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Nikon Coolpix L120 review: Nikon Coolpix L120

Nikon Coolpix L120

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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8 min read

Editors' note: Several of the design, features, and shooting options are identical between the Nikon Coolpix L120 and the Coolpix L110 we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.

nikon-coolpix-l120-digital-camera-compact-14-1-mpix-21-x-optical-zoom-bronze.jpg
7.0

Nikon Coolpix L120

The Good

The <b>Nikon Coolpix L120</b> 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.

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.

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.

Conclusion
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
3.5 
1.8 
1.1 
0.7 
Nikon Coolpix L110
1.4 
2.1 
1.1 
0.7 
Nikon Coolpix L120
1 
2.2 
0.7 
0.4 
Olympus SP-600UZ
2.5 
2.3 
1.6 
0.8 
GE X500
3.6 
4.1 
0.9 
0.7 

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

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

nikon-coolpix-l120-digital-camera-compact-14-1-mpix-21-x-optical-zoom-bronze.jpg
7.0

Nikon Coolpix L120

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Image quality 7
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