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

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.)

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.

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