Compact and light, the L3's silver plastic body is fairly stylish for such a low-end camera, though at just less than 1.5 inches thick, the Coolpix L3 is a little too fat to slip into your jeans. Fortunately, its light frame weighs less than six ounces even with an SD card and two AA batteries, making it comfortable to carry in a jacket or purse.
Controls are simple and direct, though thicker-fingered users may find the recessed buttons awkward. The top side of the camera holds a large, round shutter-release button and a smaller, rectangular power button. The latter isn't as responsive as we would've liked, and it needs to be held down for a few seconds to start up the camera.
The back panel holds the rest of the camera's controls. A small zoom rocker; a mode slider for switching between automatic, scene-assist, and movie modes; a four-way-plus-OK control pad; and menu, review, and trash buttons sit next to the Coolpix L3's 2-inch LCD. The control pad lets you navigate the camera's menu system or directly access the flash, timer, and macro modes.
Like most low-end, budget digital cameras, the Coolpix L3 is light on features. ISO sensitivity is set automatically, although white balance and exposure compensation give the user some degree of control over images. Nikon somewhat makes up for the lack of manual controls with an ample assortment of 15 scene presets that configure the camera to shoot under special situations, such as in a museum or against a backlight. The movie mode shoots VGA clips with sound at 30fps. This is a significant step up from its little brother, the Coolpix L4, which can shoot only silent movies at 15fps. While the Coolpix L3 doesn't have an image-stabilization mode, it does detect possible blurry photos as you take them based on a handful of camera settings, such as shutter speed, and prompts you to save or delete the questionable image.
Performance was a bit sluggish, but in good lighting, the Coolpix L3 does a decent job. After an irritating 4.5 seconds to start up, the L3 can snap off an image every 2.1 seconds. With the onboard flash enabled, the rate bumps up to a painful 7 seconds. Shutter lag is a middling 1.2 seconds in good lighting but a disappointing 2 seconds in dim conditions. We managed to take 10 shots in 7.6 seconds in burst mode, getting a frame rate of a little more than 1.3fps.
Images from the Coolpix L3 generally came out sharp but were hindered by some annoying qualities. For example, we noticed vignetting--the darkening of corners of the image--in our test shots, and high-contrast edges developed a slight purple fringe. Despite these image problems, details were rendered crisply, and colors were reproduced accurately, if slightly cool.
Despite a limited feature set and sluggish performance, the Nikon Coolpix L3 produces good-looking images, especially for a camera in its price range. If you're on a budget and don't need a lot of options, the Coolpix L3 might be a good choice for you.