Nikon Coolpix L330 £179.99
12th Mar 2014 | 13:00
Impressive zoom and macro performances from this Nikon bridge camera
Overview, performance and handling
Only available in black, the Nikon L330 is the latest edition to Nikon's L series, and the successor to the L320, which was released in 2013. With an effective pixel count of 20.2 million (an upgrade on the L320's 16 million pixel sensor), 26x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom, the L330 is a nice little update to the popular L series. It's also had a screen upgrade, from a 230k-dot screen to a 3 inch 460k-dot LCD screen.
It comes equipped with an impressively long zoom lens - with a 35mm equivalent of 22.5-585mm - which is claimed to be capable of focusing at a minimum distance of 1cm, perfect for macro shots. It also benefits from Nikon's high performance Vibration Reduction (VR) technology to keep images as stable and sharp as possible.
Competing with the Canon Powershot SX510 HS, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ30 (just replaced by the LZ40) and the Sony DSC H300. The Nikon has fewer features (the Powershot SX510 has GPS and Wi-Fi for example), but is also slightly lower in price.
You'll find four shooting modes on the L330 - Easy Auto, Smart Portrait, Auto Mode and Scene, which gives you the option of 18 scene modes including options such as Portrait, Landscape, Pet Mode and Sunset. Using the L330 on Smart Portrait mode offers the options of Blink Proof shooting and utilising the inbuilt Smile Timer.
Users also have the option to shoot video with the Coolpix L330. While it doesn't offer full HD shooting, you can shoot in 720p HD, with the ability to autofocus and zoom during shooting. It's powered by 4 AA batteries, so you'll always be able to carry a spare set with you in case you run out of charge, and Nikon suggests that users should be able to get between 370-960 shots from the four AA batteries depending on the type used, based on the CIPA industry standard.
Manual adjustments are thin on the ground with the L330 - users can adjust the sensitivity and white balance and choose from five color modes (Standard Color, Vivid Color, Sepia Tone, Black and White and Cyanotype), as well as being able to change the exposure compensation and macro focusing mode, depending on which shooting mode you are using. Nikon has declined to add any other creative filters to the Coolpix L330.
There are a couple of options for editing photos in camera , for instance, you can soften skin on photos taken with Portrait Mode. It's also possible to crop and rotate images.
There is no inbuilt Wi-Fi connectivity with the L330, but it is Eye-Fi compatible, meaning users can use Eye-Fi SD cards to create a Wi-Fi network for sharing images with smartphones and tablets.
Build quality and handling
You're not going to be able to fit the Coolpix L330 into your pocket - it's a bulky DSLR shape camera with a deep grip. It does, however, feel solid - the handgrip on the right hand side is nice and sturdy, and it feels like it's made from quality materials. I found the battery door to be a little fiddly to open, and it's best done when the camera is upside down as the door is the only thing holding the 4 AA batteries in, unlike those with the flatter, rectangular shaped batteries, there are no clips to keep them in place.
Overall the L330 is a chunky camera, due to the zoom lens, and it doesn't feel flimsy or cheap. Even with the batteries inserted it's not that heavy, coming in at just 430 grams, although it's obviously not as light as a more pocketable compact camera.
The camera comes with a strap for the lens cap, although some may prefer to keep it separate as it does have a habit of dangling in the way - when shooting towards the ground for example.
Buttons on the L330 are clear and easy to reach, even while using the camera one handed. The majority of the controls can be found on the back, along with a nice thumb rest. Users familiar with the Nikon menu system will have no trouble getting to grips with this camera, particularly as there are very few options to change, and new users shouldn't take too long to become comfortable with it either.
There is a dedicated Scene button to access the shooting modes - the rest of the options and settings can be found by pressing the Menu button. There's also an erase button, a playback button and a one-touch record button, all within fairly easy reach.
If you want to use the flash for your shots you can pop it up using the button to the side, and with its location directly above the lens you're unlikely to accidentally get your fingers in the way of this one.
During testing I found the Coolpix L330 was a little slow to respond to demands, especially just after taking a photo. If you want to change settings quickly you might see "Please wait for the camera to finish recording" message more than once, which can be a bit annoying if you're trying to capture something quickly. This also became more frequent as the battery life starts to decrease due to the AA batteries the L330 uses.
Performance and verdict
Shots taken with the Coolpix L330 generally turned out to be evenly exposed, with fine detail captured well and with very little distortion or camera shake, even at the far end of the optical zoom. I was particularly pleased with the punchy, bright colors that it produced.
Sensitivity on the L330 is set by the camera for all modes except Auto Mode, where you can select from ISO 80 - 1600 or let the L330 pick the right sensitivity for you, and while shooting outdoors I found it generally produced little to no noise until the sensitivity was set to ISO400 and above, even on overcast days. There is a little noise seen at ISO400 and above, but it's nothing unexpected for a camera of this quality. Shooting indoors, however, produced a fair bit of noise in lower light conditions, and images above ISO400 are disappointingly grainy.
While there is a custom white balance mode available on the Coolpix L330 when shooting in Auto Mode, I found that it produced inconsistent results - sometimes it added a blue color cast to shots even after taking a custom reading. The auto white balance setting did a great job of producing accurate colours, while the presets are a good option if you're finding that the automatic setting is erring slightly.
It's not possible to adjust the autofocus or the metering mode which is a shame, as the L330 sometimes overexposes a shot if there is a wide expanse of light which might have been fixed with a different metering method.
In general however most photos are well balanced, whether using the easy auto mode or using the specific scene modes. Autofocus is quick to find a subject and generally seems to focus correctly, although it sometimes struggles to pick up smaller items in the foreground while using the optical zoom.
There are five color modes available and they all produce decent images - I was especially happy with the results from the Black and White filter which leant a moody and dramatic feel to the final shots, and the Vivid Color filter was useful for pushing up the saturation when required. While some of the filters might not be to everyone's tastes, it's worth experimenting to see if you like them.
There is a little fringing to be seen when shots are zoomed to 100%, but it's unlikely to be something you'd notice when printing at A4 or below, and isn't particularly surprising for a budget camera.
Zoom performance on the L330 is very impressive, there is no doubt about it. I was also impressed with the Vibration Reduction technology - even at the highest optical zoom the view on the screen was steady. It's a neat lens, allowing users to focus on far away scenes with very little noticeable loss of quality.
I was also impressed with the macro performance from the L330. The detail it can capture is great and the claims that it can focus from 1cm are spot on - although sometimes the shadow of the camera can be a hindrance when shooting that close to your subject in direct light. Using the Close Up scene mode produces fantastic results that are hard to fault.
Panoramic Assist is offered in lieu of a dedicated panoramic scene mode, meaning the Coolpix L330 will assist you in lining up your photos but you'll have to stitch them together using your own software once you've downloaded them, which is a bit of a shame.
In an upgrade from the 230k-dot screen of the L320, the 460k-dot 3" LCD screen is sharp and crisp, but while it should cope well in bright sunlight due to its anti-reflection coating, in reality it is plagued by pink lines whenever it's directed at a light source. These don't appear on the final images but could confuse some users, especially the beginner users this camera is aimed at.
Video performance from the Coolpix L330 is reasonable, although not particularly sharp and the noise from using the zoom is very audible during playback. It does, however, manage to autofocus well while zooming in and out, which is nice to see.
I used alkaline AA batteries during testing, and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome - the battery indicator was still full after a couple of hours of near constant shooting (including using the flash and recording a few minutes of HD video), and I managed to take 400-500 photos before performance started to suffer with slower shot processing times.
While AA batteries are useful if you want to travel, or don't want to worry about running out of charge, I'd still like to see a lithium ion battery with this camera, as AA batteries can become expensive to replace and can become sluggish when they're low on charge. However, users should at least be able to get a fair amount of shots from the L330 before they experience slower shot processing times or have to change the batteries.
Frustratingly low on basic manual settings like the ability to adjust the metering mode, the L330 has been designed for users who want to snap and go, and not mess around with settings. Sadly, this means that when the exposure or the metering decided by the Auto Mode isn't quite right, there's little you can do to adjust the scene and try again, which some users may find annoying.
It's not all bad - the Coolpix does, for the most part, work well and provides users with an easy to use camera with a decent battery life (based on use of alkaline AA batteries) and a great zoom lens. If you're also interested in taking macro photos then the L330 is certainly one to consider as the results were consistent and impressive.
For only a bit more money you can pick up the Canon Powershot SX510 HS, which has full manual control, full HD, Wi-Fi, GPS and 30x optical zoom, and while it only has a 12 million pixel sensor this doesn't necessary mean a lack of quality. It also has a rechargeable lithium ion battery, which may appeal more to some users.
Alternatively, the Sony DSC H300 has a 20 million pixel sensor and 36x optical zoom and uses AA batteries - both alternatives are available for around £30 more than the L330 but offer a lot more desirable options for the average user.
If you're interested in a long zoom or macro photography then the Coolpix L330 can and will produce consistent results for you, no matter what the subject. It's super easy to use and the battery life is pretty decent for AA batteries.
This camera is basic and it feels like Nikon missed a trick - if there were just a few more options it would appeal to a far broader audience. As it is, people who are already comfortable using a digital camera might be put off by the lack of settings available, while beginners may not appreciate the chunky shape.
Although the performance from the L330 is good, there are a few annoying niggles that stop us from loving this camera. The lack of settings and the slow response when the batteries start to fail all became irritating with prolonged use.
For users just starting out with photography and want a larger zoom than most compacts can provide them the Coolpix L330 is a safe bet, but for the more experienced crowd, or those who would like to experiment more with their photography this probably isn't the camera for them.
Fine detail is captured well by the optical zoom lens, with little to no camera shake
Macro mode is also able to pick up fine detail and bright colours.
Landscape mode produced evenly balanced shots, with nice detail and very little fringing or distortion.
Colours represented by the Coolpix L330 are very natural and true to life.
Another example of the fine detail that the L330 is able to capture.
Using the Black and White filter produces dramatic images.
The Coolpix L330 produces a reasonably shallow depth of field.
Even while using the optical zoom, the L330 can still capture moving subjects with little blurring.
Shooting from just 1cm away, the L330 still produces crisp, clear images.
Metering is generally spot on from the L330.
But some images can be a touch over exposed when there is a large expanse of light.
The high resolution gives you good scope to crop without losing too much quality - this image was cropped to remove distracting background clutter.