After seeing the slew of positive, curious, speculative, accurate* and sarcastic reactions to the review/preview of the mystery camera from last week, it’s time for the reveal.
*Congratulations: the clues were deliberate.
This is it. Not quite what some of you were expecting, I bet. Apologies for the somewhat misleading and confusing (but all true) statements – they were necessary to make the point(s) – and congratulations to everybody who figured it out. I’m very happy to see that there are plenty who saw the post for what it was: a lesson in making images, which has always been my priority and the priority of this site. If you walked away in disgust because you felt cheated that it wasn’t a 50-megapixel monster, then you’ve probably come to the wrong place.
I really only have three things to say; the rest is debunking.
Firstly: Manufacturers should take note: given the reactions and interest (up to 5,000 hits an hour at one point) this is how to arouse genuine interest. Rumours worked in the past, but do you really want to treat your customers as though they’re desperate and gullible? You make a tool. Put it in the hands of somebody who can get the most out of it for a change. A good tool has emotional appeal because it produces desirable results, and emotion and results sell cameras. I was scraping the bottom of the barrel here – you could also substitute the camera name/model in this review with literally anything, in the right hands it can produce images at least as good as this.
Secondly: Not so good is the obsession and speculation over The Next Best Thing. Images? Not important. This is really not right; buying more gear will never really satisfy you as a photographer because something will always be missing: it’s in the operator-driven intangibles like composition, not the hardware. Educate yourself and get even more out of whatever advancements might be forthcoming, and probably save a good amount of money, too. Manufacturers, educate your buyers: it’s much easier to sell something of higher value (and higher margin) to somebody who knows why they need it.
Thirdly, and most importantly: The camera makes not the slightest amount of difference whatsoever to the creative process. If anything, restrictions can help if you’re willing to be open-minded. It was probably one of the least pleasant things I’ve ever used, but it really was quite liberating in many ways. I highly recommend the experience for anybody who’s really serious about photography and not just camera-collecting.
The camera which was discussed and used to make all of the images in the review is of course a 2012 extra-economy-budget model, the Nikon Coolpix L25 with a 10MP 1/2.9″ CCD and a zoom that’s yes, 24-140/2.7-6.8(!). You can check the EXIF data on Flickr. It has no manual controls, is all plastic, runs on two (included) AA batteries, and was the cheapest camera Nikon made at the time. I found it in a drawer and honestly can’t remember where it came from or why I have it. I certainly didn’t buy it, which means it must have been given to me. Nobody ever asked for it back, which means I’ve kept it (since I forgot about it until a recent clear out).
Everything I said in the review is true. It is not available easily because it is no longer made. The capabilities of the lens are matched to the capabilities of the sensor – both are very low. It has an amazing price-performance ratio, even with terrible performance, because the price is so low. I’ve bought lens caps and neck straps that are many times more expensive than the whole camera. It’s frankly a miracle that it produces an image at all, much less a pretty good one. There’s quite an impressive amount of engineering knowhow that had to go into this thing. Even though it probably sold new for more, if you think about it – to be able to make it for that price and still make money on it actually boggles the mind. On top of that, there’s been no changes to current models other than to dump in a slightly different sensor and reprint the name on the front. No wonder the industry is dying at this end of the market.
You can’t improve the files out of camera because there is so much processing going on to make the tiny photosites usable that output is never really sharp at anything approaching the pixel level; detail is destroyed by NR then false detail and artefacts are amplified by overzealous sharpening. There is no way to turn any of this off, and of course no RAW. Any sort of processing only magnifies the artefacts. Frankly, there could really be a tiny monkey with a box of only primary coloured crayons in place of a sensor and we wouldn’t be any the wiser. By ISO 800, the monkey thinks he has become Seurat. Oddly though, it doesn’t seem to matter – at least not if you choose the right display medium and your compositions are the first thing your audience sees. Regardless, some serious Photoshop magic* was required to get the files to this point tonally.
But none of this matters too much because the lens is a case study in optical aberrations – lateral CA, longitudinal CA, edge softening, flare, purple fringing, distortion – you name it, it’s got it. The elements suffer from such poor alignment that their asymmetry creates symmetric blurriness at all corners/edges. The zoom toggle is so sensitive (or the electromechanics so bad) I can’t seem to get it to stop at more than four different positions – wide, somewhere around 50, somewhere around 100 and full tele. I suppose it has a step zoom by default, which is just fine for me. The good thing is that the sensor has so much noise of its own and the imaging engine so little sophistication that all of this signal mess is interpreted as noise and simply smeared away, then over sharpened. The optics really do resolve 300+lp/mm in the centre, but only because the sensor is just 4.96mm wide. I also meant every single word about it being a discriminating device: it has a very small usable shooting envelope in which it returns acceptable images, some postprocessing is required (but not as much as you might think) and you really need to know what you’re doing with this thing. It is, in that sense, the ultimate professional’s camera. MT
Because it’s so old, the Nikon Coolpix L25 is no longer available from B&H. However, one of my readers found the L25 on eBay for $29, and I’m sure there are a few in the back of more than one drawer. If you’re masochistic, the much newer L29 model with even more pixels and cat smile scene modes is only 60% of the price of the older model at $70 on Amazon. The even newer L30 is just $20 more, which has 20MP and by pixel math must be twice as good. If you are exceptionally masochistic, there is also the Nikon S02, which has 7.3GB of onboard storage but no buttons for about $70. And by the way, please use my referral links – not for the fifty cents I’d get on each one sold, but to give industry analysts something to ponder…
If you found this review useful or entertaining and happen to be feeling generous, there’s a donation link in the sidebar. I did, after all, just save you a large amount of money since you no longer need that 200MP Massivlux, and I can guarantee that no manufacturer was involved in this at all.
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