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Nikon CoolPix L14 Review

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £100.00

A few months ago, it was pointed out to me that I have handed out more “Recommended” awards than any of the other section editors on TrustedReviews. As I explained at the time, the reason for this is simply that there are very few genuinely bad digital cameras around these days. Looking back through the past couple of months’ worth of reviews, I find that since the start of October I’ve only given two cameras overall scores of less than 5/10, but I stand by those scores. There are a lot of very good cameras available at the moment. Unfortunately however, the new Nikon CoolPix L14 isn’t one of them, and should go some way towards lowering my score average.


I’ve reviewed a number of models from Nikon’s budget-priced L-series, and I’ve found them to a mixed bunch. Some, such as the L11 are great little cameras, a bit short on features but terrific value for money. Others, such as the L5 were something of a disappointment, with poor design, sluggish performance and lousy image quality. Nikon is capable of producing some outstanding cameras, and of course its SLRs are legendary, but it does seem to be having some problems with its cheaper compact cameras lately.


The CoolPix L14 is one of those cheaper ones, although not quite the cheapest. It currently retails at just under £100, which is slightly more than the 6-megapixel L11 to which it bears a close resemblance. For your money you get a plastic-bodied 7.1 megapixel compact camera with a 38-114mm-equivalent 3x optical zoom lens and a 2.4-inch 115k pixel LCD monitor. It is available in silver or the admittedly fairly attractive dark blue of my review model. Like the L11 it has an incredibly basic specification, which might make it easy to use for the technologically illiterate, but is massively frustrating for anyone who might actually want to take a decent photo once in a while.

In order to sell the L14, Nikon has resorted to the same rather dubious claim that it made for the now discontinued CoolPix L6, which is that it can take 1,000 photos on one pair of AA batteries. This claim isn’t exactly false, but it is rather misleading. The L14 is supplied with a pair of Energizer Lithium batteries, which are specifically designed to power modern digital devices such as cameras. They are amazing batteries, about half the weight of conventional alkaline batteries, but lasting up to seven times as long and with much better cold weather performance. They are more expensive than alkaline batteries, but they are totally worth it and I heartily recommend them. Yes, the L14 will take about 1,000 shots using Energizer Lithium batteries, but then so will pretty much any modern AA-powered camera. It’s not a lie, but it’s not an entirely honest way to sell a camera, is it?


It’s a pity that this supposed feature is a bit of a non-starter, because the L14 doesn’t have a lot else going for it. Like most of the other L-series cameras, the L14 has no manual ISO setting, because that would be far too complicated. It does have exposure compensation though, because of course everyone understands how that works. It has a 10-second self-timer, a small list of flash modes, and a basic macro mode, although with a close-focusing distance of 10cm it barely deserves the name. Its main menu has but one page, and that only has five options in the normal auto mode. There is a scene mode, with 15 fairly standard scene programs, and a one touch portrait mode with face detection, although I have to say that the FD system on the L14 is one of the most useless that I’ve found. Astonishingly the L14 also has an even simpler Easy Auto mode which limits the menu to just the picture quality setting. Seriously, if anyone finds the L14’s normal auto mode too complicated, they probably shouldn’t be allowed to have a digital camera in the first place. They’d only try to eat it or something.


They’d have a hard time though, because despite its many limitations the L14 is indisputably a well-made camera. Using the lithium batteries it is very light at only about 140g, but it feels solid and robust rather than fragile. The plastic body is strong and the finish resists marks quite well, and the slim and compact shape fits comfortably into the hand. The few controls are well spaced out and quite large and easy to operate, apart from the narrow and slightly fiddly mode and review buttons. The monitor screen is bright enough for daylight use and has a good anti-glare coating. It is also slightly recessed, which makes it less prone to damage. It is a bit low-res though, with only 115,000 dots.

What really lets the L14 down is its performance. It starts up in just under three seconds, which isn’t too bad, and shuts down again in just over two. It has a shot-to-shot time of approximately three seconds in single shot mode, which is a bit slow, but in continuous shooting it can manage more than a shot a second, which sounds pretty respectable. The usefulness of this ability is somewhat limited though, because the speed is very inconsistent, and there is no audio cue when it takes each shot, so you just have to press the button and hope. What really slows it down in actual use is the AF system, which takes nearly two seconds to focus in good light. In only slightly lowered light conditions it frequently fails to focus at all, but instead hunts around for nearly three seconds before beeping its failure. In typical social situations, exactly the sort of place a camera like this is most likely to be used, this extremely poor low-light focusing makes it very slow and annoying to use. Using the built-in flash is a also very slow process, taking around ten seconds to recharge before another shot can be taken. Despite this the flash is in fact somewhat underpowered, with a useful range of only a couple of metres.


To add to the L14’s woes, it’s image quality is also pretty terrible. It has severe image noise problems at anything other than its very lowest ISO setting, which is unfortunate since the other “selling point” of this camera, proclaimed by a sticker on the front, is its 1000 ISO maximum sensitivity. ISO control is fully automatic, so as soon as light levels drop even slightly it pushes the sensitivity up, producing very noisy images in all but bright daylight conditions. As well as this, the lens quality is very poor, with a generally low level of sharpness getting much worse in the corners, and both wide-angle barrel distortion and telephoto pincushion distortion. I took a lot of test shots with the L14, and found most of them unsatisfactory, often for several reasons at once.


”’Verdict”’

The Nikon CoolPix L14 is designed to be an easy point-and-click camera, simple enough for anyone to use, even those for whom the wheel represents dangerously advanced technology. However it fails at this purpose due to its extremely slow and unreliable low light focusing, lousy image quality and generally slow operation. It is well made, light and easy to handle, and fairly robust, but even a child would quickly become frustrated by its limitations. There are much better cameras costing not much more money.

”Over the next few pages we show a range of test shots. On this page the full size image at the minimum and maximum ISO settings have been reduced to let you see the full image, and a series of full resolution crops have taken from original images at a range of ISO settings to show the overall image quality.”


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This was taken at 86 ISO, which was as low as the automatic ISO system would let me go for this shot.


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Even at 86 ISO, the image quality is fairly poor.


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By selecting the Night Landscape scene mode, I was able to fool the camera into selecting a higher ISO setting, in this case 186 ISO. As you can see, even at this setting there are serious noise problems.


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Shooting later at night, the auto ISO selected 400, with even worse results, not helped by the poor focusing.


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This is the full frame at 400 ISO.


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”A range of general test shots are shown over the next two pages. In some cases, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it to show the overall image quality. Some other pictures may be clicked to view the original full-size image.”


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Here’s my usual detail test shot of the West Window of Exeter Cathedral, for you to compare with other cameras. See below for a full res crop, or click to see the whole picture.


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The overall sharpness and detail are very poor, not helped by the 200 ISO automatic setting.


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Despite a wide end equivalent to 38mm, the lens produces significant barrel distortion.


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Centre sharpness is quite poor.


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Edge sharpness is even worse.


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At the telephoto end the lens produces quite bad pincushion distortion.


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”A range of general test shots are shown over the next two pages. In some cases, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it to show the overall image quality. Some other pictures may be clicked to view the original full-size image.”


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The 38mm-equivalent wide end isn’t enough for really wide-angle shots.


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The telephoto end is equivalent to 114mm.


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Flash range is limited, and low-light focusing is very unreliable.


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Colour reproduction is a bit muted, the shot is out of focus, and is very noisy.


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Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Value 4
  • Image Quality 3

Features

Camera type Digital Compact
Megapixels (Megapixel) 7.1 Megapixel
Optical Zoom (Times) 3x

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