Nikon Coolpix L810 review: Nikon Coolpix L810

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).

With enough light, the L810 produces good close-up shots. This is a 100 percent crop from the inset photo. Joshua Goldman/CNET

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.)

The L810 is easy to use out of the box. However, with no viewfinder, the 26x zoom is tough to keep steady without a support. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.