Nikon Coolpix L31 Review

November 5, 2015 | Matt Grayson | Rating star Rating star Rating star Half rating star


Photographers often overlook the usefulness of a small, easy to use compact camera and instead prioritise the larger DSLRs. However, a pocket sized camera can be a very useful tool for many aspects of photography. Luckily, Nikon know this and have released the Coolpix L31, a 16 megapixel point and shooter featuring a 5x optical zoom, electronic vibration reduction and SDXC storage compatibility. Priced at around £79, the Nikon Coolpix L31 is available in black, silver, red and purple.

Ease of Use

We're convinced that every time we receive a new camera, the box has got somewhat smaller than the previous model. Most of the time, we're wrong, but there's no denying it with the Nikon Coolpix L31. In the past, the box would have the camera, charger, batteries, strap, warranty cards, leaflets, user manual, CD software and even a memory card at one stage.

Now, the modern world is catching up and people simply don't need a lot of that stuff. So in the box of the Coolpix L31, the user manual has been reduced to a quick start guide and the full manual can be downloaded from the Nikon website should you require it. The warranty has been attached to the quick start guide to reduce the amount of pieces of paper you get. There are still batteries and a strap (memory cards stopped being included years ago) and a USB cable. Arguably, the reason a smaller box can be used is due to the lack of a CD which traditionally provided a basic editing suite for your computer. More recently the full manual was also added to the disc which is now on the website for download. Not having a large disc in the box allows it to be smaller and saves paper.

The main design of the Nikon Coolpix L31 has stood the test of time for a good few years now. It has a smooth, curved look to it that bulges out at the left hand side. This bulge serves a double purpose of providing a wider grip when taking pictures which is useful for people who maybe can't curl their fingers around a thin camera for whatever reason. It's also the part of the camera where the two AA batteries are inserted into the camera.

Nikon Coolpix L31
Front of the Nikon Coolpix L31

The lens sits on the front of the Nikon Coolpix L31 slightly off-centre to accommodate the curve of the body. The modest 5x optical zoom has 6 elements in 5 groups and equates to a 26-130mm zoom lens in 35mm terms. That should be enough for general picture taking such as holidays and days out when a camera such as this will be used the most. The big difference between the L31 and its predecessor the L29 (the L30 being a higher resolution version) is the addition of Electronic VR (Vibration Reduction) when filming video. This feature wasn't available on either of the previous models and will help keep scenes steady. However, it's worth noting that at 720p HD quality, most electronic versions of image stabilisation will crop into the frame and just use the middle so you don't see the edges wobbling about. Doing this means less pixels are actually seen on the screen which could mean that it's no longer classed as HD. Bear in mind that the drop in resolution will be negligible and shouldn't detract from your viewing pleasure.

The buttons on the back of the camera have been made as large as they can without interfering with the other buttons and becoming too cramped. There's still space to rest your thumb when not using the functions. To access basic shooting functions, you simply press the button with the camera icon on it. This brings up a small display on the right of the screen. It allows you to choose the shooting mode you'd like the camera to be in and you can choose from Scenes, Portrait, Special Effects, Smart Portrait and Auto. The latter is the most adaptable to various conditions while the others are set up for particular situations.

Nikon Coolpix L31
Rear of the Nikon Coolpix L31

However, delve into the Main menu and there's still not a great deal to do. There are only three tabs which line the left side of the screen. The tab you're in will highlight in white, while the selection you're currently on will have a yellow band across it. The three tabs are Camera, Video and Set up menus. The Camera section only has three options in it, while the Video section only has two. Set up has more available in it because it deals with the core features of the camera, such as the date & time, languages, sound options and formatting the card.

The Nikon Coolpix L31 is built to the price point it's set to. It's a happy snapper camera and is built as such. At £79, it's understandable that most of the body is made of plastic. The card and the batteries sit alongside each other in the wider end of the camera. They're accessed via a slide lock style door on the bottom plate. The tripod bush is positioned to the opposite side, which could cause leaning when shooting from a tripod. The tripod bush is also made of plastic, which means it will wear down faster than a metal alternative, but arguably not in the lifetime of the camera – unless you abuse it or use it heavily.

Start up times of the camera are pretty good. From cold, the L31 manages to get started up, focused and take a picture in 1.9sec. It's only marginally slower than higher spec cameras which run along an average of around 1.8sec these days. So that's a good result. Continuous shooting produced seven pictures in a 10 second time period, which gives an average of around 0.7fps (frames per second). It took the camera up to the 27 second mark to fully download those onto a Class 8 SDHC memory card and be ready to shoot again.

Nikon Coolpix L31
The Nikon Coolpix L31 In-hand

Playback on the Nikon Coolpix L31 is accessed via the Playback button on the back of the camera. This can be done regardless of whether the camera is on or off. When you first look at a picture you've taken, it will display basic information about the picture such as the time & date and file number. There's also a small emblem in the bottom centre of the screen. If you press the OK button while this is on screen, you can access a basic editing system in-camera. It allows you to add a certain number of effects and colour tones, such as Miniature effect, Fisheye and Cross processing colour tones. There's also a Soft focus look, Cross screen and two Toy camera effects. Highlight the effect you want and press OK. If you decide you don't want a filter adding, you can press Menu to back out without any changes taking effect.

When in Playback, there is a new menu tab which replaces the Camera and Video tabs we previously saw in the shooting mode. It allows a little more modification to your pictures such as adding D-Lighting (a dynamic range boost system) and Skin softening for portraits. It also allows you to make a slide-show, Protect images, Rotate and make them into smaller images. In this menu, the Set up menu is still present and the same as when in shooting mode.

Image Quality

You can adjust the resolution of the Nikon Coolpix L31 and in our test, all pictures except the file size test were taken in 16 megapixel Fine mode (designated by a star in the menu). Images in the Fine mode recorded at around 6.4Mb on average while the 16 megapixel Normal setting produced images around 3.2Mb.

Looking at the pictures, there's no real discernible difference between the two. They both look as sharp as each other and both have lots of detail. The lower setting does have the advantage of freeing up more memory space if you're running out before downloading.


The sensitivity range on the Nikon Coolpix L31 starts at ISO 80, but we couldn't seem to get the camera to use that setting in the lighting set up we used. Because the L31 has no manual control over ISO we had to be creative and reduce the amount of light available in the studio by simply moving the light away from the subject. Despite our light being at full strength, the camera still chose ISO 200 as the first setting. It's likely that the lowest setting is reserved for extremely bright sunlight.

At ISO 200, images look smooth enough, so any setting lower than that should also be pleasing enough to the eye. Looking at the test shot at 100% magnification, we'd be lying if we said there was no noise. Small spots of bright blue sporadically litter the darker areas of the shot. That's quite unsettling, though the sharpness of the image shows that there's no noise control at work. Not so at ISO 500, which is the next setting we managed to record. Detail has been smoothed out in a bid to remove unwanted colour noise which gives the image a milky feeling. At ISO 800 and despite the camera's best efforts, blue colour noise is over powering the capabilities of the noise reduction software.

Our final setting of ISO 1000 shows the camera upping it's game and getting rid of that colour. We even managed to keep some colour in the picture from the subject, which has to be a positive result.

ISO 20 (100% Crop)

ISO 500 (100% Crop)

iso200.jpg iso500.jpg

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1000 (100% Crop)

iso800.jpg iso1000.jpg

Focal Range

The Nikon Coolpix L31 has a 5x optical zoom which reaches from 26mm at wide-angle to 130mm in 35mm terms. It's a modest zoom range that will cover most of the things you want to photograph. Definition at the edges of the frame while at wide-angle is still good. We couldn't determine any bad barrel distortion and while the picture was less sharp, it's to be expected and wasn't as bad as it could have been on a camera at this price point.



focal_range1.jpg focal_range2.jpg


Pictures taken with the Nikon Coolpix L31 certainly do benefit from a little boost in an editing suite such as Adobe Photoshop. We found that just the basic sharpening can increase the quality of the image but really only when shot at low ISO. Anything higher than ISO 200 and you run the risk of exacerbating the noise that comes in on the picture.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)

sharpen1.jpg sharpen1a.jpg
sharpen2.jpg sharpen2a.jpg

Chromatic Aberrations

We found chromatic aberration on many photographs. It occurs particularly on higher contrast edges. Although they don't have to be as contrasty as we'd like. It also mostly happens in the edges of the frame, which is to be expected, but if there's a bright background – say some tree branches in front of the sky – then it can appear nearer the centre of the frame.

Chromatic Aberrations 1 (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations 2 (100% Crop)

chromatic1.jpg chromatic2.jpg


Close focusing on the L series of Nikon's Coolpix range has never been spectacular and they're not going to start now. The closest you'll be able to effectively focus with the L31 is 10cm while in macro mode and staying within the green bar on the zoom range.

Nikon's have an annoying trait of seeming to lose focus ability if you stray too close. Part of our test is to get as close as we can and we edge the camera in and test the focus in case it gets closer. When the camera can't focus, we edge back out to the previous spot and refocus again to take the test shot. With the Nikon you can't always do that. We found ourselves having to back away further to get the camera to lock focus. It's as though it had to reset itself.


Macro (100% Crop)

macro1.jpg macro1a.jpg


These days flash systems built into even the most budget models of Nikon are intelligent enough that they won't bleach out skin tones unless they're at an incredibly close range. Essentially, as long as you keep a distance of 0.5m at wide-angle you'll be OK. With portraits, we didn't encounter any red-eye to speak of, so the red-eye reduction feature was redundant in our test However, should you get it on your photographs, as well as the red-eye reduction in the flash menu, there's a red-eye removal system in the Playback menu.

Aside from the natural shade on our test wall, we didn't notice any vignetting that was caused by the camera. Both at wide and zoom, flash on or flash off. The images came out very similar to each other which shows how intelligent the flash system really is.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (26mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (26mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (130mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (130mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

The Nikon Coolpix L31 does have a red-eye reduction mode but there's little point in using it. Whenever we tried it, the flash with out red-eye never captured any.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)
flash_on.jpg flash_on1.jpg


The Nikon Coolpix L31 has a Night scene setting in the Scenes menu and is depicted by a building with a moon behind it. In this mode, the camera expects you to use a tripod or something to rest the camera on. It will use a low ISO (although still at ISO 400), and a longer exposure to get the image. The darker image of the two is actually the most accurate to the conditions.

In Auto mode, the camera has ramped up the ISO to 1600 to ensure it can be hand-held without getting a long exposure which would cause camera shake. The result is a noisy, over exposed image with distorted colours. The camera was only trying to do the right thing, though, but this is the problem with only having auto ISO modes.

Night Auto

Night Auto (100% Crop)

night_auto.jpg night_auto_crop.jpg

Nigh Scene

Night Scene (100% Crop)

night_scene.jpg night_scene_crop.jpg

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Nikon Coolpix L31 camera, which were all taken using the 16 megapixel 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 31 second movie is 112Mb in size.

Product Images

Nikon Coolpix L31

Front of the Nikon Coolpix L31

Nikon Coolpix L31

Front of the Nikon Coolpix L31 / Lens Extended

Nikon Coolpix L31

Side of the Nikon Coolpix L31

Nikon Coolpix L31

Side of the Nikon Coolpix L31

Nikon Coolpix L31

Rear of the Nikon Coolpix L31

Nikon Coolpix L31

Rear of the Nikon Coolpix L31 / Main Menu

Nikon Coolpix L31

Top of the Nikon Coolpix L31

Nikon Coolpix L31

Bottom of the Nikon Coolpix L31

Nikon Coolpix L31

Side of the Nikon Coolpix L31

Nikon Coolpix L31

Side of the Nikon Coolpix L31

Nikon Coolpix L31

Front of the Nikon Coolpix L31

Nikon Coolpix L31

Front of the Nikon Coolpix L31

Nikon Coolpix L31

Memory Card Slot

Nikon Coolpix L31
Battery Compartment


The Nikon Coolpix L31 is a camera designed for the end user that simply wants a compact to pick up, press the least amount of buttons and get a shot to remember the occasion they're recording. To that end, the L31 fits the requirements perfectly. The complete ease of use must have taken Nikon a long time to figure out. It's one thing to program a menu system on a camera with access to certain areas, but to organise it in a way that anyone picking it up would be able to navigate around must be a lot harder. Yet Nikon have managed it.

It's easy to cut into the image quality and “nay say” it as poor. It's important to keep in mind the fundamentals of the Nikon Coolpix L31. This is a sub-£100 camera, so can't have back-illuminated sensors, high sensitivity or optical VR. Looking at it from that point of view, the picture quality isn't too bad. If we were to list the faults, they would be the lack of dynamic range, the lack of saturated colour, soft edges, noise at relatively low ISO, lack of manual ISO settings... The list can go on, but there's little point as the user that this camera is aimed at arguably doesn't care for, or understand, such features.

What you get is a camera that will record your days out, stag party, family holiday or any other event and if it gets damaged, then you've lost a minimal amount of outlay. It saves taking a more expensive camera out. If this is your main camera, then as well as the aforementioned quality, you also have a simple UI, thoughtful layout and minimal fuss when taking pictures. The batteries are available in nearly every shop – especially abroad – and you don't have a load of stuff in the box that you're unlikely to use. The Nikon Coolpix L31, for the money, is a very well thought out camera from box to menu system. If you're the kind of person who wants a simple point and shooter to shove in a bag for an event or time away, then this is a good choice.

3.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 3.5
Features 3
Ease-of-use 4.5
Image quality 3
Value for money 4.5

Main Rivals

Listed below are some of the rivals of the Nikon Coolpix L31.

Canon IXUS 145

The Canon IXUS 145 (also known as the PowerShot ELPH 135) is a stylish and affordable point-and-shoot compact camera. Stand-out features include a 16 megapixel sensor, 8x wide-angle zoom lens and a metal body. Read our in-depth Canon IXUS 145 review now...

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Budget doesn't have to mean cheap and nasty, and that's certainly the case with the stylish yet affordable Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 camera. A 14 megapixel sensor, 2.7 inch screen, 4x wide-angle zoom lens and even 720p movies can be your for just over £100 / $125. Check out our Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 Review to find out if this camera is less disposable than its price suggests.

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Nikon Coolpix L31 from around the web. »

At £55 the L31 is Nikon’s cheapest Coolpix camera and replaces the Coolpix L29. The new camera gets a 16.1MP CCD sensor, a 5x optical zoom range and it comes in black, silver, red and purple colour options. It’s worth noting that the outgoing L29 shares the exact same specs as the L31 and, save for some possible image processing differences, is essentially an identical camera.
Read the full review »


    • Type

    • Compact digital camera

    • Effective pixels

    • 16.1 million (Image processing may reduce the number of effective pixels)

    • Image sensor

    • 1/2.3-in.type CCD, total pixels: approx.16.44 million

    • Lens

    • NIKKOR lens with 5x optical zoom

    • Focal length

    • 4.6 – 23.0 mm (angle of view equivalent to that of 26-130 mm lens in 35 mm [135] format)

    • F-number

    • f/3.2 – 6.5

    • Lens construction

    • 6 elements in 5 groups

    • Magnification

    • Up to 4x (angle of view equivalent to that of approx. 520 mm lens in 35 mm [135] format)

    • Vibration reduction

    • Electronic VR (movies)

    • Motion blur reduction

    • Electronic VR (still pictures)

    • Autofocus

    • Contrast-detect AF

    • Focus range

    • [W]: Approx. 50 cm (1 ft 8 in.) to infinity. [T]: Approx. 80 cm (2 ft 8 in.) to infinity. Macro mode: Approx. 10 cm (4 in.) (at a wide-angle zoom position) to infinity, (all distances measured from center of front surface of lens)

    • AF-area mode

    • Center, face detection

    • Monitor

    • 6.7 cm (2.7 in.) diagonal. Approx.230k-dot, TFT LCD with 5-level brightness adjustment

    • Frame coverage

    • Approx. 98% horizontal and 98% vertical (compared to actual picture)

    • Frame coverage (playback mode)

    • Approx. 100% horizontal and 100% vertical (compared to actual picture)

    • Storage media

    • SD, SDHC, SDXC, Internal memory (approx. 17 MB)

    • File system

    • DCF and Exif 2.3 compliant

    • Storage file formats

    • Still pictures: JPEG. Movies: AVI (Video: Motion-JPEG compliant, Audio: PCM monaural)

    • Image size (pixels)

    • 16M (High) [4608 x 3456 (Fine)]. 16M [4608 x 3456]. 8M [3264 x 2448]. 4M [2272 x 1704]. 2M [1600 x 1200]. VGA [640 x 480]. 16:9 [4608 x 2592]

    • ISO sensitivity

    • ISO 80 – 1600

    • Exposure metering

    • Matrix, center-weighted (digital zoom less than 2x), spot (digital zoom 2x or more)

    • Exposure control

    • Programmed auto exposure and exposure compensation (-2.0 – +2.0 EV in steps of 1/3 EV)

    • Shutter type

    • Mechanical and charge-coupled electronic shutter

    • Shutter speed

    • 1/2000 – 1 s, 4 s (Fireworks show scene mode)

    • Self-timer

    • Approx. 10 s

    • Aperture

    • Electronically-controlled ND filter (-2.7 AV) selection

    • Aperture range

    • 2 steps (f/3.2 and f/8 [W])

    • Built-in flash

    • Yes

    • Flash range (approx.)

    • [W]: 0.5 – 3.6 m (1 ft 8 in. – 11 ft). [T]: 0.8 – 1.7 m (2 ft 8 in. – 5 ft 6 in.)

    • Flash control

    • TTL auto flash with monitor preflashes

    • USB

    • Hi-Speed USB. Supports Direct Print (PictBridge). Also used as audio/video output connector (NTSC or PAL can be selected for video output.)

    • Supported languages

    • Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Marathi, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese (European and Brazilian), Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese

    • Power sources

    • Two LR6/L40 (AA-size) alkaline batteries. Two FR6/L91 (AA-size) lithium batteries. Two EN-MH2 rechargeable Ni-MH batteries (available separately). AC Adapter EH-65A (available separately)

    • Battery life 1

    • Approx. 200 shots when using alkaline batteries. Approx. 750 shots when using lithium batteries. Approx. 500 shots when using EN-MH2 batteries

    • Actual battery life for movie recording 2

    • Approx. 1 h 30 min when using alkaline batteries. Approx. 4 h 30 min when using lithium batteries. Approx. 2 h 50 min when using EN-MH2 batteries

    • Tripod socket

    • 1/4 in. (ISO 1222)

    • Dimensions (W x H x D)

    • Approx. 96.4 x 59.4 x 28.9 mm (3.8 x 2.4 x 1.2 in.), excluding projections

    • Weight

    • Approx. 160 g (5.7 oz), including batteries and SD memory card

    • Operating environment - temperature

    • 0°C – 40°C (32°F – 104°F)

    • Operating environment - humidity

    • 85% or less (no condensation)

    • Supplied accessories

    • LR6/L40 (AA-size) Alkaline Batteries (x2), USB Cable UC-E16, Camera Strap

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