Samsung introduced a new ultra-zoom P&S digicam, the WB2100, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Ultrazooms are a relatively new class of digital cameras that feature exceptionally long zoom lenses, typically 30x to 50x. A digital camera with a zoom lens that can go from true wide-angle to super telephoto allows photographers to cover virtually the entire spectrum of outdoor photographic genres--from expansive landscape shots to tightly framed portraits.
I've reviewed ultrazoom digital cameras from Nikon, Olympus, Samsung, Fuji, Panasonic, and Canon and all of them share similar shortcomings--slow maximum apertures (typically f3.5 or f4.0), very complex multi-element zoom formulas (which reduce contrast), noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center of the frame) at the wide-angle end of the zoom, increased purple fringing (chromatic aberration), more image noise than most other classes of digital cameras, and fuzzy/soft pictures at the telephoto end of those monster zooms. The WB2100 (with 35x zoom) is guilty on all counts, but Samsung digital cameras often provide better value/features/performance than their competition. That's the case with WB2100, which doesn't offer any truly compelling features lacking in its competitors, but is substantially cheaper than either Nikon's new P520 (with 42x zoom) or the industry leading Canon SX50 HS (with 50x zoom). Based strictly on the Pinnochio factor (zoom range) the WB2100 comes in somewhere near the bottom of the ultrazoom pack, but deciding on which ultrazoom provides the best bang for your camera buying buck is not as simple as just buying the camera with the longest zoom. How does the WB2100 stack up against the competition?
The camera sells for $328 at the time of this review. For a limited time it is on sale at B&H for $298.
Build and Design
The Samsung WB2100 is a rather utilitarian looking entry-level DSLR sized 16MP ultrazoom camera with a 35x (25mm-875mm equivalent) optical zoom lens that resolves images to a 1/2.3in BSI (back side illuminated) CMOS image sensor. It features a 3.0-inch tilting LCD monitor with 460K resolution (but no EVF), HD video recording at 1080p @ 60i fps, a Silent Video Motor, optical image stabilization, and a top shutter speed of up to 1/4000th of a second. The WB2100 should appeal to amateur photographers who want to be able to cover a very broad range of photographic genres without having to carry a heavy DSLR, a sturdy tripod, and a bag full of lenses. The WB2100's robustly constructed metal-alloy/polycarbonate body is tough enough to go just about anywhere and provides good dust/weather/moisture seals. The WB2100 measures 4.7in/11.9cm x 3.3in/8.4cm x 2.2in/5.6cm and tips the scales at 1.10 lb/0.5 kg and is available in either trendy red or traditional black.
Ergonomics and Controls
The WB2100's control layout is efficiently designed and all buttons are logically placed and come easily to hand for right-handed shooters. The top deck features a standard mode dial, a large raised shutter button (with zoom toggle surround), a "one-touch" video stop/start button, and the on/off button. Samsung's function button is very similar to Canon's "func" button (which calls up a shortcut menu to directly access often changed settings), unlike the Nikon Fn button which provides direct access to one (WB, metering, continuous shooting mode, ISO, or AF area) user selected function. I actually like the way Samsung's function button works better than Canon's short cut menu system. The WB2100's control pad functions in the familiar compass switch configuration - up/down (display/macro), left/right (flash/self-timer), and center "OK" button. At first I felt the WB2100's one-touch video Start/Stop button was awkwardly positioned, but after using it for a while I like the top deck (as opposed to back deck) placement--since the one touch video button is also a shutter release and it can be used without requiring the shooter to look away from the LCD when starting or stopping a video.
Menus and Modes
The WB2100's menu system is simple, but it is neither logical nor intuitive. Fortunately most commonly utilized camera functions can be accessed via the "Fn" button. What I find exceedingly strange is that the WB2100 provides a full manual mode, but no aperture preferred mode and no shutter speed mode--unlike most of its competitors.
Auto: Just point and shoot--no user input.
Program: Auto exposure with limited user input (sensitivity, white balance, exposure compensation, flash, etc.).
Manual: Users select all exposure parameters.
Scene: Provides a selection of automatic scene modes designed to cover many common shooting scenarios.
Panorama: Automatically shoots panoramic images with a preview function.
Effects: Low Light, HDR, Split Shot, etc.
User Settings: User saved settings/preferences can be linked to this mode dial position.
Movie: With the stop/start video button just over an inch away, this mode dial control seems redundant.
Unlike most currently available ultra-zooms, the WB2100 does not provide an EVF (electronic viewfinder) requiring shooters to use the LCD screen for all framing and composition, image review, and menu access chores. The WB2100 features a fairly large 3.0-inch LCD monitor with 460K resolution. The LCD monitor is sharp, bright, hue accurate, and fluid. The default info display provides all the information this camera's target audience is likely to need. The LCD gains up (automatically increases brightness) in dim lighting and brightness can also be adjusted to the individual shooter's preferences. The screen tips/slides allowing the LCD to be positioned at a 180 degree angle to the lens (like an old time waist level finder) which is really good for shooting macro, but not much else. The WB2100 has the worst anti-glare/anti-reflection coating on the LCD screen that I have seen recently--it is often frustratingly difficult and sometimes impossible to use the screen as a framing/composition tool in bright outdoor lighting because of the glare/reflection problems.
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