Holiday gift guide: Digital cameras

With many camera's now boasting 12 megapixels, resolution doesn't matter so much now, but what does?

CoolPix L10 Silver Digital Camera

The Nikon Coolpix L10 (US$120 as of 5/10/07) is an excellent value for a simple snapshot camera. Yet there's nothing cheap-looking about the L10: It has a stylish, thin-profile body that slides nicely into a pocket.

This 5-megapixel camera has a 3X optical zoom that's suitable for basic point-and-shoot photography. It has 15 scene modes for various lighting conditions, and a face-priority mode that optimizes the automatic focus for shots of human faces. As you'd expect in a low-cost camera, it lacks many advanced features, such as exposure bracketing, spot metering, and manual focus, though it does offer white-balance calibration.

I liked using the L10, for the most part. Despite its smallish size, it felt comfortable, even when shooting one-handed. Startup is a quick 2 seconds. Everything is kept simple--there's no mode dial, for example, just a slide switch for selecting full auto mode, the scene mode selected in the menus, or movie mode. Key controls consist of three clearly labeled buttons: photo review, photo delete, and menu display. The camera's menu is short and easy to navigate, and when you're using the menu, pressing the zoom button pops up an all-too-brief description of each menu function. The descriptions for the scene modes are more valuable. Unfortunately, I found that the zoom control races from wide to telephoto (or vice versa) so quickly that it's hard to set a precise, intermediate focal length.

The photos I took looked nearly as sharp as those produced by my 5.1-megapixel Olympus 5060 (which, a few years ago, was state-of-the-art and five times more expensive). In lab tests conducted by the PC World Test Center, the L10 earned an overall image quality score of Good on indoor shots. It earned high marks for exposure and color accuracy, but low ones for sharpness and distortion. In my informal shots, colors tended to look a little weak. In auto mode, an outdoor scene with lots of sky and water had a bluish tint. Switching to Daylight color balance made the whites a little brighter. An indoor flash photo had better colors when I switched to the camera's Party/Indoor scene mode.

Mostly because of the L10's small size, you do not get an eye-level viewfinder. Fortunately, the LCD screen can be used to frame your photos even in bright sunlight, though it has a smallish size, at 2 inches. The camera's 7 megabytes of internal memory will hold only about seven shots at the highest resolution setting, but it's handy for capturing must-have photos when your SD Card (not included) is full or when you forget to put the card back in the camera, as I have done numerous times.

The L10 runs on two AA cells, and it performed well in our battery tests, lasting 343 shots (recently tested digital cameras averaged 260 frames).

Included on the CD-ROM is PictureProject, a mediocre application for organizing and editing your photos. The software could benefit greatly from a better tool for managing color balance.

Overall, the Coolpix L10 is an attractive package if you're looking for a simple camera that has a low price and that will fit in your pocket.

Tracey Capen

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