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There have been touch screen cameras and camcorders before but none has approached the level and elegance of control of the Samsung ST550. In many ways, the camera parallels the touch experience of Apple’s iPhone and iPod devices. And that’s saying something!
Confession: I’ve never been a great fan of touch screens before, finding them confusing, hesitant and a little challenging. But this time Samsung has done it right. If your experience follows mine you’ll find yourself playing for hours with the screen, exploring its nooks and crannies.
It goes further: the camera captures 12.2 megapixel pictures, its maximum image size of 4000×3000 pixels is enough to make a sharp 34x25cm print. Movies have an HD res of 1280×720 at 15/30/60fps.
The lens has been designed by German optical company Schneider, offering a 4x zoom range that equates (as a 35 SLR) to 27-124.2mm. The lens is a little ‘slow’ with an f3.5 maximum aperture, so for low light photography you’ll have to rely on a slower shutter speed or lift the ISO setting.
Choose a higher ISO speed? A little touchy, as my ISO test shots reveal that when the camera is set to ISO 800 and higher the shots are virtually unusable, due to the lack of definition, noise and general blockiness of the image. So the f3.5 maximum lens aperture is a problem.
The camera offers only auto or Program AE exposure options, so choosing a specific shutter speed is out of the question.
However, the ST550 is a great snapshot camera, easy to use and what is even more delightful is the second screen (a small 3.8cm LCD panel) mounted on the front panel of the camera. Now you can shoot people and let them see how they look before you snap the shutter. What an innovation!
Delightfully, you activate the screen by tapping on the camera’s front surface, left of the lens. Note: I said tapping — not touching. This is a clever camera.
The only trick with this I discovered is that it’s better to step back from the subject and zoom the lens out to the tele end. The reason? If you shoot people close up as they look at the panel, their eyeline is off to the right of frame — a dodgy look!
The main screen is a 7.6cm LCD of high resolution — more than a million pixels! It’s ideal to assess image sharpness before you shoot and large enough to accommodate the various menu icons sprinkled around its borders. There is no optical viewfinder.
Getting around the menu was easy: I was surprised at how simple it was to select the various metering modes, auto focus options, image size, etc. If you think I’m sold on the touch screen system … you’re right! Far, far better than dithering around a screen menu and whiddling with various knobs and dials to get where you want.
And … each time you make a selection the screen vibrates! Samsung calls it a haptic vibration effect. The word haptic refers to touch …that’s all. But the effect is really cool!
Then the thought occurs to me: why didn’t those clever South Korean camera designers take the ultimate step and give you zoom lens control via the screen — à la the iPhone/iPod? Next model, please?
There’s more: tilt the ST550 to one side, and the camera starts the slide show; in Smart Auto the adjusts settings for the optimum shot; by recognising up to 20 familiar faces, it sets focuses on them; a helpful touch is the Recycle Bin, where every shot is stored in a temporary folder just in case you accidentally erase the main memory. Got me!
A good performer: no problems at the zoom’s wide end but a tiny amount of pincushion distortion at the tele end.
Not the fastest: two seconds from power up to first shot, follow-ons about two seconds each.
Quality: average snapshot quality, not too good in the dark, prefers bright sunny days!
Why you’d buy the ST550: twin LCD views, slim profile.
Why you wouldn’t: no optical finder, slow lens.
Image Sensor: 12.2 million effective pixels.
Sensor Size: 8mm CCD.
Lens: Schneider-Kreuznach f3.5/5.9/4.9-22.5mm (27-124.2mm as 35 SLR equivalent).
Shutter Speed: 8 to 1/2000 second.
Focusing Range: Normal 80cm to infinity; macro W/T 5/50cm to infinity.
Exposure Control: Auto, Program AE.
Metering: Multi zone, centre-weighted; spot.
LCD screens: Rear 7.6cm (1,152,000 pixels); front 3.8cm (61,000 pixels).
Memory: microSD, 55MB internal memory.
Image Size (pixels): 4000×3000, 3894×2656, 3840×2160, 3264×2448, 2560×1920, 2048×1536, 1920×1080, 1024×768. Video: 1280×720, 640×480, 320×240 at 15/30/60fps.
File Formats: JPEG, MPEG4, AAC.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 80 to 3200.
Interface: USB 2.0, AV (PAL/NTSC), HDMI, DC input.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery.
Weight: Approx. 165.7 g (body only).
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