Nikon Coolpix L820 Review: Between Amateur and Professional

nikon coolpix l820 reviewWhether you’re an amateur photographer trying to make a smooth transition to the pro league or a casual snapper that wants to take some above-average photos, the Nikon Coolpix L820 digital camera is worth your attention. Belonging to the bridge segment, the L820 combines the best of two worlds: the ease-of-use of compact cameras and the advanced features of DSLRs. Simply put, the Nikon L820 and some basic digital photography skills, like you can learn in this course, are all you need to take breath-taking photos.

Nikon L820 Overview

Being in the field of optics and photography for nearly a century is a clear indicator that Nikon really knows its way around; therefore it’s no wonder that each of its lines of products have a specific target audience. The Performance series targets people that look for the best price-performance ratio, the Style series is aimed at people that want the largest selection of features and the Life series is designed for people that want a little bit of everything.

The L820 is the top-of-the-line of the Life series, its highlights being a 16 megapixel back-illuminated image sensor, 30x optical zoom lens with optical vibration reduction and Full HD 1080p video recording. Let’s expand it a bit, shall we?

Design & Build Quality

For the L820, as well as for other cameras in its range of bridge cameras, Nikon opted for a DSLR-like design, allowing for a solid grasp of the camera. The grip is large enough to easily accommodate three fingers, while the forefinger will be on the top shutter button and the thumb can rest comfortably on the back grip.

An interesting aspect of the Nikon Coolpix L820 is that, besides the common zoom lever present around the shutter button, it also comes with a second zoom switch positioned on the left side of the lens barrel. While this little detail doesn’t make much sense if you are a fan of operating a camera with just one hand, it is of great value if you place your left hand under the lens for extra stability, as it gives you easy access to the zoom option. This is a clear indicator that, with the L820, Nikon is encouraging users to adopt and get used to the two-hand operation mode specific to DSLR cameras.

On the back of the camera you will find the 3 inch LCD display and all of the camera’s controls, except for the power button and shutter button, which are located on the top side, and the zoom levers. The controls are fairly easy to understand and operate, consisting of a four-way selector, four additional buttons for direct access to some common function and a dedicated button for switching to video recording mode, located at the top right corner of the LCD display, near the thumb grip.

The battery compartment, which also holds the SD-card compartment is located on the bottom of the camera, and is accessed via a hinge that covers the entire area under the main grip. A metallic tripod bush is also present alongside the battery compartment.

In terms of connectivity, the Nikon L820 can be connected to a HDTV via a mini-HDMI connector or to a PC via a USB/AV port, both being located on the left side of the camera.

In terms of build quality and materials, Nikon did a decent job with the L820. Despite the slightly cheap aspect given by the glossy plastic, the camera looks and feels pretty solid, with no squeaky joints. The camera comes in four different colors: black, blue, red and plum.

Technical Specs

As you would expect, it’s not the design that makes the Nikon Coolpix L820 awesome (even though that helps too), but rather its impressive technical specifications. Again, keep in mind that the L in L820 stands for Life, the entry-level series of Nikon’s bridge cameras, so the features and technical specifications of the L820 should be compared with those of cameras that are also in the entry-level segment. This is not to say that the L820 is not a powerful camera, but rather to ensure a fair comparison and illustrate how powerful it is compared to other cameras in its segment.

Here are the most important technical specifications of the Nikon L820:

  • 16 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor;

  • 30x optical Zoom-NIKKOR lens with 4.0-120 mm focal length (the equivalent of 22.5-675mm  lens in 35mm format) and f/3.0-5.8 aperture;

  • ISO 125-1600 (with ISO 3200 also available, but only in Auto Mode);

  • ± 2 EV in steps of 1/3 exposure compensation;

  • continuous shooting mode);

  • 3 inch high-resolution LCD display;

  • Optical and digital image stabilizers;

  • Full HD 1080p video recording at 30 fps.

As you can see, the specs of the L820 easily top most of the compact digital cameras out there, and even a lot of cameras from the bridge segment. However, keep in mind that a camera is only as good as the person behind it is, so consider checking out this online course to learn how to become a better photographer to get the most out of the Nikon L820.

Ease of Use

Since the L820 belongs to the Life series, a line of cameras aimed at novice photographers, using it is as easy as it gets. However, while this may be good news for people that are at a first encounter with digital cameras, it might be a bit disappointing for the users that planned to use the Nikon L820 as a bridge in the transition from a compact digital camera to a DSLR camera, as the L820 offers little to no similarities in terms of usage experience when compared to a DSLR, due to the lack of dedicated controls for advanced features.

Novice users will find it really easy to get around, thanks to a scene selection button which cycles through all 19 scene modes, a button that provides quick access to the gallery, a button that provides access to the menu and an erase button. Along these direct controls, there are 4 additional ones, accessible from the four-way selector, that provide quick access to the timer settings, flash settings, exposure compensation and macro mode. If you want to learn more about macro photography, check out this online course.

The lack of an optical viewfinder is maybe the biggest downside of the Nikon L820. However, only a few bridge cameras come with an optical viewfinder, so its absence is not very uncommon. This downside is also somewhat compensated by the good image quality provided by the large LCD display, which gives the user a good live preview of the photo. The presence of a Mode dial would have been nice, as it would have given the L820 a bit more of a DSLR-like feel, but considering that the Scene button has almost the identical role, this can’t be considered a significant minus.

Performance

When it comes to photography, reaction time is crucial, as most moments are gone in a blink of an eye. Even though the Nikon L820 doesn’t power on exactly in a blink of an eye, it only takes it a little over 2 seconds to turn on and snap a picture, which is quite fast, compared to other digital cameras from the same segment.

If that’s not fast enough to impress you, the L820 has an ace in its sleeve: two high-speed shooting modes, capable of firing at 120 fps and 60 fps. However, these high-speed shooting modes operate at lower quality levels, namely VGA for 120 fps and 1 megapixel for 60 fps.

Pushing things even further, the Nikon L820 comes with an option that can deliver high-quality 16 megapixels continuous shooting at about 8 fps, which is quite impressive for an entry-level bridge camera. There’s no quality over quantity here – the L820 has got them both.

In terms of battery life, the Nikon Coolpix L820 is more than decent, boosting around 320 pictures on a set of alkalines (the camera uses 4 AA batteries) or somewhere around 850 photos on a set of lithium batteries. Video recording times vary from 1 hour all the way up to 3 hours and 30 minutes, depending on battery type.

Image Quality

Despite the fact that it doesn’t give you quick access to advance settings, the Nikon L820 is still a powerful camera if you use it right. Consider taking an online course to learn about composition and exposure in order to take full advantage of what the L820 has to offer. However, you can also achieve breath-taking photos by using the pre-defined scene modes.

No matter what shooting mode you opt for, manual or auto, the L820 will perform impeccable, and there’s a solid reason behind this: the back-illuminated image sensor. Unlike traditional image sensors, back-illuminated image sensors capture more light while generating less image noise, the end result being a more accurate and clean photo, even in low light conditions. Pair this up with the 30x zoom capability of the lens that equips the L820 and the optical vibration reduction technology and you’ve got yourself a winning recipe for crystal-clear photos, even at maximum zoom. This combination of features makes the Nikon L820 suitable for a wide array of shooting scenarios, from the zoom-demanding wildlife photography, to sunset photography and everything in between.

The ISO sensitivity is very balanced, delivering good image quality at 125, 200 or even the 400 setting, with image noise only becoming slightly noticeable at values of 800 and above. Even with ISO all the way to its maximum value of 3200, the images are still decent.

A noticeable downside of the Nikon Coolpix L820 is the fact that it does not offer an option to save the photos in RAW format, thus reducing the fine editing possibilities. It is not to say that edits are impossible, but rather they are a bit more complicated to perform than if the file was saved in RAW format in the first place. You may find this Lightroom Essentials online course useful if you want to learn how to make your edits quick and easy.

Video Quality

Besides taking great pictures, the Nikon L820 is also good with shooting videos. The camera is capable of recording in Full HD 1080p at 30 frames per second, meaning that the videos will look just as beautiful on your laptop screen as they will on you HDTV.

Just as in the case of photos, one of the things that make using the L820 for recording videos fun is the extended zoom option. You can take full advantage of the 30x zoom while recording a video, thus capturing some nice up-close footage without having to roam around. The camera also does a great job reducing vibrations and dynamically adjusting the focus, the end result being a more-than-decent video quality.

Conclusion

Drawing the line and summing it up, the Nikon Coolpix L820 is one interesting piece of gear that’s simple and confusing at the same time. It’s not confusing because it’s hard to use, but because it is hard to tell precisely which is the exact target audience this camera aims to please.

On one side, it has some of the basic features an amateur photographer that wants to upgrade is looking for – DSLR-like design and weight, fast response and decent image quality; at the same time, it is missing some key factors such user would expect to find in a bridge camera – dedicated controls for ISO or aperture and an optic viewfinder.

At the opposite pole, the menus are simple enough for a first-time user to easily get around, yet they still pack some advance options and features that might never get used by a user with no knowledge or interest in the field of photography.

Overall, no matter what the target audience is, the Nikon Coolpix L820 is still a powerful point and shoot camera that will allow you to take awesome photos without making any quality compromises. The 30x zoom lens along with the optical image stabilizer and the back-illuminated image sensor are the selling-point for the advanced photographer, while the ease of use is the selling-point for the amateur photographer. No matter which category you fall into, the Nikon L820 won’t disappoint you.