Not everyone needs a hi-tech digital camera that's packed with the latest gadgets. The Nikon Coolpix L22 comes in at just £80, while offering a 12-megapixel resolution and a 3.6x zoom. But can you expect a decent camera at this price?
The L22 makes a very good first impression. It's chunky, solid and comes in a choice of red, silver and black. It's made of plastic, but the high-gloss, lacquered finish on the front, and the smooth, matte black on the back are really rather classy.
The L22 starts up quickly, and the 75mm (3-inch) display on the back is bright, crisp and clear. With a resolution of 230,000 pixels, it's really very good for a camera of this price. The zoom range is adequate rather than exceptional, and it's not particularly fast, but the autofocus is okay, so the L22 is a pretty decent camera to use overall.
It runs on a pair of AA batteries, which is fine if you're the type to only use your camera occasionally. In fact, Nikon quotes a battery life of 240 shots with ordinary alkaline cells and up to 660 with lithium disposables, so the L22 should be good on longer expeditions too.
The controls are very straightforward, as you'd hope for in a camera designed for novices and casual snappers. There's an 'easy auto' mode that does everything for you; a good selection of scene modes; and a 'smart portrait' mode that uses face-detection and smile-detection software to make sure your subject's wearing a happy face before the camera takes the picture. Finally, there's a standard auto mode in which you can adjust the camera settings before you take a shot.
The L22's pictures are decent, as long as you're shooting in good light and the camera uses a low ISO. When the light gets worse, so does the quality -- and the risk of blurring. The L22 has electronic vibration reduction rather than optical image stabilisation, and it's really not much good at controlling camera shake.
What's really bizarre is that there's no way of setting the ISO manually. You can adjust some of the settings -- like the image size, white balance and colour options (black and white, sepia and so on) -- and decide whether to take a single shot or shoot continuously, but you can't change the ISO.
Nikon clearly thinks the sort of people it's aiming the L22 at won't want to get involved in ISO technicalities, despite the fact that manually choosing a low ISO (and bracing the camera) is the single most important way to get any kind of quality from a compact digital camera. Why not make the white balance automatic instead?
The L22's budget background has an impact on the zoom range, too. Its minimum focal length is 37mm, which is a pain in the neck if you're trying to shoot in confined spaces. There are plenty of compacts around now with wide-angle zooms that are much more useful.
The Nikon Coolpix L22 is rather simplistic, and it's not the most versatile camera around, but it's very well made and easy to use. In good lighting, the 3.6x zoom and 12-megapixel sensor deliver the kind of quality you can get from cameras that cost two or three times as much.
Edited by Charles Kloet