If you're ready to step up to a superzoom but balk at the cost, Nikon's budget Coolpix L100 could be the answer. At around £240, it's hardly cheap, but it'll cost you a good deal less than the top-end Coolpix P90 and other premium superzooms, and the 15x zoom and 10-megapixel sensor aren't bad.
Here's an interesting factoid. Nikon quotes a battery life of 230 shots from the li-ion cell in its upmarket P90, while the cheaper L100 uses ordinary alkalines. In the old days, these were the poor relations of the battery world, cursed by a short and unpredictable life expectancy. But now Nikon says the L100 can take 350 shots on a single set of alkalines and 900 shots on disposable lithium cells. Times have changed. AAs might be the cheap option, but they're extremely practical, especially in the L100.
There's more to like. This camera's aimed at budget-conscious beginners, so there are precious few frills, making the L100 pleasingly simple to use. It starts up fast, zooms fast and focuses fast. The 15x zoom range is slightly down on the market leaders, but it's equivalent to 28-420mm, so it's still a wideangle zoom and should be enough for all but the most distant subjects.
You also get a big, 76mm (3-inch) display, solid build quality and all the fancy technology found in the rest of the Nikon range. This includes 13 frames per second continuous shooting -- although only at 3 megapixels and a bizarre ISO 720 minimum -- and vibration reduction, as well as face-, smile- and blink-detection.
The picture quality's good too. Who needs 12 megapixels? The L100 gets just as much detail out of its 10-megapixel sensor, helped by a decent lens that doesn't lose much sharpness even at full stretch.
But there are two real issues with this camera. You lose the P90's fancy exposure modes, its electronic viewfinder and its tilting LCD, but you can live without those. Nikon, however, has also removed any kind of manual ISO control. This is just mad. With these tiny, high-resolution sensors, hands-on control of the ISO is the only way to squeeze out the best-possible picture quality. When the light levels drop, the L100 ramps up the ISO whether you like it or not. Even if you've got the thing welded to a 3-tonne tripod, Nikon knows best.
There's also something funny about the LCD. It looks fine most of the time, but it seems to take on a greenish, yellowish tone in bright light. The pictures are fine, but they might not look it while you're taking them.
It's a shame, because the L100 is a likeable camera otherwise. It does pretty much everything a full-blown superzoom would do but without the fuss and high cost.
The Nikon Coolpix L100 starts off well, coming across as a well-made, practical, straightforward superzoom that delivers satisfactory results. But, once you notice the iffy LCD and the fact you can't change the ISO manually, it all turns slightly sour. The L100 is good, but it could really have done without these two cutbacks.
Edited by Charles Kloet