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Nikon Coolpix L120 Camera Review

Nikon Coolpix L120 front view in bronze

March 21st, 2011 - The Nikon Coolpix L120 digital camera is a successor to the Nikon Coolpix L110 introduced in 2010. Nikon designed the Coolpix L120 to appeal to those who are looking for an affordable and compact camera that offers point-and-shoot simplicity with long range zoom capabilities.

The 14 megapixel Nikon Coolpix L120 offers features that include; a 21x optical zoom lens with a unique side zoom control lever, CCD sensor-shift image stabilization combined with electronic vibration reduction (VR) for steadier handheld shooting, advanced face detection technology, EXPEED C2 image processing, 720p HD movie recording with stereo sound, user-friendly Auto Scene modes, and a large high-resolution 3.0-inch LCD monitor. Based on its feature set the Coolpix L120 looks like it offers good value for the money.

We have now had the opportunity to review the Nikon Coolpix L120. To see how the camera performed, check out our Nikon Coolpix L120 sample image gallery, along with the findings and conclusions from our review. We begin by providing a general overview of the L120, and then present more of the details.

Nikon Coolpix L120 Overview: The Nikon Coolpix L120 is equipped with a 21x optical zoom lens that supports shooting at a broad range of focal lengths from 25mm wide-angle to 525mm telephoto (35mm format equivalent). The lens is practical for capturing a wide variety of scenes, from everyday snapshots to landscapes and distant subjects, and also supports macro photography with close-up shooting down to 1cm.

The camera is also equipped with two image stabilization functions. By incorporating both an image sensor shift vibration reduction (VR) mechanism and electronic VR, the L120 is able to minimize the effects of camera shake than can otherwise lead to image degrading blur, which makes shooting at the maximum telephoto zoom position and under lower light conditions more manageable.

The Nikon L120 incorporates a 14 megapixel sensor with Nikon's EXPEED C2 image processing technology – delivering fast response times and natural colour reproduction.

For carefree shooting the Nikon Coolpix L120 offers an Easy Auto mode with Scene Detection Technology. Easy Auto mode does the thinking for you, recognizing scenes, lighting conditions, faces, and adjusts settings accordingly. The camera will automatically select from one of six Scene options (Portrait, Landscape, Night portrait, Night landscape, Close-up, Backlighting) to match the subject at hand.

The L120 also provides 17 user selectable Scene modes which can be activated using the camera's shooting menu. These modes automatically optimize settings for popular photographic styles, effects and locations.

The Nikon Coolpix L120 offers 720p HD movie recording at 30 frames per second with stereo sound, so users can film the action as well as shooting stills.

With its large 3.0 inch high resolution 921K LCD monitor with wide viewing angle and 5 levels of brightness adjustment, the L120 provides for easy viewing and framing of images and movies. A framing grid can also be activated in the camera's set up menu, which superimposes a grid over the Live view display seen on the LCD monitor, and is used as an aid in composing landscape or architectural images by allowing the user to more easily align vertical or horizontal lines in the scene.

Nikon Coolpix L120 back view

Nikon Coolpix L120 Digital Camera Review: Navigation Menu
  •  Nikon Coolpix L120: Design & Operation
  •  Nikon L120: Sample Test Images
  •  Coolpix L120 Camera: Specifications
  •  Coolpix L120: Review Conclusion

  • The Nikon Coolpix L120 features Face-Priority Auto Focus (AF), which is a face-identifying technology that detects and focuses on up to 12 faces automatically. This feature also allows for 'Smile Timer' which detects when a subject smiles and automatically takes the photo. The camera's 'Blink Warning' feature identifies when a subject may have blinked and signals you to retake the shot.

    The Nikon L120's in-camera Red-Eye Fix automatically fixes the problem before it occurs. Blotchy, uneven complexions are also a thing of the past with camera's Skin Softening mode, which smoothes skin tones.

    Nikon Coolpix L120 Major Features:

    •  14.1 Megapixel CCD with EXPEED C2 image processing
    •  Nikon 21x zoom (25-525mm equiv.) with aperture range from f/3.1 - f/5.8
    •  CCD sensor shift and electronic vibration reduction
    •  Large 3.0-inch color LCD with 921K pixels and wide viewing angle
    •  Full Auto plus 17 Scene shooting modes
    •  720p HD movie mode with stereo sound
    •  Sports mode provides continuous shooting up to 15.3 frames per second (maximum 20 frames at 3MP)
    •  ISO sensitivity up to 3200 or 6400 (max file size of approx. 3MP)
    •  Macro close-up focus to 1cm
    •  D-Lighting to brighten underexposed images
    •  Built-in flash with Auto, Fill, Redeye reduction and Slow-sync modes
    •  SD / SDHC / MMC memory card compatible
    •  Powered by four standard AA type batteries
    •  USB 2.0 Hi-Speed data transfer to computer
    •  HDMI output for direct connection to an HD TV (cable optional)

    The Coolpix L120 comes supplied with the following accessories: Camera Strap AN-CP22, Four LR6/L40 (AA-size) alkaline batteries, UC-E6 USB Cable, Audio Video Cable EG-CP16, Nikon ViewNX 2 Software CD, Lens Cap LC-CP22.

    The Nikon Coolpix L120 digital camera is available now for an estimated selling price of $279.99 in both Canada and the US. See latest US $ street prices on the Coolpix L120

    Nikon Colpix L120 front with flash up

    The Nikon Coolpix L120 features a manual pop-up flash. When the camera determines that the flash is required, an icon is displayed on the LCD monitor as a prompt for the user to raise the flash.

    Nikon Coolpix L120 Camera: Design, Features and Menus

    The Nikon Coolpix L120 offers a fairly compact design with a comfortable hold. With 14-megapixel resolution and a 21x zoom lens (25-525mm equivalent in 35mm terms), the camera is a versatile unit for general family and travel photography.

    Nikon Coolpix L120 at 25mm wide setting
    Nikon Coolpix L120 at 25mm wide-angle
    Nikon Coolpix L120 at 525mm telephoto zoom setting
    Nikon Coolpix L120 zoomed to 525mm telephoto

    The Coolpix L120's ultra wide-angle 25mm field of view (35mm terms) is suitable for capturing sweeping landscapes or larger group shots of people. Many compact camera's on the market do not offer such a broad wide-angle coverage.

    The L120's extended telephoto zoom capabilities are quite impressive. In the image on the above left (taken at the camera's widest zoom setting) we added a red bounding box to show the relative area that is being captured when the camera is zoomed in to its maximum telephoto setting. The image on the above right shows the actual coverage provided at the full telephoto position (525mm field of view equivalent in 35mm terms).

    Nikon Coolpix L120 top view

    The Nikon Coolpix L120 provides the versatility of offering two zoom controls. One control is found surrounding the shutter release button located on the top right of the camera near the front portion of the grip. The other zoom control lever is found on the side of the lens barrel, allowing for smoother zooming when holding the camera with two hands.

    The only buttons found on the top of the camera are the shutter release and the on/off button. The Nikon L120's stereo microphone and speaker (mono) are also located on the top of the camera.

    The built-in pop-up flash only raises if you press the flash release button (found on the left side of the camera below the actual flash). The Coolpix L120 offers the following flash modes:

    (1) Auto - Flash fires automatically when lighting is poor.

    (2) Auto with red-eye reduction - Reduces “red-eye” in portraits. With the built-in red-eye reduction system pre-flashes are fired several times at low intensity before the main flash to reduce the effects of red-eye. If the camera detects red-eye when a picture is taken, the L120's in-camera Red-eye Fix feature automatically processes the image before it is saved to help eliminate the red-eye effect.

    (3) Off - Flash does not fire even when raised.

    (4) Fill flash - Flash fires when a picture is taken. Use to “fill-in” (illuminate) shadows and backlit subjects.

    (5) Slow sync - Auto flash mode is combined with slow shutter speed. Suited to evening and night portraits that include background scenery. Flash illuminates the main subject; Slow shutter speeds are used to capture background detail at night or under dim light.

    The Nikon Coolpix L120 also incorporates an AF assist light (found on the front of the camera close to the grip) that helps the L120 focus under low light conditions.

    Nikon Coolpix L120 rear buttons and controls

    Nikon Coolpix L120 Rear Buttons and Controls:

    The Coolpix L120 offers a large one-touch movie recording button (marked with a red center dot) located on the top right hand side on the back of the camera slightly above the thumb rest pad. Simply push the button to start or end movie recording.

    Two smaller buttons are found below the textured thumb rest, one is the playback button (blue - on the right), and the other is the 'SCENE' button (green - on the left) which is used to display the L120's shooting mode menu.

    Pushing the playback button displays the last image or movie captured. To scroll through images you use the 4-way push control pad surrounding the OK button.

    The 4-way push control pad is also used to select and adjust settings when navigating the camera's menu systems.

    When the camera is set to Auto shooting mode, the 4-way push control pad allows for the direct selection of the following L120 camera settings: Flash mode, Exposure Compensation, Macro AF and Self-timer.

    Pushing on the top of the 4-way control pad provides access to the camera's flash control settings. Pushing on the right activates exposure compensation which can be set from -2 to +2 EV to darken or brighten the image.

    The bottom portion of the pad is used to select 'Macro focus' for close-ups (focus down to 1 cm from the subject), and pushing on the left portion of the pad activates the camera's Self-Timer control settings (provides a 10 sec delay before the picture is taken).

    Pressing the 'SCENE' button activates the camera's shooting mode menu. The shooting mode menu is displayed on the left side of the camera's LCD screen superimposed over the live view image.

    Nikon L120 Shooting Mode Menu

    Available options in the Coolpix L120's shooting menu include:

    • Easy mode: In Easy Auto mode, the camera automatically determines an appropriate Scene mode when you frame a picture, allowing you to easily take pictures without worrying about settings.

    • Scene Mode: Camera settings are automatically optimized for the selected scene type based on the choosen mode. Scene modes that can be selected in this menu include: Back Light, Beach, Black and White Copy, Close Up, Dusk/Dawn, Fireworks Show, Food, Landscape, Museum, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Panorama Assist, Party/Indoor, Pet Portrait, Portrait, Snow and Sunset.

    Nikon L120 Scene Mode settings

    • Smart Portrait: The camera takes a picture automatically when it detects a smiling face.

    • Sport continuous: Allows rapid, continuous shooting while you press and hold the shutter-release button fully. With the default setting of Continuous H, the camera shoots up to 20 images at a rate of up to about 15.3 frames per second (maximum 3MP file size).

    • Auto mode: Offers the ability to control additional camera settings using the camera's Shooting menu which in turn is activated by pushing the 'MENU' button on the back of the camera. Options that can be selected in the Coolpix L120's Shooting menu include: Image mode (size), White Balance, Continuous shooting, ISO sensitivity or Colour options.

    Nikon Coolpix L120 Shooting Menu

    • Image Mode: Choose image size and quality (compression). The size of the files, and with it the number of images that can be saved, depends on the size and quality (compression) of the images. Before shooting, choose an image mode according to how you plan to use the image.

    • White Balance: The colour of light reflected from an object varies with the colour of the light source. The human brain is able to adapt to changes in the colour of the light source, with the result that white objects appear white whether seen in the shade, direct sunlight, or under incandescent lighting.

    Digital cameras can mimic this adjustment by processing images according to the colour of the light source. This is known as “white balance”. Although the 'Auto' default setting can be used under most types of lighting, you can apply the white balance setting suited to a particular light source to achieve more accurate results.

    Nikon Coolpix L120 White Balance settings

    • Continuous Shooting Mode: A Menu setting for selecting the desired Continuous shooting mode. Available options in this menu tab include:

    - Single (default setting): One image is captured each time the shutter-release button is pressed.

    - Continuous: While the shutter-release button is held all the way down, up to 19 full size images are captured at a rate of about 0.7 frames per second (fps)

    - BSS (Best Shot Selector): The “best shot selector” is recommended when shooting with the flash set to off or the camera zoomed in, or in other situations in which inadvertent motion can result in blurred images. The camera captures a series of up to ten images while the shutter-release button is held all the way down, and the sharpest image in the series is then automatically selected and saved.

    - Multi-shot 16: Each time the shutter-release button is pressed all the way down, the camera shoots 16 images at a rate of about 22 frames per second (fps), then arranges them in a single image. Images are captured with the image mode locked at L ( image size: 2560 × 1920 pixels).

    • ISO Sensitivity: The Coolpix L120 can be left in Auto ISO where the camera selects ISO as required based on lighting conditions. The L120 also provides the following manual ISO settings which can be selected by choosing the tab labeled 'ISO sensitivity' in the camera's Shooting menu.

    Nikon Coolpix L120 Iso settings

    The ISO settings available on the Nikon Coolpix L120 include: Auto, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400 (at 3200 and 6400 ISO, the maximum image size is limited to 3M file size)

    • Colors options: The 'Colors Option' tab in the Shooting menu provides options for selecting from a variety of image settings for colours and tones. Available options include:

    - Standard color (default setting): Use for images exhibiting natural color
    - Vivid color: Use to achieve a vivid, “photoprint” effect
    - Black-and-white: Save images in black-and-white
    - Sepia: Save images in sepia tones
    - Cyanotype: Save images in cyan-blue monochrome

    The Coolpix L120 offers a dedicated playback button (green) located on the back of the camera beside the "MENU" button. Pushing the playback button displays the last image or movie taken. Pushing the "MENU" button while in playback mode activates the camera's playback menu. The options found in the playback menu include;

    Nikon Coolpix L120 playback menu

    • D-Lighting: D-Lighting can be used to create copies with enhanced brightness and contrast, brightening dark portions of an image. Enhanced copies are saved as separate files.

    • Print Order: tags which images on the card to print and the number of copies (used with compatible printers and photo kiosks).

    • Slideshow: View images saved in the internal memory or on a memory card in an automatic slide show.

    • Protect: Protect selected images from accidental deletion. Use the image selection screen to turn protection on and off for selected images.

    • Rotate Image: Images can be rotated 90° clockwise or counterclockwise. Images that were saved in the portrait (vertical) orientation can be rotated up to 180° in either direction.

    • Small Picture: Create a small copy of the current image. Suitable for uploading to websites or sending by e-mail. The following sizes are available: 640×480, 320×240, and 160×120.

    • Copy: Copy images between the camera's internal memory and a memory card.

    Nikon Coolpix L120: Movie Recording Functions

    You can use the Nikon Coolpix L120 to record 720p high-definition movies with stereo sound. The maximum file size for a single movie is 4 GB and the maximum movie length per clip is 29 minutes, even when there is sufficient free space on the memory card for longer recording.

    Coolpix L120 movie mode options

    The functions available in the Coolpix L120's Movie shooting menu include:

    • Movie options: Select from one of the three available movie recording modes including; HD 720p (1280×720), iFrame 540 (960×540) or VGA (640×480).

    • Autofocus mode:
    Select how the camera focuses in movie mode. Select from Single AF or Continuous AF.

    • Electronic VR: Turn the electronic vibration reduction setting for movies on or off. Default is on.

    • Wind noise reduction: Reduces the effects of wind noise when recording movies. Select from on or off (default).

    • Enhanced resolution: Set whether or not to enhance the resolution during movie recording. In Auto (default) the resolution is enhanced automatically. You can select to turn this feature off.

    The Coolpix L120 allows for in-camera movie trimming
    . Movies that have been trimmed are saved as a separate file.

    The Nikon Coolpix L120 runs on four AA type batteries. The camera comes supplied with regular disposable Alkaline batteries, so a set of rechargeable AA batteries and a charger are recommended.

    Alkaline batteries will allow for about 330 shots compared to being able to capture about 520 shots with a set of high powered rechargeable batteries.

    The L120 uses regular Secure Digital (SD) and the faster SDHC and SDXC type memory cards. A small amount of internal memory (102MB) is built-in to the camera for taking a few extra shots in a crunch. Memory cards with an SD Speed Class rating of 6 or faster are recommended for recording movies. Movie recording may stop unexpectedly when memory cards with a lower Speed Class rating are used.

    The connections for the Nikon Coolpix L120 are found behind a hinged rubber door near the top on the left side of the camera.

    The Coolpix L120 offers an HDMI output to connect the camera directly to an HD TV source. A cable is optional. Cables are supplied for both the USB and the Audio / Video output. The camera also offers an AC adapter plug (AC adapter optional).

    The Nikon Coolpix L120 comes supplied with a protective Lens Cap LC-CP22, a neck strap (AN-CP22), a USB cable (UC-E6), an Audio / Video Cable (EG-CP16), four Alkaline batteries and Nikon View NX 2 CD-ROM.

    Nikon Coolpix L120 Review: Performance and Conclusion

    Nikon Coolpix L120 in red front view

    In terms of features and design the Nikon Coolpix L120 offers easy operation and the camera's large textured grip provides for a comfortable hold. The unique second zoom control lever located on the side of the lens is a handy feature that allows the user to zoom in or out with ease while holding the camera steady with both hands.

    The L120 is one of the most affordable models available in the long range zoom compact camera category. The 21x Nikon zoom lens offers an impressive focal range from 25mm to 525mm in 35mm terms. Plenty of wide-angle coverage for shooting landscapes or for taking a picture of a larger group of people. The camera's strong telephoto abilities allows for zooming in on a subject from far away suitable for more candid portraits, wildlife and sports.

    Image quality from the L120's Nikkor lens falls within expectations, with some corner softness especially at wide-angle which is common to many point and shoot cameras. When shooting at the telephoto end, images did appear a bit softer, although this will not be as noticeable when printing regular sized prints or for online use.

    The Coolpix L120 incorporates a CCD-shift vibration reduction mechanism to compensate for potential camera shake (more likely to occur when shooting handheld at the telephoto end of the zoom or under lower light conditions). Generally however cameras that feature optical lens image stabilization technology (mechanism built-in to the lens), do tend to provide better results in terms of the degree of vibration reduction compensation provided. In our tests however, the Nikon L120 did a pretty good job at minimizing occurrences of image degrading blur all things considered.

    One of the disappointments with the Nikon Coolpix L120 is that the camera's built -in flash must be raised manually. It is easy to forget to raise the flash, and this could result in a missed opportunity. The camera does however offer a prompt on the LCD screen when the flash is required.

    The large 3.0-inch 921,000 dot resolution LCD monitor with wide viewing angle offers easy composition and playback capabilities. The cameras menu system is easy to read and navigate on the screen, and colours are vibrantly displayed. The brightness of the monitor can be adjusted in 5 steps depending on viewing conditions.

    The Nikon L120 provides for 720p HD movie recording ability in the MPEG4 format combined with stereo sound. The movie capabilities of the camera are good, although image stabilization is limited to electronic VR compensation, which means that there are occasions when there are fairly noticeable 'digital artifacts' (jaggies) in the video. This is a situation where a lens optical image stabilization system would offer better results (although along with that would come a higher camera price point).

    The Nikon L120 offers pretty good battery life with the 4 x AA batteries that power the camera. Being able to use a regular set of widely available AA batteries in a pinch is a nice feature. We would still recommend that Nikon L120 users invest in a set of rechargeable batteries and a charger, since running the camera on these types of batteries provides for considerably longer battery life (and of course supports the environment).

    Overall we found the Nikon Coolpix L120 quite capable of producing good results. The 14 megapixel sensor provides good image quality from 80 to 200 ISO, with digital noise (grain like effect) becoming quite noticeable from there on.

    The 3200 and 6400 ISO settings on the camera are limited to producing a maximum 3 megapixel file size, although even then we would recommend to stay away from these higher ISO settings unless for emergency use.

    If you are looking for a reasonably priced long-range zoom camera, the Nikon Coolpix L120 is one of the most affordable offerings on the market. With its 21x wide-angle zoom lens the L120 provides plenty of flexibility for capturing your shot.

    If you can do without the longer telephoto zoom, we would also recommend considering the more compact 14.1 MP Canon Powershot SX150 IS, offering a 12x zoom with optical image stabilization, a 3.0-inch LCD, HD movie recording, and providing both Auto and Manual exposure control modes, while priced in a similar range to the Nikon Coolpix L120.

    For trusted and reliable service we recommend buying the Nikon Coolpix L120 from Amazon.

    Nikon Coolpix L120 front side view black

    Nikon Coolpix L120 Image Sample Gallery

    Nikon Coolpix L120 Specifications

    Effective Pixels 14.1 million
    Image Sensor 1/2.3 type CCD
    Image Processing EXPEED C2
    Zoom Range Optical 21x
    Digital Approx. 4x
    Lens Focal Length 4.5-94.5mm (angle of view equivalent to that of 25-525mm lens in 35mm format)
    Maximum f/number f/3.1-5.8
    Lens Construction 12 elements in 9 groups
    Image Stabilization Combination of Image-sensor shift and Electronic VR (still pictures)
    AF System Contrast-detect AF
    Macro Focus Range 1cm from front of lens
    Autofocus (AF) Focus-area selection Center
    Face detection
    Focus Lock Yes
    AF Assist Beam Yes
    LCD Monitor 3-inch TFT-LCD with Anti-reflection coating

    Approx. 921,000 dots
    Wide viewing angle
    ISO Sensitivity ISO 80-6400

    Auto (auto gain ISO 80-800)
    Sport continuous (ISO 400-3200)

    3200 ISO and 6400 ISO setting is available only for image sizes of 3M (2048 x 1536) or smaller.
    Metering System 256-segment matrix, center-weighted
    AE Lock Yes
    Exposure Compensation Exposure compensation (-2.0 to +2.0 EV in steps of 1/3 EV)
    White Balance Control Auto
    Preset Manual
    Built-in Flash Auto, Manual Flash On / Off, Slow Synchro
    Flash Range [W]: 0.5 to 6.0 m
    [T]: 1.5 to 3.0m
    Scene Exposure Modes Back Light
    Black and White Copy
    Close Up
    Fireworks Show
    Night Landscape
    Night Portrait
    Panorama Assist
    Pet Portrait
    In-Camera Editing Crop
    Small Pic
    Self-Timer Can be selected from 10 and 2 seconds duration
    Movie File Format MPEG-4 AVC H.264

    Audio file format: AAC stereo
    Dedicated Movie Recording Button Yes
    Image File Size 14M (High) [4320 X 3240]
    14M [4320 x 3240]
    8M [3264 x 2448]
    5M [2592 x 1944]
    3M [2048 x 1536]
    PC [1024 x 768]
    VGA [640 x 480], 16:9 [4224 x 2376], 16:9 [1920 x 1080]
    Movie Recording File Size HD 720p: 1280 x 720 (30 fps)
    iFrame 540: 960 540 (30 fps)
    VGA: 640 x 480 (30 fps)
    Continuous Shooting Up to 19 shots at approx. 0.7 frames per second
    Storage Media Type Internal Memory: Approx. 102MB
    SD memory card
    SDHC memory card
    SDXC memory card
    Connections Audio/video (A/V) output
    Digital I/O (USB)
    HDMI Mini Connector (HDMI output) - Cable optional
    Menu Languages Arabic
    Chinese (Simplified and Traditional)
    Battery 4 AA-size batteries
    Battery Life AA Alkaline: 330 shots
    AA Lithium: 890 shots
    Dimensions Height: 77mm
    Width: 110mm
    Depth: 79mm
    Weight 431g
    Supplied Accessories Camera Strap AN-CP22
    Four LR6/L40 (AA-size) alkaline batteries
    UC-E6 USB Cable
    Audio Video Cable EG-CP16
    Nikon ViewNX 2 Software CD
    Lens Cap LC-CP22

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