Nikon Coolpix L21 Review
There’s no dearth of cameras in my house. Yet, we have been wanting to add another to the growing pile of e-junk. This time for the wife.
Of the cameras we have, none are quite portable enough to fit into a ladies purse or gents pockets. The cameras we have are bridge cameras and there’s no way the wife will agree to handling these behemoths. In fact, even I don’t carry these cameras to casual get-togethers and outings because they are too prominent and immediately reduce my status to being the ‘photographer chap’.
What we needed had to be:
- Compact: small enough to fit the wife’s purse or my trouser pants without making others think that either she had a fire-extinguisher or I had an erection.
- Light-weight: This was something to be assumed along with the size, but we were not taking any chances. Hence we wanted a camera that will weigh no more than a budget mobile phone.
- Decent Image Quality: This camera wouldn’t be the one with which we would attempt to shoot Flickr Award winning photos. Just wanted image quality that was quite a few notches above mobile phones.
- Cheap: The magic word. We wanted it to be cheap. Though we wanted it to be cheap, yet we wanted features like a little zoom, video recording, 8 – 12 Megapixel sensor etc. So none of those ‘fixed-plastic-lens-web-cams-masquerading-as-digital-camera’ for us.
Our research showed that the only three ‘major’ brands that had cameras in the sub – Rs. 5000/- range were Olympus, Fuji and Nikon. Casio & Canon’s offerings were over the 5K budget we had set by 25% without offering any significant advantage in specifications.
Internet research put the Olympus FE-46, Fujifilm FinePix AV100 and the Nikon Coolpix L21 to be within our budget. The Olympus and the Fujifilm cameras offered 12 MP resolution using a 1/2.3″ sensor while the Nikon offered 8 MP resolution using a 1/2.5″ sensor. I read so many negative reviews of the Olympus FE-46 that it put me off altogether. I had used a Fujifilm budget camera in the past and knew it to be a slow camera. The Nikon was rated 6/10 by most reviewers.
To shop, we landed up at Reliance Digital (Opp. Deccan Chronicle, Sarojini Devi Road, Secunderabad) and the first thing that stuck was the professionalism of the store staff. Not at all like the FutureGroup’s eZone stores (which recently sold used + abused + old-stock stuff in the name of sale).
Since the Olympus FE-46 was not available at this store, it made my job easy to some extent. The comparison was between Fuji (cannot recollect the exact model on offer but withing my budget) and Nikon L21.
- Both cameras are so similar in design that you would be mistaken to think they were made by the same ‘generic’ company and branded later. The dimensions, design, weight, lens are very similar. The Fuji is slightly thicker than the Nikon (Nikon 1, Fuji 0).
- The Fuji came in dull silver finish while the Nikon was available in Champagne Gold finish(Nikon 2, Fuji 0).
- We were informed that the Fuji uses Lithium battery and features in-camera charging. This in my opinion is a disadvantage. Although Li-ion battery makes a camera lighter, it increases the cost associated with battery replacement and in-camera charging means I cannot use the camera while the battery is charging. The Nikon on the other hand uses AA batteries which are easily available. The camera also supported rechargeable NiMH / Li-ion AA batteries. This means that I could use the rechargeable NiMH ‘AA’ batteries that we already have in the house (for use in my Canon PowerShot SX20IS) and in the event we ever ran out batteries while on a holiday, I would only have to buy AA batteries sold by vendors everywhere (Nikon 3, Fuji 0). The Nikon came with Non-rechargeable High Capacity Alkaline batteries that put the camera in ready-to-use mode. As part of Nikon-only offer, Reliance Digital swapped them out with ‘Godrej Power Re-chargeable NiMH 2100 mAh AA batteries with Charger’ (Nikon 4, Fuji 0). Now my wife too had her own set of batteries and charger! More e-junk!! Yahoo!!!
- Both cameras came with soft-pouch but the Nikon bundled a higher capacity SD Card (4 GB, Class 4).(Nikon 5, Fuji 0).
- The Fuji features a 3″ LCD display, while the Nikon has a slightly recessed 2.5″ LCD display (Nikon 5, Fuji 1). The Fuji’s user interface is very colorful and easy to understand versus the slow B&W iconic interface of the Nikon (Nikon 5, Fuji 2). The Fuji’s interface alone is a good reason to buy this camera and gift to your techno-phobic loved ones.
- Zoom performance on both cameras was near identical with the Nikon being slightly faster. I will discard this advantage since zoom speed really does not matter for this camera’s intended usage.
- Macro performance was a little different. While the Fuji had difficulty focusing on a bar-code from 8 cm distance, the Nikon easily focused on it at 5 cm distance. The focused image on the Nikon LCD was sharp while it took a few tries to get the Fuji to focus sharply. Since my wife is likely to shoot objects in Close-Up mode (aka Macro mode) for use as teaching aid, this is an important feature for us. (Nikon 6, Fuji 2).
- Both camera show overtly vibrant images on the LCD. Pale blue walls of the store became Electric blue in color. In the brightly lit store, pink streaks of overhead lighting were visible on both cameras.
- While at the time of shooting, the LCD shows superbly sharp images, post-shooting, when viewed on the LCD at 100%, the images show fuzziness around the edges. Zooming in the images only makes them worse and you start wondering what happened to the 8 / 12 MP resolution? I face the same issues on the Canon PowerShot SX20IS camera (12 MP resolution from a 1/2.33″ sensor) and only way to obtain sharper images is to use a D-SLR camera that features a APS-C size sensor or better.
- Both cameras also showed fringing (purple areas between high contrast areas) and that too was expected from a camera in this range. At full wide, both cameras show barrel distortion.
Since a further in-depth analysis of the camera was possible in the store, we placed our bets and brought home the Nikon for Rs. 4899/-
Once at home, both of us started futzing with the camera; leaving aside all important work.
- Though the Nikon’s interface is cryptic, it did not take too long for my wife to figure it out. The Nikon features an Auto-Mode, Video Record mode, Smart Portrait Mode, bunch of Scene Modes and Easy Auto Mode. The ‘Easy Auto Mode’ analyzes the image on LCD and shuffles between appropriate Scene modes. This makes shooting a snap. The various modes can be accessed by a single press of the button marked ‘Camera’.
- Playback of recorded images is a snap too. Just press the button marked ‘Play’. Images are initially displayed in ‘Fit to LCD’ mode. A single toggle of the Zoom lever puts it in 100% mode (actual pixels). Further toggling either zooms into the image or zooms out so that you can see 4 / 16 images at a time.
- The camera is largely made of plastic and is quite light even with AA batteries in. A hand-strap is bundled and the included nylon pouch is padded.
- Auto-focus works quite well when shooting landscape and portrait images in daylight. Typical shutter speeds are 1/100 and F/3.3. Auto-Focus is guided by in-built AF Light when shooting images in low-light conditions.
- When shooting images in low-light, the shutter speed increases to 1/2 – 1/4. The camera actually makes two distinct sounds to indicate ‘Shutter Open’ and ‘Shutter Closed’ conditions. This makes it very easy to determine when the camera is done taking pictures.
- The camera does not provide any manual control (except Flash Off). On the other hand, this is exactly what is required in cameras that are put in the hands of users who only want to take quick photos without getting into the hassles of the underlying technology.
- The camera uses the popular and economic SD Card factor. Unlike brands such as Sony (Memory Stick) and Olympus (xD Card) who use proprietary memory card formats in their budget cameras, Canon and Nikon use SD Cards which are available in up-to 32 GB capacity. Just for comparison, a 4 GB Sony Memory Stick card costs Rs. 850 while a 4 GB SD Card only costs Rs. 400!
- The ‘Easy Auto Mode’ was not always smart. More often than not, it failed to detect that we were attempting to shoot images in Macro mode.We had to manually change the Scene mode to Macro. Further, there is a slight lag when you press either the Scene Mode or the Menu button. The menu interface is drawn rapidly but pressing the Direction keys to access parts of menu results in considerable lag. Don’t become impatient and hammer the delicate keys.
- Colors displayed by the LCD during shooting and playback are quite deceptive. The colors are way too vibrant; even with the LCD brightness turned all the way down (option available in Menu). The brick-red bed-cover in my house showed up as cherry-red. Transferring the images to the computer shows the actual colors in the image and thankfully, they are very close to real-life.
- The bundled pouch is padded but not padded enough in the corners for the camera to survive a drop. The pouch is not water-proof either.
- In low light conditions, the flash is automatically activated. This results in very dead-pan images with the typical flash light fall-off. Turning the flash off results in shutter speed going up-to 1/4. The camera has built-in Shake warning and features some vibration reduction, but users are advised to hold their camera steady when shooting images in low light.
- Since the camera is totally automatic, the camera does not provide features like extended shutter speeds to enable funky night-mode shots.
- Attempting to shoot macro images where the background is diverse is very tough. The camera keeps focusing on the background rather than the object in front of the lens. Since the camera does not feature a Manual Focus mode or infinite focus mode, this becomes quite a fight.
- The camera features a proprietary USB port connector on the camera. This is quite a ridiculous tradition being carried on by Nikon; even as every electronics manufacturer across the world is moving towards using standard USB ports for connectivity.
- The camera does not feature a Audio-Video cable to connect the Camera to a TV for display of images.
- It would have been very nice if Nikon provided at-least a few of the following manual control features: ISO Settings, Shutter Speed, Aperture Setting, Manual / Fixed Focus mode.
If you are looking for a camera that is completely automatic and to be used by people who have no understanding of photography terms, this is a good option. The Nikon sensor, build-quality, AA battery convenience, SD Card etc. mean that even children will find this camera a delight to use.