Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why Not To Buy The Nikon Coolpix L16!

The Good: Easy to use
The Bad: Low quality images, Dismal battery drain, Poor zoom, Unimpressive options.
The Basics: A very disappointing digital camera, the Nikon L16 has far too many issues to be worth the time of a professional or anyone who wants their pictures to appear professional.

I often find myself considering how a good series of objective tests can truly make for a valuable enough evaluation. After all, if a product is lousy to begin with, who cares how durable it is over the years?

As my wife searches for a new camera due to the untimely demise of the one I worked for earlier this year, I have been accompanying her hither and yon to find one that works to meet her needs and that we can afford. We still have our Fuji FinePix camera (reviewed here!), but my wife is a serious photographer and that is not a serious camera. If there is anything that being married to a professional photographer has taught me it is that there are a lot of crap cameras in the world right now. The current trend in photography is more style over substance and the triumph of convenience over picture quality. In other words, if it looks cool, works like either a cameraphone or one of the more advanced MP3 players (like the iPod Touch), then it is “in.” These, however, tend to produce poorer images in-camera and when uploaded from the camera. But then, cameras like the Nikon L16 Digital Camera are not intended for professionals. Ironically, after my partner moved on from this one to look at others, I stuck with it longer and was overjoyed to see a member of the camera’s target demographic – 16 – 24 year-old female – turn up her nose at this.

First, the basics: the Nikon L16 is point-and-shoot digital camera, intended for tourists, family photographers or other non-professional photographers. Even for those users, though, it is fairly inadequate, as my hour of testing the camera proved to me. The L16 is a fairly discrete digital camera which as it is 3 3/4" wide, 2 1/2" tall and 1 1/8" thick! This is also very light (under one pound, even with the batteries in) and the back panel of the camera is an LCD screen. Having now had months of experience with my iPod Touch (reviewed here!), I am getting used to touchscreens and for the first time ever, I found it odd to be working on a little screen that was not a touchscreen. Outside its thickness, this does seem very much like a cameraphone and it is clear that Nikon is trying to go for that demographic with the L16.

The Nikon Coolpix L16 is silver, which is pretty neutral for a color shell and I did not see any other colors for this particular camera. This was the only way I found that Nikon did not seem to be going after the younger non-professional crowd with this Coolpix. Like every other Nikon I have had experience with (so far), the Coolpix L16 comes with everything needed to make the camera work – except the batteries - and get ones pictures off the camera. PC users will find the software to upload and manipulate the images one takes on this camera easy-to-use and included in a cd-rom that comes with the camera. The camera also comes with a USB cable to connect the camera to one's computer (there is a USB port on the camera's right side, when holding the camera and looking at the back of it) and a strap that loops onto a loop that comes off the camera right below the USB port.

The lack of batteries leads me to my first serious beef with the Nikon Coolpix L16 digital camera. This is a huge battery hog. When my partner and I went into test this camera, we turned it on and two pictures later, the power failed. The shop owner gladly broke out some fresh batteries so we could continue testing with it. While the “specs” claim that one gets 180 photographs out of a pair of batteries, I made it ninety-three pictures before the “low battery” light came on and only another twenty before the second pair of batteries failed. Rather unfortunately, the time element here is what concerns me even more. The ninety-three pictures took about an hour to take. Those last twenty took an additional twenty minutes. As the batteries get drained, this camera takes a ridiculous amount of time to reload. As a result, those looking to capture the moment with candid’s will often find this lags far too much to be of any real use.

Using the camera is fairly easy. There is an on/off button atop the camera that boots up the camera within twenty seconds of being depressed (though when the battery is low, it can take almost a minute). Rather annoyingly, the on/off button is right next to the shutter control (the button one hits to actually take the photograph) and they feel similar, especially when one is moving quickly. Several times during my tests, I turned the camera off as opposed to shooting a picture. The L16 was more than a little irksome in that way, though one suspects with more time, this is the sort of thing one adjusts to.

When the camera is on, the back panel lights up as a viewscreen and the pictures may be taken by simply looking at the back of the camera and pressing the button on the top of the camera. Physically pressing the button on top is the only way to take pictures with the Coolpix L16. Beyond the ease-of operations, it was all detractions for me with the Coolpix L16. The pictures I took with the L16 were homogenously blurry (and I’ve taken pictures for years, so it’s not the fundamentals of breathing that was screwing me up this time). Instead, the L16 seemed to be very mobile in my hand, almost too light. As I touched the control on the top of the camera, the camera tended to shake. I figured this might be user error, until I used a tripod for stability and discovered that the images still came out as blurry. In some of the pictures, this was just minor blur around the edges, but all of the pictures were unable to create a perfectly vivid image when we uploaded them to the store’s computer for that test.

In addition to blurry, the Nikon Coolpix L16 took a drastic step down in quality for me with the basic functions of the autofocus and the light adjustment. Other Coolpix models I have tried, most notably the S60, had an incredible speed to the focus and light adjustment, so moving around and moving from inside lighting conditions to outdoor sun brightness were exceptionally easy. The Coolpix L16, on the other hand, was just the opposite. The autofocus seemed determined not to stop looking for a better quality image, which was irksome. On almost every quick point and shoot test I performed, I watched the image become clear and focused, then move past the place it was focused before working its way back to the ideal position. At the beginning, I thought it was quirky and a little annoying to have a 2 – 3 second autofocus lag. Then, it just became troublesome as the batteries wore down.

As for the light adjustment, there was an even greater lag time and there were some conditions the L16 did not adjust sufficiently. The camera automatically adjusts to different lighting scenarios, most notably the change between indoor (artificial fluorescent) and outdoor (sun) light. The light adjustment tries to prevent washout and keep colors looking as close to how they do in reality. After several seconds, the L16 could get the colors in the store OR outdoors correct, but not both. So, for example, one of my most telling test pictures had a photograph into the snow-filled parking lot. The snow outside looks right and real, but the walls inside (bright white, lit be fluorescents), were a light brown (sepia, tan) color. Even some of the images I took either in the store or outside that looked fine on the camera did not look as good on the computer. Frequently, the colors in the final picture seldom matched the colors on the screen before the picture was taken or reality. This was an especially problematic camera for getting whites to render well. In almost all conditions, especially indoors with fluorescent lighting, the camera shifted whites to a more yellow color, so everything looked as if it were nicotine stained. This is a terrible deficiency and not one that was solved by changing the lighting conditions (i.e. flash type) on the camera. As a result, users not especially fluent in post-shooting manipulations will find the L16 unbearable.

Beyond that, the controls on the Nikon Coolpix L16 are generally intuitive, at least for those used to manipulating physical buttons to get results. On the camera, one may zoom in - the zoom is only four times closer, so this is not like a telephoto lens and there is no way to attach a better lens to this camera - and manually adjust the type of flash used. This includes such things as red eye adjustment, a manual use of flash (overriding the camera's sense of proper lighting) or flash off for situations where one does not wish to draw attention to themselves and their photography. All of these controls are easily accessed using menus that pop up when one hits the “Menu” button on the camera’s back (to the right of the viewscreen) with one's finger.

Like some of the other Nikon Coolpix products, other controls are less intuitive from the menu, most notably the delete function. When deleting photographs from the Coolpix L16, I did not find a way to wipe the entire memory at once. Instead, I had to go through image by image and delete them. This is time consuming and annoying and while there might be a way to mass execute one's unwanted pictures, it was not intuitive and by the time I wanted to wipe a whole card, I knew I was not going to be keeping this camera. As a result, it seemed foolish for me to check the manual. The point here is that the ease of operation is not always easy.

As well, the more I have used digital cameras, the more I have been concerned by camera memory and the Coolpix L16 only has 24 MB worth of image capacity, so upgrading the card immediately is pretty much a necessity. Even at the lowest resolution setting, the L16 held less than two hundred images and the quality was terrible. At the highest resolution, the card only holds about a dozen pictures and even those were pretty consistently blurry, so it’s a crapshoot either way.

As for the durability, this seems generally durable, but my testing was not rigorous enough to speak fairly on that. The camera does have a one-year warranty, but I suspect my usage of the camera would have been so low that it would have expired before I ever cashed in on said warranty. The programmability was also not intuitive. There is a way to program the camera to take photographs on a timer, but the options on the viewscreen were not intuitive. When I went through the process, I was able to get the autotimer to run and take a (blurry) picture, but it was a series of steps that did not have options as quick as the flash adjustment to make.

My excessively long preamble at the beginning of this review, as well as this conclusion, are meant to serve a single purpose: as I gain more and more experience with digital cameras, I’ve come to understand what flies and what doesn’t much better than I did when I wrote prior reviews. So, while my Finepix A200 was average at the time, it is decidedly below average now. For serious photographers and those who want a step up from their cameraphones, my ultimate judgment on the L16 is that it can be avoided. There are vastly better products on the market and the photographer that wants decent digital pictures will likely find better even in the same price range.

For other electronics, please check out my reviews of:
iBud Earphones
Playstation 3
TNT! Kyocera Cell Phone


For other electronics reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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