You’ve got to love low-cost airlines. My wife (the organized half) is always on the lookout for cheap fares to places we have always wanted to see together. Since she has signed up for alerts from these airlines, we’ve managed to tick off quite a few to-do destinations off our list for paltry sums of money—Leh, Puducherry, Dharamsala, Hampi and, on Independence Day weekend (OK, we took Monday, Tuesday off too), we were off to Puri in Orissa. I thought it would be a good way to also check out Nikon’s latest point-and-shoot digicams—the 5-megapixel Coolpix L10 and the 6-megapixel Coolpix L11.

Nikon’s Coolpix range is extremely popular with both amateurs and professionals and the Coolpix L10 and Coolpix L11 are the latest additions to this range. Nikon stratifies the Coolpix line into three series—the Life series L models, the Style series S models and the Performance series P models that target different kinds of photographers with each line. The L series is designed “with the casual snapshooter in mind", Nikon says. It’s the company’s lowest priced line with list prices running from Rs8,900 for the L10 and Rs12,900 for the L11. Both models sport Nikon glass— 38-113mm 3X zoom and a maximum ISO of 800 for low light conditions. The main distinctions between models are sensor size and LCD size. The L10 is a 5-MP digicam with a 2-inch LCD while the nearly identical L11 is a 6-MP digicam with a 2.4-inch LCD.

I shot with both cameras over the weekend and found them to be sturdy, reliable little fellas, easily pocketed and ready for action—though, I must say, a little slow on the trigger compared to higher-end models, but you do expect some shortcomings at this price level. The cameras are really smaller than they look in the picture. The bulging grip is in just the right place for your thumb to slip between the Wide and Tele on the Zoom lever. The brushed chrome look is balanced by chrome highlights around the lens, on the eyelet for the wrist strap and on the top panel. While they may not win any beauty contests, the L10 and the L11 are much more attractive than their price tag would suggest.

In the absence of an optical viewfinder, the higher resolution (153,00 pixels) of the L10’s smaller screen does make the famous Nikon large type menus more readable than on the L11 (115,000 megapixels). The LCD itself is usable in full sun, and it also resists fingerprints very well, another rare attribute. You can adjust the monitor brightness over five steps in the Setup menu from its default setting of 3 to 5 (brighter) or 1 (darker), too.

Here’s a tip: On the Setup menu, you’ll find a Quick Startup option that skips the usual icon or animation and just gets down to business right away. I was never bothered by the startup time when I shot with either the L10 or L11. However, zoom performance was a different matter. Optical zoom was fine, smoothly moving from wide angle to telephoto, but digital zoom steps annoyingly slowly through its range. But a disincentive to use digital zoom isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I shot all my pictures with the optical range of the lens.

Both cameras offer three capture modes. In Single mode, the camera reconsiders everything about the shot (focus, white balance, etc.) each time you press the Shutter button, causing quite a delay between captures. Continuous mode is quicker, capturing two shots/second with a fast enough memory card and provided that you’re shooting in “Normal" rather than “High" quality mode, which can be fun for stop-action photography. This isn’t at all bad for an economy-priced digital camera. Scene modes include Face-Priority AF, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Back Light, Panorama Assist, and Voice Recording.

Over the years, Nikon has built a suite of in-camera enhancements that really make a difference—the Best Shot Selector, which checks the file size on a set of images, saving the largest (and, by definition, the most detailed); D-Lighting can brighten faces that were captured as shadows because of a bright light like a sunset behind them; Red-Eye Fix can find and remove the inevitable red-eye in a flash image; and Face-Priority Auto Focus can find the faces in the scene and set the focus on them.

At 5-MP and 6-MP, you would expect good results from the L10 and L11 at the usual printing sizes and the cameras don’t let you down. My pictures were sharp, bright and colours were accurate even in the overcast monsoon conditions outdoors as well as in indoor conditions. Movie mode was, likewise, a breeze. Just flip the Mode switch to Movie and, if you want, press the Menu button to set a movie size up to a “broadcast quality" video at 640x480 pixels and 30 frames a second.

But the main virtue of the L series Coolpix models is their simplicity. You could hand them to anyone and they’d be able to take pictures, video or record a voice memo. Pop one out of your pocket, press the Power button and line up the shot using the Zoom lever to compose the image. Then just press the Shutter button. Slide the Mode switch and they could take movies. And show them the Scene mode for a Voice Memo and they would be able to record their thoughts, too. And as a bonus, it offers several key Nikon technologies. It’s a nice little package, real cameras, at a very affordable price.

Unit sourced from Inter Foto India,

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