Samsung EX2F

It’s all go in the high-end compact camera market, and Samsung’s EX2F lays out a potential secret weapon that no similar competitor can offer: Wi-Fi.

But does this connected compact connect in the all-important performance and image quality departments too; and is it good enough to keep the larger-sensor high-end compacts at bay?

Design

The Samsung EX2F has a 1/1.7-inch sensor that’s significantly larger than what you’ll find in a standard compact, but it’s far short of the 1-inch version found in the Sony RX100. Oddly enough the EX2F’s body is larger than that of the Sony too, so the correlation between sensor and body doesn’t appear relative.

But it’s the Samsung’s 24-80mm f/1.4-2.7 (equivalent) lens and 3-inch, vari-angle-mounted OLED screen that help account for its bulk. The lens in particular offers an aperture that’s brighter throughout its range than all but that of the Panasonic Lumix LX7. Now that's an impressive feature to boast about.

That EX2F's 3.3x optical zoom may succeed in getting a wide-angle 24mm equivalent on the spec sheet, but the maximum 80mm equivalent focal length is rather "short". In fact the EX2F has among the most limited zoom range of any current high-end compact. Not by loads, but by enough for it to be of note.

Unlike some competitors, the EX2F doesn’t have a rotating lens ring, whether for aperture or manual focus control. We raise this only because the camera looks as though it does have one, but the grip-laden façade around the lens is instead a removable, threaded ring. It looks as though it'll be used for lens adapters but there's a distinct lack of any of those - both the Samsung website and the included "accessories for EX2F" card in the camera's box don’t show any for sale. We presume a wide-angle and possible a tele adapter will be available in the future, but if none surfaced throughout the previous EX1’s life span then we’re not sure what the hold-up is.

The zoom is controlled via the toggle around the shutter button, while a dual dial system handles shooting mode and continuous shooting options via separated dials. On the front of the camera there’s a DSLR-like thumbwheel to spin through settings, matched with a rotating d-pad on the rear for easy adjustment of full manual controls.

The EX2F’s layout works well and a single press of the function (Fn) button on the rear of the camera brings up a fairly extensive list of settings on the screen.

 

Wi-Fi

The new Wi-Fi feature takes pride of place on the right of the d-pad for quick access, but here's the thing: the Wi-Fi option relies on syncing with your smartphone.

There’s no direct-to-web sharing as such, because the EX2F needs to be paired before the full list of sharing options will reveal. These include MobileLink, remote viewfinder, social sharing, email, SkyDrive, auto backup and TV link that, as we said in our Samsung NX1000 review, are fun but the extent of button-pressing and the necessity for two devices to get everything running feels a little discordant.

We think Samsung’s making more of an effort than any other given manufacturer, and the Galaxy camera sure looks like a clear direction of where camera-based Wi-Fi and sharing will go, but the EX2F feels, as it is, like a first try; an incomplete solution. It works fine enough, but it's not as immediate or fluid to use as that of a smartphone.

The lack of a touchscreen, for example, makes the process of typing anything in, such as an email address, take longer than it should. As much as we might be talking seconds of time and not hours, technology has come along so far that every second counts and it's annoying to feel held back by something as simple as a keypad. Sharing should be all about speed and that’s not quite the case here, at least not yet.

Saying that, there are no competitors with Wi-Fi in their high-end compact cameras. Perhaps it’s because that kind of target user is unfazed by such a feature, plus there’s the obvious negative impact on battery life - the EX2F doesn’t last out for as long as we’d like it to - which all stack up as downsides rather than positives.

Performance

Whether you want Wi-Fi on a camera’s feature list is by the by really. Anyone after a top-spec compact will expect top-spec performance.

Pop the EX2F into its multi-area autofocus - there are also center, selection and AF tracking options - and the camera does a good job at speeding into focus. We’ve compared it side-by-side to the Panasonic Lumix LX7, for example, and it’s just as good.

That is until other factors are introduced. The "selection AF" allows a single point to be positioned on the screen, but the confined area is rather central to the screen rather than anywhere near edge-to-edge which is restrictive. But it’s how the single point responds inconsistently that is among the EX2F’s biggest frustrations.

Close-up focus, for example, is often undermined by the focus system failing to focus on even a well-edged, contrasty subject that's well within the camera’s focus range abilities. The speed is there, but the consistency lacks, with that frustrating red "fail" square often rearing its head when it shouldn't need to.

Manual focus, too, doesn’t benefit from the presence of a manual zoom lens ring. Instead the rear d-pad is used to shift the focus between infinity and "macro" (as represented by symbols, though with no focal distance provided) in this mode. It works ok, but some kind of focus peaking to confirm focus or a greater magnification from the manual focus assist option would be of significant use.

The original EX1 wasn’t known for being a super-speedy camera, and that’s something that the EX2F improves upon thanks to its 10 frames per second (10fps) burst mode. In JPEG-only the camera will whizz through a full 10 frames in one sitting (though no more), which it takes a mere couple of seconds to save. There's no burst shooting available when shooting raw files but we’re not surprised about this and it’s probably for the best. Single shooting of raw files is now swift enough, which is a big improvement over its predecessor.

Image Quality

The jump from the EX1’s 10-megapixel CCD sensor to the EX2F’s 12.4-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor shows Samsung is keen to address any shortcomings with previous camera's image quality.

We think the EX1 was more than reasonable at the lower ISO settings and that the EX2F builds on these foundations.

ISO 80-200 produce good results, despite some artefacts - that show as teeny, "sharpened" black blobs - that are noticeable when viewing at 100 per cent size.

Colour noise isn’t a problem at the lowest of ISO settings, and while there's some slight speckled noise that rears its colourful head from ISO 800 and beyond, results are still on form at up to ISO 1600. Or at least good enough.

ISO 3200-6400 collapse into a bit of a colour-noise-ridden soup unfortunately, to the point that it doesn’t look great even on the camera’s rear LCD screen.

But here’s the thing: use the f/1.4 aperture and that will mean plenty of light can reach the sensor to help avoid high ISO settings as required. Not everything can be shot at f/1.4 and look good, of course, but having the equal-best wide aperture setting gives the EX2F an extra tick in the box that only the Panasonic Lumix LX7 can match up to.

Samsung's decision to use a limited zoom range seems to have worked wonders for any other potential imaging problems too. Shots are, in general, sharp throughout, there are few distortion problems and barely a whisper of chromatic aberration.

Occasionally we thought that auto white balance could be a little too warm when indoors under artificial lighting, but this wasn’t a problem outside - whether in sun or rain - in our tests.

Verdict

Samsung’s current fascination with Wi-Fi will please some and leave others shrugging their shoulders. As it stands the EX2F’s Wi-Fi feature is okay, it’s certainly something that similar competitors don’t offer, but it does stick a knife in the battery life.

Brush that feature aside and focus on the EX2F’s core features and there’s plenty to like: the f/1.4 maximum aperture (which dips to f/2.7 at the 80mm equivalent) is right up there with the brightest available; the lower ISO settings deliver sharp, detailed images; and the vari-angle OLED screen is great for unusual shooting positions. There’s even a hotshoe for additional accessories (though we’d like to see more surface sometime soon) and the dual-dial, dual-thumbwheel-esque controls work well.

But this market area is full of serious competition. The EX2F’s limited zoom range, inconsistent autofocus, lack of a lens control ring or accessory port for an electronic viewfinder (an optical one can be cold-mounted via the hotshoe however) are all points against this model. It’ll deliver great quality images for the given sensor size, sure, but it’s not going to counter something like the Sony RX100.

It’s not to be underestimated though. This is Samsung on form, that lens is a cracker and, apart from a couple of points that still need addressing, we rather like the EX2F. Though it could do with a cooler, more palatable name.