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Samsung NV3 Digital Camera Review
by Ben Stafford -  9/4/2006
Introduction

The Samsung NV3 is one of three digital cameras in the new NV-series. The new cameras have fresh new looks from Samsung and have unique feature sets. The ultra compact NV3 has a 7.1 megapixel sensor, a 2.5 inch screen and a 3x optical zoom. It also acts as a personal media player, allowing you to play mp3 files on the built-in stereo speakers or viewing movie files that you've downloaded to the camera.

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The NV3 has two siblings, the NV7 and NV10. The 7.2 megapixel NV7 has a 7x optical zoom with optical image stabilization and a unique "Smart Touch" user interface. The NV10 features 10.1 megapixels and the new smart touch interface as well.

In the Box

Included in the box, along with the camera, you'll find a lithium-ion battery, earphones, wrist strap, software CD, USB cable, AC adapter, and A/V cable.

Camera Design

The NV3 definitely "has it" in the looks department. It's slim, it's sleek, and it's sexy. The stainless steel body is mainly matte black but also has some silver/gray styling as well. The metal body feels solid and sturdy. The lens doesn't protrude from the body of the camera at all and it's protected by a quick sliding cover when the camera is off.

The front of the camera features the lens, flash, and focus assist / timer lamp.

The top of the camera has the power button, mode dial, microphone, shutter release, and speakers (round items on left and right sides).

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The right side of the camera (when looking at the back) has a plastic flap that covers the headphone jack..

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The bottom of the camera has the access to the battery/memory media (SD or MMC) compartment, the multi-connector, and tripod mount.

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The back of the camera has the 2.5 inch LCD that is almost flush with the back of the body. Also, you'll find a zoom rocker, effect button (E), +/- / delete button (used to adjust many camera settings), directional pad with a menu/ok key in the middle, and the play/print button.

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Camera Features

The 7.2 megapixel NV3 has a 2.5 inch LCD with 230K pixels of resolution. It has good color representation and refresh rate, and plenty of resolution gives a nice image. It automatically gains up and down, depending on lighting conditions. However, the LCD does not perform well outdoors. The LCD is also very close to being flush with the body of the camera, which may lead to a higher incidence of scratches.

Images can be captured at resolutions of: 3072x2304, 2816x2112, 2592x1944, 3072x1728, 2272x1704, 2048x1536, 1600x1200, 1024x768 and 640x480. There are three settings for quality, SuperFine, Fine, and Normal. At the highest resolution and SuperFine compression, you can fit about 63 shots on a 256MB memory card.

Movies can be captured in several modes: 720x480 at 20 fps; 640x480 and 320x240 at 30 fps and 15 fps. Movie length is dependent on storage space. The 3x optical zoom can be used during movie capture and you can choose whether or not to record audio with your video.

For storage media, the NV3 accepts SD and MMC memory cards and has 15MB of internal memory. The camera is guaranteed to work with memory cards up to 1GB.

For power, the camera uses a rechargeable lithium ion battery pack. The battery must be charged in the camera, but the multi-connector power cable can be plugged into a USB port for charging or you can use the AC adapter for a quicker charge. Under heavy usage during my review (lots of menu navigation, reviewing, etc), I got between 150 and 200 shots on a single charge of the lithium ion battery. Also, real world use (the typical snapshooter) will get more out of a single charge than I did.

As far as shooting digital images, the NV3 has a full automatic mode, a complement of scene modes, and a program auto mode that lets you adjust ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, and tweak RGB values manually. In addition to the shooting modes, the camera also features the PMP mode, and TextViewer mode. On the mode dial you have the following options:

The auto focus system on the NV3 can focus as close as 80 cm while in normal AF. When you switch over to "auto macro", you can get as close as 5 cm. Then, if you want to get really close, use "super macro" to let you focus as close as 1 cm. The NV3 lets you use a center AF area, or a multi-area AF.

You can cycle through the self-timer modes using the "right" direction on the control pad. You can choose between a 2 second timer, 10 second timer, and a "double" timer that takes a shot at 10 seconds and one at 2 seconds after that. The NV3 also has a continuous shooting mode and an auto exposure bracketing (AEB) mode that you can use by accessing the menu system. The AEB mode takes three shots, one with normal exposure, one over-exposed (+0.5EV) and one under-exposed (-0.5EV). Keep in mind that the flash will be disabled if you're in continuous or AEB mode.

Flash modes are accessible by using the "left" direction on the control pad. You can choose auto, auto with red eye reduction, fill (always on), slow sync, disabled and red-eye fix. At wide angle, the flash has a range of 3.4 m. At telephoto, the range is up to 2.7 m.

The NV3 also has an "Advanced Shake Reduction" (ASR) mode for taking pictures without flash in low light. The ASR mode also includes a "Wise Shot" mode that takes two pictures: one with the flash, and one using the ASR system. After both shots are taken, you can choose which one to keep.

The NV3 can also work as a voice recorder. By pressing "up" on the control pad, you can cycle through the different modes. The modes are off, record a memo with an image, and just a plain old voice recorder and store up to 1 hour of audio, or until you run out of storage space. If you use a voice memo, you get 10 seconds from the time the picture is stored to record your memo.

The MP3 mode of the NV3 does just what it says -- it plays back mp3 files stored on the memory card. You can use the music as background music for a slideshow, or you can plug in the included headphones. The output from the stereo speakers on the camera is actually pretty impressive, given that this device is primarily a digital camera.

The PMP mode can playback movies that you've copied into the camera. The included Digimax Converter software needs to be used to convert movies into a format that can be played with the camera.

The TextViewer mode lets you take text files with you. Create a folder on your memory card, called "text", copy a plain-text file to the camera, and then you can view it on screen.

The "E" button on the back of the camera is to access all of the effects that you can use when capturing images. You can apply color effects, use "focus frames" that blur out everything around the subject, you can make composite photos, or you can add photo frames.

Camera Performance and Image Quality

Overall, the camera had good speed of operation. It powers on and off quickly and controls are responsive. The shutter lag was a little longer than average, but by no means was it bad enough that you can't learn to get around it. Just make sure you anticipate your shot and try to get a focus lock first (by a partial press of the shutter). I also found the speed of the zoom to be a little slow. The cycle time, even on flash shots was good.

The camera is definitely an ultra-slim camera at only 17.5 mm (0.69 inches) thick. It will easily slip into a pocket. Since it is an ultra-compact, it's not exactly "easy" to hold, but the controls are positioned well, for the most part. My finger often wandered off of the shutter onto the right speaker "nub". Buttons are easy to press and the zoom rocker operates easily.

The flash performed reasonably well. Illumination across a dark room was a little inadequate, but that is nothing new with ultra compact cameras. Overall, I would give the NV3 an "average" in the flash performance department.

Samsung NV3 sample image
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Auto focus times were very good. The focus assist light is a tremendous help when shooting in dark conditions.

Overall, I would say that the image quality of the NV3 is average, but pleasing. Part of the basis of my criticisms is pretty subjective, so have a look at the sample images and decide for yourself. My biggest complaint with the image quality is the high color saturation. I think the color settings of the NV3 produce images that have pretty high color saturation. Orange and red tones really pop out and can overwhelm a picture, even when that orange or red object is only a minor part of the shot. Besides the color saturation, images were sharp from edge to edge and showed good detail. I did notice some chromatic aberration (purple fringing), but this would not be noticeable in a print.

The advanced shake reduction (ASR) from Samsung was actually pretty impressive. I was hand-holding the camera, taking 1 second exposures and the blur was minimal. The shots ended up at ISO 200 and noise was not bad.

Noise was very well controlled. In my opinion, it's acceptable up to ISO 200 but a little too much at ISO 400 and above. However, you may be able to make good prints at higher ISO values. See the image below for comparison.

 
ISO 80 (view medium image) (view large image)
 
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Macro performance was very good, allowing you to get as close as 1cm.

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Sample Images

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 Samsung NV3 sample image
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Specification Highlights

Conclusion

The NV3 has the looks to make a fashion statement. Your friends will definitely want to check it out when you pull it out of your pocket. The NV3 takes good pictures, but its main point of difference is the personal media player capabilities. Once you have a high capacity memory card, you can take your mp3s and videos with you. You no longer have to carry your ipod and your camera!

While image quality, in my opinion, is average, the multimedia capabilities of the camera are attractive, so make sure you consider them if you're considering this camera. The stereo speakers are quite powerful, for being so small, and the included ear buds ensure that you're all set to listen right out of the box.

Pros

Cons