Samsung ST50 digital camera review

3.5 out of 5
£179

For

Battery charging in-camera, Frame Guide mode, easy to use, good build quality

Against

Smart mode not brilliant, on HD video capture

The Samsung ST50 has a slick brushed aluminium front and a good solid feel with neat precise lines. It is perfectly pocketable, measuring 94.2 x 55.7 x 16.6mm; small, but perfectly formed, you could say. It features a 3x zoom lens, 35-105mm (35mm equiv.), which does have a fair degree of barrel distortion at the wide end, but that is typical for this type of camera.

The back is dominated by the 2.7-inch 230,000 dot screen - a good size, but it does mean there is no optical viewfinder. It isn't the sharpest screen around, bright, but not fantastic in direct sunlight where it suffers from the normal reflection problems.

The main controls sit to the right of the screen, consisting of the common arrangement of a four-way controller around a central ok button, which accesses the main shortcuts (display, flash, self timer and macro). Otherwise you'll find hard buttons for accessing the menu system, viewing photos and deleting them. A slider lets you switch between still and video modes.

The top gives you the fairly normal arrangement of a shutter button encircled by the zoom ring that controls the 3x zoom lens. You get a rather elegant Power and Smart button on the top, backlit in blue, which looks rather snazzy.

The camera takes a microSD/SDHC in the bottom, sharing the same compartment as the battery. The battery is interesting as the camera doesn't come with a battery charger. Instead, charging takes place within the camera itself.

There is only one connector on the ST50 and this single port handles both connecting the camera to your PC and charging the battery. A USB cable is supplied, as well as a mains plug into which you can insert the cable to handle charging. It certainly saves the hassle of removing batteries and carrying round a separate charger.

The same connector will also work as the AV out, with a supplied composite cable to hook-up to your TV. It lacks the flair of the HD steps taken by rivals to give you a high-definition connection. That said, the video capture on the ST50 has a top resolution of 800 x 592, a step behind the more common 720p HD resolution that similar sized rival devices are packing.

So let's talk about that Smart button. Essentially you have two modes on the ST50: programmable and Smart. The Smart mode will scan the scene and select the best settings based on what it can see. You get some control of the Smart mode, namely the megapixelage and flash control.

Unlike most other cameras, you can't dive in and select a shooting mode, like Landscape for example. The only mode you can directly engage is macro, which works well enough. When Smart has scanned the scene, an icon in the top right of the screen displays the mode selected.

This doesn't always correspond to the scene, so it is a little hit and miss, for example, giving you landscape instead of portrait. This is a bit of a failing, because if you are looking for great portrait style shot with a blurred background, it is fiendishly difficult to achieve. However, for general shooting out and about, it will be fine.

Disengage Smart and you get many more options through the menus, including the obligatory face detection, smile shot, blink detection and beauty shot as found in some of Samsung's mobile phone cameras. These may go some way to getting you a better portrait shot. Beauty shot can give some comical results, you can alter the intensity – but it should be used with caution.

You do get exposure compensation control, ISO, white balance, metering, auto bracketing, and focus zone controls, amongst others. One of the headline features hiding in the menu is Frame Guide.

The Frame Guide allows you to frame your shot, take a snap and then the edges of this picture are superimposed over the current view. This means you can hand the camera to someone else and they can align it with your original framing shot, and take a picture. So, if you want to make sure that it's a picture of you standing under the Eiffel Tower, rather than you standing next to a miscellaneous metal girder, then this will sort it out for you.

However, focusing is not so good. The ST50 sometimes struggles to focus on the scene, especially at closer ranges, like 50cm, which would normally be fine. Image detail is pretty good - this is a 12.2-megapixel camera after all - but exposure seems to be an issue. The ST50 often edged towards under exposure, although high contrast scenes often resulted in purple fringing and loss of detail in highlights.

Colours aren't especially vibrant, but on the whole are well represented and you can edit colours within the camera if you wish, as well as shoot in a particular colour profile, to give your image a particular hue, including negative, which can give some fun results.

ISO runs from the Auto setting up to 3200 (restricted to 3MP resolution). Noise isn't a problem up to ISO400, but beyond that is jumps in quickly. At least you can restrain the ISO to give you better control over your images.

The flash is reasonable, with some advanced controls available once you disengage Smart, however we found we were forever putting our finger over it whilst gripping the camera.

Video capture, despite the lack of HD options, is pretty good, but beware of the zoom - it works, but cuts the audio capture, making for patchy playback. The mic is rather exposed, so suffers from environmental noise problems as soon as you step in to public.

The battery life is also pretty good, we managed to get over 150 shots from it without complaint, although it is more difficult to gauge the exact performance of this battery because as soon as you hook up to your PC, it's charging again...

Verdict

So it is something of a mixed bag. The single connection, while giving you a neat in-camera charging option, does mean that you need bespoke cables to use the camera wherever you go. The lack of HD video is an obvious set back for those with a large screen TV at home.

Overall Smart shooting is a bit of a catch all and will happily sort out most day to day snapping, and given that this camera is pretty affordable too, is likely to be a regular at weddings and christenings.

But when all is said and done, the Samsung ST50 is an attractive looking and easy to use camera, at a reasonable price.