Samsung WB5000 review

Not to be confused with the WB500 pocket camera from the same manufacturer, with the extra "0" in the WB5000's model number comes an extensive, all encompassing focal range equivalent to 26-624mm in 35mm film terms, or a 24x optical zoom.

It proves a very useful tool for pulling faraway objects closer at maximum telephoto setting without the user having to take a step forward, as well as achieving broader reproductions of landscapes thanks to the 26mm extreme wide-angle setting. And, for those hoping to shoot handheld through the entirety of the range, anti-shake here comes in the form of both electronic and optical image stabilisation.

The WB5000's snug DSLR-like styling leads us to expect a pretty decent bridge camera feature set to match, capable of coming up trumps with regard to most subjects and conditions, and the Samsung makes a stab at it with a maximum 12.47 effective megapixel photo resolution, 1280 x 720p HD video clips at 30 frames per second with dedicated record button, plus capably large fixed 3-inch 230k dot LCD for both picture composition and review.

There's additionally the alternative of electronic viewfinder, or EVF, located above, the eye relief for which juts out quite prominently and has its own activation button on the camera's backplate, with dioptric adjustment wheel at one side for the myopic.

Despite the bigger zoom capacity the WB5000 is reasonably lightweight at 398g without card or rechargeable battery, and overall offers manageably portable dimensions of 116.1 x 82.8 x 91.1mm. The provided grip is just large enough to be comfortably workable without adding much in the way of bulk to overall proportions. It looks and feels a little plastic-y however compared with the alternative of a more robust 30x Fujifilm HS10 at £100 more. But it does include a stereo microphone just above the lens barrel, and, as we usually find with Samsung, here the £299 asking price seems about right.

The camera powers up in 2 seconds with a press of the recessed activation button on its top plate, the surround of which glows a calm Samsung-branded blue when in use; the lens automatically extending to maximum 26mm wide-angle setting. Just above the lens barrel, and behind the stereo microphone, lives the pop-up flash, which has its own manual activation button on the slope to one side.

The lens takes just over 2 seconds to travel from maximum wide angle to extreme telephoto - which is quick, given its focal range. When fully extended the plastic lens barrel does look rather vulnerable to accidental knocks, or a strong wind however.

As one would expect, the WB5000's handling falls somewhere between a high-end compact and entry level DSLR. With a choice of point and shoot functionality via the scene/subject recognising Smart Auto, or manual control proposed by the P,A,S,M options ranged around the top-mounted shooting mode dial with just the right amount of "give", focus and exposure is determined in an instant with a half press of the large and springy shutter release button. This is encircled by a lever for operating the zoom on the sloping front of the handgrip.

Stills and video clips are written to optional SD or SDHC card, a slot for which is provided under a sliding catch at the base where the rechargeable lithium ion battery also lives.

Thankfully the full extent of the optical zoom can be utilised when filming video, although inevitably some slight operational noise is picked up by the microphone located above; something that wouldn't be noticed however if recording a busy scene or conversation.

There's a choice of three JPEG compression levels - Super Fine quality single shots committed to memory in all of 2 seconds - or, as on a DSLR proper, the ability to shoot JPEGs alongside uncompressed RAW files, or RAW files on their own. Also enticing for enthusiast photographers is the ability to adjust manual focus, though this is tweaked in a rather rudimentary fashion that involves the user tabbing incrementally along an on-screen slider with macro at one end, infinity at the other.

Generally the WB5000's menu screens are clearly and thoughtfully laid out with white text on blue/black background, making for quick and easy navigation. Shooting functions and set-up options are tabbed through with the aid of the scroll wheel on the camera back which can alternatively be gently spun with the thumb to locate the same settings. There are additionally separate buttons for locking and adjusting exposure, here the standard +/- 2EV.

Plus, as expected, there's playback and a further "Fn" or function button that presents key shooting options in an easier to access toolbar that runs down the left hand side of the screen - much like what we're used to finding on a point and shoot compact.

In auto mode/s the WB5000 deploys what Samsung is calling Smart Face Recognition technology, that, with the ability to store up to 20 faces in the camera's internal memory, "remembers" previously captured favourite faces and biases focus and exposure toward them should they subsequently turn up in a group photo. As on Samsung's point and shoot compacts we also get a skin-smoothing Beauty mode offered, in addition to Blink and Smile Detection - so its manufacturer obviously recognises that this is a tool for photographing people, as well as landscapes courtesy of that wide-angle 24mmm setting, in the main.

On the left-hand flank (if viewed from the back) there's also a joint port for USB/AV output, but no HDMI connectivity on this model, some £100 cheaper than the likes of Fujifilm's HS10 super zoom that adds such an HDTV-friendly feature.

Downloading images to the desktop reveals that the WB5000 is a capably consistent tool for a wide range of shooting scenarios and conditions. In fairness, we did notice some slight loss of sharpness towards the edges of the frame when shooting at maximum wide-angle and some pixel fringing between areas of high contrast, but these would only truly stand out if you were purposefully looking for such "issues".

Exposures were on the whole impressively even and colours flatteringly vivid - particularly reds, greens and blues - with skin tones rendered healthily warm as a default. If however you don't like what you see, Samsung provides the chance to make manual RGB colour channel tweaks in camera via adjustment sliders in its Photo Style Selector mode, located via a press of the "Fn" button. Pictures aren't pin sharp enough to match the results from a DSLR proper with a suitable lens, but are comparable to a high-end compact - which is what indeed the WB5000 is.

Verdict

The "DSLR lite" WB5000 has been out a little while, so in theory you should be able to find more competitive deals than the £299 asking price. The fact that the lowest cost we could find online at the time of writing was £279 suggests the camera has pretty much held its value, perhaps because it still offers the best range among its manufacturer's compact family.

If you don't want all the bells and whistles or the cost of the next step up in the Samsung range, arguably its innovative mirror-less NX10 model, nor the ability to swap lenses, the WB5000 is a good fit for the relatively inexperienced photographer who feels that nevertheless they could do with a bit more lens power.