The Samsug Digimax V700 is Samsung's top-of-the-line compact digital camera. The only other camera with more features in the Samsung line is the 8 Megapixel, 15X optical zoom Pro815, which is not yet available in stores as of this writing. The V700 sports a 7.1 Megapixel sensor (enough to make prints well above 11" x 14"), a 3X Schneider-Kreuznach zoom lens, and many features usually reserved for higher-end point-and-shoot digital cameras or dSLRs (digital SLR cameras). In addition, the V700 can shoot long (with a large memory card) movies at VGA resolution and 30 fps using its MPEG-4 video mode.
The V700 is ideally suited as a compact camera for a photography enthusiast or a first camera for an individual or family wishing to make big prints. For families who like to share one camera, the Auto mode should be simple enough for even little children to use. At a street price of well under $400, you will not find a compact digicam with as many features, although you should be prepared to deal with the major issue of camera speed (response time) and a couple of minor image quality issues.
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IN THE BOX
Everything you need to get started taking photos comes with the camera, including LiIon rechargeable battery, battery charger (which consists of a long cable and charging unit; I personally prefer the one that plugs into the wall directly), 32 MB Secure Digital Card (good for only about 9 full resolution/quality shots; you should purchase at least a 128 MB card), USB cable (for downloading photos to your computer), TV cable (for displaying photos on your television), wrist strap, and software CD. As an extra bonus, a nice padded carrying case is also included. For this review only, a 128MB memory card was shipped in the box; note that you will receive a 32 MB card if you purchase the camera.
- 7.1 megapixel CCD sensor (1/1.8-inch size)
- 3X optical zoom (equivalent to 38-113mm on a 35mm film camera: moderate wide-angle to moderate telephoto)
- 2.0" Color TFT LCD (118,000 pixels)
- Autofocus: TTL, with AF assist beam
- Optical viewfinder (getting rarer these days; VERY useful in low light)
- Full Manual/Aperture-priority/Shutter-priority exposure modes, 11 scene modes (Night, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Close-up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Beach/Snow, Fireworks), 3 MySet modes
- Video shooting modes: MPEG-4 mode - 640 x 480 at 30 or 15 fps, until memory card is full
- Shutter speeds from 1-2000 seconds (15-2000 seconds in manual mode)
- ISO range 50/100/200/400, AUTO
- Selectable metering mode: spot, multi-metering (also, exposure compensation)
- Selectable white balance: daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, fluorescent L, custom (2)
- Flash range: 0.7-9.8 ft (wide), 0.8-6.5 ft (tele)
- Battery life: approximately 280 shots
- Continuous shooting: 0.8 frames per second, until memory card is full
- Dimensions: 4.1" x 2.12" x 1.2"
- Comes in red, blue, silver (reviewed)
- Voice memo (attaches sound clip to stills), dedicated voice recorder
- PictBridge printing (prints directly connected to printer; no PC required)
- Color effects: b/w, sepia, negative
- Exposure bracketing, focus bracketing
- Can shoot TIFF images (lossless compression)
- Adjustable sharpness, RGB slider controls
- Live histogram (!)
The V700 sports more features and resolution than any compact camera in the Samsung line-up. At maximum still resolution (3072 x 2304), the V700 can produce an 8" x 10" print at nearly 290 dpi (photo quality). At 150 dpi, you can generate much bigger prints - up to 20" x 15". Even if you don't need such large prints, the higher resolution comes in handy when you want to crop your images. On the V700, you can also take photos at lower resolution: 2816 x 2112, 2592 x 1944, 2272 x 1704, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 120, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480.
On the video side, the camera takes videos at full VGA (640 x 480), 30 or 15 fps resolution. There is no time limit on any video mode; you are only limited by the size of your video card. The camera uses the MPEG-4 codec, which is capable of long recording times even at 30fps (over 8 minutes with a 128 MB card, over 1 hour 8 minutes with a 1GB card). This is especially impressive since with a big card you can exceed the recording time of a camcorder. The only disadvantage is that the MPEG-4 video quality is not as good as that from a less efficient codec. On my Canon SD200, for example, the videos are sharp, smooth and clear enough to produce home DVDs.
The 2.0" LCD is fairly sharp and unusually bright, and holds up well in the bright outdoors. However, in very dim conditions it doesn't "gain up" so that you can see what you're framing - you'll have to use the convenient optical viewfinder, which is tending to disappear these days as compact cameras get even smaller. While shooting, the LCD displays such things such as shooting mode, metering mode, flash status, macro indicator, battery status, memory card "fuel gauge", resolution, manual focus indicator and scale, resolution, aperture or shutter speed (in a non-Auto mode), ISO setting (in Manual mode), white balance setting and numbers of photos you can take on the card. The Play button can be pressed at anytime to display the photos on the card; the zoom lever is then used to make the displayed image larger or smaller, while the four-way controller is used to scroll through the image. In a shooting mode, a very useful histogram is available to check if your photo is over or underexposed. You also have the option of having the LCD display just the image (no info) during shooting, or to have it turned off altogether (to save battery life).
Basic operation of the camera involves pushing the Power button at the top of the camera and selecting the camera mode by rotating the selector switch on the back (Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Full Manual, MySet, Movie, Scene) and using the circular "joystick" to scroll among the options. The Auto mode works nicely in most situations, but if you want more flexibility and creativity you can enable one of the many Scene Modes (described in Specification Hightlights, above) or one of the MySet modes, which allow you to pre-set many shooting parameters and save them.
FORM AND DESIGN
The V700 is a compact, but not subcompact camera.. At 4.1" x 2.12" x 1.2" it will fit in a shirt pocket but you'll want to put it in the included case before you put it on your purse on on your belt. It feels comfortable to hold in the hand, thanks to the the significant size and rounded corners. The camera casing appears to be made from metal and plastic.
The top of the camera has (from left to right): the Power button, the shooting mode selector, and an adjustment lever which concentrically surrounds the shutter release button. This lever is used to adjust aperture value, shutter speed and focus (in manual modes). The status light is directly under the Power button.
On the front of the camera, from left to right: a tiny chrome "grip", the flash, the optical viewfinder, the AF Assist/red-eye reduction lamp, and the Schneider-Kreuznach f/2.8-5.1 3X zoom lens (shown with camera powered on).
The back of the camera shows (clockwise, from top left): the optical viewfinder (with AF and flash status lights), the W/T zoom controller, the Monitor button (for turning the LCD on/off and controlling the level of information displayed) , the combined joystick/Menu button (for selecting shooting parameters or photos), the Play/Review button, a rubber cover that hides DC-in and USB ports, the Album (playback), the AEL/ASM button (auto exposure lock, manual mode setting), and finally another menu button (similar to Canon's FUNC button) that brings up multiple menu sceens. That's a lot of controls and buttons; I am used to Canon cameras, so initially I was trying to zoom with the lever that surrounded the shutter release button (instead of the W/T zoom controller). Overall, the buttons and levers are convenient and easy to use.
The right side of the camera (photo on left above) has a sliding door that covers the battery and SD card compartment; the left side (photo on right) has nothing of note.
The bottom of the camera only has the tripod socket (not aligned with the lens).
Image quality is determined by two things on a digital camera: the lens and the sensor/processing electronics. The lens on the V700 appears to be of high quality, with good sharpness edge-to-edge and only minor distortions at the extremes of the zoom range - I observed some barreling in wide angle, but little or no pincushioning at telephoto. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is about average for this class of camera.
The sensor and electronics determine how well the individual pixels make up the final picture - a digital photo should have minimal jaggies (the "staircase" appearance of lines that should be straight), minimal noise (the randomly-colored specks that appear when a CCD's light sensitivity is boosted to compensate for low light) and maximum detail (minimal "over-processing" or sharpening). The V700 has no "jaggies" to speak of. Noise appears to be a tad above average for a 7 Megapixel camera, but even at high ISO (see the dance studio photo below, at ISO 400), the noise grain (speckle pattern) is rather fine and not overly objectionable. Even with slightly higher-than-average noise at high ISO, you will still need to make very large prints for it to be a serious problem. The only image quality issue that may give you reason to pause is the "overprocessed" look of the images - they appear excessively sharp and contrasty, rather than smooth and natural. Some people (Kodak digicam users, for example) actually prefer this; I personally do not.
Dance studio 100% crop at ISO 400
Here are some sample images, taken outdoors and indoors at various focal lengths across the zoom range:
EASE OF USE
Using the camera in Auto mode is very simple, and covers most shooting situations. I found the operation took some getting used to, and I've used many digital cameras including Canons, Nikons, Minoltas, Panasonics, Kodaks, HPs. However, once you have mastered the numerous buttons and levers, the camera is quite convenient. The joystick is easy to use and feels comfortable, with positive "click" feedback. Here are some shots of the LCD in both capture and review mode:
Samsung claims 280 shots on a charge on average. I was able to achieve about 200 shots and several minutes of video, with judicious use of the LCD and flash, so their figure is realistic. This is rather good for this class of camera.
The V700 is a good digital camera and an exceptional value. Features abound, including ones usually reserved for high-end cameras: Exposure, focus bracketing spot, multi metering, TIFF images, adjustable sharpness, RGB sliders, and a live histogram. Image quality is generally good; the lens is optically excellent but the in-camera processing renders photos a little bit too sharp and contrasty. In addition, noise is above average although the grain (speckling) is fine grained, making it tolerable even at high ISOs. The only big issue is the slow response time, even if you partially depress the shutter in preparation for a shot. If you can live with this, it's a fine choice for an individual or family as a general-purpose camera, especially one that can generate big (11" x 14" and bigger) prints.
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