It appears that the majority of the camera-buying public, myself included, just want a camera that they can point-and-shoot. I have witnessed this on my traveling trips, school events, sporting events, restaurants, and the store camera counters. Ultra-zoom cameras generally lack the smallness in size like the compact pocket size point-and-shoots that generally offer anywhere between 3x to 5x optical zoom with a scant few to 7x. Cameras with long zoom lenses have always been popular with digital camera buffs. For a camera designed primarily for hand-held use, I have found 15x to be about the practical limit.
Recommend this product?
While researching on a camera I could not find any review that would give me all the information that I needed to know especially the recycle time between flash shootings, so I have tried my best to make this review very thorough and to break it up with title headings. Please feel free to scroll through the headings with the information that you do or do not need to know for your decision in buying a camera.
Ultra-zoom or Pocket Size - The Choices
I had been using the Nikon Coolpix 4800 that offers a fully automatic 4 megapixels with a 8.3 optical zoom. My main gripe with the camera is the lag time between pictures when using the flash. I have missed out on so many once-in-a-lifetime shots due to the recycling time averaging 7 seconds with flash. I used this camera a lot for trips, family shots, school events, and eBay items.
The ultra-zoom digital cameras face some challenges of their own with a top problem being camera shake. It is very difficult to hand hold a camera steady above 6x optical zoom without the affliction from camera shake, which results in blurred pictures. You can actually see the image moving out of range as you try to hold the camera steady while using the high powered optical zoom. This results in blurred pictures. Camera professionals would solve this problem with a tripod but the point-and-shooters just want to take the picture and be done with it.
While selecting another camera, my goal was to get one with a quick recycle time while using the flash and move up in my optical zoom power and stay around the $200-$250 price range. I tested many cameras to see if they met my requirements. The Canons had many good features but the recycle time was close to 8 seconds testing inside the store with the flash. I found two Nikon's, the L100 and the S630 that were the same in price depending where you got them and both offered a much quicker flash recycle time testing out at a tad over 2 seconds. The Nikon L100 was a bit larger than my Nikon 4800 due to the stronger optical zoom lens so it would definitely not be pocket-size but it had the 15x optical zoom. The Nikon Coolpix S630 was pocket size but only offered a 7x optical zoom so I would be going down in size on my zoom just for the convenience of placing it in my purse or pocket. Both Nikon's offered the same features, price, and recycle time so the choice was down to zoom or to pocket.
After discussing the choices with my daughter who is a computer web designer and knows how to use manual on cameras and loves to do so, she insisted that I would regret not getting the one with the extra zoom power to take those once in a lifetime shots and claimed the pocket ones were mostly for get together shots or close-in shots. So even though I cannot place the L100 into my purse or pocket I know I can depend on it not failing to deliver on those further away shots that only come around once. I am not use to having one to fit into my purse or pocket anyway and as long as it has a neck strap then that is what I am use to. You will need to figure out which one is better for you and your situation.
What I Got
Since I do love to take quality far-away photos on vacations and catch wandering wildlife at home, I took my daughter's advice and got the Nikon Coolpix L100 which was released earlier this year. The L100 is a fully automatic point-and-shoot 10-megapixel sensor ultra-zoom featuring a 15x optical wide-angle zoom lens providing an equivalent focal range of 28-420mm with four different anti-blur/vibration technologies and Best Shot Selector, which automatically takes up to 10 shots while the shutter is pressed and saves the sharpest image. In place of a viewfinder, the L100 depends on a large 3-inch adjustable brightness LCD screen with a resolution of 230k dots that has a good anti-reflective coating.
Nikon's Solution to Vibration Reduction/Camera Shake (per Nikon)
The Nikon L100 has claimed to solve the problem of camera shake and vibration by incorporating into the camera a technology known as "VR Image Stabilization".
The Nikon L100 offers a 4-Way VR Image Stabilization consisting of an optical image stabilization compensating for the effects of camera shake by moving the image sensor; motion detection automatically detects moving subjects and adjusts the shutter speed and the ISO setting to compensate, high ISO 3200 capability gives you sharper results when shooting in low light or capturing fast-moving subjects. ISO 3200 is available at 3MP or lower resolution. Choices of turning the Vibration Reduction and Motion Detection on or off is offered in the Setup Menu but is not available in all of the scene modes as described further below.
Tour of the Camera
Top: On the top right is a chrome area where the power button, the shutter release surrounded by a rotating zoom control dial ring with the initials T and W resides. On the top left, the flash pops up as well as the Nikon logo.
Back: The 3.0-inch LCD display is the predominant feature of the back of the L100 and it sits towards the left. To its right are the settings control buttons, including a 4-way circular controller with a center select button that's surrounded by the Scene/Mode, Playback, Menu, and Delete buttons. Above all of these buttons is a textured empty space for your thumb with a flash ready indicator light next to it.
Front: Looking at the front there is a textured rubber comfort grip for your hand, the auto-focus assist light is next to this and the rest is lens. The lens is fixed lens that is not interchangeable. It has Nikkor 15x Optical Zoom VR marked on the top of the lens. The lens is marked at the bottom 5.0-75.0mm 1:3.5-5.4.
Bottom: The battery and SD card slot compartment is on the bottom of the L100, hidden by a very secure cover with a sliding locking mechanism. A metal tripod socket sits in the middle of the bottom panel.
Left Side (when facing the camera): A loop holder for the shoulder strap.
Right Side (when facing the camera): The AV-out/USB and DC-in for the optional AC power adapter ports are covered by a marked plastic cover. (Both cables are included.) A loop holder for the shoulder strap is above the ports.
Button Choices and What They Do
Menu: The L100's Menu button gives immediate access to the Shooting and Set-up menus, and you can navigate through them with the 4-way controller and its center select button.
Menu Selections: Choices include image size choices of High 10m (3648), Normal 10m (3648), Normal 5m (2592), Normal 3m (2048) and PC screen (1024); white balance is offered with choices of auto, a custom mode to set white balance based on current conditions, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, and flash. These options are not available in Easy Auto Mode.
Color Options include standard, vivid, black and white, sepia and cyanotype with the monitor settings having a choice of hiding or seeing your photo info, on or off of your image review and the controlling the brightness of your monitor by use of a still image.
Further choices are on or off of distortion control; menu can be chosen in text or icon mode; welcome screen can be none, Coolpix or select your own image; AF Assist can be auto or off; sound settings of button and shutter sound can be on or off; sleep mode can be on or off; auto off choices of 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 30 minutes can be on or off; date and time imprint can be on or off; vibration reduction option can be on or off; motion detection can be auto or off; blink warning can be on or off and video mode can be set for NTSC or PAL.
There are choices of languages setting; formatting card; reset to factory default choice; battery type of alkaline, Ni-MH, or lithium; selection of photos to protect; rotate image selector; copy images selector; and the version that you are using.
Playback Button: Reviewing your images and videos is easy with the playback button on the back of the camera designated as a right point arrow above the 4-way round circular control pad that is used to move through them. You can zoom in on a picture by rotating the T on the zoom control with zoom increasing each time until it reaches to about 10x. To zoom out on a picture, rotate the control to W and when it reaches to about 1x, the image will return to full frame playback mode. When you are in a thumbnail view you can switch to calendar display by rotating the zoom control to W and select images to view based on the day they were taken.
The Playback menu contains D-Lighting (enhances brightness and contrast in dark portions of pictures), Print set (selecting pictures to print with the number of copies for each), Slide show (viewing pictures in an automatic slide show), Delete (delete one, a bunch or all), and Small picture (create a small copy of the current picture).
Zoom and Width Toggle: Use the zoom control to activate optical zoom. Rotate the zoom control toward T to zoom in, increasing the size of the subject. Rotate the zoom control toward W to zoom out, increasing the area visible in the frame. A zoom indicator is displayed on the top of the monitor when the zoom control is rotated.
When using the zoom or width control, you will see at the top of your screen a W to the left and a T to the right with a parallel line about 3/4th between the two. When you are rotating the T in the optical zoom and take it all the way to the line you are at the maximum of optical zoom. If you go past that line and it turns yellow, you begin to go into digital zoom where the subject is magnified up to 4x the magnification of the optical zoom. You will also notice just how unsteady your image becomes and may need to take it back down to using up to the optical zoom power at the line before it turns yellow. You also need to remember that by using digital zoom over optical zoom that digital zoom uses a digital imaging process known as interpolation to magnify images, resulting in slight deterioration of picture quality.
The 14 Shooting Scene Modes
All of these are labeled and have an illustrative icon to represent them in the mode menu.
Easy Auto Mode: The camera automatically selects one of the following 6 scenes: Portrait, Landscape, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Back-light, and Close-up. The macro mode button is not available as well as the flash mode on the selector while the flash mode is determined to the scene mode when the flash is raised and when the flash is lowered, the flash is set to off
Auto Mode: The camera automatically selects one of the 14 scenes. You can set image mode, white balance, continuous shooting, color options and distortion control in the shooting menu. The flash mode can be changed as well as the self-timer, along with the exposure compensation that can be applied
Movie Mode: capable of shooting 25-minute clips in VGA (640x480) resolution at 30fps with mono audio. There is an option to change to 320x240 pixels at either 30 or 15fps. The optical zoom must be set before starting the movie as it cannot be adjusted while shooting. Vibration Reduction does not work during this mode but the electronic stabilization does.
Sport Continuous Mode: restricts the image size to three megapixels but can shoot 30 frames at up to 13fps
High Sensitivity Mode: ISO sensitivity is set high to reduce blurring caused by camera shake or subject movement even when shooting under low lighting or with zoom applied. This allows you to capture the atmosphere of the scene without flash although you may still use your flash. It is recommended to use a tripod to shoot images without a flash under low lighting conditions.
The 14 scene choices are:
Landscape: is used for use with cityscape or outdoor pictures of objects
Night Portrait: is used to achieve a natural balance between the main subject and the background lighting in portraits taken at night but the digital zoom is not available in this mode as well as the motion detection function does not work
Party/Indoor: captures the effects candlelight and other indoor background lighting
Beach/Snow: captures the brightness of subjects as snowfields, beaches, or sunlit expanses of water
Sunset: preserves the deep hues seen in sunsets and sunrises
Dusk/Dawn: preserves the colors seen in the weak natural light before sunrise or after sunset and the AF assist illumination turns off automatically as well as the motion detection
Night Landscape: produces slow shutter speeds for stunning night landscapes and the AF assist illumination turns off automatically
Close-up: captures flowers, insects and other small objects at close range with the camera focusing as close as 1 cm or 0.4 inches
Food: is used when shooting food and the macro mode automatically turns on with the zoom moving to the closest position possible
Museum: is used indoors where flash photography is prohibited such as museums and art galleries and the AF Assist illumination turns off automatically as well as the Motion detection, however the Vibration Reduction functions in this mode as well as the best shot selector
Copy: provides clear pictures of text or drawings on a white board or in print however colored text and drawings may not show up as well
Backlight Compensation: used when the light is coming from behind the subject throwing features or details into shadows so the flash will fire 3 times to fill in the shadows but the motion detection feature does not function in this mode; High ISO mode restricts image size to three megapixels but sets the ISO up to 3200 ISO.
Panorama Assist: used when taking a series of pictures that will later be joined to form a single panorama using the supplied Panorama Maker software
Portrait mode: uses Nikon's Automatic Smart Portrait System (as described below) of in-camera red-eye fix, smile mode, blink warning, face priority auto-focus, and face priority exposure but the digital zoom does not function in this mode.
Nikon's Automatic Smart Portrait System (per Nikon)
Face-Priority AF: Automatically detects a person's face then activates the camera's auto-focus to focus upon the face area, therefore the feature only works if the person is facing the camera. A special digital detection program will scan for facial details and then control auto-focus operation based on the location of the detected face in the scene.
Face-Priority AE: acts in a similar detection and response manner to adjust the brightness of the subject's face.
Smile Mode, Blink Warning: Smile Mode automatically fires the shutter when the selected subject smiles; in this mode, the camera will essentially wait to fire until it detects a smile. Blink Warning displays a warning message when it detects that the subject has blinked as the photo was taken, allowing you to immediately retake the shot-without waiting to check the photo. When it's selected, the camera will detect the face of a portrait subject and automatically take two sequential shots when the subject smiles, then save the image in which the subject's eyes are open.
Memory, ISO Settings, Flash, Camera Size and Batteries
Memory: The L100 has 44MB of internal memory, in case you need to shoot a few pictures when your memory card is not available. The camera takes SD and SDHC memory cards. The Nikon website and user's manual both state that there are only 4 approved memory cards for this model - SanDisk, Toshiba, Panasonic from 512 MB to 16 GB and Lexar from 1 GB to 8 GB. It is recommended to buy a class 6 card for quick writing to card time especially when recycle time is important when using the flash.
ISO: The L100 has nine ISO levels between 64 and 6400, although the two highest levels - 6400 and 3200 - can only be applied at resolutions of 3 megapixels or lower.
Flash: The flip-up flash has five modes, Auto, Auto with red-eye reduction, Off, fill flash (to fill in shadows and back-lit subjects), and slow sync
Dimensions and Weight: Height of 2.3", width of 4.3", and a depth of 3.0" with a weight of 17.5 ounces with lens cover, neck strap and batteries.
Battery Power: Although the Nikon L100 comes with four AA alkaline batteries, during the summer of 2009 Nikon upgraded their firmware to support usage of rechargeable Ni-MH batteries. The latest firmware can be downloaded online if your camera does not already offer the latest version of 1.1 or higher.
With alkaline batteries the approximate number of shots are 350. With Ni-MH batteries the number goes up to 600 shots before recharging is needed.
Out of the box, is the Nikon Coolpix L100 camera, a nice wide neckstrap with leather underlay in the middle where it will hit your neck or sit nicely on your shoulder, the lens cover with a small strap that attaches from the cover to the neckstrap so you don't misplace it , 4 AA alkaline batteries, a 134-page manual that is very well written and understandable, and a CD containing Software Suite, including Nikon Transfer and Panorama Maker. The programs have Windows (XP SP3 and Vista SP1) and Macintosh (Mac OS X 10.3.9, 10.4.11 and 10.5.5) versions. What is not included is a memory card, case or battery charger.
After installing the software on the computer, making sure my firmware was at least 1.1 on the camera and installing the camera strap on the camera as well as the lens cap that is connected to the neck strap with a strap so you don't lose the lens, I was able to start using the camera.
I found that I could immediately use the camera out of the box with the provided batteries and its internal memory while the 4 Ni-MH AA batteries that I had bought for it were charging in my new Sony charger. However, I chose to insert my new SanDisk Extreme III 4GB memory card.
The one thing I was not use to doing between my Nikon Coolpix 4800 camera and this one was having to remove the camera lens and pull up the flash. If you do not remove the lens, you will see a message telling you to turn off the camera and remove the lens before turning it back on. This is so the lens can extend.
Once the lens cap is removed, you turn the camera on and you can raise the flash at anytime and if the camera needs the flash it will remind you to raise the flash. The L100's new Scene "Auto" Selector automatically picks the optimum Scene mode for popular photographic situations, while "Easy Auto" mode makes using the L100 a true point-and-shoot experience. "Easy Auto" according to Nikon 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 or Auto mode. Since this is a fully automatic ultra-zoom point-and-shoot, shutter speed, aperture and ISO are taken care of by the camera in all shooting modes.
I thought I would have a problem with the camera not having a viewfinder, but I have found that the big LCD screen is sharp and bright and works well in the bright sun right on the LCD screen and that is with brightness set at 3 and the highest level is 5. This is one of the areas that I could not find reviews on from people who had the camera.
I first tried it in the "Auto" Mode and the camera takes focused, sharp, professional-looking pictures. I tried it in "Auto" Mode at about 15-20 minutes after sunset before it became too dark outside to see what type of pictures it would give me with low light. I took pictures from the deck of my house of the landscaping, the mountains, the moon coming up and much to my surprise the pictures were bright and appeared that they were taken in daylight and the flash did not go off. I then tried it in "Easy Auto" and decided personally I did not care for "Easy Auto" and could not figure out why someone would want to use "Easy Auto" over "Auto".
I decided to try every usable mode on the camera on one area inside of my home with the same filtered light coming through the window to see which mode took the best picture indoors with low lighting. I raised my flash and I first tried "Easy Auto" which the picture was dark and the flash did not come on.
I then switched it to "Party/Indoor" where I found it to be not too sharp and it showed the brightness at the small filtered window where the sun was coming in.
Next up was the "Night Landscape" which again was dark and the flash did not come on.
"Museum" was next and I already knew the purpose of museum was to raise the ISO level so the flash did not come on. The picture was quite good but not fantastic.
Next up was "Backlight" and so far that appeared to be the best lighting, sharpness and the flash gave 3 quick flashes.
I then tried the "Auto" mode and the flash again gave 3 quick flashes so it appeared to have used the "Backlight" scene mode since the two pictures are identical.
I then tried the recycle time with flash and found I was able to take pictures in less than 2 seconds to the next one. This is far more acceptable to me knowing I will not miss so many good photo opportunities. This is another area where I could not find any reviews on which I feel is so very important to know. I do know when I tried the Canon's I could hold the shutter button down and it would take another image after recycling which took about 8 seconds but with the Nikon, you need to release it and as soon as you see the hourglass stop in the LCD screen, it is ready to take another picture and I have never had to wait more than 2 seconds.
I then tried the "Panorama Assist" and took 4 shots of a complete area and it was quite interesting to see how this works. In "Panorama Assist" mode, you take the first picture and then the camera superimposes a third of this photo on the live image. This helps you compose the next shot with a decent amount of overlap for easy stitching on the computer. You can repeat this step until you have taken enough photos to cover the scene. The camera locks the exposure, white balance and focus at the values set with the first shot. The photos taken for the panorama can be stitched on the computer with the aid of the supplied Panorama Maker software.
One of the interesting features that I tried, is the "Sport Continuous" mode taking a shot of my dog playing. The highest selectable resolution is restricted to three megapixels, but you can shoot at a speed of up to 13 frames per second for up to 30 frames in a row and in just a tad over 2 seconds you have 30 pictures that when played back looks like a quick-play style movie. I can think of many places this will come in handy other than sporting events.
Next up was testing the "Movie Mode". I tried both indoors and outdoors and it took crisp, bright, sharp movies and I was extremely pleased not to see graininess in the movie. It says it will take 25 minutes worth of movie regardless of how much room you have left over on your memory card so that would be a draw back if you were video taping for example, a wedding that ran longer than 25 minutes as it would shut off and you would lose a couple seconds to turn it back on. You can change the option from recording at 640x480 pixels at 30 frames per second to 320x240 pixels at either 30 or 15fps. Vibration Reduction does not work when recording movie clips however the electronic stabilization system appeared very effective. The optical zoom cannot be used while filming, but the lens can be preset to the desired zoom position before you start recording.
While outdoors, I tried the optical zoom feature and I was amazed how much zoom I got going from a 8x from the Nikon 4800 to a 15x on the Nikon L100. I was seeing details of homes acres away from us. When I went up to our mountaintop home, I was able to finally take a zoom pic and see things I never could have seen before unless I used a higher powered binoculars. I also noticed just how unsteady my hands were when I tried to keep a smaller image in focus on a 15x optical zoom power so I can see having one larger than the 15x would not benefit me since I am not one to use a tripod for my pictures but I am getting better holding the camera steady as I practice. Going past optical zoom into digital zoom is okay if you must have a picture that you cannot get in optical zoom but the image quality goes down, so I would only use that if it was an absolute must and then I would take one with the 15x optical and one with full optical and digital applied so you can later decide. I am having great fun experimenting with the zoom and I'm glad I went with the higher zoom and did not settle for a pocket camera with a small zoom.
Next was the "Portrait" mode with the face detection of "Smile" and "Blink" modes. I found when the camera recognizes a face, the camera will focus on that person's face and if the camera detects a smiling face of the person, the smile indicator at the bottom of the LCD screen will increase to a full yellow or decrease depending on the recognition of the smile. "Did someone blink?" You will get this screen after the picture is taken in the portrait mode if someone's eyes may have been closed during the shot. The person with their eyes closed will be framed by a yellow border in the "Did someone blink?" screen.
"Smile" mode, not to be confused with the face detection of smile in the portrait mode, is where you set it to "Smile" mode while in the portrait mode and the shutter automatically keeps releasing and taking pics until your subject stops smiling or you have moved the camera away.
Of course I had to see how well "Macro Mode" compared with my Coolpix 4800. The Nikon Coolpix L100 allows you to get as close as 1cm to your subject. I chose to take a picture of my wedding ring to compare the results with that of the Nikon 4800 to see how well it picks up the clarity of the diamonds and shape. The L100 took much better macro pictures at closer range than the Nikon 4800 and did not have a hard time focusing on it as my 4800 does.
"Best Shot Selector" is fun to experiment with as when it is on and set to continuous, it will take up to 10 pictures while the shutter button is pushed down and the sharpest image in the series is saved. You can watch it take all the pics but only see one picture on your playback. Distortion control must be turned off in order to use this feature.
"Multi-shot 16" is another feature that is fun to experiment with and each time the shutter-release button is pressed down the camera takes 16 shots at a time, then arranges them in a single picture.
After all my experiments and playing around with it, I found that the shooting mode that lets you access the highest number of settings is the "Auto" mode. "Auto" mode lets you enable or disable the VR system; switch the Motion Detector on and off; engage Distortion Control; choose a custom white balance setting or choose from presets, as well as pick a color. You can also control the flash mode, the self-timer, macro mode and exposure compensation. Best Shot Selector, Continuous shooting, Multi-Shot 16 are all also available in "Auto" mode and I found that it chooses just as well as I what mode to engage in to snap a picture. The main reason I would need to switch out of "Auto" mode would be to go into "Sports Continuous", "Movie" or "Panorama Assist" mode.
It is also neat to be able to do simple editing of the pictures in the camera instead of having to load them onto a computer or at the store's photo kiosk. You can edit the D-Lighting, Crop and create a small picture and it stores the originals in case you want to start over or use a photo editing program on the computer. I generally have only needed to adjust the lighting or crop a picture in editing software anyway so its great to have it available on the camera.
As far as comfort and holding of the L100 I found it to be very comfortable to hold, as it has a sizable rubber coating on the grip that provides an excellent means of placement for your fingers in the front of the camera and offers a textured thumb grip on the back. The L100 gives the look of a professional camera in a solid matte black with a few chrome-look pieces on the top and around the lens for visual enhancement.
This camera is right in the target range of the price for a inexpensive point-and-shoot with an ultra-zoom that uses the latest technology and is extremely user friendly. It is the perfect camera for someone who wants something more than a pocket camera that offers a small zoom but does not want to go the SLR route spending more money and time figuring the camera out. The "Auto" mode is excellent and I think most point-and-shoot people will be very happy with the images they will produce. The people that would prefer the pocket size are those that do not take much photos while on vacation, such as my son and my son-in-law or in every day life but to those who want to make sure that once in a lifetime memory is captured, be sure and get the ultra-zoom. Once you see how well the zoom works and you see things that you could not with your naked eye you will then know it was worth the extra size to get the ultra-zoom over the pocket size point-and-shoot.
The transfer program that comes with this camera has a lot more choices of editing than what came with my Coolpix 4800. In fact, my Coolpix 4800 software was so limited that I always used Google's Picasa instead so I am very pleased to see that the Nikon Software Suite is more like Picasa editing choices and I can use either when I transfer my pictures from the camera onto the computer.
Learning all the modes and features this camera offers does take some time and does not happen overnight so give yourself some time and know that using the "Auto" feature will get you through anything while you learn the other features. Once you try them and play with them you will see how much this camera has to offer and be truly glad you bought it.
However, if after reading this and you still prefer the pocket size, your best bet would be the Nikon S630 that has all the features this one offers except the zoom power. May you make the best choice for yourself and happy shooting!
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This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Easy Enough for Anyone to Use