Many of today's digital cameras offer a bundle of options for budding photographers. You can adjust manual settings, add borders, crop photos and do countless other things with the camera. What if you want something simple though? Some people just want a camera they can take out of the box and start using.
For those people, Nikon's COOLPIX L18 comes ready to start shooting. For a little over $100, users get the camera, supporting software, and a pair of AA batteries. With the camera's internal memory you can take around 81 photographs at the lowest resolution (perfect for email or a computer screen) or three to four images at the highest resolution (easily printable at 11"x14" dependent on cropping). Depending on what kind of shooting you want to do, you may not even need a memory card.
The camera isn't completely basic though. Users do have some on screen editing capabilities, various pre-set photo modes, and some pretty need panoramic stitch options. Other available features are a digital image stabilization and continuous shooting.
On Screen Editing: Brighten your photos up
Sometimes when you are taking photos, they can come out too dark. Even when you use the flash, your camera doesn't always get the image as bright as you would like. The L18's in-camera editing feature, "D-Lighting," will automatically adjust the cameras brightness to a standard level. You can see in the picture on the left below that the cat's fur blends with the background. This photograph was taken with a flash as the cat moved under a coffee table. While the shutter speed was fast enough to avoid blurring, the image itself is a little dark. Entering through the playback menu, I was able to brighten the image (below right) to a better level, and you can see the cat much better.
Scene Modes: Can everything be seen?
This camera shoots in a few different modes: Easy Auto Mode, Movie, Scene, and Auto Mode. The Easy Auto Mode is designed to allow the user to take photos in any situation quickly. The difference between this and Auto Mode is the fact that more automatic fixes, like D-Lighting, are applied in Easy Auto Mode If you do not want that feature on automatically, switch to Auto Mode.
This camera also offers various "scene" modes. Instead of adjusting manually for different situations you might be taking photographs in, the camera has automatic settings for situations like portraits, parties and night landscapes. While having these settings is great, the specific night and low light situation modes don't always compensate for motion that well. Pictures taken in this mode still come out blurry from mainly camera shake. Using a tri-pod does help in these situations, but isn't always practical. Who wants to walk around a party with a tri-pod?
One might ask: Doesn't the image stabilization function on this camera fix camera shake? While some cameras' image stabilization function does help in these low-light situations, the L18's image stabilization is a digital functionality. Instead of steadying through a gyroscope or lens-shift type stabilization, the camera automatically adjusts shutter speed and ISO settings instead. This still leaves a lot of room for blurry pictures.
Panorama Assist Feature: Fit everything in
A panoramic scene of a mountain range or beautiful city skyline is always a crowd pleaser. The long wide photo just seems to captivate people. Getting this done with a normal camera usually requires a significant amount of cropping, which in turn leads to a loss of resolution. While basic photo editing software allows you to layer photos and synch them up, it isn't always easy to get one photo to match up with the next. The Nikon L18 comes with a Panorama Assist option that greatly assists in the creation of these wide panoramic views.
When switching to this mode, you take your group of photos from left to right. After taking the first photo a semi-transparent image appears on the left side of the LCD screen allowing you to match your next image up almost exactly to the first. When you're done with the images you want, just hit OK on the back of the camera, and these images will be earmarked for later use with the supplied ArcSoft Panorama software. This software is easy to use and automatically recognizes the earmarked photos once they are downloaded to your computer. In the images below, you can see three photos I took of the DC skyline separately, then the stitched image of them together.
While you don't have to, I recommend using a tripod for these types of photos (especially for low light photos) to help get a more accurate stitch. The tripod will also let you adjust the height and angle of the camera to match things up more closely as well. The image above is the exact output of the software (with cropping done by the software). While you can see distinct breaks along the road, the sky is pretty tightly captured.
Continuous Shooting: Capture it as it happens
The Nikon L18 also comes with a continuous shooting mode. If you have kids or like taking your hand held camera to sporting events, you might want to get multiple shots to capture events as they happen. In the larger format modes, this camera can take about 1.3 to 2 frames per second. It does take more pictures per second the lower the resolution and size of the photos, because they take up less memory and write to the memory faster.
Multi-Shot 16 in Continous Mode
One fun feature to the continuous shooting mode is the "Multi-Shot 16" option. The camera takes 16 photos in about 10 seconds and stitches them together in a four by four photo (see above). While not overly exciting, it is something that can create fun and interesting photos of your friends and family, or even yourself.
While this camera does offer the ability to go the next level of scene modes and on-camera editing, the Nikon COOLPIX L18 can be used right out of the box. For someone that is just looking for something simple where they don't have to read a lot of instructions to get decent photographs, this camera is a great fit.