Good grief, do they still make 8-megapixel compacts? Yes they do, and the bargain-basement Nikon Coolpix L19 can be yours for just £90 or thereabouts. You don't get cutting-edge camera design with the L19, but you do get a cheap and sturdy snapper that's perfect for the rough and tumble of family life.
The L19 might not be the sort of camera you'd buy for yourself, but it's ideal for giving to people who don't know anything about photography and don't particularly want to. It's the cheaper version of the Coolpix L20, with a smaller screen -- 69mm (2.7 inches) instead of 76mm (3 inches) -- and 2 megapixels less. Neither of these points matter one jot. The LCD resolution is just the same, so the L19's screen is smaller but sharper, and 8 million pixels are perfectly adequate for a family snapper. Best of all, though, the L19 sneaks under that £100 price barrier and looks much more attractive as a result.
It's plasticky and lump-esque, but the L19 feels sturdy. Like the L20, it runs on a pair of AA batteries. There's no fussing over chargers -- just pop in a couple of alkalines, wait until they run out and pop in a couple more. You should get a couple of hundred shots from a single set too, so the L19 is both practical and economical to run.
It's also easy to work. Just start it up, press the 'mode' button on the top and decide whether you want 'easy auto', a scene mode, smile mode, movie mode or standard auto mode. In theory, easy auto mode chooses one of a handful of scene modes automatically. In practice, you just leave it to get on with the job -- the shots seem to come out fine, anyway.
Actually, though, who are Nikon kidding? Calling it 'easy auto' suggests that the normal auto mode is complicated. But, even in the standard auto mode, there are only four things on the menu: image size and quality, white balance, drive mode and colour options. The navipad has buttons for flash mode, EV compensation, macro mode and the self timer, and that's it.
Note the absence of any ISO adjustment. This was one of our beefs with the L20 and it's just as annoying here. If users are clever enough to figure out how to make this camera's face and smile detection work, surely they can be trusted with the ISO?
The zoom range isn't ideal, either. The slightly smaller sensor in this camera means that the lens effectively becomes 'longer' than the L20's, with an equivalent focal range of 41-145mm. A wideangle it is not, and there are going to be situations where you just can't move far enough back to get everything in the frame.
The zoom range isn't ideal, the resolution is modest and you have very little manual control, but the Nikon Coolpix L19 is still rather appealing in a perverse kind of way. It's even more simplistic than the L20, but this, combined with the lower price, makes it feel much more suited to family use.
Edited by Charles Kloet