Nikon Coolpix L820 digital camera practical review

With my new shrimp expecting, I decided to pick up a pocket / compact camera. I set myself a budget of $200 USD because it is not going to be a replacement for my Nikon D5100 DSLR. My goal was to find something with a good macro capability and a decent image quality.

After considering a dedicated Nikon macro lens for $1700 USD for about 11.3 microseconds, I selected the Nikon L820. Here are my observations.

It is a non-pocketable point-and-shoot camera. It’s not directed at advanced photographers or those wanting a teeny-tiny pocket camera.

There are no manual modes. In their place are scene modes which, one you learn what their priorities are, are generally workable for general photography.

Macro mode works okay. Better than my standard lens equipped DSLR but that is mostly because of the optical geometry makes close focusing and a wider depth of field. However, if compared with fast, versatile and precise auto focus of a more advanced camera like a mirrorless or DSLR, macro autofocus is lacking. Maybe finicky would be the best way to describe it. It works but you’ll have to get the hang of it.

Cropped 1:1 photo of a shedded exoskeletion. 142 mm equiv for 1/15 sec at f 4.9, ISO 450
Cropped 1:1 photo of a shedded exoskeletion. 142 mm equiv for 1/15 sec at f 4.9, ISO 450

The only feature it is missing that I would really appreciate is a manual focus mode or at an minimum, a real focus lock. Perhaps a higher model has this. All you can do is focus on something the desired distance from the camera and recompose.

A day-old shrimp fry. 184 mm for 1/15 sec at f 5.3 ISO 560
A day-old shrimp fry. 184 mm for 1/15 sec at f 5.3 ISO 560

A higher-end feature is that the L820 has an optical image stabilizer. It seems to work as well as the ones on my DSLR and can be turned off on an as needed basis.

High ISO images actually surprised me, especially since this camera has a non-remarkable 1/2.3″ image sensor. Nikon struck a nice balance in processing between sharpness and noise reduction. Sure, I’d love a larger sensor but that’s another price class and, for my needs, would actually reduce the macro capability just a tad.

For reference, the L820 allows an Auto setting plus a range of 125 to 3200 ISO.

I’ve tried the flash a few times and it seems to be well designed. The pattern is wide and smooth and yields nice results. As you would expect, there is no hot shoe or external flash support.

The LCD display is very nice, full “VGA” resolution.

The camera is plastic and rather smooth feeling. It doesn’t feel very tough but with fewer individual pieces, it is probably sufficiently strong. Not very concerned.

The only place the housing presents any concern is with the battery cover. It feels like the pressure of the four AA batteries is more that I would prefer. I think with gentle care and use, it should be okay.

The problem is the frequency the cover must be opened. Even with rechargeable batteries and the Nikon adapter, they cannot be charged in the camera. Furthermore the SD card is under that cover. Bottom line, put a little bit if pressure on the cover as you slide it off to make it last longer.

Also related, the L820 has a metal tripod mount (yeah) but when the clip for the tripod is mounted, it covers the battery / SD card cover (boo.)

However, I see the L820 is fully compatible with the Eye-Fi cards. Maybe I should just purchase one and not have to remove the SD card at all.

I have experimented with the movie feature. Video looks fine with several options including a half speed, 2x and 4x modes at various resolutions. It records stereo sound which seems fair but since the mics are not facing the subject, it could be better.

Auto focus can be set (somehow) at the beginning or change continuously during the recording. Neither of which I got the hang of in a few minutes, but I was trying macro work and that is always more challenging. I expect in non-macro situations, it probably works as well as a point-and-shoot camera can.

There are couple of burst modes that some might find useful. Continuous H and Continuous L work at the full resolution plus 60 and 120 fps that work at VGA resolution.

A favorite of mind that goes back to my old Nikon Coolpix 950 (which I absolutely loved) is called BSS or Best Shot Selector. This causes the camera to take several pictures in a row and it keeps only the sharpest one. It is great for low light hand held shots of non-moving subjects.

The “easy panorama” feature worked well with the choice of 180 degree or 360 degree capture. It worked with the camera in horizontal / wide / landscape and vertical / tall / portrait orientations.

It has an HDMI output as well as analog composite video output. I give a little “boo” here because the latter is shared with the USB connector and thus it is proprietary. One cannot use a regular USB cable with this camera. Boo.

Anyhow, those are the practical observations I have. As a long-time film and DSLR user, I’ll give the camera a positive rating for a practical general use camera within the constraints of its class and price point.