One of the most interesting recent developments in the ongoing digital imaging revolution is the introduction of the travel zoom point and shoot digital camera. Travel zooms look and handle like compact P&S cameras, but they feature extra long zoom lenses (typically 10x to 25x) and manual exposure options not included on the flood of auto exposure only compact cameras now inundating the marketplace. Consumers adore travel zooms and that's made this class of cameras one of the most competitive arenas in the digital camera wars. I reviewed the industry leading travel zoom, the Canon SX280 HS, for DCR so I was quite enthusiastic when offered the opportunity to review Samsung's newest travel zoom, the WB800F.
The new Samsung WB800F is very similar in design and features to the Canon SX280 HS. And like its popular rival looks and handles like a point and shoot camera. The WB800F features a 21x zoom with a relatively fast f2.8 maximum aperture (the SX280 features a 20x zoom a 2/3 of a stop slower f3.5 maximum aperture). Both cameras provide Wi-Fi connectivity and 1080p HD movie modes. Both cameras also feature 3.0 inch LCD monitors with 460k resolution. The WB800F's LCD monitor is a touchscreen unit, while the LCD screen in the SX280 HS is not. Both cameras also feature BSI CMOS sensors and optical image stabilization. The cameras not only look very similar, they have nearly identical dimensions--the WB800F measures 4.19 x 2.35 x 1.26 inches while the SX280 HS measures 4.2 x 2.5 x 1.3 inches. Another similarity is the price. The Canon SX280 HS costs about $299.00 and the Samsung WB800F runs about $279.00. Both cameras are precision built and robustly constructed imaging tools that were clearly designed for photography enthusiasts.
Build and Design
At first glance, the 16 megapixel WB800F looks (and handles) like a typical point-and-shoot digicam, but under the hood beats the heart of a warrior. The WB800F is a precision built and robustly constructed imaging tool that was obviously designed for serious shooters. The WB800F's fit and finish are excellent as are its dust and moisture seals. The WB800F permits lots of individual input into the image making process via an enhanced feature set, plenty of creative flexibility, and the option to manually control exposure. Both Canon SX280 and WB800F are available in either trendy red or traditional black--Samsung also offers a white model.
Ergonomics and Controls
The WB800F's user interface is logical and uncomplicated, and while this camera is a touchscreen model, it features a full complement of dedicated buttons, knobs, and switches--so users are never forced to rely only on the touchscreen to control camera operations. All controls are clearly marked, sensibly placed and easily accessed by right-handed shooters. The top deck is uncluttered with a classic P&S layout--on/off button, mode dial, and shutter release with zoom toggle surround. Just below those controls are the "direct link" Wi-Fi button and the flash activation button. The back deck is also uncluttered featuring a classic P & S layout. The 3.0-inch LCD monitor takes up about two thirds of the back deck. At the top of the right side of the back deck is the textured thumb pad and directly to the right of that is the one touch video start/stop button--perfectly positioned to start/stop video capture with the right thumb without having to look away from the LCD screen. The compass switch (4-way controller) provides direct access to flash settings, macro mode, self-timer, and Display. Below the compass switch are the review button and the function button (which leads to a short-cut menu of commonly adjusted functions) and in review mode works as the delete button. The WB800F features a genuine hand-grip (paired with a back deck thumb pad) for improved handling and camera stability. The SX280 HS only provides a finger-rail grip and most compact P&S digicams provide no grip at all--kudos to Samsung for including this very useful feature.
Menus and Modes
Smart Auto: Automatic scene recognition mode that instantly compares what's in front of the lens with an on-board database and then matches that information with the subject's distance from the camera, white balance, contrast, dynamic range, lighting and color (just before the image is recorded) to determine the best scene mode for that specific shooting situation. No user input except for flash on/off.
Program: Auto exposure with limited user input (sensitivity, white balance, exposure compensation, flash, etc.).
ASM: - Which includes all manual exposure modes - Aperture priority: Users select the aperture and the camera selects an appropriate shutter speed. Shutter priority: Users select shutter speed and the camera selects an appropriate aperture. Full Manual: Users select all exposure parameters.
Scene: Select the scene mode that best suits your subject.
Effects: Low Light, HDR, Split Shot, etc.
User Settings: User saved settings/preferences can be linked to this mode dial position.
Best Face: Comprehensive Face Recognition mode.
Wi-Fi: Use this mode to share your images.
Like most current point and shoots, the WB800F doesn't provide an optical viewfinder. Users must rely instead on the 3.0-inch (460k) TFT monitor screen for all framing/composition, captured image review and menu navigation chores. Most P&S users rarely use optical viewfinders even if they are present and in many shooting scenarios it is actually quicker and easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the monitor screen than it is through an optical viewfinder. The WB800F's monitor screen is bright, hue accurate, fluid (movement is smooth - not jerky), automatically boosts gain in dim/low light, and covers approximately 100% of the image frame. The WB800F's monitor, like all LCD monitors is subject to fading and glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting--in fact, the WB800F (like the WB2100 I just reviewed) suffers from above average glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting. The default display provides all information this camera's target audience is likely to want or need.
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