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Nikon Coolpix L610 review: Better-than-basic 14x zoom compact

In a sea of entry-level commodity cameras, the L610 rises above...slightly.

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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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6 min read

There aren't a lot of options if you want a compact camera with a long zoom lens and powered by AA batteries. Even fewer if you want that camera to be somewhat pocketable. In fact, outside of the Nikon Coolpix L610, there's really only one other current model, the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS.

Nikon Coolpix S6300 (Red)
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Nikon Coolpix L610

The Good

The <b>Nikon Coolpix L610</b> has an above-average feature set for its street price, including a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and 14x zoom, and uses AA batteries for power.

The Bad

Shooting performance, while better than most in this category, is too slow for photos of kids and pets. Battery life is short with alkaline batteries. Flash must be manually popped up and the optical zoom doesn't work while recording video.

The Bottom Line

Though nothing extraordinary, the Nikon Coolpix L610 is a decent entry-level compact camera that shoots slightly above its price.

The SX160 IS' advantages over the Nikon are that it has a lot more shooting options, including semimanual and manual modes, and a slightly longer lens (though the L610 starts wider). Also, the Canon can zoom while shooting movies; the Nikon is limited to digital zoom. But if you don't plan to leave auto mode much and the other two aren't deal breakers, the L610 might be the better choice.

Though picture quality isn't spectacular from either, the L610's backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor provides slightly better low-light results, and shooting performance is a touch better, too. It's also a smaller and lighter camera (though the SX160 feels better-constructed).

With both models currently available for around the same price of $150, it really comes down to what matters most to you in features and photo and video quality.

Picture quality
For its price and features, the Coolpix L610 shoots a bit above its class. However, that still means it does its best work outdoors under good lighting, especially if you're using the zoom lens. There's noise visible even at its lowest ISOs when photos are viewed at full size, but detail is very good up to ISO 200.

These are 100 percent crops at the camera's available ISO sensitivities. Joshua Goldman/CNET

Color, white balance, and exposure are generally good, too, so, again, as long as you give it plenty of light, you'll get nice results. Going up to ISO 400 and above, photos get a little less usable at larger sizes because noise and noise reduction ramp up.

Though you can set the sensitivity up to ISO 3200, Auto ISO stops at ISO 1600 (and for good reason, since ISO 3200 looks pretty bad). However, the L610 will significantly slow shutter speeds before it starts to use ISO 800 or above. That means if you're shooting indoors or in low light, you may end up with blurry photos before you ever have to worry about noise or smeary details from noise reduction.

Video quality is good with results that are basically in line with its photos: the more light you have, the better the results. Expect more noise and softness the less light you have. Audio quality is OK, and again, the optical zoom doesn't work while recording.

Shooting performance
Editors' note: We recently updated our testing methodology to gauge slightly more real-world performance, so the results aren't necessarily comparable with previous testing. Until we're finished refining our procedures, we will not be posting comparative performance charts.

Most lower-end cameras as well as those powered by AA batteries aren't speedy, but the L610 fared better than most. The camera's CMOS sensor helps keep shooting speeds tolerable, but it can feel slow when shooting indoors or with the lens fully extended.

Sarah Tew/CNET

From off to first shot takes about 1.9 seconds, assuming you fully press the shutter release immediately after the power button. Shutter lag -- the time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- was 0.3 second in bright lighting and 0.7 second in dim conditions. Extending the lens slowed that time to an average of 1.2 seconds. Shot-to-shot times averaged 1.5 seconds without the flash and 3.3 seconds with flash. However, these times were under lab conditions, so depending on what you're shooting and in which mode you use, the camera may require more processing time before it's ready to shoot again.

The L610 can shoot bursts at up to 1.9 frames per second for up to four frames. Once you release the shutter, though, you'll be waiting a few seconds for the camera to process and store the photos before you can shoot again. Also, it locks focus and exposure with the first shot, so if you're shooting a rapidly moving subject there's a chance your shots all won't be in focus.

Design and features
Yes, you can get more compact cameras than the L610 and with longer lenses. But, if you want AA batteries for power, the body has to be bigger. I was able to slip it into a pants pocket, though I wouldn't go so far as to say "comfortably."

Sarah Tew/CNET

The body is all plastic and it feels somewhat cheaply made. The zoom control on top, for instance, seems to have too much play and was occasionally unresponsive. The remaining controls were fine, though, as long as I didn't try to rush the camera to do anything. The buttons are large and well-spaced (a benefit of the larger body), and there is a one-touch record button for movies. Above the screen is a switch for popping up the flash. It doesn't lift automatically, but the camera does warn you onscreen to lift it when it is necessary.

Key specs Nikon Coolpix L610
Price (MSRP) $199.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4.3x2.7x1.4 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 8.5 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 14x, f3.3-5.9, 25-350mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life AA (2, alkaline included), 120 shots
Battery charged in camera No
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC

Like much of this camera, screen size and resolution are good for what you're paying. The screen gets adequately bright enough for all but direct sunlight, and settings and menu text are sharp and easy to read. The camera, like most of Nikon's Coolpix models, is simple to operate. You'll still want to read the full manual (included as a PDF file on a CD), but straight from the box you'll be able to start shooting without much trouble.

Battery life is brief for the L610. It's CIPA-rated for 120 shots on its two, AA-size alkaline batteries. The batteries tend to exhaust much before that, however, mainly because doing anything other than taking automatic shots drains the batteries faster. Switching to rechargeable NiMH or high-power lithium ion batteries does get you much better performance, so I suggest using alkalines only in a pinch. The batteries and SD card slot are under the same flimsy locking door, and if you're not careful when opening the compartment, the batteries will fall right out.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix L610
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Custom, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash
Recording modes Scene auto selector, Scene, Special effects, Smart portrait, Auto (programmable)
Focus modes Face priority, 9-area auto, manual with 99 focus areas, center, subject tracking
Macro 0.4 inch (Wide)
Metering modes Multipattern, Center-weighted (when using up to 2x digital zoom), Spot (digital zoom of 2x or more)
Color effects Standard, Vivid, Sepia, Black & White, Cyanotype, Nostalgic sepia, High-contrast monochrome, High key, Low key, Selective color
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Four shots

If you have no interest in controlling shutter speed and aperture, the L610 is for you. There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Nikon's Scene Auto Selector. It 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 a regular Auto mode, which is basically the Program mode you'd find on other cameras. It'll handle shutter speed and aperture settings, but you can also adjust things like ISO and white balance as well as film colors like Vivid, Sepia, and Cyanotype.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are 19 other scene modes like Landscape and Portrait as well as modes for correcting backlit portraits, easy panorama photos (180 or 360 degrees), and handheld night shots. A separate Special Effects mode gives you some creative options like High-cContrast Monochrome and Selective Color, which turns everything black and white except a color you specify. (The playback menu also has other effects filters you can apply after you shoot, like soft focus for a toy camera look and fish-eye.)

Conclusion:
The Nikon Coolpix L610 might not be a terribly exciting camera, but it's good for what it is. If you're considering this for regularly photographing active kids and pets or sports -- especially indoors -- you'll probably want to pass on it, or at least be willing to really learn its limitations. Otherwise, it's a solid value.

Nikon Coolpix S6300 (Red)
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Nikon Coolpix L610

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Image quality 7
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