Nikon Coolpix L120 Review

February 25, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star


The Nikon Coolpix L120 is a 14.1-megapixel superzoom camera, sporting a 21x optical zoom lens (25-525mm), a unique side control lever for smooth zooming throughout the range, sensor-shift Vibration Reduction, 720p HD movie recording with stereo sound and a 3-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 921,000 dots. Other highlights include over 20 scene modes, a 1cm macro mode, AA battery power, and a Sport Continuous mode that shoots up to 20 frames at 15fps, albeit at reduced resolution. Available in a choice of wine red and black, the Nikon Coolpix L120 officially retails for £249.99 / €290.00 / $279.95.

Ease of Use

Outwardly, the L120 is very similar to last year's L110 model, though they are not quite identical to each other. The Nikon Coolpix L120 retains the fairly big and comfortable hand-grip of its predecessor, which still houses the four AA batteries needed to power the camera, but this time around it benefits from a slightly larger textured rubberised area to aid handling. As with the L110, the set of 4 commonly available R6/AA-size batteries share their home with the memory card, and given that there is nothing to keep them in place when the compartment door is open, you need to be careful when changing cards, otherwise the batteries spill out onto the floor.

The front of the L120 is dominated by the large lens, even when it sits retracted into its housing, although commendably it's no larger than the L110's 15x optic. Upon power-up, the lens extends, provided you have not forgotten to remove the lens cap beforehand. If you have, you will not only need to remove it but also to power the camera off and on again, unless you quickly remove it within a couple of seconds, whereupon the lens extends as normal. The L120's lens is not terribly fast in terms of its maximum aperture, which is f/3.1 at wide angle and f/5.8 at the telephoto end. The focal  range, on the other hand, commands respect, starting at 4.5mm (equivalent to 25mm) and going all the way to 94.5mm (equivalent to 525mm).

The L120 sports a great addition in the form of a side control lever on the lens barrel. This allows you to zoom the lens in and out using your left hand, as well as the conventional method of the zoom lever. It doesn't sound like a great deal in theory, but in practice it proves to be a very useful feature, especially when operating the zoom during movie recording. Kudos to Nikon for coming up with a genuinely innovative and helpful design feature, quite a rarity these days.

Thankfully Nikon have included Vibration Reduction (VR) to help prevent camera-shake, an essential feature on a camera like this. As is the case with many other Nikon compacts, VR in the L120 is of the sensor-shift variety rather than the in-lens version used in the manufacturer's SLR system. In addition to "pure" mechanical vibration reduction, you may choose a "hybrid" form of image stabilisation, in which case sensor-shift VR is complemented by a solution that involves taking two shots in succession, which are then combined in-camera for greater effect. Naturally this takes more time, but can yield better results in certain circumstances.

Nikon Coolpix L120 Nikon Coolpix L120
Front Rear

There are relatively few external controls on the Nikon Coolpix L120. The top plate features a power button and the shutter release, surrounded by the zoom lever - and that's it. The flash is now raised via a small button to the left of the housing, but it's still one of the few things that the camera will not do for you automatically. Just behind the flash are a pair of microphones designed to record stereo sound when shooting movies.

Most of the L120's rear panel is taken up by the three-inch LCD screen, whose resolution has been increased from 460,000 to an excellent 921,000 dots. The L120#s screen retains an anti-reflective coating, which makes it perfectly usable for framing your shots even in direct sunlight, an important virtue given that the L120 has no eye-level viewfinder of any sort. As for image review, this is something you will still want to do in the shade of your body rather than out in the sun.

The layout of the rear controls is almost the same as on the L110, with a few minor differences. The movie record button, marked by a red dot, has been made larger and moved to the top of the rear of the camera. This button means you don't need to select a dedicated movie shooting mode from the menu, but can start filming whenever you want. Unfortunately, it still takes the Nikon L120 a couple of seconds to actually begin recording a video clip after you've pushed the movie record button. There's now a more ergonomic rubberised area where your right thumb naturally rests to help aid your grip on the camera.

One thing that sets the Nikon Coolpix L120 apart from the competition, especially at this price point, is that you can use the full extent of the optical zoom while filming. Zooming is slower than in stills mode, but that's actually a good thing - most videographers like to zoom slowly. A side benefit of this is that the sound of the power zoom is not really picked up by the microphone. Note however that the image is likely to go out of focus when you zoom in or out, and the L120's AF system adjusts quite slowly.

Nikon Coolpix L120 Nikon Coolpix L120
Side Top

The other rear-panel controls are the same as the ones found on the L110, including a Shooting Mode and a Playback button, a standard four-way navigation pad, plus the indispensable Menu and Delete buttons. The navigation buttons give quick access to four oft-used functions, which thankfully include exposure compensation. The other three are the macro, self-timer and flash modes, although as noted earlier, you have to manually raise the flash in order to be able to use the latter. A centred OK button is used to confirm changes to settings. You can switch from Playback to Record mode simply by lightly tapping the shutter release, so you don't have to use the dedicated Shooting Mode button (although you can if you want to).

Frustratingly, as on the L110, you still have to enter the main menu to access the ISO sensitivity settings - there's no dedicated button for that - and you have to be in Auto mode to make that menu option available. Also note that you still can't control the other exposure variables, i.e. aperture and shutter speed. This is reserved for the more expensive models in Nikon's compact camera range.

In addition to the Auto and Easy Auto shooting modes - the latter of which makes use of the  scene auto selector feature to figure out what the best settings are in any given shooting situation - the Nikon Coolpix L120 offers up 17 user selectable scene modes, including Portrait, Landscape, Night portrait, Party/indoor, Beach, Snow, Sunset, Dusk/dawn, Night landscape, Close-up, Food, Museum, Fireworks show, Black and White Copy, Backlighting, Panorama Assist and Pet Portrait. In these modes, you typically get access to the flash and self-timer modes as well as exposure compensation, and with some, the macro mode as well.

The camera has a panorama assist feature too, which is also found among the scene modes. It works like this: you take the first picture after applying the flash mode, self-timer, macro and exposure compensation settings as required, and then the camera superimposes a third of this photo on the live image. This helps you compose the next shot with a decent amount of overlap for easy stitching on the computer. You can repeat this step until you have taken enough photos to cover the scene. The camera locks the exposure, white balance and focus at the values set with the first shot. The photos taken for the panorama can be stitched on the computer with the aid of the supplied Panorama Maker software. The camera won't auto-stitch them for you though, so it's a far-cry from the sweep panorama modes that several rivals now offer.

Nikon Coolpix L120 Nikon Coolpix L120
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

One of the more interesting features of the Nikon Coolpix L110 is the Sport Continuous shooting mode. The highest selectable resolution is restricted to three megapixels, but you can shoot at a speed of up to 15 frames per second for up to 20 frames in a row. This can be helpful with capturing fast motion, although we found that focus tracking does not work in this mode, meaning your subject may go out of focus if its distance to the camera changes while it moves.

A number of other continuous shooting options are available in Auto mode. At full resolution, the camera can take up to 19 frames at a rate of about 0.7fps. In addition to that, the L120 also features Nikon's Best Shot Selector (BSS) and Multi-shot 16 modes. The former automatically chooses the sharpest of up to 10 photos taken in succession with the shutter release held down, while the latter involves taking 16 shots at approximately 22fps and arranging them into a single 5-megapixel image.

Like the L110, the L120 has a Smile mode in which the camera hunts for smiling faces and fires off a shot whenever it detects one, without user intervention. After the photo is taken, both face and smile detection resume, so that the camera can take more shots of smiling people. Do note though that if the flash is raised, you cannot take another shot until it is fully recharged.

The Nikon Coolpix L120 provides a rather limited scope of editing functions in Playback mode. These include D-lighting and resizing. D-lighting lifts the shadows in a picture of a contrasty scene without affecting the highlights - head to the Image Quality section for a demonstration. On the L120, it is strictly a post-capture thing - this camera does not offer the Active D-lighting function of Nikon's DSLRs. The L120 still annoyingly lacks both a live and post-capture histogram.

This concludes our evaluation of the ergonomics, handling and feature set of the Nikon Coolpix L120. Let's move on to the image quality assessment.

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 14 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 5Mb.

The Nikon Coolpix L120 produces images of acceptable to good quality for a small-sensor superzoom camera. We have seen better image quality from cameras that cost significantly more, but at the price point it is being marketed at, the L120 does a commendable job. The lens is pretty sharp in the centre, and generally passable along the edges. Images taken at longer focal lengths tend to be less sharp than those captured in the wide to moderate telephoto range. Note that distortion correction is applied to all images automatically, with no manual override available. Chromatic aberrations are noticeable along contrasty edges, but are perfectly acceptable for a 21x zoom. Noise reduction is pretty heavy-handed, with the result being that none of the photos appear truly noisy, but the images lack fine detail, especially at the higher sensitivity settings. Photos taken at ISO 800 in neutral light print OK at 10×15cm / 4×6”, but ISO 1600 is best reserved for on-screen display only. The highest sensitivity settings of ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 - which are only available at a resolution of 3 megapixels to begin with - can really only be enjoyed if downsized to 640×480 pixels or less, i.e. Web size.


The Nikon Coolpix L120 has 8 sensitivity settings ranging from ISO 80 to ISO 6400, although ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 are only available at a resolution of 3 megapixels. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting:

ISO 80 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

Focal Range

The Nikon Coolpix's 21x zoom lens provides a very versatile focal length of 25-525mm in 35mm terms, as demonstrated below.




Here are two 100% crops - the right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are slightly soft at the default sharpening setting and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can't change the in-camera sharpening level to suit your tastes.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


File Quality

At full resolution, there are two JPEG quality settings available including Normal and Fine, with the latter being marked with a star in the menu. The L120 does not save images in a Raw format.

Fine (5.08Mb) (100% Crop)

Normal (3.28Mb) (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations

The Nikon Coolpix L120 kept chromatic aberrations largely under control during the review, with some purple fringing present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Example 1 (100% Crop)

Example 2 (100% Crop)


The Nikon L120 has a Macro setting that allows you to focus on a subject that is 1cm away from the camera. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.

Macro Shot

100% Crop


The flash settings on the Nikon Coolpix L120 are Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Off, On and Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m. Vignetting is not a major issue with the L120, irrespective of whether you use the flash or not.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (25mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (25mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (525mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (525mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, neither the On or the Auto/Red-eye Reduction settings caused any red-eye.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)

Red Eye Reduction

Red Eye Reduction (100% Crop)


The Coolpix L120 is hardly the ideal tool for night photography, as the longest shutter speed is 2 seconds and you cannot set it manually. The shot below was captured at a shutter speed of 1 second at ISO 400.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Vibration Reduction

The Nikon Coolpix S8100 has an anti-shake mechanism, which allows you to take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than other digital cameras. To test this, I took 2 handheld shots of the same subject with the same settings. The first shot was taken with anti shake turned off, the second with it turned on. Here are some 100% crops of the images to show the results. As you can see, with anti shake turned on, the images are much sharper than with anti shake turned off. This feature really does seem to make a difference and could mean capturing a successful, sharp shot or missing the opportunity altogether.

Shutter Speed / Focal Length

Off (100% Crop)

On (100% Crop)

1/8th sec / 25mm
1/2 sec / 525mm

Colour Options

The Nikon Coolpix L120 offers a range of colour options including Standard, Vivid, Black-and-White, Sepia and Cyanotype. The images presented here show the differences across these options.









Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Nikon Coolpix L120 camera, which were all taken using the 14 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample movie at the highest quality setting of 1280x720 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 16 second movie is 16.8Mb in size.

Product Images

Nikon Coolpix L120

Front of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix L120

Front of the Camera / Lens Extended

Nikon Coolpix L120

Front of the Camera / Pop-up Flash

Nikon Coolpix L120

Isometric View

Nikon Coolpix L120

Isometric View

Nikon Coolpix L120

Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed

Nikon Coolpix L120

Rear of the Camera / Turned On

Nikon Coolpix L120

Rear of the Camera / Main Menu

Nikon Coolpix L120

Top of the Camera


Nikon Coolpix L120

Bottom of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix L120

Side of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix L120

Side of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix L120

Front of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix L120

Front of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix L120

Memory Card Slot

Nikon Coolpix L120

Battery Compartment


The new Nikon Coolpix L120 follows in the footsteps of last year's L110, adding just enough new features to warrant its release. The gorgeous high-resolution LCD screen, longer 21x zoom and the inevitable megapixel increase are joined by the genuinely useful side control lever for smooth zooming, a refreshingly unique innovation. Strangely though, the L120 has undergone a big price increase in the UK, jumping from £179 to £249 on launch, although thankfully it costs the same as its predecessor in the US and Europe.

The longer and wider-angle 21x zoom is very welcome, extending the camera's reach at both ends of its range without making it physically bigger than its predecessor. The ability to operate it with either hand via the new side control lever and the conventional zoom lever proves surprisingly useful, and is something that we'd like to see on more superzooms. The L120's screen is excellent, so much so that it feels a little over-specced for what is a budget super-zoom - still, we're not complaining!

The image quality of the Nikon Coolpix L120 is best described as good rather than outstanding, especially if you don't plan on making big prints. The highest ISO speeds are really only usable for Web display - and even that might be a stretch in some cases - but ISO 800 is perfectly adequate for the kind of small prints most target users will be making. More advanced photographers will, however, find the noise reduction applied to the images way too aggressive, but then again, the L120 is not really targeted at the advanced user in the first place.

The Nikon Coolpix L120 is a moderately priced superzoom that delivers a solid performance on most fronts. Despite the UK price hike, we'd still recommend it to anyone looking for an easy-to-use, do-it-all camera that won't break the bank.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4.5
Features 3.5
Ease-of-use 4.5
Image quality 4
Value for money 4


Effective pixels 14.1million
Image sensor 1/2.3-in. type CCD; approx. 14.48 million total pixels
Lens 21X optical zoom, NIKKOR lens; 4.5-94.5mm (angle of view equivalent to that of 25-525 mm lens in 35mm[135] format) f/3.?-5.8; Digital zoom: Up to 4X (angle of view equivalent to that of approx. 2100 mm lens in 35mm [135] format)
Focus range (from lens) [W]: Approx. 50 cm to ∞ ,
[T]: Approx. 1.5 m to ∞ ,
Macro mode: Approx. 1 cm to ∞ (middle zoom position)
Monitor 7.5 cm (3-in.), approx. 921k-dot, wide viewing angle TFT LCD with anti-reflection coating and 5-level brightness adjustment
Storage media Internal memory (approx. 120 MB),
SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card
ISO sensitivity ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800,1600, 3200, 6400
Auto (ISO 80 to 800)
Sport continuous mode (ISO 400 to 3200)
Interface Hi-Speed USB
Power sources Four LR6/L40 (AA-size) alkaline batteries
Four FR6/L91 (AA-size) lithium batteries
Four EN-MH2 rechargeable Ni-MH batteries (available separately)
AC Adapter EH-67 (available separately)
Battery life Still pictures*1:
Approx. 330 shots when using alkaline batteries
Approx. 890 shots when using lithium batteries
Approx. 520 shots when using EN-MH2 batteries
Approx. 3 h 5 min when using alkaline batteries (HD 720p)
Approx. 7 h 45 min when using lithium batteries (HD 720p)
Approx. 4 h 25 min when using EN-MH2 batteries (HD 720p)
Dimensions (WxHxD) Approx. 109.9 X 76.5 X 78.4 mm
Weight Approx. 431 g (including battery and SD memory card)
Supplied accessories *2 Camera Strap, LR6/L40 (AA-size) alkaline batteries,
Lens Cap LC-CP22?with cord?
USB Cable UC-E6, Audio Video Cable EG-CP16,

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