The search for the ultimate go anywhere camera. Part 1 - Nikon Coolpix L840? / by Keith Hunniford

This is the first in a series of reviews of cameras that I purchased with the goal of having a "good enough" travel and every day camera.  This series includes Nikons, Panasonics, a Sony and a couple of Fujis.

Does the Nikon L840 cut it?  

Well in some ways it's astonishing, but it has a couple of major flaws so shortly after this vacation it went on eBay.

The day before going on vacation in 2016 I looked at my DSLR and thought.. that should not go on the beach.  With not enough time to Amazon something in,  I looked around locally and found a Nikon L840 at Microcenter for the strangely low price of $195 ($50 less than I sold it for one month later).

The L840 is a "bridge camera" which means it's a camera trying to bridge the gap between compact cameras and DSLRs.  They typically have much better optics than compact cameras of the same price and are slightly bigger.  As a Nikon user I felt very comfortable with the layout and menus.

Mind Blowing Zoom and Image Stabilization.

So.. first the good.  The lens and image stabilization are phenomenal.. mind blowing in fact. For years I've scoffed at camera manufacturers boasting of [Unusable]x Zooms, but this 38x zoom is just unreal.  Here's are a couple of handheld shots from widest to furthest zoom. 

Yes.. that's the SAME SCENE. On the left you can't even make out the golf cart. On the right if you pixel peep you can read the phone number on the side of it.

Here's another one.. you can't even SEE the boat at full wide.

If I had all of my gear and wanted these shots my Nikon D3s, 80-200 f2.8 zoom and 1.7x teleconverter would still require major cropping to get the same frame,  and without image stablization I'm not convinced the result would be any better.

 TRULY astonishing, as is this uncropped shot of the moon.

 

So, in great light, this camera is certainly no slouch for certain things, like wild life.  The built in image stabilization definitely rendered some shots that I wouldn't say are my best work, but still something that I'm pleased to have shot.  Below is a shot at an equivalent zoom of over 600mm and it's sharp enough that you can tell the fish isn't smiling ;)

Macro is also pretty decent.. again, I think image stabilization is what has taken a shot like this from decent to great.

Pleasing Color and Contrast rendering

I really can't fault the overall feel of the shots out of this camera.  Of course in these shots there is no shortage of light, but none of these shots are taken in the golden hour, and many cameras would render these flat.

I believe that these gentlemen with the piano are famous and this scene is now an album cover!

 

Taking a shot involves having a camera with you

I think this is the great thing about any camera that is light, works well and where it isn't the end of the world if you drop it in the sea.   The L840 was a really big winner here on this vacation, in that I just carried it pretty much all the time, even when wading around in the water.  As a result, I feel I have some shots that I wouldn't otherwise have.  For street photography where depth of field isn't a major concern, I'd say this camera could be a useful tool.  It's fast and quiet.

And now the bad.. not for the depth of field junky.

What's wrong with this picture?

When I saw this shot in my mind.. I didn't see all the clutter of people in the background, a good 50 feet away!  The maximum aperture of this camera is not great.  That means problems in lower light, but also, in a shot like this where the sunbathing woman should be tack sharp, and the background a lovely buttery blur of bokeh.. forget it.  It's not going to happen.    Max aperture is f3-f5.6.  This shot was in the middle of the zoom range, so max available aperture would have been around f4.5,  but on a sensor that is tiny that's chronic for subject isolation.

Strange Barrel Distortion

As you can see in this shot, the camera can exhibit bizarre distortion effects at certain zoom levels although I have not been able to reproduce this.

 

And the deal killers are.. No view finder and low light performance.

There it is.. the reason that this little guy simply had to go.  I could live with the depth of field issue by deciding what I shoot.  I could possibly have put up with the somewhat mediocre low light performance, but there are times that putting the camera up to my eye is the only way it can be.

In summary..

So I was very very impressed with this camera,  and nothing since has offered the zoom performance, which I have to say, at times was a lot of fun.  The ability to shoot a scene that is so far away the people can't even see you is great.  Battery life was adequate, and BONUS, it took AA batteries so great for travel anywhere!

Not having a viewfinder, and the inability to narrow the depth of field is the reason why this camera made it's way to eBay.    I know from the little low light work I did that there is no way it would be a good carry along for a night out,  and the built in flash acted strangely making it practically useless.  

Having said that,  if I was going on a safari and I had to choose a non DSLR, this might well be it! 

Definitely no regrets.  I sold it used for more than I bought it new.  And then what happened? Read about the Panasonic Lumx in Part 2