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Samsung Digimax i5 Digital Camera Review
by Ben Stafford -  9/16/2005

Introduction
The Samsung Digimax i5 is definitely an eye-catcher. The brushed stainless steel case and minimal clutter on the front of the camera give it a really nice look. It's also hard to resist turning it on and off repeatedly when you first get it just to see the lens cover slide back and forth. This ultra-compact camera features a 5 megapixel sensor, 3x optical zoom in a non-protruding lens with a 2.5 inch LCD. Read on to find out what I thought about this camera after spending some time with it!


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In the Box
In the box, you'll get the camera, rechargeable lithium-ion battery, soft-sided camera case, cradle, USB cable, A/V cable, user manual and software.


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Features
The Digimax i5 is a 5 megapixel camera with a 3x optical zoom and 5x digital zoom. The camera does not have an optical viewfinder, only a 2.5 inch LCD.


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The camera is not the fastest in its class, but not the slowest either. At start up, the lens cover whooshes out of the way, but it takes around a second for the rest of the camera to catch up. Shutter lag is also a little longer than other cameras in this ultra-compact field. Auto focus time is ok and the camera does have a focus assist light. I did have an issue that I couldn't reproduce where I was focusing on a blue sky and the camera failed to focus to infinity. The lack of ability to auto focus never crept up again during my review.

The lens has a focal length of 39 -- 117 mm (35 mm equivalent). In normal shooting mode, the focus range starts at 50 cm and goes to infinity. In Macro mode, you can shoot at subjects between 5cm~50cm (Wide) and 25cm ~ 50cm (Tele). Now, the Super Macro lets you focus on subjects as little as 1 cm away. The camera can detect when to use a macro mode and in this "Auto Macro" you can focus at 5cm~Infinity (Wide) and 50cm~ Infinity (Tele).

The Digimax i5 has several scene modes to choose from: Night Scene, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Text Recognition, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, Beach and Snow. The Text Recognition mode can be used to capture text in hard copy. The Digimax Viewer software that is included can then extract text from those images.

Images can be captured at 2592X1944, 2272X1704, 2048X1536, 1600x1200, 1024X768, and 640x480. There are also 3 compression settings: Super Fine, Fine, and Normal.

The ISO sensitivity can be adjusted in Manual mode by using the menu system -- you can choose Auto, 100, 200, or 400. Exposure compensation (EV compensation) can be set in any mode from -2 to +2 at 1/2 stop increments. The white balance can also be set in any mode, choose from Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent_H, Fluorescent_L, and Tungsten.

The i5 will let you capture pictures in Normal, B&W, Sepia, Negative, Red, Green, Blue, and RGB. You can also adjust the sharpness with three levels: Soft, Normal, and Vivid.

The built-in flash has a range up to 0.2m - 2.4m when taking wide angle shots and 0.3m - 1.9m at full telephoto. The flash modes are Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill-in flash, slow sync, and Flash off.

For shooting modes, you can choose from Auto, Manual, Scene, or Safety Flash. Then, you can choose to shoot in Single mode or Continuous mode. The i5 also has a few timer settings. You can set the timer for 2 seconds, 10 seconds, and Double (shots a 10 seconds and 2 seconds).

The images and movies that you shoot with the i5 are stored on a SD/MMC card and the camera has 50MB of internal memory. This large amount of internal memory really sets this camera apart from the others in the ultra-compact class.

The lengths of movies are limited only by storage capacity. They can be captured at a resolution of 640x480, 320x240, and 160x128 at 30 fps and 15 fps. You can also use the 3x optical zoom during movie capture, but the audio is muted when you do so.

The i5 has a proprietary lithium-ion battery that demonstrates good life. I took around 100 shots on a single charge, with the LCD doing a lot of playback too.

The menu system is easy to use and navigate. The top level menu items are organized horizontally, which is different than a lot of cameras out there, but it's not a bad thing. When you do activate the menu system, you can see the current view of the lens behind the menu. If you're looking at something with the wrong color, the menu can be hard to read (see image below).


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Image capture mode

Form & Design
The Digimax i5 is very sleek -- the brushed stainless steel is very solid and not cluttered by extra stuff. In addition to the standard silver, the i5 comes in red, black, and gray. As with many ultra-compact cameras, the comfort in your hand is very subjective and I would highly recommend that you try one out in a store before buying. The camera feels well built and the only downside is that the external finish may be prone to scratching.

The lens doesn't extend at all from the camera and is covered with a sliding metal door that slides easily out of the way when you power the camera up. On the front of the camera, you can see the lens, flash assist light, and flash. When powered off, all three items are covered by the door.

Along the top of the camera are the power button, the shutter release button, and the button to access the Safety Flash mode.


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The back of the camera is dominated by the very nice 2.5 inch LCD. To the right of the LCD, starting at the top of the camera is the rocker-type zoom control. Right below the zoom control is the "M" or mode button that allows easy access to change the shooting mode. In the lower right corner is the directional pad (4 directions and a Menu/Ok button in the middle), the button to switch to playback mode and the button to delete or adjust ISO and White Balance. The directional pad allows easy access to change the macro setting, timer settings, flash mode, and whether to capture audio with still images.

The bottom of the camera has the dock/cable interface and the door to access the battery and memory card. The battery is charged while in the camera by placing the camera on the cradle or by connecting the cable directly to the camera. The cradle also has the USB connection to connect to your computer and the A/V out jack to output images to at TV.


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Image Quality
The image quality of the Digimax i5 was average compared to other cameras in its class. Colors were accurate and the camera did very well in some indoor, dark environments exposing the backgrounds well while not blowing out the image from the flash illumination of the subject.


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Some images taken outdoors were a little underexposed for my liking, however, this can be easily corrected with image editing software. See the picture below and the Ferris wheel image compared with one taken from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S90.


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Taken with Digimax i5 [larger] [fullsize]


Taken with Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S90 [larger] [fullsize]

Noise was a bit higher than average. In manual mode, you can choose from ISO 100, 200, or 400. In Auto mode, the camera will choose other modes, like 50 and 150. In my opinion, noise levels were too high above ISO 100.

Other Images


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Conclusion
The Samsung Digimax i5 is an attractive camera in a busy field of ultra-compact cameras. The inclusion of 50MB of internal memory is a real plus for this camera as is the excellent 2.5 inch LCD. However, slower than average shutter lag and average image quality need to be weighed against the positives in order for this to be a good choice for you.

This camera is a good choice for people who need a stylish camera to take out on the town and show off to friends, as it won't take up much space in a pocket or purse. The 2.5 inch LCD makes it easy to show off images and the good indoor capabilities are nice for those dimly lit restaurants.

Pros
Attractive styling
Good indoor shot performance
50 MB of internal memory
Excellent LCD screen
Nice movie mode
Easy controls -- quick access to switch modes

Cons
Average image quality -- most notably the higher than average noise
Underexposed images
Slow shutter lag
Small size may be hard to hold for some