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Editors' note: During my testing, I experienced some performance issues that Nikon attributed to my review camera being an early production sample. I tested a second L810 camera, and while its autofocus and overall shooting performance were still slow, it did not exhibit any other issues. If you have an L810 that is performing unusually, such as giving lens cap error messages when the lens cap is off or unexpectedly powering the camera off, contact Nikon customer service at 1-800-Nikon US. The rating and text of this review have been adjusted accordingly.
It's completely reasonable to expect a particular product, in this case a camera, to get better with each generation. That's not the case with the Nikon Coolpix L810.
Sure, on paper, Nikon is offering more for your money in the L810 than in its predecessor, the L120. But that's simply a matter of specs; you get a wider, longer lens and a higher-resolution sensor, neither of which gets you better photos.
Also, despite its looks, the L810 is very much a basic point-and-shoot camera, offering little more than fully automatic shooting. Not that that's a bad thing and, in fact, if all you need is a decent auto mode and a long lens for shooting in daylight and your photos are going straight to Facebook, the L810 is plenty.
|Key specs||Nikon Coolpix L810|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.4x3.1x3.3 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||15.3 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 920K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||26x, f3.1-5.9, 22.5-585mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC H.264 (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,608x3,456 pixels/ 1,280x720 pixels at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||AA size (4, alkaline included), 300 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No|
|Bundled software||ViewNX 2 (Windows, Mac)|
As with most entry-level point-and-shoots, you'll want to give the L810 as much light as possible. Photos are best at and below ISO 200. As the sensitivities increase, so do 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. So again, as long as you have plenty of light and don't do more than share photos online or make the occasional 4x6-inch print, the L810 takes good snapshots.
The camera's color performance is its best attribute, 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 the same as photo quality: good enough for Web use at small sizes. 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, if it focuses at all -- and you will hear it moving in your clips.
|General shooting options||Nikon Coolpix L120|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600|
|White balance||Auto, Custom, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash|
|Recording modes||Easy Auto, Scene, 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)||4 shots|
As I mentioned earlier, if you're looking for an uncomplicated automatic point-and-shoot, that's exactly what this is. 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, Skin Softening, Smile Shutter, 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 (limited to one 10-second option).
If you like to shoot close-ups, the L810 can focus as close as 0.4 inch from your subject, but to do so you need 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 (common for long-zoom cameras).
Shooting performance is slow, though the L810 is on par with other lower-end compacts in this area. The camera starts up and shoots in 2.3 seconds in good lighting. Its shot-to-shot times are about 3.3 seconds without the flash and 4.1 seconds with -- both slower than the times of the model it replaces. The camera can continuously shoot at full resolution up to four photos at a rate of about 1.1 frames per second, which is decent, but focus and exposure are set with the first shot, so it's not ideal for fast-moving subjects. Shutter lag -- how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed without prefocusing -- is also worse than the L120's at 0.5 second in bright lighting and 0.8 second in dim conditions. Worth noting, too, is that its autofocus is very slow when you extend the lens. What this all means is that the camera is too slow for getting specific shots of active kids or pets, sports, or fast-moving wildlife without practice and a lot of luck.
(Note: Again, I tested two L810 cameras. My first camera experienced a few performance problems, including unexpectedly shutting down during use. Nikon attributed these to my camera being an early production sample. I tested a second L810, and while its autofocus and overall shooting performance were still slow, it did not exhibit any other issues. If you have an L810 that is performing unusually, contact Nikon customer service at 1-800-Nikon US.)
Design and use
Using the L810 is straightforward.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 Setup. 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.
With the camera loaded with its four, AA-size batteries, it has a nice weight to it, and the ample handgrip gives you something substantial to hold. Unfortunately, without a viewfinder, the camera is difficult to keep steady with the lens extended.
On the bottom is a locking door covering the SD card slot and batteries. You can use alkaline, NiMH rechargeables, or lithium AA batteries. Nikon includes alkaline batteries, which will last for up to 300 shots; lithium batteries should last for nearly 750 shots. NiMH rechargeables are rated for up to 450 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.
The Nikon Coolpix L810 is not a camera I would easily recommend. If you simply must have a 26x zoom lens and AA batteries for power, it's OK, especially for its price. However, you may want to seek out the older L120 if it's still available or check out the competing Fujifilm FinePix S4200.