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Nikon Coolpix L120 Ultra Zoom Review

With a 21x optical zoom lens, the Nikon lets you get close to your subjects, find out how it rates in our review.

| Nikon Coolpix L120 in Compact Cameras
BUY NOW NIKON Coolpix L120

Nikon Coolpix L120 Ultra Zoom Review:

The Nikon Coolpix L120 is Nikon's easy to use ultra zoom with a wide-angle 21x optical zoom lens, a high resolution 3 inch screen, and a 14 megapixel CCD sensor. Other stand out features include 720p HD video with stereo sound, a large rubber hand grip, side zoom control and AA battery power. Find out how the camera performs in our review.

Nikon Coolpix L120 Ultra Zoom Review:

Nikon Coolpix L120 Features

The Nikon Coolpix L120 camera features a relatively compact design for an ultra zoom camera, while also using AA batteries meaning you should never need to worry about charging your batteries, as you'll be able to find AA batteries in every corner shop in the world. 

The wide angle zoom lens, provides 21x optical zoom, zooming from 25mm wide angle to 525mm telephoto. Another neat trick up the camera's "sleeves" is the impressive macro mode, switch this on, zoom the lens to a marking on the zoom range on screen, and you'll be able to take photos with 5x optical zoom of a subject just 1cm in front of the lens. 

Nikon Coolpix L120 Ultra Zoom Review:

Stereo sound is included thanks to the built in stereo microphones, HDMI out helps make the most of the 720p video, a focus assist lamp should help in low light, and the built in pop-up flash copes well with portrait photos. A side zoom control is another feature that helps the L120 stand out from other ultra zoom cameras. You can also buy the camera in a strong dark red colour.

The 3 inch screen has a very good resolution of 921k pixels, making composing and viewing photos and videos good. The camera also features a dedicated video recording button, as well as direct access to the most popular settings on the back of the camera using the 4-way controller.

Nikon Coolpix L120 Ultra Zoom Review:

Key Features 
  • 14.1 megapixel CCD image sensor
  • 21x optical zoom lens, f/3.1-5.8, 25-525mm in 35mm equivalent
  • 3inch screen, 921k pixels
  • HD movie recording, 720p with optical zoom, autofocus and stereo sound
  • Advanced Face Priority AF with in-camera red-eye fix
  • Smart portrait system: Smile Timer, Skin softening
  • Image stabilisation: Image-sensor shift Vibration Reduction (VR)
  • ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
  • 1cm Macro mode
  • Pop-up flash (manual-button)
  • Side zoom control
Nikon Coolpix L120 Ultra Zoom Review:

Nikon Coolpix L120 Handling

The front hand grip is rubberised, with a great texture surrounding it, this makes it very easy to hold on firmly to the camera. There's also a rubberised thumb grip on the back that works well. 

Metal tripod mount, and metal strap loops give the impression of a sturdy and well build camera, however the body of the camera feels a little plastic - and when you have a firm two handed grip on the camera it feels a little creaky. 

The battery compartment is well designed with a latch so that you can't accidentally open it, and the memory card and batteries are easy to access and remove when you need to. In very bright sunlight the screen can be a little difficult to see, and as this model does not feature an electronic viewfinder, it can make composing shots difficult.

Menus: There is no mode dial, instead you press the scene / photo button on the back of the camera, and then you can switch between the five main modes: Easy auto, Scenes (17), Smart portrait, Sport continuous, and Auto mode. Using the Auto mode gives you the most options in the menus of the camera, however, even then the number of options available are quite limited. The menus are designed for ease of use, as an ultra zoom point and shoot camera, as you can tell by the lack of manual mode - for this you would need to switch to the Nikon Coolpix P500.

Nikon Coolpix L120 Ultra Zoom Review:

Battery Life: The CIPA rating is 330 shots (Alkaline, LR6), 520 shots (Ni-MH), or upto 890 shots with Lithium battery (FR6). 

Speed: The Nikon Coolpix L120 does not feature a CMOS sensor, instead using a more traditional CCD sensor, this means that the camera does not feature some of the more advanced high speed shooting modes, as featured on the Nikon Coolpix S9100, or P500, however, the L120 is still capable of solid performance, as can be seen below. We have included the S9100 as a reference for a quick CMOS-sensor based camera.

Nikon Coolpix L120
Nikon Coolpix S9100
Shutter Reponse 0.05
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response 0.25
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response 0.4
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 1.2
Shot to Shot (without flash) 2.1
Shot to Shot with Flash 2.3   1.7-2.0
Continuous Shooting (full resolution) 1.4s
9.5fps (5 shots)

Despite using a CCD sensor, the L120 is still capable of quick performance with a very fast shutter response, fast focusing at both wide and telephoto, a quick switch on time, and average shot to shot time. The biggest weakness is the slow continuous shooting, taking 1.4 seconds between shots. The L120 also features a sports continuous shooting mode that will shoot 19 shots in 1.3 seconds, at PC / VGA resolution.

Nikon Coolpix L120 Performance

Here are a number of sample photos taken in a variety of lighting conditions, including real world photos, as well as our range of studio test shots. Click on the image to view full size.

Bright trees, dark clouds Rape seed field, blue sky

ISO and Noise Performance

ISO80 ISO100 ISO200 ISO400
ISO800 ISO1600 ISO3200* ISO6400*

*ISO3200 and ISO6400 are at a reduced resolution of 3mp, of these I would only want to use ISO3200 for resized images, and avoid ISO6400 if at all possible.

At ISO80 noise is only noticeable in the darkest areas, such as black and dark greys, with the rest of the image showing good detail and low noise levels. At ISO100 noise starts creeping in to the darker colours. ISO200 shows increased levels of noise, and when viewing images at 100% it's possible to see multi-coloured noise. As the ISO setting increase further to ISO400, it's possible to see that the increased noise levels are having a negative effect on edge detail. It's at ISO800 that noise becomes damaging to overall image quality, and ideally it would be best if you used ISO400 or below. At ISO1600 there is much stronger noise reduction reducing fine detail, but strangely producing an image that appears to have less noise than ISO800 - although you can tell that image quality has been negatively affected due to black dots.

Wide-angle, 25mm equivalent Some-zoom, 103mm equivalent
Full 21x optical zoom, 525mm equivalent Thoresby Hall water fountain

The 21x optical zoom lens gives an impressive range of zoom, from 25mm wide angle, to 525mm equivalent telephoto zoom, and under bright sunny conditions the full optical zoom can be used well when hand held, however under less than ideal conditions a tripod may be necessary for best results. The camera shows some purple fringing in the trees at wide-angle and some in the full optical zoom zoom.

Portrait with flash White deer

Flash performance is good, and the camera has generally low red-eye, producing pleasing portrait photos. The camera also features a smart portrait mode that will automatically take a photo when the subject is smiling.

White Balance:

Auto white balance - Incandescent light Incandescent preset - Incandescent light
Auto white balance - Fluorescent light Fluorescent preset - Fluorescent light

Auto white balance produces warm images under incandescent / tungsten lighting, with the tungsten preset providing more neutral image colours. Under fluorescent lighting, the auto white balance produces excellent results, and using one of the fluorescent presets does little to improve the camera's performance. For the most part using auto white balance produces excellent results.

Macro Performance: 

Standard Macro Telephoto macro
Telephoto macro White moth

The macro ability of the lens is extremely impressive; with the best lens position marked on screen it makes it very easy to set the camera to the best setting to achieve the closest focusing distance. The only potential issue is that manual focus is not available, and focusing can be a little tricky as the in-focus area becomes very narrow.

Video Mode

Nikon Coolpix L120 720p HD Sample Video.

Video recording on the L120 allows the use of optical zoom, continuous auto focus, and electronic stabilisation, using an angular velocity sensor. There are options to switch on wind noise reduction. Video quality is good, although when using the full optical zoom a tripod is highly recommended.

Value for Money
The Nikon Coolpix L120 is available for £201, compared to the Olympus SP-610UZ (22x optical zoom, £143), and Fujifilm FinePix S2950HD (18x optical zoom, £145), this puts the Nikon Coolpix L120 at the more expensive end of the mid-range ultra zoom cameras. Although for more zoom, excluding the Olympus SP-610UZ model, you will be looking at more money, for example the Panasonic Lumix FZ45 with 24x zoom is £269, the Nikon Coolpix P500 with 36x optical zoom is £298, and the Canon Powershot SX30 IS with 35x zoom is £349. Some of the other models feature things like built in panoramic stitching, and 3D photos, while the L120 does not.

Nikon Coolpix L120 Verdict

The Nikon Coolpix L120 is a solid all rounder, with exceptional macro performance. Features compared to some of the competition seem a little low, for example there is no built in panoramic stitching, HDR, or other new modes. Handling is particularly pleasing with the excellent large rubber hand grip. Image quality is generally very good under good lighting, and respectable under poor lighting, although you will need to be aware that using the full optical zoom you will not always be able to hand-hold the camera, and a tripod is recommended to get the best out of it. Value could be better, however, if you want a good performing camera with an excellent feel then the Nikon Coolpix L120 is worth looking at, especially if you're interested in macro photography.

Nikon Coolpix L120 Pros:
Good image quality
720p video with optical zoom and stereo sound
Quick performance overall
Excellent macro performance
Built in vibration reduction
Excellent 3inch screen, 921k pixels

Nikon Coolpix L120 Cons:

Slow continuous shooting
Noise levels higher than CMOS based cameras
Doesn't feature built in panoramic stitching


Nikon Coolpix L120 Specification

Price £201
Lens 21x optical zoom (25-525mm equivalent)
Resolution 14.1 million pixels
Sensor size 1/2.3 inch
Sensor type CCD
Max. Image size 4320 x 3240
Aspect ratio 4:3, 16:9
Monitor 3.0in TFT LCD monitor, 921000 pixels
Shutter speed 1/1000-1 sec. (when ISO sensitivity set to Auto)
1/4000-1/60 sec. (sport continuous mode)
4 sec. (when scene mode is set to Fireworks show)
Focusing system Contrast-detect AF
Focusing modes Center, Face detection
Focus distance Normal shooting: approx. 30 cm (1 ft.) to infinity (at wide angle setting), approx. 1.5 m (5 ft.) to infinity (at telephoto setting), Macro close-up mode: approx. 1 cm (0.4 in.) to infinity (at closest focus distance), approx. 1.5 m (5 ft.) to infinity (at telephoto setting)
File types Still pictures: JPEG, Movie file format: MPEG-4 AVC H.264, Sound files: AAC stereo
ISO sensitivity ISO80 - 6400
Metering modes 256-segment matrix, Center-weighted
Exposure compensation -2.0 to +2.0 EV in steps of 1/3 EV
Continuous Up to 19 shots at approx. 0.7 frames per second
Image stabilisation Yes - Vibration Reduction (VR) Image-sensor shift type + electronic type (still image)
Movie mode 720p: 1280x720, 30fps, stereo sound.
Media type Internal memory (approx. 102 MB), SD/SDHC/SDXC/UHSC memory card
Interface Hi-Speed USB 2.0 / Pictbridge / Audio/video (A/V) output / HDMI Mini Connector (HDMI output)
Power Four AA-size batteries.
Box Contents Camera, R6/AA-size alkaline batteries x 4 USB Cable UC-E6 Audio Video Cable EG-CP16 Camera Strap AN-CP21 Lens Cap LC-CP22 ViewNX 2 CD-ROM, 2 year warranty.
Size 109.9 x 76.5 x 78.4 mm
Weight Approx. 431g. (with battery and SD memory card)

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Photographs taken using the Nikon Nikon Coolpix L120

BlossomCalming Colours in the StrawWild Cute RabbitEndless GrowthDarknessBright Worlds of ColourSea of GreenLazy PathSmall and LonelySummer MemoriesTree topsLunch in Long GrassDivinityBack for MoreFeast among the Leaves

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tomfrom66 Avatar
I bought this camera but did not keep it.

It has a number of significant plusses: easy in the hand; superb viewfinder; generally excellent still images.

The negatives were the lack of any real manual control - though the scene modes were good - but the crunch was the movie mode which I thought was a bit basic.

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