Nikon Coolpix L840 Digital Camera Review
Dead batteries are no problem for this AA-powered Nikon
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By the Numbers
Chances are good you already know whether or not you're buying Nikon's L840, but here we hash out all the nerdy details anyways. In our labs, we found that this camera—while cheap—does well enough to hang with the bargain market. It's about as sharp as can be expected, colors are oversaturated, and noise is a bit of an issue.
If your phone just isn't doing it for you when it comes to photos, a point-and-shoot can be a sensible step-up. But when most decent compact cameras come in at over $200, it's tough to justify spending the extra cash—especially when you get so little in return.
With that said, that's where the Nikon Coolpix L840 ($199.99 MSRP) has a lot to offer the right shooter. While it's as basic a bargain-bin camera as you can get, it does a lot with what it has.
A long 38x zoom, WiFi, and convenient AA battery power is a respectable haul for under two bills. Especially if you go on vacation out in the wilderness, abroad, or even if you find yourself frequently misplacing battery chargers.
Color and White Balance
Like most point and shoots, the L840 largely eschews color accuracy for pleasing aesthetics. Namely, it oversaturates colors to a wild degree.
With a ∆C 00 (saturation corrected) of 2.84 and an overall saturation of 119.6%, you can expect blues, reds, and greens to pop, while yellows tend to be a little muted.
White balance is decent if left in the automatic setting, but it's also surprisingly good with a manual setting. I recommend leaving it in auto, though, as errors didn't really exceed 500 kelvin in our labs—even with the notoriously difficult to correct tungsten lighting.
What is it?
There's a difference between outdated and old school
The Nikon Coolpix L840 is a bare-bones travel zoom point-and-shoot. It has a 38x zoom lens, with a 16-megapixel sensor, and a simplistic control scheme. There isn't much we need to tell you if you want to just start shooting—the L840 is pretty basic, and works fairly well out of the box. There are no advanced shooting modes, and there's nothing extra cluttering up the place. Simply turn the camera on, frame your shot, and press the shutter button.
But there's a twist: the batteries. Because it runs off of four AA cells that you can find just about anywhere, you'll never have to worry about losing your batteries or scrounging for an outlet. While it's a pain to have to replace them every so often, you can always just use rechargeables to cut down on needless waste.
Imagine you're going camping, or maybe taking that trip to the Caribbean you've always dreamed of. You're not going to have reliable access to electricity, and if something happens to your camera's proprietary battery, there probably won't be a local shop that carries them. While AAs aren't a perfect solution, they're a heck of a lot better than being stuck with a dead camera.
As far as the rest of the design goes, the L840 is about as basic as it comes. It takes ordinary SD cards for memory, it doesn't have a lot of ports (only HDMI and USB) and buttons are kept to a minimum. But there are a couple modern accoutrements in there, like WiFi and NFC. If you have Nikon's Wireless Mobile Utility installed on your phone, you can move photos from camera to smartphone fairly painlessly, or even use your phone as a remote live view.
By using a heavy dose of software edge enhancement, the Nikon L840 provides over 2,000 line widths per picture height in the center of the frame, while the edges drop down to about 1700 lw/ph. That's really fine for most applications.
But there's a catch to all this. Those numbers I just quoted are only achievable with the lens zoomed all the way out. If you want to zoom in on something far away, the sharpness nosedives to about half when you zoom out to 38x. That's a bit of a letdown even before you consider the fact that the additional focal length is going to make your shots more likely to suffer from motion blur.
It just works
Taking the L840 out on the town, it's easy to understand its appeal. Not only does it scratch the super-zoom itch, but the camera handles all the tough stuff for you. The single automatic mode is surprisingly good, if a little simplistic for my taste. However, if you don't want to futz with all the minutiae like I do, this is a very approachable camera, even for total beginners.
The tradeoff here is that the automatic mode can sometimes select shutter speeds that are too slow to get a sharp shot—leaving you with a lot of motion blur in low-light situations. My best advice is to locate the ISO speed setting in the menu, and make sure that it's on the "fixed range auto" with a range of 125-800. That way, the camera will move the ISO setting in low light more aggressively than shutter speed, so you only have a little added noise to deal with instead of a shot ruined by motion blur.
Despite the L840's basic design, I think you'll appreciate the tilting LCD. Not only is it great for shooting at off angles, but it lets you shoot over the head of that guy with the tablet at your kids' recital or baseball game.
Shooting video is also incredibly straightforward—all you have to do is hit the red record button and the camera starts capturing video. No menus, knobs, or extra settings to sift through: just that one button press.
Not bad for a $200 camera
In terms of image quality, the L840 is a decent little shooter. Sure, it's not going to compete with a DSLR, but check your expectations—it's a $200 camera!
Though we assumed it would stumble in our labs, the L840 actually gave us acceptable results in every metric that truly matters. Image quality is generally decent, noise isn't all that bad until you shoot in near darkness. Color is accurate (albeit oversaturated), but there aren't additional options there, so you have to take what you can get with the default settings.
The huge zoom lens is a big selling point, but it comes at the cost of sharpness. When you zoom in all the way, you'll notice that image quality drops significantly. Not enough to ruin the photo, mind you, but enough that you'll notice it if you're looking for it.
But really, if you're buying this camera, incredible performance probably isn't the main reason why you're looking to buy. Still, it's nice to know that you're not getting let down by a bargain-bin bust, right?
The biggest downside here is that the burst mode only lasts for about 7 shots—or one second of continuous shooting. That's really not a big deal, but burst modes that can shoot for a long time let you grab the perfect shot in the midst of the action. With only a few shots each go, the L840 really keeps you on your toes.
Noise is fairly well contained, but that seems to be mostly due to an overly-aggressive noise reduction algorithm. That's really fine, but shots at 100% are going to look a little like they've been painted if you shot in low light.
Noise never really tops 2% until you cross over ISO 3,200—which is very normal for a point and shoot. There's no option to increase or reduce noise reduction, so that's the level you're stuck with.
The right camera, for the right person
I'd never buy this camera for myself. I'm a total camera nerd, after all. However, the Coolpix L840 could be a great choice for someone who doesn't want to get tripped up by the countless extraneous features you find in cameras nowadays, and just wants an honest-to-god point-and-shoot.
Not only does this camera produce decent photos and video considering its price, there's nothing cluttering the experience. On top of that, being able to use batteries that you can find at any drug store is more convenient than annoying. Testing this camera instantly brought me back to my one-hour photo days when every camera I got my hands on was powered by AA batteries.
This is a perfectly fine option for travelers and those on a budget, because it offers some of the best parts of modern point-and-shoots with some of the more familiar features of 90s-era cameras. Sure, it's not a camera anyone would mistake for "professional," but for snapping some vacation photos to put on Facebook, it's worth the price of admission.
Video performance is decent, though the camera will offer varying degrees of quality based on how far you're zoomed out. Clips taken at full zoom will be considerably softer at full zoom than they will be at full wide.
If you are at full wide, your performance ceiling should be about 450 line pairs per picture height. That's pretty sub-par, and it gets worse in low light, where sharpness drops to 350 LP/PH.
Low light is a real pain for the L840, as the camera can only reproduce a 50 IRE image down to 7 lux. Not bad for a point and shoot, but not anywhere approaching good, either.
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