It's easy to forget about budget cameras. They don't tend to be flashy, they rarely have unique features, and they just aren't very interesting. You shouldn't count them out, though; some budget cameras offer surprisingly good picture quality for a very low price. The Nikon Coolpix L11 is one such camera, a 6-megapixel point-and-shoot that produces very nice pictures, with a price tag of less than $150.
With its simple relatively compact design, the Coolpix L11 won't win any beauty contests. Its control scheme is direct and simple, with a large joypad and large buttons that feel comfortable even for large-thumbed users. The mode slider and zoom rocker feel a bit narrow, but they can still be manipulated easily. The 6.2-ounce, 1.1-inch-thick, plastic-bodied camera uses two AA batteries for flexible power. While alkalines are plentiful enough, I recommend purchasing a set of rechargeable NiMH batteries instead. If you plan on shooting with any regularity, these more expensive, rechargeable batteries will pay for themselves very quickly.
Given the sub-$150 price tag, the Coolpix L11 is clearly designed more for the frugal than the fancy. The 6-megapixel camera sports a 37.5mm-to-112.5mm-equivalent 3x zoom lens and a relatively small 2.4-inch LCD screen. While its hardware hardly impresses, however, the camera offers some surprisingly useful features. The L11 includes Nikon's In-Camera Red-Eye Fix and Face-Priority AF. In-Camera Red-Eye Fix supplements the camera's red-eye reduction flash mode with a processing system that removes red-eye after the photo is taken. Face-Priority AF detects and tracks faces in photos, and adjusts focus to stay on those faces, instead of just the closest subject. Both features come standard on most Nikon Coolpix cameras, but are still handy for casual shooting.
You should probably steer clear of the L11 if you want a lot of control over your photos. Like most budget cameras, the L11 automates almost every aspect of its operation. Besides white balance, exposure compensation, and a handful of scene presets, you can't change any image settings on the camera. Despite these few options, the L11 does offer a manual white balance, granting a bit more flexibility than most budget cameras' presets.
For such an inexpensive camera, the L11 shoots surprisingly quickly, outperforming even its bigger brother, the Coolpix L12. After only a 1.8-second wait from pressing the power button to taking the first shot, the camera could snap off a new photo every 2.2 seconds with the flash turned off. That wait increased to 4.6 seconds with the onboard flash turned on. The shutter felt responsive with our high-contrast target, lagging only 0.7 second. It performed significantly worse with our low-contrast target, lagging 2.2 seconds. Burst mode also performed admirably for a budget camera, taking 14 full-resolution photos in 9.2 seconds for a rate of 1.5 frames per second.
Besides its decent performance, the L11 offers very nice image quality for a budget camera. Its lens produced only minimal distortion, with telephoto shots coming out nearly distortion-free and wide-angle shots manifesting only minor barrel distortion around their edges. Since the camera lacks manual ISO controls, we couldn't perform our full regimen of noise tests. What we did see, though, impressed us. Whether outside under partly cloudy skies or inside under tungsten and fluorescent lights, the L11's shots stayed almost devoid of noise. While some minor image artifacts crept up around fine details like small-print text, the majority of the camera's pictures came out clear and crisp.
With relatively quick performance and surprisingly nice photos, the Nikon Coolpix L11 makes a fine choice for anyone looking for a simple, inexpensive camera. Its few manual settings will disappoint more advanced photographers, but users who want a basic, affordable point-and-shoot will probably enjoy the L11. If manual controls are extremely important to you, consider the Samsung S850. It's more expensive than the budget-priced L11, but it's still one of the most affordable cameras available with manual exposure controls.
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