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Nikon CoolPix Life review: Nikon CoolPix Life

Nikon CoolPix Life

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Senior Editor / Reviews

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering laptops and the occasional action cam or drone and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.

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Editors' note: Nikon released a firmware update for the Coolpix L100 that will allow the camera to use rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. The use of these batteries will allow the camera to shoot up to 600 photos on a single charge. The update also adds an NiMH option to the camera's setup menu. This added feature changes the camera's overall rating from 6.4 to 6.6.

OVR
6.6

Nikon CoolPix Life

The Good

Comfortable design; reliable auto features; cheap.

The Bad

Uneven, soft photos; almost no control over ISO; cannot use rechargeable batteries.

The Bottom Line

The Nikon Coolpix L100 is a decent entry-level megazoom. Just don't look too closely at the photos and stock up on AA batteries.

A majority of megazoom cameras--at least those styled like digital SLRs--have advanced features such as shutter speed and aperture-priority modes, bracketed shooting, and electronic color filters. They also usually carry price tags upward of $300. Nikon took its budget-friendly megazoom--the Coolpix L100--the other direction by limiting shooting options and setting the price below $280 offering up a purely point-and-shoot experience with a wide-angle 15x zoom lens on front. Unfortunately, it seems the quality of that lens as well as one major handicap keeps the L100 from being a better low-cost megazoom option than it is.

Key specs Nikon Coolpix L100
Price (MSRP) $279.99
Dimensions 4.3 inches wide by 2.8 inches high by 3 inches deep
Weight (with battery and media) 15.8 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 10 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution 3-inch LCD, 230K dots
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 15x, f3.5-5.4, 28-420mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/AVI
Highest resolution size (still/video) 3,648x2,736 pixels/640x480 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Mechanical and electronic
Battery type, rated life AA alkaline (4), 350 shots

The L100 is reasonably compact for a wide-angle megazoom camera, though it's clearly far from fitting in any small pockets. The handgrip is big and comfortable and the control layout is straightforward (almost generic). On top is a power button and shutter release surrounded by a zoom ring. On back is a standard four-way directional pad with Shooting mode and Playback buttons above it and Menu and Delete buttons below. The menu system is basic with a tab for mode-specific shooting options and another tab for system settings--both accessed with one press of the Menu button on the same screen.

There is no viewfinder. You'll have to rely on the LCD for framing shots, which was bright enough for use in direct sunlight. If you use a flash at all, the one on the L100 has to be raised manually. The raising part isn't the issue, though. It's that unlike most point-and-shoot cameras, the L100 won't tell you when to use the flash unless it is raised. However, a bigger problem with the camera's design is that it can't be used with rechargeable AA batteries; only alkaline or lithium cells can be used.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix L100
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto (80 to 800)
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Manual, Flash
Recording modes Auto, Easy auto, Scene, Sport Continuous/High sensitivity/Smile, Movie
Focus Face priority, Center
Metering Matrix, Center-weighted, Spot
Color effects Standard, Vivid, Black & White, Sepia, Cyanotype
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Seven photos

In case there was any confusion because of its design, the lack of shooting options on the L100 makes it clear that this is nothing more than a simple snapshot camera that happens to have a long lens on front. It's best suited for users who intend to leave everything in automatic. Nothing drives this point home more than the near complete absence of control over ISO sensitivities--it's automatic all the way. The only exception is the High Sensitivity mode, which fixes the ISO to 720 and higher and lowers the resolution to 3 megapixels. If you're in Auto mode, you can adjust white balance and light metering, and there is the capability to shoot using different color effects, but that's about it for adjustments. Easy auto is Nikon's scene recognition mode, which makes settings based on what's being shot. If you don't agree with it, you can always drop into Scene mode and pick the one that's best suited for your subject.

Megazooms aren't known for their speedy performance, and while the L100 doesn't buck the trend, it holds its own in all but full-resolution burst shooting. Start-up to first shot is very good 1.9 seconds. Shutter lag is on par with others in its class at 0.7 second in well-lit conditions and a full second in low light. Shot-to-shot speed is an above average 2.1 seconds and turning on the flash only adds 0.2 second to that time. The L100 has two burst modes. One's a high-speed mode capable of up to 13 frames per second for up to 30 frames, but the resolution is only 3 megapixels or less. The other is full-resolution continuous shooting for up to seven photos, which is what CNET Labs uses for testing. That option comes in at a dreadfully slow 0.4fps.

With no precise control over ISO, there was no way of doing our usual standardized tests for judging detail, sharpness, and image noise. These are more for reference, though, when comparing against real-life test shots; those were generally mediocre.

Photos were never sharp regardless of ISO, making subjects look very soft. Colors aren't accurate, but were still pleasing with the exception of reds and oranges, which appear too vibrant and occasionally blown out. There was also an above average amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) and some atypical lens flare that cast a haze on the right side of some of our test shots. It's not all bad news, though. Detail was good up to ISO 200 with little to no color noise. Best results were achieved outdoors in bright lighting, which kept the sensitivity below ISO 200. Between ISO 200 and 400 will cost you detail as the noise reduction makes pictures even softer and photos take on a painterly appearance. It's not an entirely unpleasant effect, but something to note if you plan on making prints larger than 8x10 inches. When the camera selected sensitivities above ISO 400 (the sensitivities aren't traditionally stepped, so you end up seeing ISO numbers like 586 and 720), off-color specks start showing up on top of everything else. You can't see them unless you're viewing photos at 100 percent, but they do affect color consistency.

The L100 does have a movie mode limited to 640x480-pixel resolution. The results look good, especially if they're destined for Web use, but be warned: the optical zoom does not work while recording.

The Nikon Coolpix L100 is a low-cost, easy-to-use megazoom that has a dearth of features and average photo quality. Those expecting the performance of a digital SLR simply because it sort of resembles one are going to be sorely disappointed. This is no more than a basic point-and-shoot with a wide-angle lens and a 15x zoom.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
2.3 
2.1 
0.7 
0.5 
Fujifilm FinePix S2000HD
2.8 
2.4 
0.8 
0.5 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
2.3 
1.8 
0.8 
0.6 
Nikon Coolpix L100
1.9 
2.1 
1 
0.7 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50
2.3 
1.8 
1.3 
0.7 
Olympus SP-570 UZ
3.3 
2.5 
1.8 
0.8 

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

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

OVR
6.6

Nikon CoolPix Life

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7Image quality 5