There are no manual exposure settings of course, but the L5 does have 15 scene program settings including all the standards such as portrait, landscape, sports, night scene, beach/snow, dusk/dawn, sunset and more. There are no surprises, but there are enough choices to cope with most picture taking situations.
Colour adjustment is limited to the basic standard settings as well, with a high-saturation vivid mode, sepia, monochrome and the blue-tinted cyanotype option. White balance and flash modes also cover all of the usual bases, as listed in the feature table on page 4. There is a manual white balance pre-set option.
The only two unusual features are the VR (Vibration Reduction) image stabilisation and the face detection system. I have to say I was not particularly impressed by the VR. Most optical or CCD-shift IS systems provide around 2 stops of extra stability when shooting at low shutter speeds, but I found that the VR system was very inconsistent, and shots just one stop below the recommended minimum hand-held speed were often blurred. It doesn’t appear to be as effective as similar systems used by Canon or Panasonic.
Face detection is, as I’ve mentioned before, more of a gimmick than a genuinely useful feature. Although the Nikon system is as good as any, it will only recognise faces that are looking directly into the camera, and even then things like large sunglasses, broad-brimmed hats and strong side-lighting can confuse it. It’s really only useful for simple portrait shots, and even then it doesn’t make that much of a difference over standard AF and metering systems. It’s very clever technology to be sure, but it’s certainly not worth paying extra for it.
Finally we come to image quality, and here the L5 falls down badly. As I mentioned previously, even at the maximum quality setting it produces very small and highly compressed image files, and this seriously limits the picture quality. Furthermore the lens is not one of Nikon’s best, producing very noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, with very poor edge and corner sharpness. While colour rendition and exposure were generally accurate, the level of fine detail was much lower than on most 6MP compacts that I’ve tested. One has to wonder what exactly is the point of putting a powerful 7.2 megapixel sensor in a camera it is crippled by poor noise control, high compression and a sub-standard lens?
The Nikon CoolPix L5 is something of a mixed bag. It offers a useful zoom range and resolution, easy handling and simple operation, but the slow performance, bulky appearance and poor image quality are significant disadvantages. There are better cameras available for not much more money.