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Nikon COOLPIX L24 Ken McMahon, May 2011
 
 

Nikon COOLPIX L24 review

The Nikon COOLPIX L24 is a budget compact with a 14 Megapixel sensor, 3.6x optical zoom and a 3 inch LCD screen. The COOLPIX L24 raises the bar for compact cameras with a sensor providing much greater resolution than the 10 or 12 Megapixels we've come to expect from budget models. The screen is also bigger than that provided on most budget compacts.

The COOLPIX L24 can shoot movies with a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 pixels and, although it lacks optical image stabilisation, has Nikon's Motion Detection and Vibration Reduction systems, both designed to mitigate the effects of camera and subject movement in low light conditions. The COOLPIX L24 is very much a point-and-shoot model. It lacks any form of advanced control over exposure and focussing and you can't manually set the ISO in Auto mode.

The COOLPIX L24 will doubtless replace the earlier COOLPIX L22 in the Nikon product line-up, though the L22 is still currently available. On the face of it, the only significant difference between these models is the sensor resolution so if you're happy with 12 Megapixels you might be able to make a saving by going for the older model while it's still available.

Like the latest budget A-series models from Canon, the PowerShot A800 and A1200, the COOLPIX L24 relies on a pair of AA batteries for power. They're similar in size and looks, but beyond the superficialities the Nikon and Canon budget compacts provide a totally different picture-taking experience. Read our full review to find out which one is the best fit for you.


 

Nikon COOLPIX L24 design and build quality

 

The COOLPIX L24 looks and feels exactly like the earlier L22. It has the same dimensions, weighs the same and shares the same body styling and control layout, so it's nothing if not familiar. It also bears a striking resemblance to the PowerShot A1200 with similar dimensions and a bulge on the right side to provide a grip and space for the AA batteries, but it lacks the A1200's optical viewfinder.

On the earlier model we complained that the rear of the camera didn't live up to the sophisticated styling of the front, but the matt black COOLPIX L24 we reviewed has a much more integrated look. On the top panel the on/off button and shutter release with zoom collar keep the control layout simple and functional.

 
 
 
 

On the rear, as on the PowerShot A800, there's a mode button which activates a mode menu on the screen. This is a slightly more involved way of doing things than the PowerShot A1200's mode dial, but it keeps the number of physical controls to a minimum. It's a fair bet that most COOLPIX L24 snappers won't be changing modes all that often, though in the absence of a dedicated movie shooting button it does mean switching between still and movie recording takes a bit of thinking about and time - during which your moment could easily slip by.

Alongside the mode button is a playback button and below those a four-way control pad with a big OK at its centre. This is used for menu navigation and provides one-touch access to flash, exposure compensation, macro and self-timer functions. That just leaves room underneath for the menu button and a dedicated delete button.

We were surprised to discover that pressing the shutter release while in playback mode doesn't automatically switch to record mode as is the case on Canon and most other compacts (albeit not most Panasonics which use a mode switch rather than a button). To return to the last selected shooting mode you need to press the shooting mode button.

On the bottom of the camera there's a double locking mechanism to be overcome if you want to open the combined battery and memory card slot. Alongside is a small plastic flap which protects the combined USB / AV slot then a little further to the left underneath the lens is the tripod bush. A usb cable for connecting the camera to a PC and downloading images is supplied, but the AV cable to connect to a TV is optional, which is also the case with the PowerShot A800 and A1200.

The COOLPIX L22 has a built-in flash with a quoted range of 7 metres. This compares very favourably with virtually any compact you care to name, the PowerShot A800 for example quotes three metres and for the A1200 it's four metres. As we've said before though, without an ISO setting it's difficult to make meaningful comparisons. Though the COOLPIX L24 flash is not twice as powerful as the PowerShot A800's it does provide very bright and even illumination. In fact, where most compacts tend to underexpose our indoor test shot a little the COOLPIX L24 did the opposite, producing a very bright, slightly overexposed result at 200 ISO.

The flash has five modes - auto, red-eye reduction, off, fill and slow sync. When using the red-eye reduction mode the image is post-processed in the camera to remove red-eye. With a fresh set of batteries, the L24 recycles the flash in around 4 seconds which, although not lightning fast, is about the same as the PowerShot A1200, while the A800 takes almost twice as long.

Though reasonably quick to recycle, the COOLPIX L24's flash doesn't handle particularly well. An LED on the back panel panel blinks to tell you that the flash is recharging and lights continuously when ready. But if you keep the shutter half-pressed while you wait, the LED just keeps on flashing - you have to release the shutter and try again to see if the flash is ready - and only then will the light stay on. It's a small point, but little things like this make a big difference and this wasn't the only handling issue we had with the COOLPIX L24.

Like the Canon PowerShot A800 and A1200, and the L22 before it, the Nikon COOLPIX L24 takes a pair of AA batteries. Two alkaline AAs are included in the box and these will last you for 240 shots according to the CIPA (Camera Imaging Products Association) standard tests.

Once the supplied double As are dead, replacing them with NiMH rechargeables will give you enough power for 450 shots and with Lithium rechargeables that goes up to 660 shots. These figures are a slight improvement on the COOLPIX L22's for rechargeable batteries and marginally worse for non-rechargeable alkaline AA's. They're comparable with the battery life for both the PowerShot A800 and A1200, but if you switch off the PowerShot A1200's screen and rely solely on the optical viewfinder you can squeeze 1100 shots from a pair of NiMH batteries.

Nikon COOLPIX L24 lens and stabilisation

The COOLPIX L24's 3.6x optical zoom is the same lens used in its predecessor, the L22, and the model before that, the COOLPIX L20, and we're a little disappointed that Nikon has decided not to improve on this. The range of the L24's lens is 6.7 -24mm giving a 35mm equivalent range of 37 - 134mm.

Nikon COOLPIX L24 coverage wide
Nikon COOLPIX L24 coverage tele
6.7-24mm mm at 6.7mm (37mm equivalent)
  6.7-24mm mm at 24mm (134mm equivalent)

As we've said before, on budget compacts like the COOLPIX L24 you don't expect to get a massive zoom range and the zoom is there more to help you nicely frame up shots rather than to get you close in to very distant action. The COOLPIX L24 manages that quite well, but the problem is the 37mm wide angle is not really a true wide angle at all. Many budget compacts now sport 28mm wide angle lenses. The PowerShot A1200 and Panasonic S1 are two, and the Sony Cyber-shot W510 goes even wider at 26mm. Along with the COOLPIX L24 the PowerShot A800 is one of a dwindling circle of compacts that don't offer true wide angle coverage.

That won't be a problem for you if you don't take many pictures indoors, don't ever take group shots and don't like taking pictures of the scenery when you go on holiday. What does that leave? Exactly. It's not that those subject are off limits with Cameras like the COOLPIX L24 and PowerShot A800, it's just preferrable to have a wider lens.

Switch the COOLPIX L24 on and the lens extends, a sound plays and the screen comes to life in a swift second or so, though it seems to take about a second longer for the AF to wake up. The zoom travels its full extent in a fraction under two seconds and, compared with the PowerShot A800 and A1200 at least, the motor is fairly quiet. It's not terribly smooth though and we found the lack of an option to disable the digital zoom a bit irritating. The zoom bar pauses before entering the digital zone and changes from white to yellow when you do, so it's something that can happen by accident if you're not paying attention. But if you're unlikely to want to use the digital zoom under any circumstances, or only rarely, having it constantly active just gets in the way.

Nikon COOLPIX L24 Motion Detection and Electronic VR off / Auto
100% crop, 6.6-24mm at 24mm, 1/10, 400 ISO, Auto mode Motion detection and Electronic VR off.
 
100% crop, 6.6-24mm at 24mm, 1/10, 400 ISO, Auto mode Motion detection and Electronic VR auto.

The COOLPIX L24, like the PowerShot A800 and A1200, lacks optical or sensor-shift image stabilization, but it does have two methods for dealing with the effects of subject movement and camera shake at slow shutter speeds The first of these is Motion Detection which, in low light situations, or where significant camera or subject motion is detected, increases the ISO to enable the use of a faster shutter speed. The other, Electronic Vibration Reduction, post-processes the image to try and reduce the blurring caused by camera shake.

In our view, The COOLPIX L24's Motion Detection and Electronic Vibration Reduction make very little difference to the camera's ability to take better pictures in low light. The crops above are from shots taken with the COOLPIX L24 with the lens set to its maximum focal length of 24mm (134mm equivalent). Both images were shot in Auto mode, for the one on the left Motion Detection and Electronic VR were turned off and for the crop on the right both were set to automatic.

Though the Motion detection and Electronic VR icons were both displayed, Motion Detection was ineffective as in both instances the same ISO and exposure settings were used - 1/10th of a second at f6.7 and 400 ISO. It's impossible to say with certainty whether the image on the right has had Electronic VR post processing applied, but it does show evidence of camera shake and it's no improvement on the shot taken without it. It's actually a little worse, but that's due to a slightly less steady had in the second shot than the first. Across a series of shots though, the COOLPIX L24 fared no better with Motion Detection and Electronic VR than without it.

Generally, the COOLPIX L24's low-light performance leaves a lot to be desired. Though its sensitivity range extends to 1600 ISO there was only one occassion, including shooting at twilight, at night and indoors under artificial light, on which it ventured beyond 400 ISO. This and the absence of a low light scene mode (the Dusk Dawn and Night Landscape scene modes don't select high ISO sensitivities and in fact turn off Motion Detection) means that in low light if you want sharp shots you'll need to activate the flash or use a tripod and avoid moving subjects.

 

 
 
 
 

Nikon COOLPIX L24 screen and menus

The L24's 3in / 230k screen is, on a camera in this price bracket, a real luxury. Not only is it bigger than either of the two Canon PowerShot cameras we compared it against, it's also bright and contrasty and remains viewable up to quite acute horizontal angles - we could still see the image at around 70 degrees, albeit not as brightly as when viewed straight-on. Vertically, the illumination drops off more rapidly, but you can still see the screen with the camera held at arms-length above your head.

Like the L24's lens, the screen has remained unchanged for three generations, the COOLPIX L20 had a 3 inch screen back in 2009. But Nikon was well ahead of the game then and, as far as the screen goes, it still is. This remains one of the biggest and best screens we've seen on any budget compact.

Pressing the menu button on the rear panel of the L24 displays a two-tab menu system with Shooting Options on one tab and a Set Up menu on the other. What you see here depends on the shooting mode, Easy auto and scene modes will disable some of the options so we'll describe what's available in Auto mode though even here the options are confined to image mode (size and compression) White Balance, continuous shooting and colour options.

     
     

The Set up menu includes display overlay settings, Electronic VR, Motion Detection, Date imprint, sound settings, card formatting, blink warning, battery type selection and image protection.

     
     

In playback mode the shooting menu is replaced by a Playback menu at the top of which is Nikon's D-Lighting feature. This post-processes images to enhance shadow detail and increase dynamic range. You're presented with a thumbnail before and after preview with the option to apply the effect or cancel. If you don't have, or can't be bothered with an image editing application, it's a convenient quick fix for under-exposed shots and those where you belatedly realise you should have used fill-flash. The Playback menu also has direct print, slide show and image resizing options.

 

Nikon COOLPIX L24 exposure modes

The shooting mode button which stands in for a physical mode dial displays a menu listing the main shooting modes - Auto, Easy Auto, Smart Portrait and Movie as well as a choice of 16 scene modes including Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Food, Museum, Fireworks Show and Copy. There's also a Panorama Assist scene mode that overlays the edge of the previous shot on the display so you can accurately position the overlap ensuring easier stitching.

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Easy Auto mode features scene recognition, or as Nikon calls it 'automatic scene selection', to determine the nature of the scene being photographed and set the exposure accordingly. An icon is displayed in the top left of the display indicating one of six scene types - portrait, landscape, night portrait, night landscape, backlight and close-up.

For the most part automatic scene selection works reasonably well. On occasion it mistook buildings for people, but often corrected itself after an initial false assessment. Paradoxically, when confronted with real people, it was reluctant to recognise them and, as with the face detection AF, was only convinced by faces close to and facing the lens.

The COOLPIX L24 has no means of manually setting the ISO sensitivity, instead it's done automatically in all shooting modes. The current automatic ISO setting isn't displayed on the screen, rather an ISO indicator appears when the ISO is automatically raised above 80. As the Playback screen doesn't show ISO information either there's no way of knowing what ISO the camera set until you get your photos onto a computer.

With Motion Detection enabled the camera sets higher ISO sensitivity to avoid slower shutter speeds that might result in camera shake. In practice the metering system errs on the conservative side, rarely increasing the ISO sensitivity beyond 400 even if it means shutter speeds dropping below 1/30th of a second.

 

Nikon COOLPIX L24 focusing and face detection

In Easy Auto mode the COOLPIX L24 has face detection. Up to 12 detected faces are surrounded with a yellow border. We've been unimpressed with Face detection on earlier COOLPIX models and the COOLPIX L24 did little to change our opinion. The L24's face detection was fazed in anything but the most ideal circumstances, i.e. good lighting conditions with subjects close to and facing the camera. In poor lighting it often didn't recognize faces at all, or having detected them, would quickly lose track of them. It also seemed to have difficulty with people wearing glasses.

The L24's smart portrait mode automatically locks focus onto faces and takes a shot as soon as a smile is detected, but this mode is affected by the same limitations as face detection in Easy Auto mode. In less than optimal lighting and when faces aren't reasonably close and facing the camera it has difficulty picking them up. Also the sensitivity of the smile detection is quite low, teeth need to be exposed and it helps if your subject isn't wearing glasses.

Finally, Auto mode, which automatically takes over if no faces are detected in the frame, uses a single central frame AF region. Focus is locked when the shutter release is held half way down so you can focus on a central subject, then recompose and shoot. Auto mode AF focusing is quick and accurate even in low light, where the AF assist lamp aids in selecting and locking focus almost instantaneously.

 

Nikon COOLPIX L24 movie mode

The COOLPIX L24 has two movie modes, TV, which shoots 640 x 480 VGA sized clips at 30 fps and a quarter VGA sized option called Small which produces 320 x 240 clips also at 30fps. Movies are saved in an AVI wrapper using a Motion JPEG codec. The maximum length of a single movie is 29 minutes or when the file reaches 2GB.

As with the Canon PowerShot A800 and A1200, the optical zoom is disabled during movie recording and only the digital zoom can be used with the resultant loss in quality that entails. In the L24's case, the digital zoom is restricted to 2X during movie recording. The zoom speed is quite slow and jumpy, so in most circumstances it's worth using the optical zoom to frame your shot before shooting. Registered members of Vimeo can download the original file shown here for closer evaluation on their own computers.

 

Nikon COOLPIX L24 sample video 1: outdoors, sunny conditions, handheld panning with digital zoom
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

The COOLPIX L24's 640 x 480 video quality is reasonably good, but lack of stabilisation makes for slightly jittery hand-held shots.

 

Nikon COOLPIX L24 sample video 2: outdoors, sunny conditions, tripod panning with digital zoom
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

Things are much smoother with the camera mounted on a tripod. Like all digital zooms, the COOLPIX L24's results in very poor quality results and as it's only 2x it's not really worth the bother.

 

Nikon COOLPIX L24 sample video 3: indoors, low-light, handheld panning
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

Good initial exposure and nice white balance on this interior hand-held panning shot. The COOLPIX L24 appears to lock exposure during shooting which could be a problem if the light changes during your shot, for example if you move from inside to outside.


Nikon COOLPIX L24 drive modes

In continuous shooting mode at the best quality setting the COOLPIX L24 can shoot a steady 0.6 frames a second. It won't set the world on fire, but it's an improvement on what it's predecessor could manage and at higher resolution. Reducing the image size doesn't make it go any faster though.

The L24 has two additional multi-shot modes. Best Shot Selector shoots continuously for up to ten frames then selects and saves the sharpest one. Multi-shot 16 is quite a neat feature which shoots 16 images in continuous mode then arranges them in a single 2560 x 1920 image on a 4x4 grid. The 16 shot sequence occurs in a fraction of a second, with a frame rate around 30 fps, so quite a neat little trick for fast action sequences.

 

Nikon COOLPIX L24 sensor

The COOLPIX L24's 1/2.3in CCD sensor records images with a maximum resolution of 4320 x 3240 pixels. At this size, two compression options are available with quoted ratios of 1:4 and 1:8, in other words the better quality mode applies half the compression of the other one. The best quality mode produces files of around 6MB in size. The ISO range of the sensor is 80 to 1600 ISO and the shutter speed range is 1 - 1/2000 with a 4 second option in the Fireworks Show scene mode. The L24 has 17MB of built-in memory.

To see how the quality of the COOLPIX L24 measures-up in practice, take a look at our real-life resolution and high ISO noise results pages, browse the sample images gallery, or skip to the chase and head straight for our verdict.

 

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