Nikon Coolpix L120 review: Nikon Coolpix L120

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The Good The Nikon Coolpix L120 offers a wide, long lens, AA batteries for power, and simple operation at a reasonable price.

The Bad The L120 has mediocre photo quality above ISO 200.

The Bottom Line As long as you have plenty of light, the Nikon Coolpix L120 is a nice camera for snapshooters in love with long lenses.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

Editors' note: Several of the design, features, and shooting options are identical between the Nikon Coolpix L120 and the

Anyone looking for a megazoom for simple point-and-shoot photos at a lower cost should look at the Nikon Coolpix L120. It's a refresh of the generally good L110 (generally good for its class, at least). In fact, the L120 is basically the same as the L110, but with a wider and longer lens (21x up from 15x) and a higher-resolution 3-inch LCD (920K dots compared with 460K dots). Its photo resolution jumps to 14 megapixels from 12, too, but that's not necessarily a good thing.

The lack of an electronic viewfinder makes using the full zoom a bit of struggle, and I wouldn't recommend it for doing a lot of low-light/indoor shooting without a flash or active kids and pets. But if you love a long lens, AA batteries, and easy snapshots, keep reading.

Key specs Nikon Coolpix L120
Price (MSRP) $279.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.4 x 3.1 x 3.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 15.3 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 920K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 21x, f3.1-5.8, 25-525mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC H.264 (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,320x3,240 pixels/ 1,280x720 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Mechanical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life AA size (4, alkaline included), 330 shots
Battery charged in camera No
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software ViewNX 2 (Windows, Mac)

Like most entry-level point-and-shoots, you'll want to give the L120 as much light as possible. Photos are best at and below ISO 200. As the sensitivities increase, so does the noise and smeary details from noise reduction. Also, colors appear slightly washed out and muddy from noise from ISO 400 and above. This, combined with the increased softness at higher sensitivities, means the indoor and low-light photo quality just isn't very good. The camera has two reduced-resolution high ISO settings of 3200 and 6400. Those photos are smaller at 3 megapixels and have a painterly appearance when viewed at full size; save these for emergencies only. So again, as long as you have plenty of light and aren't planning to make huge prints, the L120 presents good snapshot quality.

Color performance is very good, though again it's dependent on using ISO 200 or lower. At those sensitivities, colors appear bright and vibrant. Exposure is good, but as usual with compact cameras, highlights will occasionally blow out. Its white balance is good overall, though the auto white balance is warm under unnatural lighting.

Video quality is on par with a basic HD pocket video camera; good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. Panning the camera will create a little judder and you may notice some motion blur with fast-moving subjects; that's typical of the video from most compact cameras. The zoom lens does work while recording, which is definitely a selling point with such a long lens. Its movement is slow--as is the autofocus--but it doesn't make much noise either; you'll only hear it picked up by the stereo mic in quiet scenes.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix L120
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Custom, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash
Recording modes Easy Auto, Scene, Sport Continuous, 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
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 19 shots

Its design might lead you to believe that this camera would have advanced shooting modes, but the L120 is very much a point-and-shoot. There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Easy Auto, which uses scene recognition (Nikon calls it Scene Auto Selector) and 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 similar to the program AE modes on other point-and-shoots, giving you a modicum of control over your end results. You can change ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation as well as color, flash, and continuous shooting modes. Light metering is locked to multipattern unless you're using the digital zoom, and the focus area is fixed to the center of the frame.

If you're able to decipher the type of scene you're shooting, it may correspond to one of the camera's 16 selectable scene modes. All of the scenes are standards like Portrait and Landscape, and there is a Panorama Assist for lining up a series of shots that can be stitched together with the bundled software.

Nikon's Smart Portrait System gets its own spot in the shooting-mode menu. Basically, it combines a Blink Warning, Smile Shutter, In-Camera Red Eye Fix, and Face Priority AF (autofocus) features into one mode. The system works well, in particular for self-portraits, allowing you to take pictures without pressing the shutter release or setting a timer.