Samsung ST100 review
Samsung was the first, and thus far is the only, digital camera manufacturer to introduce a LCD screen at the front as well as the back. Following on from last year’s ST500, which prompted that “why hasn’t anyone else thought of this before?” reaction, and recent ST600, we now have the ST100 swelling the manufacturers’ burgeoning family of “2View” cameras.
Dimensions are a manageable 100 x 60 x 20mm, so it will fit in your pocket. It weighs just enough to feel reasonably sturdy too at 135g (without rechargeable lithium ion battery or microSD card) yet portable with it. The ST100 is fast, powering up from cold in just over a second, determining focus and exposure after a moment’s pause while its lens adjusts, and committing a full resolution Super Fine compression level JPEG to memory in around 2 seconds or less.
The 14.2-megapixel camera boasts an internally stacked 5x optical zoom, so compactness is maintained by the fact that at no point does it protrude from the body. In this respect it’s closely reminiscent of the waterproof WP10, also from Samsung and equally as boxy looking, while users have to watch out for fingertips straying in front of the lens.
The zoom is helpfully silent and steady in operation - gliding through the entirety of its range in 3 seconds - and can be utilised for both adjusting the framing of stills and when recording 1280 x 720 pixels video clips also. The focal range is equivalent to 35-175mm in 35mm film terms and, while perfectly adequate, we’d have preferred it a little wider at, say, 28mm to make it better suited to landscapes and group portraits.
The target audience for the ST100 seems to be families. The theory is that the monitor incorporated into the faceplate will distract toddlers long enough for their portrait to be taken, whilst also proving a compositional boon for self portraits and group shots in which the photographer would like to join in the fun.
From personal on-test experience the former proved true up to a point, our own tot inching so close to the lens that unfortunately most shots came out blurred - whilst when trying self-portraits at arms’ length we also got soft images due to camera shake.
This is one camera that seems to need a lot of light to do the business. With its high gloss surface and lack of handgrip, achieving a firm and steady hold is difficult. Our fingers tended to come to rest in the middle of the screen at the front, whilst our thumb tried to avoid slipping from the screen surround onto the LCD proper at the back. Inevitably you’ll be wiping this camera free of greasy fingerprints on a regular basis.
The dual screens on the ST100 boast sizes of 1.8 inches at the front and a whopping 3.5 inches at the rear, the latter presented in 16:9 aspect ratio rather than the former’s 4:3. The back screen also boasts an impressive high resolution of 1152k dots, not that it looks as sharp nor clear as AMOLED screens, as found on the same manufacturer’s similarly priced ST5500 model.
Both screens, however, are further noteworthy for being touch sensitive - which means that the buttons featured on the ST100 are squeezed into a strip on the top plate. The back plate of the camera is given over entirely to its screen.
The front LCD can be called into action with a couple of firm taps, with alternatively a dedicated activation button on the top plate. The rear screen, as per usual, automatically switches on when the camera powers up, and as well as being utilised for framing and reviewing, features a virtual shooting mode wheel plus the usual array of menu and function buttons.
Two screens aside, the ST100 comes across as standard Samsung 2010 fare, and in that respect the £295 asking price feels a little high. Especially when we don’t get a full printed manual, just a quick start guide out of the box, with the rest on CD. There’s no separate charger either - a short USB cable is provided that either plugs into a mains plug adapter, also in the box, or a vacant USB port on your PC for recharging that way.
As we indicated at the outset, the accent here is on ease of use and convenience. Scene and subject recognition technology again features on the ST100 via Smart Auto mode, which can once more, like its zoom, be implemented when shooting still images and video. “SA” is selected via an icon top left of screen, which brings up the aforementioned shooting mode wheel centre of screen, containing six additional options. Here we get regular auto and program auto modes, dual image stabilisation (software enhanced digital anti shake plus more effective - if not quite as effective as we’d like - optical image stabilisation), a brief selection of portrait and landscape-biased scene modes and both regular video mode and Smart Auto video mode.
When shooting still images the 16:9 aspect ratio LCD is cropped with black bands featuring left and right, on which virtual buttons are overlaid. These bands disappear if electing to shoot video instead. There are also virtual “tabs” centre bottom and bottom right of screen.
Whilst a tap of the one to the right brings up a self-explanatory menu button, a tap on the bottom (chortle) brings up a function toolbar that can otherwise be selected by delving into the camera’s shooting menu. It’s a shortcut, in effect, providing access to the likes of metering, white balance, exposure compensation and the ilk, some of which would normally be given their own physical buttons on standard compacts.
Though the spacious display means that the features presented on the ST100’s rear screen don’t feel too cramped together, the indicators and icons are no larger than you’ll find on a non-touch screen model. We can’t therefore help but feel that the likes of Panasonic and Sony with their larger lozenge shaped buttons roughly the size of a fingertip do this touchscreen thing slightly better.
To tailor your images in a slightly more creative manner than provided by your average £100 snapper, this Samsung features Photo Style Selector and Smart Filter digital effects. The former is used to adjust colour saturation, with our preferred setting the vivid option, whilst the latter offers up the fun likes of a fish eye effect, plus tilt and shift lens style Miniature mode. Opt to add an effect to an image and the result is saved as an additional new file alongside the old.
This is an auto everything camera, but priced dangerously close to the sort of £300 models on which we’d expect to find enthusiast-level photographic control.
But in terms of image quality the ST100 has room for improvement. Camera shake and image blur can be quite pronounced if conditions are less than ideal, there’s tell tale pixel fringing visible between areas of high contrast and anyone who chances their arm by shooting in low light without flash is advised both to use a tripod and stick at ISO 800 or below. Above this, noise and softening of detail results in a painterly effect.
Okay, so we could forgive all of the above if this was a £150 compact, but the ST100 at the time of writing is nearly twice that price. The money here is (presumably) being invested in the two screens, one of which you might not actually use all that often. Whilst the larger the back screen is the better in our opinion, we could have put up with it being slightly smaller in return for the ST100 being slightly cheaper. To end on a positive, for the uninitiated the ST100 is fun to use and easy with it; just do a bit of competitive price research if you intend to buy.