The £90 Coolpix L4 is the least expensive of Nikon's low-end L-series line of digital cameras. The L4 has a small, 4-megapixel sensor, a 3x optical zoom lens and a handful of scene preset modes but few high-end settings. Though slow and not very versatile, it produces some pretty good pictures for its price.
The L4's silver-plastic body is compact, light and fairly stylish for such a low-end camera. At 36mm thick, the L4 is a little too fat to slip into your jeans, but it weighs less than 170g, even with an SD card and two AA batteries, making it comfortable to carry in a jacket or handbag.
Controls are simple and direct, though the recessed buttons might make thicker-fingered users feel awkward. The top side of the camera holds a large, round shutter-release button and a smaller, rectangular power button. The power button isn't as responsive as we would have liked, and it needs to be held down for a few seconds to start up the camera.
The back panel holds the rest of the camera's controls. There's a small zoom rocker, a mode slider for switching between automatic, scene-assist and movie modes, a four-way-plus-OK control pad, and menu, review and delete buttons sit next to the L4's 51mm (2-inch) LCD. The control pad can navigate the camera's menu system as well as directly access the flash, timer, and macro modes.
Like most low-end, budget digital cameras, the Nikon Coolpix L4 is a little lacking in the features department. ISO sensitivity is set automatically, although white balance and exposure compensation give some degree of control. An ample assortment of 15 scene presets help make up for the meagre manual controls by configuring the camera to shoot under special situations, such as inside a museum or against a backlight.
While the camera has a 640x480-pixel movie mode, it shoots at only 15fps and doesn't record sound. For a fully functional movie mode, try the L4's bigger brother, the Nikon Coolpix L3, which shoots VGA movies at 30fps with sound (for around £30 more). The L4 doesn't have an image stabilisation mode, though it does detect possibly blurry photos as you take them based on a number of camera settings, such as shutter speed, and prompts you to save or delete the questionable image.
The L4's performance was sluggish, but in good lighting, the L4 is still quite usable. After an irritating 4.5 seconds to start up and capture its first image, the L4 can snap off an image every 2.9 seconds. With the onboard flash enabled, the rate slows to 4.4 seconds. Shutter lag is a decent 0.9 seconds in adequate lighting but a disappointing 2 seconds under dim light.
Images from the Coolpix L4 reproduced colours faithfully, but still suffered from some annoying issues. We noticed distinct purple fringing along high-contrast edges, and some finer details were softened in postprocessing. Despite these flaws, our images generally turned out clear and noise-free.
The Nikon Coolpix L4 isn't the quickest or most versatile camera out there, but its solid images and tiny price tag make it a good choice for budget-minded photographers who don't need too many options.
Additional editing by Nick Hide