Ease of Use
Last year when we reviewed the Nikon L100, we found that while the camera had potential, there were quite a lot of things to criticise too – so we were naturally curious to find out if its successor, the Nikon Coolpix L110, addressed the issues we had with the older model.
Outwardly, the cameras are very similar, though not identical to each other. The Nikon Coolpix L110 retains the fairly big and comfortable hand-grip of its predecessor, which still houses the four AA batteries needed to power the camera. As with the L100, the batteries share their home with the memory card; and given that there is nothing to keep them in place when the compartment door is open, you had better be careful when changing cards.
The front of the L110 is of course dominated by the large lens, even when it sits retracted into its housing. Upon power-up, the lens extends, provided you have not forgotten to remove the lens cap beforehand. If you have, you will not only need to remove it but also to power the camera off and on again – this is one of the more minor issues we would have liked to see addressed in the new camera. The lens is not terribly fast in terms of its maximum aperture, which is f/3.5 at wide angle and f/5.4 at the telephoto end. The focal range, on the other hand, commands respect, starting at 5mm (equivalent to 28mm) and going all the way to 75mm (equivalent to 420mm).
Thankfully Nikon have included Vibration Reduction (VR) to help prevent camera-shake, an essential feature on a camera like this. As is the case with many other Nikon compacts, VR in the L110 is of the sensor-shift variety rather than the in-lens version used in the manufacturer’s SLR system. In addition to “pure” mechanical vibration reduction, you may choose a “hybrid” form of image stabilisation, in which case sensor-shift VR is complemented by a solution that involves taking two shots in succession, which are then combined in-camera for greater effect. Naturally this takes more time, but can yield better results in certain circumstances.
There are relatively few external controls on the Nikon Coolpix L110. The top plate features a power button and the shutter release, surrounded by the zoom lever – and that’s it. The flash has to be raised manually, using your fingertips – there’s no button for this, and it is one of the few things the camera will not do for you automatically, either. Just behind the flash we find one of the few novelties versus the L100 – a pair of microphones designed to record stereo sound when shooting movies. By contrast, the older model had a simple mono microphone located on the front plate, next to the lens.
Most of the camera’s rear panel is taken up by the three-inch LCD screen, whose resolution has been increased from 230,000 to 460,000 dots. Another improvement, which you will quickly learn to admire when shooting outdoors in bright light, is the addition of an anti-reflex coating. Make no mistake – this is still a glossy screen, but it is quite usable for framing your shots, even in direct sunlight; an important virtue given that the L110 has no eye-level viewfinder of any sort. As for image review, well, this is something you will still want to do in the shade of your body rather than out in the sun.
The layout of the rear controls is almost the same as on the L100, with one important difference: the old controls have been joined by a new movie record button marked by a red dot. This means you no longer need to select a dedicated movie shooting mode from the menu, but can start filming whenever you want. Unfortunately, it still takes the Nikon L110 a couple of seconds to actually begin recording a video clip after you’ve pushed the movie record button.
One thing that sets the Nikon Coolpix L110 apart from the competition, especially at this price point, is that you can use the optical zoom while filming. Zooming is slower than in stills mode, but that’s actually a good thing – most videographers like to zoom slowly. A side benefit of this is that the sound of the power zoom is not really picked up by the microphone. Note however that the image is likely to go out of focus when you zoom in or out, and the L110’s AF system adjusts itself a lot more slowly than that of the P100, for instance.
Top Pop-up Flash
The other rear-panel controls are the same as the ones found on the L100, including a Shooting Mode and a Playback button, a standard four-way navigation pad, plus the indispensable Menu and Erase buttons. The navigation buttons give quick access to four oft-used functions, which thankfully include exposure compensation. The other three are the macro, self-timer and flash modes, although as noted earlier, you have to manually raise the flash in order to be able to use the latter. A centred OK button is used to confirm changes to settings. One novelty versus the L100 is that you can now go from Playback to Record mode simply by lightly tapping the shutter release; you are no longer required to use the Shooting Mode button for that (although you can if you want to). From a usage point of view, this is one of the greatest improvements over the previous model. On a less positive note, it takes several seconds until you can actually start taking pictures after switching from Playback to Record mode.
Another big change is that you can now set the desired ISO speed yourself. The inability to do so was our biggest issue with the L100; it’s good to see Nikon has addressed this problem. You do have to enter the menu to access the sensitivity settings – there’s no dedicated button for that – and you have to be in Auto mode to have that menu option, but it’s great to see this feature included. Note however that you still can’t control the other exposure variables, i.e. aperture and shutter speed. This is reserved for the more expensive P100 model.
In addition to the Auto and Easy Auto shooting modes – the latter of which makes use of the scene auto selector feature to figure out what the best settings are in any given shooting situation – the Nikon Coolpix L110 offers up 13 user selectable scene modes, including Portrait, Landscape, Night portrait, Party/indoor, Beach/snow, Sunset, Dusk/dawn, Night landscape, Close-up, Food, Museum, Copy and Backlight. In these modes, you typically get access to the flash and self-timer modes as well as exposure compensation, and with some, the macro mode as well.
The camera has a panorama assist feature too, which is also found among the scene modes. It works like this: you take the first picture after applying flash mode, self-timer, macro and exposure compensation settings as required, 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. The camera won’t auto-stitch them for you though.
One of the more interesting features of the Nikon Coolpix L100 is the Sport Continuous shooting mode. The highest selectable resolution is restricted to three megapixels, but you can shoot at a speed of up to 11 frames per second for up to 30 frames in a row. This can be helpful with capturing fast motion, although I have found that focus tracking does not work in this mode, meaning your subject may go out of focus if its distance to the camera changes while it moves.
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment
A number of other continuous shooting options are available in Auto mode. At full resolution, the camera can take up to 4 frames at a rate of about 1fps. In addition to that, the L110 also features Nikon’s Best Shot Selector (BSS) and Multi-shot 16 modes. The former automatically chooses the sharpest of up to 10 photos taken in succession with the shutter release held down, while the latter involves taking 16 shots at approximately 7.4fps and arranging them into a single 5-megapixel image.
Like the L100, the L110 has a Smile mode in which the camera hunts for smiling faces and fires off a shot whenever it detects one, without user intervention. After the photo is taken, both face and smile detection resume, so that the camera can take more shots of smiling people. Do note though that if the flash is raised, you cannot take another shot until it is fully recharged.
The Nikon Coolpix L110 provides a rather limited scope of editing functions in Playback mode. These include D-lighting and resizing. D-lighting lifts the shadows in a picture of a contrasty scene without affecting the highlights – head to the Image Quality section for a demonstration. On the L110, it is strictly a post-capture thing – this camera does not offer the Active D-lighting function of Nikon’s DSLRs. A nice touch about the Playback button is that it can be used as a secondary Power button when all you want to do is review what you have taken so far.
Shooting the Nikon Coolpix L110 was a much more rewarding – and much less frustrating – experience than using the L100. We’ve already mentioned a few reasons for this – you can now control the ISO speed if you want to, toggling between Record and Playback modes has become more intuitive, the LCD screen is nicer and easier to see in direct sunlight -, and we can add that low-light focusing appears to have been improved too. While the L100 also had a focus assist lamp, we found that it would often fail to lock focus in moderately low light. The L110, while not perfect, appears to be much better in this regard. Finally, the jump from VGA video with mono sound to 720p with stereo audio is not to be underestimated, either.
Having said that, we still see scope for improvement. “Having exposure compensation at your disposal is a good thing, but without a live histogram it is not as useful as it could be,” we wrote in our L100 review, and this is something we can only repeat here. A post-capture histogram would come in handy too. And, while it’s nice to be finally able to control the ISO speed, it wouldn’t hurt if you didn’t have to dive into the menu to do that. Overall, though, the Coolpix L110 represents a step forward from last year’s L100, and Nikon definitely deserves kudos for listening to user feedback.
This concludes our evaluation of the ergonomics, handling and feature set of the Nikon Coolpix L110. Let us now move on to the image quality assessment.
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 4.5Mb.
The Nikon Coolpix L110 produces images of acceptable to good quality for a small-sensor superzoom camera. We surely have seen better IQ from cameras that cost significantly more, but at the price point it is being marketed at, the L110 does a commendable job. The lens is pretty sharp in the centre, and generally passable along the edges. Images taken at longer focal lengths tend to be less sharp than those captured in the wide to moderate telephoto range. Distortion correction, which used to be a menu option in the L100, is now apparently applied to all images automatically. Chromatic aberrations are noticeable along contrasty edges, but are perfectly acceptable for a 15x zoom. Noise reduction is pretty heavy-handed, with the result being that none of the photos appear truly noisy, but the images lack fine detail, especially at the higher sensitivity settings. Photos taken at ISO 800 in neutral light print OK at 10×15cm / 4×6”, but ISO 1600 is best reserved for on-screen display. The highest sensitivity settings of ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 – which are only available at a resolution of 3 megapixels to begin with – can really only be enjoyed if downsized to 640×480 pixels or less, i.e. Web size.
The Nikon Coolpix L110 has sensitivity settings ranging from ISO 80 to ISO 1600 at full resolution, with ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 being available at a resolution of 3 megapixels only.
ISO 80 (100% Crop)
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
ISO 3200 (100% Crop)
ISO 6400 (100% Crop)
The Nikon Coolpix’s 15x zoom lens provides a focal length of 28-420mm in 35mm terms, as demonstrated below.
Here are two 100% crops – he right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are slightly soft at the default sharpening setting and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can’t change the in-camera sharpening level to suit your tastes.
Original (100% Crop)
Sharpened (100% Crop)
At full resolution, there are two JPEG quality settings available including Normal and Fine, with the latter being marked with a star in the menu. The camera does not save images in a Raw format.
Fine (100% Crop)
Normal (100% Crop)
For a 15x zoom the Nikon Coolpix L110 shows pretty little purple fringing, although you can find examples of it in areas of high contrast.
Example 1 (100% Crop)
Example 2 (100% Crop)
The Nikon L110 allows you to get as close as 1cm to your subject – in this case a Compact Flash card – , with the greatest magnification achieved at the 83mm equivalent focal length.
Vignetting is not a major issue with this lens, irrespective of whether you use the flash or not.
Flash Off – Wide Angle (28mm)
Flash On – Wide Angle (28mm)
Flash Off – Telephoto (420mm)
Flash On – Telephoto (420mm)
And here are a couple of head shots. Flash exposures produced by the L110 did not exhibit the kind of white balance inconsistencies we saw when reviewing the L100, and red-eye wasn’t a problem, either.
Flash On (100% Crop)
Red Eye Reduction
Red Eye Reduction (100% Crop)
The Coolpix L110 is hardly the ideal tool for night photography, as the longest shutter speed is 2 seconds and you cannot set it manually. The shot below was captured at a shutter speed of 1 second at ISO 400.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
These examples are 100% crops from two photos taken at a 35mm equivalent focal length of 414mm and a shutter speed of approximately 1/50th of a second at ISO 80. As you can see the shot with VR on is clearly sharper than the one without, although it is still not exactly crisp.
Off (100% Crop)
On (100% Crop)
While the Nikon Coolpix L110 doesn’t offer the Active D-lighting functionality of the manufacturer’s DSLRs, it does offer D-lighting as a post-capture option. The examples below demonstrate what a difference it can make when shooting a high-contrast scene.
The camera offers a range of colour options including Standard, Vivid, Black-and-White, Sepia and Cyanotype. The images presented here show the differences across these options.
This is a selection of sample images from the Nikon Coolpix L110 camera, which were all taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
Sample Movie & Video
Front of the Camera
Front of the Camera / Pop-up Flash
Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed
Rear of the Camera / Main Menu
Top of the Camera
Bottom of the Camera
Side of the Camera
Side of the Camera
Side of the Camera
Memory Card Slot
The new Nikon Coolpix L110 follows in the footsteps of last year’s L100, and improves on it by addressing several key issues we had with that model. The single biggest improvement is that you can control the ISO speed yourself, an ability that was sorely missing from the L100. Low-light focusing has also been enhanced noticeably, and the L110 does away with most of the small but frustrating operational glitches we bemoaned when reviewing the L100, too. Add to this the enhancements made to the rear screen and the movie mode, and the Nikon Coolpix L110 comes out as a much more commendable camera than its predecessor, while remaining similarly affordable. As far as image quality goes, you obviously shouldn’t expect DSLR-level clarity and smoothness from what is essentially a large-zoom point-and-shoot camera with a tiny sensor. That said, the IQ of the Nikon Coolpix L110 can be described as satisfactory, especially if you don’t plan on making big prints (and let’s be honest, most of the target consumers don’t). The highest ISO speeds are of course only usable for Web display – and even that might be a stretch in some cases – but ISO 800 is perfectly adequate for the kind of small prints most users will be making. More advanced users will, however, find the noise reduction applied to the images way too aggressive, but then again, the L110 is not really targeted at the advanced user in the first place. In summary, the Nikon Coolpix L110 is a highly affordable superzoom camera that provides a more satisfactory user experience than its predecessor, while remaining very easy to use. It won’t win awards for image quality, but the images it turns out are likely to please anyone who makes regular sized prints only.
Ratings (out of 5) Design 4 Features 3 Ease-of-use 4.5 Image quality 4 Value for money 4.5
Reviews of the Nikon Coolpix L110 from around the web.