At £55 the L31 is Nikon’s cheapest Coolpix camera and replaces the Coolpix L29. The new camera gets a 16.1MP CCD sensor, a 5x optical zoom range and it comes in black, silver, red and purple colour options. It’s worth noting that the outgoing L29 shares the exact same specs as the L31 and, save for some possible image processing differences, is essentially an identical camera.
Nikon Coolpix L31 Features
Entry-level cameras tend to go easy on the frills, and the L31 is no exception. You know the marketing men are scraping the barrel when the advertised key features include an ‘Easy-hold grip’ and ‘AA batteries’.
More importantly, the L31 has a 16.1-megapixel sensor and 5x optical zoom translating to a 35mm-equivalent range of 26-130mm. Proper optical image stabilisation isn’t included (only an ineffective electronic substitute), but you do get HD 720p video recording and Nikon’s Smart Portrait system that features automatic blink detection and red-eye correction, as well as a smile timer that’ll only trigger a shot when your subject smiles.
- 16.1 megapixel CCD sensor
- 5x optical zoom lens, 26-130mm equivalent, f/3.2-6.5
- 2.7-inch touch-screen, 230k-dot
- 720p HD video
- ISO100 to ISO1600
- Self Portrait system
- Powered by AA batteries
Nikon Coolpix L31 Handling
In a world where most compact cameras try to look super sleek and are therefore super slippery, the slightly chubby L31 is refreshingly pleasant to handle. Its pronounced finger grip and embossed thumb rest ensure the camera stays secure in the hand, yet the curvy design still slips easily into a relatively tight jeans pocket. The casing is all plastic, but it’s well put together with no flex.
Nikon is keen to spin the L31’s limited features as making the camera simple to operate, so buttons are minimal and of a fairly large size. Unfortunately, the cheap 2.7” screen is anything but easy to use, with poor viewing angles meaning image previews quickly wash out or turn black when the camera is viewed from a high or low angle. The 230k-dot resolution is also rather paltry, meaning images and menus can look pixelated.
With so few functions, the L31’s menus are streamlined and the camera is a doddle to configure.
The Scene button provides instant access to the camera’s scene modes and colour filters, and also lets you select a regular Auto mode which offers white balance adjustment, but no manual ISO control.
All the menus and display overlays are basic but clear, and there’s an exposure compensation control which works even in the fully-automatic Scene Auto Selector mode.
Battery life - As the L31 is powered by AA batteries, battery life is entirely dependent on the quality of fuel with which it’s loaded. Nikon claim a pair of alkaline cells will power the camera for 200 shots, whilst up to 750 photos are possible with lithium batteries. Using alkaline power we easily topped the 200 shot mark, though that was with minimal use of the flash.
Speed - We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.
|Wide - Focus / Shutter Response
|Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response
|Switch on Time to Taking a Photo
|Shot to Shot without Flash
|Shot to Shot with Flash
|Continuous Shooting - JPEG
(shots before slow down)
|1.2fps (5 shots), 0.4fps thereafter
Nikon Coolpix L31 Performance
The performance section is where we look at the image quality performance of the camera. Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.
Nikon Coolpix L31 Sample Photos
Sample Photos - Photos from the L31 are passable when viewed at 50% image size or smaller, but zoom in and grain noise is visible even at the minimum ISO100 sensitivity setting and can mask fine detail. Colours are also slightly washed out, and though exposure metering is usually accurate, underwhelming dynamic range causes highlight details to overexpose fairly easily. Indoor and low-light shots are plagued by blur from camera shake caused by a lack of proper image stabilisation combined with the camera’s reluctance to use higher ISO sensitivities.
Nikon Coolpix L31 Lens test images
Lens Performance - The L31’s 5x optical zoom lens generates no noticeable distortion at either end of the zoom range. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is obvious on very high contrast boundaries and sharpness deteriorated towards the corners of frame, though not by much. Autofocusing is fairly rapid in good light, though can slow to over two seconds in dimmer conditions. The lens will focus down to 5cm from your subject, but only when set to maximum wide angle.
Nikon Coolpix L31 ISO test images
ISO Noise Performance - As the L31 doesn’t provide manual ISO adjustment, we’re unable to bring you our usual ISO test shots. General usage revealed that the camera produces noticeable grain at low ISO sensitivities, though this doesn’t increase too badly at higher sensitivities. This is likely due to aggressive image processing, which has the side effect of significantly softening detail. At no point during our testing did the camera select the topmost ISO1600 sensitivity, causing low light images to be blurred from slow shutter speeds.
Nikon Coolpix L31 White-balance test images
White Balance Performance - Auto White Balance (AWB) performs well under tungsten lighting, with the tungsten preset giving an image with a yellow colour cast. AWB performs well under fluorescent lights, with the fluorescent preset giving a magenta colour cast.
Nikon Coolpix L31 Digital filters
Digital Filters - The L31 has five filter effects which preview live and are recorded at full resolution. They are: Nostalgic sepia, High-contrast monochrome, Selective color (choose from 12 colour options), Pop and Cyanotype.
Video - Videos are captured at a HD 1280x720 resolution. Optical zoom isn’t available during recording, but you can use digital zoom, however this will make the already soft detail levels even softer.
Value For Money
The Nikon Coolpix L31 is an entry-level compact camera with an RRP of around £55. Similar budget-conscious options include the Fujifilm Finepix AX650 (£60), Canon IXUS 145 (£70), Sony Cyber-shot W800 (£69) and Panasonic Lumix XS3 (£71). The Canon, Sony and Panasonic cameras will set you back more money up front, but unlike the L31, they include rechargeable batteries.
You'll also need to buy a memory card and a case or bag to keep your camera safe and protected - have a look at our complete guide to camera bags.
Nikon Coolpix L31 Verdict
The L31 is a reasonably competent camera that’s easy to use, but don’t expect to be blown away by its image quality or processing speed. Images taken in good light are passable - albeit with limited dynamic range and under-saturated colour - but indoor and low light shots are soft and susceptible to noticeable grain noise as well as blur from camera shake.
Image processing speed is also slow and the camera can be sluggish to respond to your commands, but at least this is partly compensated for by the L31’s low price. Sacrificing a rechargeable Li-ion battery for AA cells also helps cut costs, but bear in mind that cameras including a rechargeable power pack can be had for only a little more cash and could prove cheaper to run over time. Go for the Canon IXUS 145 and you’ll also get a greater zoom range, making the L31 look like even more of a false economy.
Nikon Coolpix L31 Specifications
|Max Aperture||f/3.2 - f/6.5|
|35mm equivalent||26mm - 130mm|
|Sensor Size||1/2.3 inch|
|Sensor Size (width)||No Data|
|Sensor Size (height)||No Data|
|Screen resolution||230k dot|
|Shutter speeds shortest||1/2000sec|
|Shutter speeds longest||4sec|
- Centre-weighted - Average
|ISO sensitivity||80 - 1600|
|Exposure Comp||No Data|
|Optical Zoom with Video||No|
|Box Contents||Camera Strap, LR6/L40 (AA-size) alkaline batteries (x2), USB Cable UC-E16, ViewNX 2 Installer CD, Reference Manual CD|
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