Looking at the 12-megapixel Nikon Coolpix L22, you can understand why someone would buy it. It’s a good-looking compact camera at a low price with three things people would be attracted to: a 3-inch LCD, AA batteries for power, and the Nikon brand. Pop in its batteries and the camera has a nice weight to it, making it feel like a sturdy, well-built camera. And like most in its class, the L22 is very much a fully automatic point-and-shoot with little to adjust except for maybe picking an appropriate scene mode.
The L22 is a little too limited in the feature department, though, which can make it difficult to get usable photos. Team that with mediocre lens quality and some performance concerns and you have an entry-level camera that’s really not good for much beyond taking snapshots of portraits and landscapes in full sunlight for use at small sizes or online.
Again, with the batteries in it, the L22 has a nice weight to it. The AA-size batteries are the main attraction here, and the L22 can be used with alkalines, long-life lithium-ion cells, and rechargeable NiMHs. The battery compartment is difficult to open, and more so to close. It has a latch to secure it, but according to several user reviews it’s fairly weak and breaks easily. I had no trouble with my review camera, but looking at the tiny latch, it’s not surprising; with the batteries out, the L22 feels considerably less sturdy.
It is comfortable to use, though, with simple controls that are big and easy to read. The screen is larger than usual for an entry-level camera and gets reasonably bright; I still had trouble using it in bright sun, but that can be said about a lot of LCDs. The lens, on the other hand, is a disappointment.
With Nikon’s name you might expect a certain level of quality from the lens. The L22′s is fairly inconsistent: it’s reasonably sharp in the center, but gets noticeably softer to the sides, top, bottom, and corners. The lower left side of the lens was particularly bad on my review camera, causing severe softness that was visible even at small sizes.
Also, while its 3.6x optical zoom is what I expect in this class, there’s no way to shut off the camera’s 4x digital zoom, which results in horrible photos if you use it. There is a marker where it changes over from optical to digital zoom on the zoom indicator and it changes color. However, it’s very easy to overshoot the optical zoom range if you’re not paying attention to the screen.
The lens actually has quite a bit of barrel distortion, too, but at least Nikon does an excellent job of correcting for it. The same goes for fringing in high-contrast areas of photos; it was only really visible when photos were viewed at 100 percent.
No camera manufacturer makes a sub-$120 camera with manual or semimanual shooting modes; it’s just basic point-and-shoots at this price point. Of the cameras I’ve tested at this price, the L22 has the least control. The Auto mode is as good as it gets–it’s basically the same as the program auto mode on other cameras, but it just lets you turn on continuous shooting, change the white balance, and select one of the four color filters. You can change the resolution, too, but that’s available in all modes.
The L22 has an ISO sensitivity range from 80 to 1,600. However, you have no control over ISO settings–it’s auto only. If your subject is in the center of the frame and you have plenty of light so that the sensitivity stays below ISO 400, you can get good photos from the camera. For most of my indoor low-light test shots, though, the camera went with ISO 800 and very slow shutter speeds. The results are predictably mediocre, soft and smeary with color shifting. The camera also struggles with focusing in dim lighting, doing a lot of hunting, and there’s a noticeable shutter lag. If you’re considering the L22 to use indoors at all, don’t. Should your subject move, you have shaky hands, or both, you’ll likely end up with blurry shots unless you use the flash. This camera is really only good for stills of stationary subjects under bright lighting, preferably outdoors.
I say preferably outdoors because while colors are pleasing from the L22 (and probably the best thing about this camera), the auto white balance is fairly yellow-green under fluorescent light and warm under incandescent. Oddly enough there is a manual white balance that works really well, but it’s only available in Auto mode.
For those who like to shoot close-ups, the L22 can focus on a subject as close as 2 inches. As long as your subject is in the middle of the lens, you’ll end up with decent shots considering the camera’s price. Although you’ll probably want to sharpen them a bit with software once they’re on a computer.
Video quality is good enough for Web use, but not much else. The zoom lens does not function while recording, but you do have a digital zoom; I suggest not using it, as the results are unpleasant.
Shooting performance is somewhat slow, but on par with other cameras in its class. However, if you’re shooting with the electronic image stabilization, the camera becomes sluggish between shots.
It’s cameras like the Nikon Coolpix L22 that have people reaching for their smartphones and camera phones instead of an actual camera. It’s true, you really shouldn’t expect much at this price, but I do expect something. For the same money you can pick up Canon’s PowerShot A495 and get more features and better photos.
Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
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