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The L100 sounds like an incredible deal: $249.99 for a 10 megapixel point and shoot with a 15x zoom lens. And you do get a lot of zoom for your money, but that's tempered by the fact that the L100 has poor performance and is missing features such as manual controls.
In the Box
- The camera itself
- Nikon Software Suite CD
- Composite video & audio output cable
- USB cable
- Neck strap
- Lens cap
- User Manual (English/Spanish)
- Quick Start guide (English/Spanish)
We test color by shooting a Gretag Macbeth color chart under tightly controlled lighting conditions, then analyzing the accuracy of the resulting images. We found that, like most Nikons, the L100 had pretty good color accuracy: most of the colors on our test chart are pretty close to the originals, although we did notice a slight shift in some of the blues and the reds. But these shifts were minor. We test all of the color modes that cameras offer and we found that the best results were, perhaps unsurprisingly, from the Standard color mode: the Vivid mode overly saturated the colors. More on how we test color.
The following chart show samples of the color values captured by each of four comparable cameras in their most accurate color modes. The color names are taken directly from the X-Rite Colorchecker chart.
There are 5 color modes on offer, ranging from the standard options (Standard and Vivid color) to the novelty (Black-and-white, Sepia and Cyanotype). The latter three are best ignored; the effect cannot be undone if you don't like it after shooting, and better results can be produced by any image editing program.
Because there is no way to manually set the ISO level on the L100, this camera flunked our noise test. We test noise by analyzing the amount of noise in images taken at different ISO levels, but there is no way to set the ISO level of the L100 directly: the camera sets it automatically. What we were able to determine was that the L100 had about 0.8 percent noise at the highest ISO level of 800 that it supports in normal shooting modes, which is an acceptable but unspectacular result. This odd approach to ISO also means that we can't feature our usual graphs of noise or sample files: because we need to be able to set the ISO directly to make these tests work, we can't produce them. More on how we test noise.
The L100 has an ISO range of 80 to 800 , but as we noted above, there is no way to set the ISO directly; the camera picks the ISO depending on the shooting mode. The L100 also works in an odd way in that the ISO levels are not set in particular steps: instead the camera sets odd levels in between such as 329 (which you'll see below in the ISO 400 slot). In the standard auto mode, the ISO range is from 80 to 800, but this can be expanded up to 3200 at the cost of reducing the resolution to 3 megapixels.
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
The L100 scored poorly on our tests that look at the resolution of the images it captures. We test three separate things here: distortion, sharpness and chromatic aberration. And there were problems with all three: the images had significant distortion across the zoom range, they were consistently soft and fuzzy and there was distinct chromatic aberration on all of our test images.
Overall, the samples below show what a disappointment the performance of the L100 is; the images at the widest zoom are acceptable, but those in the middle and at the telephoto end are extremely soft and fuzzy. More on how we test resolution.
Distortion is where straight objects become curved: we've all seen photos where lamp posts at the edge of the frame get bent because the lens distorts the image. We saw quite a lot of this with the L100; the images it took were distorted by a seriously disorientating 3.23 percent at the wide end of the zoom range, by an unpleasant 1 percent in the middle and 0.58 percent at the telephoto end. This is a disappointing performance; we expect some distortion, but the over 3 percent at the widest end of the zoom range is way too much: it turns straight lines into curves.
The L100 has significantly higher distortion than the comparable cameras, which means less attractive images.
We were also disappointed with the sharpness of the images that the L100 took; we found that despite the 10 megapixel resolution, the images were soft and did a poor job of reproducing fine detail. The images were sharpest at the wide angle setting, but were much softer and less attractive in the middle and at the telephoto end of the zoom range.
Chromatic Aberration ()
We found the same issues with chromatic aberration; all of our test images had some aberration, but it was particularly bad at the telephoto end of the zoom range, where some images had a very noticeable color fringe around sharp edges, and a soft haze to colored objects.
Quality & Size Options
The L100 provides a number of options for shooting images at different resolutions (shown below). At the highest resolution, there are two image quality settings: high and normal. Images can only be saved as JPEG files: there is no option for saving RAW files on this camera.
The L100 includes two modes that try and reduce blurriness in images: Vibration Reduction and Motion Detection. The latter works by trying to increase the shutter speed when it detects movement, while the first shifts the image sensor slightly to try and correct for camera shake. We found the Vibration Reduction mode to be moderately effective, as it did reduce some of the blurriness in images taken on our test system with it enabled. However, it was much less effective than the stabilization systems used by other cameras, and did a much less effective job than other, more expensive cameras. Our tests look at the performance of the image stabilization systems with the camera shooting at a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second. More on how we test image stabilization.
As you can see from the images above, the L100 images with the Vibration Reduction on are slightly sharper, but the difference is nowhere near as pronounced as the other cameras.
The movie mode of the L100 is, frankly, nothing to write home about: it shoots reasonable quality standard definition movies that are adequate for sending to friends or uploading to the Internet. But put them up on a HDTV and you'll be disappointed; the maximum resolution is 640 by 480 (320 by 240 pixel modes are also available) and the sound is mono. With many other cameras now shooting high definition video and stereo sound, standard def mono video is a weakness.
Although the videos that the L100 captures are pretty low resolution, they do have reasonably accurate color; we found in our tests that the colors were mostly accurate, although there were some shifts in the yellows and reds. More on how we test video color.
In this world of high definition video capture, the low resolution video that the L100 shoots looks very grainy and unpleasant; we found that in our tests, details on our moving test chart just were not there; the images quickly turned into a blurry, grainy mess. To simulate the real experience of shooting video with a camera, our tests involve using a resolution chart and panning across and up and down, then examining the file to determine how well the camera captures these moving details. For the L100, the answer is not well. More on how we test video sharpness.
You access playback mode by hitting the play button on the back of the case. The L100 offers a rather minimal set of playback features. You can view pictures as a slideshow (but you can't pick specific photos to view), pick photos to print or create smaller versions of photos. But that's it: there is no way to create music backed slideshows or to use different transitions between them. You can select several photos for deletion, printing or protection, but you can't create a list to show in a slideshow.
There are only three editing features on offer: you can create smaller versions of pictures, crop them using the zoom control or apply Nikon's D-Lighting processing, which tries to improve the image quality by boosting the low lights to create better shadow detail.There are only three editing features on offer: you can create smaller versions of pictures, crop them using the zoom control or apply Nikon's D-Lighting processing, which tries to improve the image quality by boosting the low lights to create better shadow detail.
Direct Print Options
The standard direct printing options are on offer: you can flag pictures for printing using the DPOF standard (which most printers understand), and you can connect directly to a printer that supports the common PictBridge format.
The L100 has no viewfinder; everything is done through the LCD screen on the back of the camera body.
The LCD screen of the L100 is a 2-inch model with about 230k pixels. That's a bit on the low side, so it is hard to see some fine details in images. However, it is bright and has good color, so it is adequate for use in previewing and checking images. Just don't expect it to wow people when showing off photos.
The flash of the L100 is a small pop-up model located above the lens. We found this to be reasonably powerful; it clearly illuminated objects a few feet away in near total darkness. Nikon quotes a range of 36 feet at the wide zoom and 29 feet at the telephoto, but that's a very optimistic number : we wouldn't recommend that you rely on it to beyond 10 to 12 feet at most.
You do get quite a few flash modes, though: you can select auto, auto red eye, off, forced on and a night portrait mode that combines a flash and slow shutter speed.
The lens is the highlight of the L100: the camera is built around a long 15x zoom, with a focal length range of 5 to 75mm, which is equivalent to a 28 to 420mm zoom on a 35mm film camera. That's a decent range that gives a good wide angle as well as a long zoom. The lens is limited in other ways, though; the aperture range of the lens is a rather disappointing f/3.5 to f/5.4, which doesn't give much room for gathering more light at the wider end, or much depth of field at the smaller end.
The L100 is powered by 4 AA batteries, which can be either the standard disposable type, disposable Lithium ones or rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMh) ones. A set of 4 disposable AAs are included in the box. If you go the rechargeable route (which is much more ecologically sound), the batteries cannot be charged within the camera: they have to be charged in an external charger. Somewhat confusingly, there is an external power port, but Nikon does not list an available external power supply as an accessory. Nikon claims a battery life of around 350 shots from standard AA disposables or 900 from Lithium ones, which seems to be a little on the optimistic side; we only got about 200 shots from a set of standard batteries.
The L100 can store photos in two locations: in about 44MB of internal memory or on an SD card that fits into the same compartment as the batteries. The newer SDHC cards are not directly supported.
Jacks, Ports & Plugs
The L100 connects with the outside world through a single AV out port underneath a small rubber cover on the side of the camera body. Cables for USB and video/audio output are included with the camera. This port on the camera body is a proprietary one; if you lose or damage the cables, you'll need to buy new ones from Nikon, as you can't use standard USB cables in this port.
For a low-end camera, the L100 contains a decent selection of shooting modes. In addition, there is a movie mode and two auto modes: Auto and Easy Auto mode. The latter puts everything into automatic mode, while the Auto mode allows the user to control some features of the camera (such as the flash mode and using exposure compensation). Conspicuously absent from this camera is any sort of manual mode: there is no shutter or aperture priority, and there is no way to set the shutter speed or aperture directly.
Auto Mode Features
Focus - The L100 uses a contrast detection focus system, and we found it to be somewhat slow, with the camera often taking a couple of seconds to find the right focus point. It was even worse in low light, where the camera often failed to find a focus point at all, showing a red rectangle in the middle of the screen to indicate it can't focus successfully. This can be helped if you enable the AF Assist light, but this bright red light is rather bright and can almost blind the subject, and the fingertips at the top of the camera grip can often block the source of the light if the camera is held loosely in the hand. A macro mode is also included which can fous down to 1cm from the front of the lens. This is restricted to use in the middle of the zoom range, though: at the wide and telephoto ends, the minimum focus distance is much further out. A marker on the zoom indicator shows the optimum spot when the macro mode is activated.
Exposure - The only direct control the user gets over exposure is the ability to add +/- 2 stops of exposure compensation, with 1.3 of a stop steps. There is no option to automatically bracket shots in case the auto exposure gets it wrong.
Metering - The L100 offers a 256-segment matrix metering mode, center weighted and spot metering. However, you wouldn't know it, as the camera decides which one to use in all of the modes: there is no way to set the metering mode directly.
Aperture - The aperture range of the lens built into the L100 is somewhat small; across the zoom range it is just f/3.5 to f/5.4. This is also not a real aperture setting: the camera uses a filter to reduce the amount of light coming in, not a proper aperture ring. This means that the camera has no way to alter the depth of field you get in photos.
Shutter Speed - The shutter speed range of the L1000 is equally small: in most modes it is restricted to 1/1000 to 2 seconds. In the sports mode, this can be extended to 1/4000 out to 15 seconds.
Self-Timer - Only a single self timer mode is available, which uses a delay of 10 seconds. There is also a smile shutter mode, which takes the photo when the camera detects a smiling face in the frame. There is no way to adjust the timing of this mode or any other options.
There are 14 scene modes on offer (including the usual selection of portrait and landscape modes), plus three special modes for continuous sports shooting, high sensitivity and a smile mode. The latter uses the smile detection feature to take the photo when the subject is smiling.
The L100 only offers a few ways to tweak images in the camera: you can set the color options to shoot with vivid color, in black and white, sepia or to try and make the photo look like an old school Cyanotype.
None of these modes can be adjusted, and if you shoot with them turned on, you can't undo the effect. So, it is best avoided unless you are certain you want the look. For the sake of the people who have to appear in and look at your photos, please at least take one photo with and another without the effects enabled.
Five preset white balance settings are available: Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy and Flash. In addition, a full auto mode and a preset manual mode are offered, where the user points the camera at a white object and it measures the white point.
Calling the continuous mode of the L100 a burst mode is rather like calling a tortoise a fast animal because it's faster than a snail; it is technically true, but hardly fair. The L100 can capture just 3 images at a rate of around 0.9 frames a second. You can get a quicker burst if you use the Multi-shot 16 mode, which captures 16 photos at a reduced resolution, and mosaics them onto a single photo. This captures 16 images in around 2 seconds, for an 8 frames per second frame rate. It's a neat trick, but it doesn't get around the fact that this is a slow camera. There is also a mode called BSS (for best single shot) where you hold down the shutter and the camera keeps taking photos at around a 1-second interval, but it only keeps the last shot. The idea is that you hold the shutter down until you see the best shot pop up on screen, then you release the button and it keeps the shot. Unfortunately, if you don't take your finger off the button and miss a shot, there is no way to go back.
Shot to Shot ()
We measured the frame rate of the 3 frames that the L100 can capture at around 0.9 frames a second.
The L100 is a little smaller than some comparable models, and that makes it slightly more awkward to handle. We found that the body being thinner than cameras such as the Sony HX1 or the Nikon P90 meant that you had to hold the hand tighter to grip the body firmly, which was uncomfortable over longer periods.
Buttons & Dials
The shutter and zoom controls of the L100 are located on the top of the camera body, where they fall comfortably under the index finger. The other controls are less well placed, though; to reach the 4-way control to alter settings like flash, macro mode and exposure compensation you will need to use both hands.
The L100 uses the standard Nikon menu style, which puts the options into two tabs: one for shooting options, and one for other settings. It's a pretty simple layout, but is a bit confusing for new users as it isn't obvious which options are in which section of the menu. But once you figure it out, it is easy to use.
Manual & Learning
The manual that comes with the L100 is pretty good, with plenty of illustrations and a decent index. A PDF version of the manual can be downloaded here.
Kodak EasyShare Z950 Comparison
The Canon SX120 is slightly more expensive than the L100: it costs about $25 more. The L100 has the longer zoom (15X against the 10x of the Canon), but the Canon is the superior camera in just about every possible other way. The Canon takes better photos for one thing, with more accurate color and much better detail.
But cameras are restricted to capturing standard definition video only, but the Canon did the superior job in our tests; we found that the video was noticeably sharper and smoother.
Overall, the only reason to go for the Nikon is the extra zoom length. The Canon is the better camera otherwise, and that's what usually matters in the end.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 Comparison
The Kodak EasyShare Z950 is another strong competitor to the L100, and it puts up a stiff fight. Although the Kodak is much thinner than the L100 (the Kodak is 1.4 inches deep, about half the depth of the Nikon), it has a very comparable feature set, shooting 12 megapixel images and including a 12x zoom. That zoom is slightly smaller than the Nikon (the Kodak's 35mm equivalent zoom range is 35 to 350mm, while the Nikon goes from 28 to 420mm), but the camera is also significantly smaller.
We also found that the Kodak had superior performance in most of our tests: the images it captured had better color and were much sharper. The optical stabilization of the Z950 was also much more effective, and the Z950 shot far nicer looking video. Overall, the only advantage that the L100 has is the longer zoom.
The Panasonic Lumix DSC-ZS3 is the slightly more expensive camera, but you get a lot more for your money: better performance, a better screen, a smaller package and much more control over the picture taking process.
In our tests, we found that the Panasonic had significantly better performance on most of our tests: it had better color, sharper images and a more effective stabilization system. It also has a very decent selection of manual controls which provide the photographer with a decent selection of options. The Nikon, by contrast, has no manual controls: you can't set shutter speed, aperture or ISO directly.
The only thing that you get more of with the Nikon L100 is a longer zoom, and that's not by that much. The Panasonic has a 12x zoom with an equivalent focal length of 25mm to 300mm, while the Nikon L100 goes from 28mm to 420mm. So, the Panasonic is actually slighty wider, but the Nikon has the longer zoom.
The Coolpix L100 is a cheap camera, and that is both a blessing and a curse. It does provide a good range of features for the price, but the performance is lackluster and many photographers will find the lack of manual controls limiting. There's the lack of a manual mode, for one. The L100 does not offer any way to directly set the shutter speed, aperture or ISO; that's all done automatically.
The quality of the images that the L100 produced was also disappointing. Having a long zoom is a good thing, but it comes at the cost of fuzzy images that lack detail and just don't look that good on close inspection. The sloppy auto focus also makes the camera hard to use. It was slow in bright light and often just didn't work in low light.
If all you want to do is take snapshots, the L100 will work well. It is simple to use, takes reasonable quality pictures and has a good long zoom lens. But if you ever think that you will want to step beyond snapshots, the L100 just won't cut it. The image quality means that photos won't look good if you want to produce large prints or crop in on photos, and the complete lack of any manual control will stifle creativity, as you can't control how the photo will come out. So while the L100 will be fine for snapshots, anyone who wants to take good photos would be better advised to spend more on a camera that offers more control.