Nikon Coolpix L21 review

Ben Pitt
23 Apr 2010
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT

There’s a complete lack of frills, but with respectable image quality and simple controls, it’s just right for a budget point-and-shoot camera



1/2.5in 8.0-megapixel sensor, 3.5x zoom (41-145mm equivalent), 169g

While mid-price compact cameras are caught up in an ill-advised megapixel race, a welcome side effect is that budget cameras are far from being under-specified. The Nikon L21 is one of the most affordable cameras we’ve ever seen, and its 8-megapixel sensor, a 2.5in screen and 3.5x zoom lens look promising.

The good news extends beyond the headline features, with an AF lamp to help with autofocus and an orientation sensor so portrait-shaped photos are rotated automatically. This sensor proved to be fairly unreliable in our tests, though. The lens’s 41-145mm focal length range lacks a wide-angle capability and its f/3.1-6.7 aperture isn’t particularly fast, but these aren’t deal breakers.

At this low price, all we really ask from the L21 is not to mess up too badly. On the whole, it rose to this challenge. The controls are about as basic as they come but there is control over white balance, exposure compensation and flash, plus self-timer and burst modes. Face detection helps produce balanced exposures, and there’s even a smile detect mode for automatically capturing demented grins.

Performance is faster than many cameras costing twice as much. We measured 2.8 seconds to switch on and shoot, two seconds between subsequent shots and 1.1fps in continuous mode. The autofocus was on the slow side, though, and it sometimes misjudged scenes to produce completely out-of-focus shots.

In-focus shots lacked biting clarity and detail, particularly in the corners of frames. In bright light photos weren’t vastly better than from a decent camera phone. The optical zoom and reasonably powerful flash helped distinguish it from mobile phone shots, though. The flash was necessary to avoid blurry motion in low light, but exposures were balanced and the camera picked sensible settings for each occasion.

We had pretty modest expectations for a camera this affordable, and although the L21 didn't exceed them, it didn’t disappoint. It’s a solid choice for casual users – particularly children – for whom a pricier, more complicated camera would be inappropriate.

Basic Specifications

CCD effective megapixels8.0 megapixels
CCD size1/2.5in
Viewfinder magnification, coverageN/A
LCD screen size2.5in
LCD screen resolution230,000 pixels
Articulated screenNo
Live viewYes
Optical zoom3.5x
Zoom 35mm equivalent41-145mm
Image stabilisationnone
Maximum image resolution3,264x2,448
Maximum movie resolution640x480
Movie frame rate at max quality30fps
File formatsJPEG; AVI (M-JPEG)


Memory slotSDHC
Mermory supplied19MB internal
Battery type2x AA
Battery Life (tested)500 shots
ConnectivityUSB, AV
HDMI output resolutionN/A
Body materialplastic
Lens mountN/A
Focal length multiplier6.0x
Kit lens model nameN/A
AccessoriesUSB and AV cables

Buying Information

Warrantyone-year RTB

Camera Controls

Exposure modesauto
Shutter speedauto
Aperture rangeauto
ISO range (at full resolution)auto
Exposure compensation+/-2 EV
White balanceauto, 5 presets, manual
Additional image controlsnone
Manual focusNo
Closest macro focus5cm
Auto-focus modesmulti, face detect
Metering modesmulti, face detect
Flashauto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, red-eye reduction
Drive modessingle, continuous, self-timer, smile detect