Nikon's new long zoom point-and-shoot is smarter than any phone camera

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A smartphone is not a camera. That's the concept Nikon wants to hammer home with its fresh effort to elevate the Coolpix point-and-shoot line above the sea of smarty-pants phones that think they can outshine anything with a fixed lens.

Nikon is betting that its new long-zoom, 18.1-megapixel Coolpix L620 will get a positive reception from consumers who typically rely on their smartphones, especially when traveling.

The Coolpix L620 is designed to be as easy to use as a smartphone camera, but with such benefits as the zoom and a comfortable ergonomic grip. "Features like the BSI CMOS sensor helps users take better pictures in low-light situations, while lens-shift vibration reduction mitigates the effects of camera shake, and the 14x zoom lens is a powerful lens to capture content near or far," said Steve Heiner, Nikon's senior technical manager.

Consumer oriented features include Scene Modes, Easy Auto Mode, Special Effects, and Target Finding AF. Scene modes and an Easy Auto mode let you enhance photos with features like Red Eye Fix and Face-Priority AF. Special effects include Quick Retouch, Filter Effects, and Skin Softening.

The camera features lens-shift VR Image Stabilization with an ISO range of up to 3200 for stable, low-light shooting. The 14x optical zoom-Nikkor lens has a focal length of 25mm to 350mm (35mm equivalent) for long shots. The integrated grip provides extra stability when shooting or composing on the camera's high-resolution 3-inch, 460,000-dot LCD.

For the video inclined (and who isn't these days?), you get one-touch recording in full HD 1080p with stereo sound—movie recording is 1080 at 30p or 1080 at 60i. "This is a real benefit for people who shoot video and play back from the camera directly to an HDTV," Heiner said. "We incorporate a direct to HDTV mode in our cameras that are capable of shooting movies." Once connected via HDMI, certain TVs will let you use the TV's remote to control playback functions of the camera.

The Nikon Coolpix L620 runs on AA-size batteries, so it's easy to pop in a fresh pair. It will be available in late August or early September for $250, in either black or red. It's an addition to Nikon's line of point-and-shoots, and does not replace any existing model.

New lens and flash unit

In other news, Nikon has announced the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens for DX-format DSLRs, and the SB-300 Speedlight, a small, lightweight DSLR flash for lighting up images and video.

The new lens offers Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilization for users to capture sharp handheld photos and videos in a variety of shooting scenarios, even through the LCD screen. It has four stops of image stabilization, so you can hand-hold the camera while recording video and get good results. "This is a 7.8x standard zoom lens, a good general purpose lens for travel and landscapes and wide vistas, as well as zooming," Heiner said. On a DX camera (APS-C image sensor format), this is the equivalent of coverage of a 210mm lens, from 27-210mm. "It's quite a long lens when you consider the cropping factor of a DX Nikkor camera," said Heiner, though with a manageable size and weight. With its 67mm diameter, you can also outfit the lens with a variety of glass filters.

AF-S DX Nikkor 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens

The SB-300 Speedlight is affordable and small enough to stuff into a shirt pocket. Providing more power and coverage than a camera's built-in flash, the SB-300 is a simple accessory compatible with Nikon DSLRs such as the D3000, D3200, the 5000 series, and even a D4, as well as advanced Coolpix models such as the Coolpix A or the P7700. This new Speedlight operates via on-camera controls with a simple on-off switch and an LED that indicates when it's ready to fire. It has a range of 59 feet at 100 ISO. "It's a little more powerful that the built-in DSLR flash, but it gives a tremendous advantage of being able to bounce up to 120 degrees—more than the previous SB-400 model that tilted only to 90 degrees," Heiner said.

SB-300 Speedlight

It's powered by two AAA batteries. The firmware is upgradable in supporting DSLRs—but it won't work with cameras that are more than a few years old, like the D70, D80, D100, or D200. The flash features thermal cut-out protection to prevent overheating when capturing successive rapid flash images.

Both the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens and the SB-300 Speedlight will be available in late August, for $600 and $150, respectively.

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