batteries. You can use alkaline, NiMH rechargeables, or lithium. Nikon includes alkaline batteries, which will last for up to 330 shots; using lithium batteries should last for nearly 900 shots. NiMH rechargeables are rated for up to 520 shots. On the left side of the body is a covered panel with a small DC input for an optional AC adapter, a Mini-HDMI port, and Micro-USB/AV port.

Very little changed from the Nikon Coolpix L120 from its predecessor, the L110. Shooting performance, particularly shutter lag, is better this time around and the LCD is excellent given this camera's place in the market. However, despite a higher-resolution sensor, photo quality doesn't improve--it's very good with lots of light, but barely passable in low light and indoors without a flash. That, unfortunately, hinders the usefulness of its 21x zoom lens. Still, for those looking for a simple camera with a long lens, the L120 is worth checking out.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Fujifilm FinePix S2550HD
Nikon Coolpix L110
Nikon Coolpix L120
Olympus SP-600UZ
GE X500

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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