For a budget point-and-click camera the L20 actually performs reasonable well. It starts up in less than two seconds and shuts down again just as quickly. In single shot mode its shot-to-shot time is approximately three seconds, which is a little slow but at least it’s consistent. In continuous mode it shoots at a fairly creditable 1.2 frames a second, but the speed is inconsistent and there is no audio cue to tell you when it’s shooting. It also doesn’t check focus or exposure between shots.
The autofocus system is limited to centre-area or face detection only, but it is quick and reliable and works amazingly well in low light. The camera has a very bright AF assist lamp and will focus with reasonable reliability in total darkness at a range of over three metres. The flash is also very good, with a massive 7.0m range and excellent frame coverage.
Image quality is also pretty good for a budget camera, although it does have a couple of issues. Colour reproduction is rather garish and over-saturated, and bright reds and yellows tend to merge into featureless blobs. Dynamic range is also restricted, with burned out highlights and little shadow detail. Surprisingly the 8MP L19 is just as bad as the L20 in this respect. At around 4.8MB at maximum quality, the image files aren’t over-compressed, and there are no major problems with artefacts, the images are somewhat over-sharpened.
The lens quality is actually pretty good for the price. It does suffer from some barrel distortion at wide angle, and it is distinctly soft around the edges, but there is very little chromatic aberration and centre sharpness is very good. In good light the level of fine detail is a little higher than average for a 10MP camera.
Image noise control is difficult to assess, because the camera has no manual ISO setting and it’s difficult to trick it into using its maximum auto setting. I was able to get standard test shots at 400 and 800 ISO, and the noise levels were about what I’d expect from a camera in this class. Not brilliant, but usable images suitable for small prints or websites/blogs. Most of the other test shots were taken on a bright clear day at 64 ISO, and there was very little noise visible at this setting.
The Nikon CoolPix L19 and L20 accomplish what they set out to do. They are incredibly simple to use, and will produce good quality pictures under a wide range of circumstances with a minimum of user input. They are well made, easy to handle and even look good. They won’t suit more experienced photographers, but for anyone looking for a simple point-and-shoot they are good value for money.