OK, I had occasion to buy myself a new camera and chose the COOLPIX S8200
. As luck would have it, a couple of weeks later I was offered this one, the COOLPIX L610 as a review item. A little annoying, as (perhaps) I needn't have spent the money on the S8200, but also fortuitous as it allows me to make a direct comparison between what appear to be two more or less identical cameras.
I say "identical" but of course they aren't. The main differences that I can see are the price (of course), the power-pack and the look. Other than that, there's little to choose - both have the same lens, the same image resolution and the same LCD screen. I will add that there are in fact one or two other differences in the internal workings of the two cameras and the S8200 is, on paper, the more capable of the two but, these differences are only immediately detectable by comparing the details in the two manuals and probably won't make any practical difference to the casual snapper.
In the box
The camera comes neatly packaged in a nice small-ish box with a number of accessories and paperwork. You get:
= The camera
= A USB cable
= An AV cable
= A lanyard
= A couple of AA batteries
= A charger adapter
= A quick start manual
= A CD with Nikon's image processing software
= A second CD with reference information, including the detailed user manual.
There is no SD card provided so you will need to buy one of these and neither is there a camera case.
The camera itself is about the size of a packet of cigarettes, but a little deeper and it slips into a pocket as easily as a small mobile phone. I'm sure that there are plenty of much more compact cameras on the market but this is no elephant by any means. It's light enough to be used comfortably one-handed (the grip/battery housing helps here) but heavy enough to retain a nice heft.
Looks and layout
This is a somewhat nicer looking camera than the rather boxy S8200, with a more ergonomic look to it. On the other hand it //feels// a little plasticky, maybe not quite as robust as the S8200 which has a more solid feel to it.
The top of the housing carries the zoom control, shutter button and the on-off switch. The shooting mode setting wheel from the S8200 has been replaced by a button on the back of the camera. The pop-up flash sits in the middle of the topside directly above the lens. The right hand side of the housing has a wee flap that gains access to the USB port. Underneath is a fitting for a tripod mount and another flap that provides access to the battery and the SD card port. On the front of the camera is the telephoto lens. When the camera is off, this is stowed away inside the camera body.
On the back the camera is mostly LCD screen - it's a nice big one - but there are also a few familiar display and menu control buttons. Do bear in mind that there is no view finder. It seems that compacts these days don't have such devices and picture composition has to be done via the LCD screen. You can set the display up to show two horizontal and two vertical gridlines which will help you with framing, levelling and composition.
Easy. It takes no time at all from opening the box to getting a photo. All that is needed is:
1. install the batteries and SD card (assuming you have one to hand)
2. turn it on and set the language and date time
3. format the memory card (optional)
4. point and click and bingo bongo, away you go!
Downloading the pictures to your laptop is equally simple. Attach the camera to the laptop via the supplied USB cable, wait for the laptop to download drivers from the web and watch as the photos are transferred from one to the other.
That's ALL you need to do to start taking and viewing photos.
Without a viewfinder, the screen is a critical piece of equipment. Fortunately it is big and easy to read. I haven't tried it in full sunlight yet (well it //is// October!) but in full daylight it is clear and bright and quite acceptable.
You can set up the screen to show gridlines which will help you frame the shot and keep the camera horizontal. The screen also shows information about the shooting mode and number of exposures available on the SD card.
My old 5MP camera produced quite acceptable photos (when printed off at 6x4 small) and the received wisdom was always that 5MP was quite sufficient for a good digital point-and-click camera. This is true I suppose but cropping a 5MP picture does push the final image quality to its limits especially if you want to zoom in very close. Incidentally I think this is pretty much the gist of how "digital zoom" works - the camera basically crops and enlarges the image rather than actually zooming the lens. Which is why I have never bothered activating the feature - I do my cropping after downloading the photo. Anyway, cropping is where the big megapixel count comes into its own. You can crop a 16MP image pretty much to your heart's content without a noticeable loss in quality in the final, small/medium format print. Clearly if you're displaying in large format you need to be a little more careful but at least at 16MP you have room for manoeuvre.
And yes, the images produced by the camera do appear to be of excellent quality - which is of course the important point. They are crisp, clear and colourful (and enormous). I will update this review after I've put some time in with the camera in different environments and played about with the images.
Auto focus works well, although it does seem a little slow and I suppose that the camera shake thingy does too - or maybe my hands aren't all that shaky.
The 14x zoom is a big plus and it increases the range of potential shots I can make over that which I could achieve with my Canon 3x.
This pops out automatically under low-light conditions and this is where the L610 is definitely a small improvement over the S8200 where the flash pops up //right under your left hand index finger// - very annoying! On the L610, the flash is repositioned away from where you would normally hold the camera - a much better arrangement.
Taking photos inside the house in low light, the flash does a fine job.
I used an 8GB micro SD card in an SD adapter (which is basically an SD card with a tiny little slot for the micro SD card), and I installed this and discovered that I had (at full resolution) about 1000 shots to play with. This is overkill for me really - I tend to shoot and process pictures in batches of ten to fifty, depending on circumstances. Even on longish holidays, I can now transfer my photos to my Tablet for storage, backup and full size viewing at the end of the day's outings. The camera's internal memory of 28MB is virtually useless, providing capacity for only a couple of pictures at full resolution.
Of course once you start taking movies, then your SD card's capacity will begin to show. I rarely if ever use my camera for movies so I can't comment, however.
Via the screen and menu system you can do basic tasks, such as view and delete images.
The camera comes with a CD providing Nikon's image import and manipulation software. I installed this when I got the S8200 and then wished I hadn't bothered. It's way too complex for me and I have no wish to learn how to use it (and it doesn't look THAT easy to use, at least to begin with). It is quite possible to import images onto your laptop, perform basic image processing functions (crop, resize, auto-adjust etc) with the software that comes with Windows, MS Office or even freeware off the net. As I mentioned earlier, I managed to do all these things with the most basic of software already on my laptop.
I have no doubt that the software is very capable and could be useful to pro or semi-pro photographers, but for my purposes it's just not necessary.
The camera takes two standard AA batteries and this is where the big difference between the L610 and its S8200 cousin shows. The latter uses a specialised Li-Ion rechargeable which provides a pretty impressive battery life. The AA batteries, by contrast give the L610 only about an hour's worth of shooting. However, if they run out in the field and you don't have any spares it's a good deal easier to pop into the local corner shop and buy a handful of AAs. Personally, I prefer the Li-Ion option of the S8200 (I have a spare battery for those just in case moments) but so long as you take the precaution of filling your pockets with AAs batteries, there should be no chance of a drama with the L610 and the difference between the two is not huge (of course, the cost of keeping the L610 supplied with AAs may begin to tell, so rechargeables are a good idea).
Other features & capabilities
There's a rather nice panorama facility which allows you to take 180 or even 360 degree shots. This works very well and the images are very nice indeed. It is possible to see the join where the camera's software stitches individual images to make the whole, but the pictures are fine quality if a bit letterboxy.
This seems to be a very capable compact camera; it does much what you would expect it to do and with no immediate vices or failings. Read more ›