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However, despite this simplicity the L4 isn’t short on clever technology. In portrait mode it features Nikon’s amazing Face Priority AF system, a sophisticated image –recognition system which can instantly spot a human face anywhere in the frame and automatically focus on it. It’s distinctly spooky watching this system in operation as it locks on and follows your subject’s face as you move the camera to compose the shot. Maybe I’m getting paranoid, but it makes me wonder how sophisticated the visual recognition systems used in security surveillance cameras might be…
The L4 has a selection of 15 scene modes that cover all common shooting situations, including the aforementioned portrait mode. Others include landscape, sports, night portrait, indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, panorama stitching and more. Many of these modes have sub-settings to accommodate situations like having your subject to one side of the frame, or shooting in portrait (vertical) format. For such a basic camera the scene modes provide a surprisingly complete range of creative shooting options, and with appropriate use can cope with just about any photographic situation.
Some ultra-compact cameras can be fiddly and difficult to handle, but this is not the case with the L4. The body is sculpted to form a handgrip which makes the camera secure and comfortable to hold, while the shutter button and zoom control fall neatly under the right forefinger and thumb.
Another nice touch, and one which is typical of Nikon, is the position of the tripod bush. It is located centrally and quite close to the lens, which is best for panning panorama shots. Unfortunately the bush thread is made of fairly soft plastic rather than the preferable metal, but I suppose some compromises had to be made.
It isn’t possible to change the batteries while the camera is on a tripod, but it is possible to change the SD card, since this has its own hatch on the side of the camera.
Inevitably for a budget camera, some corners have had to be cut, and one of them is performance. It takes a whole five seconds to start up, which is about twice as long as the current average for compact cameras. There’s no good reason why this should be, other than the use of slower, less powerful lens motors and less efficient internal electronics.