While everyone these days seems to be focused primarily on what happens in the DSLR and MILC worlds, I believe the most interesting new developments are in the massive expansion of P&S camera types. The very first point and shoot camera was the Kodak Brownie introduced in 1900 and, for almost 100 years, the P&S camera was the simplest and most inexpensive way to get into photography.
The digital imaging revolution changed all that. In less than two decades P&S cameras went from one basic type of device to several different types including ultra-compact point and shoot models, auto-exposure only standard compacts with 3x to 5x zooms, underwater P&S models, ultrazoom digital cameras, advanced point and shoots, and finally--my favorite--the travel zoom P&S digital camera.
Travel zooms look and handle like standard compact P&S digital cameras, but they feature extra long zoom lenses (typically 15x to 35x) and manual exposure options not included on their auto-exposure only compact P&S digital camera siblings. Samsung's new WB350F is a first-rate example of the P&S travel zoom digital camera. The WB350F is a 16 megapixel compact digital camera with a 21x zoom featuring a 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS sensor, a 3-inch (460k) TFT touchscreen LCD monitor, HD (1920 x 1080p @ 30fps) video recording, full manual exposure control, and built-in Wi-fi and NFC connectivity.
Build and Design
At first glance, the 16 megapixel WB350F looks (and handles) like a typical point-and-shoot digital camera, but hidden under that mild mannered exterior is a much more competent imaging device. The WB350F's finish includes dust and moisture seals, as well as a nice looking leatherette appearance. In addition (and unlike its simpler siblings) the WB350F 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. The Samsung WB350F is available in White, Black, Brown, Red or Blue and priced at $300.00, but widely available for $249.00.
Ergonomics and Controls
The WB350F'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 strictly 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, larger than average shutter release button with zoom toggle surround and the pop-up flash. Along the beveled back edge of the top deck are the buttons for the "direct link" Wi-Fi and the flash activation button. The rear deck is also uncluttered and features a very traditional P&S digital camera layout. The 3.0" fixed LCD monitor takes up about two thirds of the rear deck. At the top of the right side of the rear 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 by simply rocking the right thumb back over the red button - 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 WB350F, like most travel zoom models, doesn't provide a hand-grip.
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.
Smart (Scene): Select the scene mode that best suits your subject
Best Face: Comprehensive Face Recognition mode.
Effects: Low Light, HDR, Split Shot, etc.
User Settings: User saved settings/preferences can be linked to this mode dial position
Wi-Fi: Use this mode to share your images.
Like most current P&S digital cameras, the WB350F 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 WB350F's monitor screen is bright, hue accurate, fluid and it automatically boosts gain in dim/low light, and covers approximately 100% of the image frame. The WB350F's monitor, like all LCD monitors is subject to fading and glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting - the WB350F suffers from above average glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting. This framing and composition deficit could be easily corrected with a higher resolution LCD and better anti-glare/anti-reflection coatings on the LCD cover. The default display provides all the information this camera's target audience is likely to want or need.
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