Nikon Coolpix L120 review

Nikon's new L-series model wows with its 21x zoom, but what about image quality?

Nikon Coolpix L120 Review
Nikon's new L-series model boasts a whopping 21x optical zoom

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Nikon L120 Review: Build and handling

Repeating several aesthetic aspects of the Coolpix L110, which was launched last year, the new L-series unit sees the L110's comfortably large grip and raises it a rubberised thumb pad for extra shooting stability.

Also like its predecessor, the L120 gains its power from four AA batteries (alkaline, lithium or rechargeable Ni-MH), provoking potential customers to weigh up the pros of topping up power more easily on location against the cons of additional expense and camera weight.

What is more, the battery compartment is shared with the memory card slot (SD, SDHC, SDXC), so extra care needs to be taken as there is no mechanism in place to stop the batteries falling out when changing cards.

Battery life was moderately pleasing using alkaline batteries, mainly thanks to its energy-saving feature which turns off the LCD after a minute of inactivity and completely deactivates the camera after several minutes if it hasn't been used.

We found that instead of the 330 shots (or 3 hours and five minutes 720p HD footage) promised by the manual, our toll actually just skimmed beneath the 300 frame mark. However, Nikon claims the device is capable of recording up to an impressive 890 images (or 7 hours 45 minutes 720p HD footage) when using lithium batteries.

Weighing in at a rather cumbersome 431g and offering fairly modest dimensions for a bridge, the L120 is actually reassuringly rugged and tests suggest it can take more than the average number of knocks and bumps.

Other than traditional black, the L120 is also available in red and tends to reflect the atypical look of a super-zoom. A pop-up flash providing a range of 6m is positioned on top of the device; disappointingly, however, it doesn't activate automatically and instead users must press the dedicated button when prompted.

Upon activation the entombed lens extends marginally from its lengthy barrel, providing a maximum aperture of f/3.1 which isn't as fast as many of its contemporaries – many delivering f/2.8, but its superior equivalent focal length of 25-535mm is satisfying compensation.

Uniquely the L120 lens barrel features a side control zoom, which is smoother, yet slower, than the traditional zoom control here placed above the grip. As well as being a fantastic asset for video-makers who require smoother zooms, this is also a practical addition for left-handed shooters.

Dotted around the rear of the device we see the usual array of buttons, including scene, playback, menu, erase and a dedicated movie-making control, as well as a traditional D-Pad featuring timer, flash, exposure comp, macro and OK.

Connection options come in the form of HDMI, AV out and USB. Operating the camera was extremely straightforward as menu options are kept simple and streamlined. We noticed a slight lag on video start-up, but nothing noticeable when shooting stills, and the camera's refresh rate is reassuringly quick.

The incorporated wide angle 7.5cm (3in) TFT LCD provides a fantastically strong resolution of 921k-dot and is actually realistically viewable from many angles in most lighting scenarios due to its anti-reflection coating, and users can choose from one of five levels of brightness. Images are presented accurately and the wide-angle nature of the screen makes framing a doddle, which is fortunate as the unit lacks a dedicated viewfinder.

Playback options are sadly limited, offering little more than D-Lighting, Resizing and the ability to zoom in at x3 to x10. There is no facility for quickly scanning through pictures, and if users exit playback mode the camera shuffles the order back to the beginning.