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Nikon COOLPIX L20 Ken McMahon, December 2009

Nikon COOLPIX L20 verdict

The Nikon COOLPIX is a 10 Megapixel budget compact with a 4x optical zoom lens and a 3in screen. It has a built-in flash and is powered by 2 AA batteries.

The L20 is a simple camera aimed at people who want to take pictures, but aren't interested in the mechanics of the process.

It's pretty much point and shoot operation only, with access to a few camera settings like image size, white balance, continuous shooting and a selection of scene modes.

The L20 can shoot 640 x 480 resolution movies at 30 frames per second and smaller 320 x 280 movies at one of two frame rates.

It's a good-looking camera, especially for the money, but how does it compare against a budget option from arch-rival Canon?

Compared to Canon PowerShot A1100 IS


In our image quality test the Nikon COOLPIX L20 outshone the Canon PowerShot A1100 IS which, considering it's cheaper, is something of an achievement. The other advantage it has over the more expensive camera is that it's a lot simpler to use.

But that simplicity can't hide the fact the the COOLPIX L20 actually has a lot less to offer than the PowerShot A1100 IS. Let's start with the features. The Canon PowerShot A1100 IS has a slightly broader zoom range than the Nikon COOLPIX L20, but there's really very little in it. The COOLPIX L20 has a bigger LCD panel, but the PowerShot A1100 IS counters with an optical viewfinder. Both cameras have a built-in flash and offer similar movie shooting capabilities.

The PowerShot A1100 IS packs an extra two Megapixels of image resolution over the Nikon COOLPIX L20 - that's not be ignored if you like to be able to print big photos and to have some flexibility when it comes to cropping. And crucially, the PowerShot A1100 IS has excellent optical image stabilisation providing up to three additional stops of hand held exposure, meaning you'll get shots in low light conditions that would be beyond hope with the COOLPIX L20.

Don't get taken in by the COOLPIX L20's motion detection, which is just another way of saying the camera will, light permitting, choose an exposure setting that will avoid camera shake. Surely that's the least you'd expect from any automatic compact?

But it's not just these features that set these two cameras apart. The Canon PowerShot A1100 IS provides many of the same functions as more expensive Canon compacts. You can manually set the ISO, choose between three different metering modes, change the way the autofocus works, select red-eye reduction and correction options, and choose what information you want to display on the LCD panel. It's a great choice for anyone on a limited budget who still wants a reasonable degree of control. See our Canon PowerShot A1100 IS review for more details.


Nikon COOLPIX L20 verdict

The Nikon COOLPIX L20 is a fabulous-looking and well-designed compact that is the obvious choice for people who just want to take pictures with as little fuss as possible. It really leaves you very little to do other than point it in the right direction and press the button.

The COOLPIX L20 has the basics covered, with a 10 Megapixel sensor, 3.6x optical zoom, 3 inch screen, face detection and scene recognition, but it lacks some features, like true image stabilisation and multi-point Auto focus, that we're beginning to take for granted, even on budget compacts.

We're all for simplicity, but we think that adding these features that would make the camera better without complicating it. Simply providing more info on the screen when shooting for example, would also make a real improvement. But the bottom line is the COOLPIX L20 delivers on its goal of taking good-looking photos with the absolute minimum of fuss - and crucially at a price that's very affordable for a big-brand camera. If this is the kind of money you wany to spend on a camera, and you're happiest shooting in fully automatic, then the COOLPIX L20 is a great choice. It also represents a significant and classy step-up from the cheap models aimed at kids if you want to treat the little ones in your life to something a bit more special.

Good points
Inexpensive, attractive and well-made.
Very simple to use.
Fast flash with long range.
AA batteries.

Bad points
No image stabilisation.
Slow to start up.
Limited shooting information on screen.
No manual ISO setting.


(relative to 2009 compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:


17 / 20
17 / 20
16 / 20
14 / 20
16 / 20


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