The L310W is Samsung’s compact gambit for those trading up to a higher specified digital model, or perhaps those needing to get a little more control of their shots.
To that end the L310W has a rich feature set that includes a modicum of manual controls and a host of automated features that, in theory at least, should help you get more form the camera and your photos.
The two standout features on this camera are the 28 to 102mm, F/2.8 to F/5.7 wide-angle zoom lens and the 13.6MP sensor. The lens is sharp and relatively distortion free, barrel being the distortion that usually causes most problems at the wide end, here it’s quite well controlled.
However, the high resolution sensor, only 1.49cm across, simply means pixels are densely packed and while more pixels can capture extra detail - assuming the lens is up to it and the technology on the chip itself of course - typically what you actually get is noisier images.
And here, unfortunately, the latter is true particularly at higher ISOs. Noise control is impressive up to ISO 400, at ISO 800 noise is controlled but that control reduces the amount of detail and rather squashes colour performance, at ISO 1600 the images are virtually unusable except perhaps on screen and at ISO 3200, not only does the maximum resolution drop to 3MP in order to achieve that sensitivity, but the noise and drop in detail is so harsh, well, why would you bother?
Having written that, it must be said that at the low ISOs (80, 100 and 200) image quality, in terms of noise, is very good indeed. Some of those automated features designed to help make point and shoot style snaps better includes Face detection AF, which works well enough on all but the most profile of faces in profile. Smile Shot “looks” for smiling faces before it allows the capture of an image, which it takes automatically once the smile is detected.
Nevertheless, you’ll find yourself waiting a while as it tries to do its thing, particularly with multiple faces in the shot. Blink Detection will automatically fire the shutter twice if the camera detects a person has their eyes shut at the time the first shot is taken. That’s neat and works but activating the flash delays the time to the second shot.
Next we have Beauty Shot, this automatically detects imperfection in a portrait (spots, moles, scars and the like) and will automatically retouch the parts of the shot that need “work”. It also brightens faces as it goes too, which can make the images look a little exaggerated. However, there are level settings that enable you to control the amount of retouching and help prevent people looking completely smoothed out.
Combine these with redeye fix where you can elect to remove redeye post-shoot or set it to remove the redeye on the fly as the shot is processed, straight after taking the picture and you have a broad range of tools to help you get better people pictures at least.
The redeye fix is important as this camera seems very prone to redeye problems - an issue which reared its head in many of my shots - with it activated it reliably removed the problem so actually works rather well.
Dual image stabilisation provides optical and digital stabilisation. The former is a big boon here since it allows you to keep ISO set at lower levels as the light drops and still get shake-free images but the latter digital mode bumps that ISO up and ladles in oodles of noise, so avoid if possible.
In terms of the more “normal” capture kit, metering and AF for example, the camera does well enough. Focusing is okay but use, say, Face Detection mode on a static subject and it struggles to get it right, which is very frustrating. Metering is very good however and proved me with a set of great shots, multi, centre weighted and spot modes provide scope to control the way you shoot in difficult lighting and that’s always a good thing.
Shutter speeds are limited in auto modes to a top 1/500th second and slowest speed of just 1 second. Switch to manual mode via the small but easy to use mode dial on the top plate and then the range is much better from 8 seconds to 1/1500th second and thus provides a much better range of options.
Handling, as intimated above, is rather good with the aforementioned mode dial, on/off and shutter release being the only controls on the top plate. All shooting modes can be reached from the mode dial, including a helpful Photo Help Guide mode where you can interrogate a range of shooting options such as “features to use when the image is out of focus” and it’ll show you how to set the camera with on-screen prompts and graphics.
The back plate sports a fiddly to use zoom control an “E” button that activates a range of shooting colour styles including negative, black and white and user controlled set of red green and blue tint sliders. Just below the “E” button is the Canon-alike Fn (for Function) button that brings into play a quick to use shooting option menu for control of resolution, white balance, image quality, metering and focus modes, to name a few.
Options are presented as a vertical menu that you can navigate and then pick the mode required by navigating the horizontal options presented. Easy and fast to use and as suggested above, just like Canon’s similar Fn button feature on its compacts.
A four-way jog button provides access to flash modes, self timer, macro and screen display options and takes care of scrolling menus, which are well presented in easy to use pages activated by pressing the Menu/OK button.
And so the L310W presents a camera that is as easy to use as a point and shoot, or one that provides extra control for those that want it. A disappointment is aperture control because you get just two settings F/2.8 at the fast end and F/5.7 at the slow end (at 28mms) and that’s it, so not very inspiring. Both aperture and shutter speed control is via the Fn button (in manual mode only), which is also not particularly intuitive but does mean you have the extra control that affords.
Disappointingly shutter lag is noticeable on almost all shots and while it’s not worse then similar compacts from other makers, because this camera offers such a lot in other areas, this problem feels as though it lets the side down.
In terms of overall image quality the low ISO shots are very good, white balance control is good but the auto mode can result in an off yellow cast in mixed lighting and providing you keep the optical image stabilisation on and don’t push the sensitivity to more than ISO 800, you’ll not be disappointed. The lens is sharp and surprisingly distortion free: that 28mm wide end providing scope for wide vistas not afforded on similarly-priced competing models with the more usual 35mm wide end of their zooms.
Compact and well specified with a good lens, although the styling is a bit stilted, this camera can take very good shots indeed. Don’t bother with high ISO settings and keep the optical image stabilisation switched on and you’ll get the most from the great little lens and all those pixels.