DPInterface Nikon Coolpix L3 Review
Brad Soo - April 30th, 2006

It's Nikon's new entry-level camera... the Coolpix L3. The Coolpix L3 has 5 megapixels, 3x optical zoom and 2 inch LCD. There's lots of competition in this arena of entry-level cameras so how will the Coolpix L3 perform and do against them?

Nikon L-series (2006) comparison

This is going to be confusing - the Coolpix L2 is supposedly higher-end (and more expensive) than the L4 but the L4 has a better lens, higher resolution LCD and 4 cm macro mode. So there appears to be no flagship here:

 

Nikon
Coolpix L2

Nikon
Coolpix L3

Nikon
Coolpix L4

Original retail/
current price*

$249/$193

$199/$154

$149/$119

Resolution

6.0 megapixels

5.1 megapixels

4.0 megapixels

CCD sensor size

1/2.5 inch

1/2.5 inch

1/2.5 inch

Lens focal length

3X (38-116 mm)

3X (38-116 mm)

3X (38-114 mm)

Lens aperture

f3.2 - f5.3

f3.2 - f5.3

f2.8 - f4.9

LCD size

2.0 inch
(86k pixels)

2.0 inch
(86k pixels)

2.0 inch
(115k pixels)

Macro mode

10 cm

10 cm

4 cm

Continuous shooting

Yes (1.7 FPS)

Yes (1.7 FPS)

No

Movie mode

VGA/30 FPS

VGA/30 FPS

VGA/30 FPS

Sound recording

Yes

Yes

No

Internal memory

32 MB

32 MB

16 MB

Battery life

320 shots

330 shots

450 shots

Dimensions (mm)

91.0 x 60.5 x 26.0

91.0 x 60.5 x 26.0

86.5 x 60.5 x 34.5

Weight (g)

120 g

120 g

115 g

Body color(s)

Gray

Blue, silver, white

Silver

*As of April 30th, 2006

Size and Weight

The Coolpix L3 is a fairly compact camera. Take a look:

(195.0)  103.0 x 51.8 x 40.2 mm (160 g) - Canon PowerShot A430
(197.6)  90.4 x 64.0 x 43.2 mm (180 g) - Canon PowerShot A530/A540
(177.2)  90.0 x 60.0 x 27.2 mm (137 g) - Casio Exilim Z110/Z120
(180.5)  93.0 x 60.0 x 27.5 mm (126 g) - Fujifilm FinePix A400/A500
(188.3)  95.0 x 62.0 x 31.3 mm (140 g) - HP Photosmart M425/M525
(192.0)  91.0 x 66.0 x 35.0 mm (150 g) - Kodak EasyShare C533
(177.5)  91.0 x 60.5 x 26.0 mm (120 g) - Nikon Coolpix L3
(185.0)  96.0 x 63.0 x 26.0 mm (130 g) - Olympus FE130/FE140
(194.9)  110.5 x 53.5 x 30.9 mm (138 g) - Panasonic Lumix LS2
(179.0)  87.0 x 60.0 x 32.0 mm (130 g) - Pentax Optio E10
(169.0)  89.0 x 57.0 x 23.0 mm (127 g) - Sony Cyber-shot W30/W50
(188.7)  99.9 x 52.0 x 36.8 mm (133 g) - Sony Cyber-shot S600

As usual, I've included the "DPI measurement unit" (As opposed to volume) on the left for a more accurate impression of a camera's size.

The Nikon Coolpix L3 is the lightest and one of the smallest. There's a little grip on the side of the camera for easy holding.

Open up the Box

In the Coolpix L3's box, you'll find these:

  • 2 AA batteries (Non-rechargeable)
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM
  • User's manual

Storage and Power

The Nikon Coolpix L3 has just 32 MB of internal memory. So at least a 256 MB SD card will do you good. A high-speed card does not appear to make any difference in performance.

360 shots - Canon PowerShot A430
360 shots - Canon PowerShot A530/A540
180 shots - Casio Exilim Z110/Z120
350 shots - Fujifilm FinePix A400/A500
N/A - HP Photosmart M425/M525
300 shots - Kodak EasyShare C533
330 shots - Nikon Coolpix L3
N/A - Olympus FE130/FE140
390 shots - Panasonic Lumix LS2
300 shots - Pentax Optio E10
400 shots - Sony Cyber-shot W30/W50
460 shots - Sony Cyber-shot S600

The Nikon Coolpix L3 does okay in terms of battery life; about 330 shots (CIPA Standard) per charge of rechargeable AA batteries. Sadly, the camera doesn't include any so get a set of 4 AA NiMH rechargeables and a fast 15 minute charger. I got about 160 shots out of the bundled batteries which is not bad.

 

Extras

The Nikon Coolpix L3 has only one accessory, as it's becoming a trend nowadays - an AC adapter.

Camera Tour

The Nikon Coolpix L3 is available in 3 colors; blue, silver and white.

The Nikon Coolpix L3 has a 3x optical zoom with fairly slow lens specifications. The lens is equivalent to 38 - 116 mm and f3.2 - f5.3. The lens has a built-in barrier so no lens caps!

Above the lens, there's the AF-assist beam/self-timer lamp and flash. The fairly weak flash has a range of 30 cm to 3 m at wide-angle and 40 cm to 1.8 m at telephoto. Between the flash and the row of stickers is a microphone. Lastly, the words "Nikon Coolpix L3" are on the raised grip on the left.

The Nikon Coolpix L3 has a rather small 2 inch LCD which is average in today's standards. The LCD has only 86,000 pixels and is not sharp. The LCD is just okay in low-light and outdoors.

The zoom controller is located on the top right of the Coolpix L3. Pressing the telephoto button on that controller will also bring up the in-camera help. The MENU, playback and delete photo buttons which surround the 5-way controller are all are pretty self explanatory. Now, I wanna talk about the 5-way controller and its functions:

  • Up - Flash mode (Auto, auto with red-eye reduction, on, off, slow sync)
  • Down - Macro (On/off)
  • Left - Self-timer (On/off)
  • OK - D-Lighting/Auto transfer

At the very bottom is the mode switch with these 3 modes: Shooting, scene and movie. And below the LCD is a flash status indicator.

Up on the Coolpix L3 is a speaker (on the left), a power button with an LED indicator (in the middle) and shutter button. The protruding grip on the shutter button side makes one hand shooting a little steadier. At the bottom is a tripod mount and battery/SD card slot.

Shooting

The Nikon Coolpix L3 has several image size options; including 5 MP High, 5 MP Normal, 3 MP, XGA and VGA.

The Nikon Coolpix L3 is just an entry-level camera so there's nothing much else to change:

  • 5 white balance presets (with custom option)
  • ISO (Auto) - no selections?!
  • Exposure compensation (2 in 1/3 increments)
  • Best Shot Selector (Takes up to 10 shots and chooses the best shot)
  • Color options (Standard, vivid, monochrome, sepia)

The Nikon Coolpix L3 has a 10 cm macro mode though other cameras (like the Canon PowerShot A430) can go as close as 1 cm.

The Nikon Coolpix L3 has the standard "Nikon" features, namely D-Lighting (Digital flash; brightens the image digitally), Face Priority AF (Detects and auto focuses on people faces) and In-Camera Red-eye Fix (Attempts to detect red-eye and removes any).

There's also a bunch of scene modes that Nikon thoughtfully included on this humble point-and-shoot camera: Portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close up, museum, fireworks, copy, backlight and panorama. The camera also has built-in blur detection and warns you if a photo taken was blurry - if you find the warnings irritating (like I do), then you can turn it off.

Recording

The Nikon Coolpix L3 can take 640 x 480 (VGA) movies at 30 FPS with sound till the memory card is filled up. Exposure is constantly adjusted and you can select between single or continuous autofocus; the latter may produce motor sounds though. Zoom cannot be operated and there is no image stabilization of any sort.

While audio quality was good, video quality was the total opposite - what is it with Nikon's movie mode nowadays?!

Performance

The Nikon Coolpix L3 starts up in 3 seconds, takes less than 1.4 seconds to focus and takes its first shot from startup in a total of 3.8 seconds. The camera then took 1 shot every 2 seconds. When it came to continuous shooting, the Coolpix L3 took 12 shots at 1.8 FPS.

Image Quality

Since the Nikon Coolpix L3 has no ISO options, the photos are all taken with auto ISO


ISO 50 (f3.9, 1/5 sec)


ISO 50 (f3.6, 1/8 sec)

Noise seems to be a slight issue at low ISOs and there's a little chromatic aberration (color fringing) in the second photo. I didn't find barrel or pincushion distortion to be a problem but redeye is. The image quality of the Nikon Coolpix L3 is average.

Photo gallery

Check out the Nikon Coolpix L3 gallery.

Playback

The playback mode on the Nikon Coolpix L3 is quite simple: Print set/marking, sound memo slideshow, delete a bunch of photos, protect image, transfer marking, small pic (makes a 640 x 480, 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 copy of a photo) and copy (between the SD and internal memory).

 

Conclusion

Another new camera entering the densely crowded entry-level camera category is the Nikon Coolpix L3. Average battery life, Nikon features, lots of scene modes, in-camera help and it's super cheap at about $150. Sadly, the Coolpix L3 has some "super cheap" features as well, such as a slow lens, small and low-resolution LCD, miles-away 10 cm macro mode, no manual ISO selection and slow performance. Even with the excellent movie mode, the quality of the video is just terrible! Images have too high noise levels and quality is just average.

If I were considering an entry-level camera, I'd pass on this one and go for something like the Canon PowerShot A430, Panasonic Lumix LS2 or Sony Cyber-shot S600. They all have manual ISO selection, better macro mode, faster, better image quality, have slightly better feature sets, longer lasting power and cost about the same.

What's hot:

  • Very cheap
  • Average battery life
  • Custom white balance and "standard" Nikon features
  • Lots of scene modes
  • In-camera help (useful for beginners)
  • Unlimited VGA 30 FPS movie mode

What's not:

  • Slow lens
  • Small, low-resolution LCD
  • Not-even-close 10 cm macro mode
  • No manual ISO selection
  • Performance lagging behind competition; could be faster and better
  • Average image quality with high noise levels
  • Mediocre movie quality

Recommended Accessories

  • A set of 4 NiMH rechargeable AA batteries
  • 256 MB SD card

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