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Nikon COOLPIX L810 Ken McMahon, October 2012
 
 

Nikon L810 review


The Nikon COOLPIX L810 is a budget super-zoom camera with a 26x stabilised range, a 16.1 Megapixel CCD sensor and a fixed 3in screen with 921k pixel resolution. Announced in February 2012, it replaces the COOLPIX L120, increasing the zoom range from 21x and upping the sensor resoution from 14 Megapixels.

The L810 is powered by four AA batteries, has a built-in pop-up flash and comes with 50MB of built-in memory. Essentially, it's a point and shoot super-zoom, with ease of use, compactness, and affordability being its major selling points.

The COOLPIX L810 has 720p HD video but lacks PASM exposure modes and also eschews many of the features that differentiate point and shoot models from other manufacturers. There are no filter effects, no special stacking modes and no 'accessibility' modes designed to avail novices of features like exposure, white balance and depth of field control. As such, it has a bit of a 'no-frills' feel about it, but it does have two auto modes - one with scene recognition - face detect AF and a range of conventional scene modes.

As such the COOLPIX L810 could prove an attractive option for point-and shooters looking to upgrade from a compact to something with a much longer zoom reach without the additional complication that might go with some of the more advanced super-zooms. I've compared the COOLPIX L810 with Canon's PowerShot SX500 IS, a more advanced and expensive super-zoom that nonetheless also has a lot to offer the novice.

   
 

Nikon COOLPIX L810 Design and controls

The COOLPIX L810 is an attractive looking camera with the same mini-SLR styling as the larger super-zooms. Put it alongside a 'full-size' super-zoom like the Lumix FZ60 / FZ62 and it looks a little more compact, but not massively so. If you put it between the Canon PowerShot SX500 IS and the Lumix FZ60 / FZ62 its size is more or less midway between the two. For the record the dimensions are 111 x 76 x 83mm and it weighs 430g including four AA batteries and a memory card.

Available in red, blue, bronze and black with a high gloss plastic finish, the COOLPIX L810 is finished in black trim and has a soft plastic textured grip along with a thumb pad on the rear. It's comfortable to hold and when using two hands your left thumb naturally falls into a position on the barrel-mounted zoom rocker.

 
 
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A more conventional zoom rocker surrounds the shutter release which, aside from the on/off button and a rather ostentatious speaker grille are the only features on the top panel. The COOLPIX L810 has a quite pronounced hump which houses the pop-up flash behind which are located stereo microphones.

The rear panel has a 3 inch LCD screen which looks bigger, but has quite a large surround - a black area on all four sides behind the clear protective plastic. The screen is fixed and has a resolution of 921 thousand pixels. It provides a clear and detailed view indoors and outdoors in dull conditions. At this point I usually mention the caveat about no screen being easy to see in bright sunny conditions but, despite its anti-reflection coating I found the COOLPIX L810's screen particularly poor in this respect. In bright conditions I found it difficult to make out anything at all on the screen, even when the sun wasn't shining directly on it. So I'd recommend you get a good look at the screen in bright conditions before making a purchasing decision.

To the right of the screen the controls consist of a four-way controller which Nikon calls a 'Multi selector', flanked by a mode selector button, playback, menu and delete buttons. Above the thumb pad there's a dedicated movie record button and to the left of that an LED to indicate flash charging. Unlike the PowerShot SX500 IS, which has slightly recessed buttons, those on the COOLPIX L810 protrude from the backplate and I found myself accidentally pressing the delete button (which works even in shooting mode though, thankfully requires confirmation) or activating macro mode on more than one occasion. When you're aware of it, it can be avoided, but the fact that it happens at all points to questionable ergonomics and a less than satisfactory handling experience.

The combined battery and card compartment is accessed via a large hinged door that covers the entire right side of the camera below the hand grip. The COOLPIX L810 manages to squeeze a very respectable 300 shots from the four alkaline AA batteries supplied with the camera. Use NiMH or Lithium rechargeables and you'll do even better. Aside from the weight, the only drawback with AAs is that, if you're not careful and turn the camera upside down with the door open, they all fall out; on the upside, it's probably something you'll only do once.

The COOLPIX L810 has a USB / A/V out port and mini HDMI and a DC-in power socket. The latter can be used with the optional EH-67 AC mains adapter. A USB cable and A/V cable for connecting the L810 to a standard definition TV via a composite video connector is supplied.

 

Nikon COOLPIX L810 lens and stabilisation

The COOLPIX L810 has 26x optical zoom with an equivalent range of 22.5 to 585mm and a maximum aperture of f3.1-5.9. The zoom can be controlled by one of two zoom rockers, one surrounding the shutter release and the other on the left side of the lens barrel. Just because I'm comparing it with the 30x Canon PowerShot SX500 IS, don't be fooled into thinking the COOLPIX L810's range is somehow inadequate. A 26x zoom will get most people as close into the action as they are likely to want to go. 585mm is a long telephoto by any standards.

At the other end of the range, the COOLPIX L810 has a super-wide 22.5mm wide angle that beats anything the competition has to offer. Most super-zooms, like the PowerShot SX500 IS, don't go any wider than 24mm and the Olympus Stylus SP-820UZ with it's 40x zoom starting at 22mm is the only model I can think of that goes (marginally) wider.

Nikon COOLPIX L810 coverage wide
Nikon COOLPIX L810 coverage tele
4-104mm at 4mm (22.5mm equivalent)
  4-104mm at 104mm (585mm equivalent)

The COOLPIX L810 is equipped with Nikon's Vibration reduction system which has two settings - on and off. In the absence of any panning modes or something like Canon's intelligent IS, which sets the appropriate mode depending on the subject, it's probably advisable to turn off vibration reduction for panning shots and, of course, when the camera is mounted on a tripod.

In addition to Vibration Reduction, Motion detection automatically raises the ISO sensitivity to enable selection of a faster shutter speed when either subject movement is detected or there's a risk of camera shake. It's quite a useful feature for beginners, who might be unaware of the consequences of shooting at slow shutter speeds, but it can be turned off and manual selection of the ISO sensitivity also disables it.

To test Vibration reduction on the COOLPIX L810 I zoomed the lens to its maximum 585mm equivalent focal length and took a series of shots in Auto mode with VR turned off, then on. I used the fading light in combination with manually selected ISO sensitivity to get different shutter speeds. As you can see from the crops below the Coolpix L810 is just about capable of three stops of stabilisation, though this crop is still a little blurred and it took me several attempts to get it.

Nikon Colpix L810 Vibration reduction Off/On
100% crop, 4-104mm at 104mm, 200 ISO 1/50th VR Off.
  100% crop, 4-104mm at 104mm, 200 ISO 1/50th VR On.

 

Nikon COOLPIX L810 shooting modes

I've already described the COOLPIX L810 as a point-and-shoot and that's exactly what it is. If you're looking for a super-zoom that provides DSLR-style exposure control with PASM exposure modes, then this isn't for you, but the Canon PowerShot SX500 might suit you better.

So what exposure modes does the COOLPIX L810 have? The most sophisticated, in terms of the degree of control it offers, is Auto mode. This is an 'old school' auto mode in the sense that exposure is determined by conventional metering - there's no scene detection to take account of specific subject or lighting conditions. In Auto mode you can manually select the ISO sensitivity, choose a white balance preset and pick one of five colour options - Standard, Vivid colour, Black-and-white, Sepia, and Cyanotype.

Nikon COOLPIX L810 Colour options

Easy Auto mode uses scene detection to automatically select one of seven scene modes. The only menu item available in Easy Auto mode is the image size, but you do still have access to the controls on the Multi-selector, so you can use the flash (but only in auto mode), set the self-timer and apply exposure compensation.

Smart portrait mode automatically releases the shutter when a smile is detected, there's also a blink detect feature which shoots two frames and selects the one in which most people have their eyes open, and you can also apply a skin softening filter.

Finally, the COOLPIX L810 has 18 scene modes. With most compacts now offering scene detection, individual scene modes are beginning to look outmoded and most of those on the L810 are the familiar suspects - Portrait, Landscape, Sports, food etc. In view of the fact that even mobile phones now offer easy-to-use panoramic shooting modes, the L810's Panorama assist scene mode, which provides overlays to guide you in shooting overlapping shots which can later be stitched on a PC, looks particularly dated.

The final scene mode is something a little more up to date, though, allowing you to shoot 3D images by taking two slightly offset shots - the second one is take automatically. 3D images are saved with the .mpo file extension and can be viewed on a suitably equipped 3D TV.

 

Nikon COOLPIX L810 movie modes

The COOLPIX L810 can shoot HD video at 1280x720p resolution at 30 frames per second. Images are encoded using the H.264 codec at an average bit rate of 11Mbps. That's comparatively low - the PowerShot SX500 IS uses the same H.264 codec but at almost double the L810's bit rate - so the L810's quality won't be as good, but it does have the advantage of allowing you to fit more video on a card - nearly one hour's worth on a 4GB card. There's also a VGA 640 x 480 standard definition mode that records at 3Mbps. Nikon recommends using a speed class 6 card or faster for recording video.

The optical zoom can be used while recording and is restricted to the slower of its two speeds, which is relatively quiet, though not quiet enough to avoid its buzz being picked up by the built-in stereo microphones.


Nikon COOLPIX L810 sample video 1: outdoors, sunny, handheld pan
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The video quality on the L810 is not bad, but fine detail isn't that well resolved which could be a consequence of the low bit rate. The sky is blown out but, to be fair, this is a very high contrast scene. The autofocus isn't at all happy during zooming and fails to sort itself out when the maximum focal length is reached.

Nikon COOLPIX L810 sample video 2: outdoors, sunny, tripod pan with optical zoom
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

For this tripod mounted shot Vibration reduction was disabled. Like the PowerShot SX500 IS and indeed all CCD-based cameras, the COOLPIX L810 has problems with bright light sources and there's a purple vertical streak when the camera is pointing into the sun. Again, the clouds are blown out but, again, this scene has a very wide range of brightness levels. The tendency for the autofocus to rapidly oscillate during zooming is a shame as it renders the clip almost unwatchable.

Nikon COOLPIX L810 sample video 3: indoors, low-light, handheld pan
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

The quality of this is indoor low light panning shot is good, with little visible noise. The metering seems loathe to adjust the exposure when passing the windows, but that's not necessarily a bad thing as the interior is still reasonably well exposed.

 

Nikon COOLPIX L810 handling

Nikon has fitted the L810's lens cap to the external lens barrel, with the result that it prevents the lens from extending, risking damage to the camera. If you turn the camera on with the lens cap in place, a message appears on screen telling you to turn the camera off, remove the lens cap, then turn it on again, but it would be better all round if they just made it so that you could turn the camera on with the lens cap in place.

There are some other handling niggles. The camera takes around 3 seconds to start up which is sluggish and in Auto mode the only AF option is a small central area which is also a little slow to respond. This central AF is the default mode in Easy Auto when there are no faces in the frame. Face detect works well when people are facing the camera in good light and within a range of about four or five metres. Personally, I prefer centre AF to multi area AF, but in a camera that's clearly aimed at point-and-shoot casual photographers I think this is a poor alternative to multi-area AF as implemented on the PowerShot SX500 IS and most point-and-shoot compacts.

     

Another thing the L810 doesn't do particularly quickly is shoot video. There's what seems like an interminable gap (it's actually 3.2 seconds) between pressing the dedicated record button and recording actually starting, during which the screen goes black. This is a criticism I've made of Nikon compacts in the past and it's something they really need to address. In an age where some compacts can record video before you've even pressed the button, to have to wait three seconds for recording to start after you've pressed it just isn't good enough.

It's not all bad news though. The lack of manual and semi auto shooting modes means the L810 is a very easy camera to find your way around. The menus are uncluttered and the controls are straightforward.

The Nikon COOLPIX L810 has a 16.1 Megapixel CCD sensor which produces still images with a maximum image size of 4608 x 3456 at one of two JPEG compression settings. The best quality setting produces images with a file size of around 6 to 7MB. The ISO sensitivity range is 80 to 1600 ISO and the shutter speed range is from 1 to 1/1500 in Auto modes extending to 4 seconds in Fireworks mode.

To see how the quality of the COOLPIX L810 measures-up in practice, take a look at my Nikon L810 quality and Nikon L810 noise results pages, browse my Nikon L810 sample images, or skip to the chase and head straight for my verdict.

 

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