DigitalCameraReview.com
Samsung S850 Review
by Ben Stafford -  7/10/2007

The Samsung S850 is a reasonably priced, full-featured point and shoot camera.  It offers 8.1 megapixel resolution, a 5x optical zoom, 2.5 inch LCD, and a full complement of manual exposure modes.  While it does have manual exposure modes, it doesn't include some of the trendiest features - optical image stabilization or face detection.

Samsung S850
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The S850 is also a nice size for people who like cameras that are easy to hold.  A pronounced hand grip provides some nice heft to wrap your hand around.  While it may be a stretch to call it pocketable - it's very close.

NUTS & BOLTS  

Viewfinder/LCD

The only means of previewing your images is the 2.5 inch LCD on the back of the camera.  There is no optical viewfinder.  The LCD does have nice resolution, with 230K pixels.  The viewing angle is quite good and the screen refreshes quickly enough to provide a smooth viewing experience.  The screen gains up and down, depending on light conditions, so you can still get a decent view, whether you’re inside or outside.  Even in the sunlight, the LCD is still viewable.

Samsung S850
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Lens/Zoom

The S850's lens provides a 5x optical zoom.  It has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 38-190mm with a max aperture of f2.8 at wide angle and f4.4 at telephoto.  The lens is protected by a built-in lens cover and extends slightly when you power on the camera.

In normal focus mode, at wide angle and telephoto, you can focus on objects as close as 80cm.  In macro mode at wide angle, the focus range is 10-80cm and telephoto has a range of 50-80cm.  Finally, there is an Auto Macro mode that is available while shooting in Auto mode that has a wide angle range of 10cm to infinity and a telephoto focus range of 50cm to infinity.  To aid focusing in low light, there is a focus assist lamp.

Flash

There are several flash modes that you can use with the S850’s built-in flash.  There is auto, auto with red-eye reduction, fill flash (always on), slow sync, and flash off.  At wide angle, the flash range is 0.6 - 9.8 feet with Auto ISO.  At telephoto, the flash range is 1.6 - 8.2 feet. 

Memory Media

The S850 has approximately 20MB of internal memory and can accept SD, MMC, and SDHC memory.  SD and MMC cards will work up to 2GB and SDHC cards will work up to 4GB.

Image/Movie File Format(s)

Images are stored as JPEGS and movies are stored as AVI (MPEG-4) files.  If you record audio, those files are in WAV format.

At maximum resolution (8.1 megapixels) and Super Fine quality, you can fit approximately 57 images on a 256MB memory card.

Connectivity

A multi-connector allows a USB 2.0 connection and AV out. 

Power

The camera is powered by 2 AA batteries and there's a connector for 3.3V DC input.  During the review, I used high-capacity (2500mAh) rechargeable NiMH batteries and easily took 200 shots with plenty of juice leftover.  You'll get better battery life with high capacity rechargeables than you will with standard alkaline batteries.

EXPOSURE 

For shooting modes, the S850 has a full auto mode, program auto, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual, ASR (advanced shake reduction) mode, and several scene modes.   In auto mode, the only settings that you can change are the facial detection system, timer mode (10 second, 2 second, double shot timer, remote control), flash mode (one of two choices), resolution and quality.  If you switch to program auto mode (P on the mode dial), you get a bit more control.  In addition to the previous settings, you can change the metering mode, drive mode (single, continuous, high speed - 6fps, exposure bracketing), ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation. 

As for the manual exposure modes, shutter priority lets you set the shutter speed, (from 15 seconds to 1/2000 second) while the camera calculates the right aperture setting.  Aperture priority mode lets you set the aperture while the camera calculates the correct shutter speed.  Finally, manual mode lets you set the aperture and shutter speed.  To get the right exposure, you'll have to take several shots until you get it right.  For example, I used this camera to capture some neighborhood fireworks and the lighting wasn't quite right for the fireworks scene mode to capture them correctly.  So, I switched to manual mode to play with the shutter speed until I got the right length for my conditions. 

If you want to get to the movie mode, ASR mode, or other scene modes, you'll find them on the mode dial.  When you select "scene" on the dial, you can choose from Night Portrait, Children, Landscape, Close-up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, and Beach & Snow. 

Another shooting feature worth mentioning is the Wise Shot mode.  This mode takes two successive shots, one with fill-in flash and one in ASR (Advanced Shake Reduction) mode.  After the shot, you have to pick one to keep.

Movie Mode

With the S850, you can capture movies at 800x592 at 20fps or 15fps; 720x480 at 20fps or 15fps; 640x480 at 30 fps, 20fps or 15 fps; and 320x240 at 30 fps, 20fps or 15fps.  You can record movies as long as you have storage space (up to 2 hours).  There is also a "successive recording" option that lets you pause the movie capture momentarily, so you can record several clips and they're not all separate files.  The optical zoom is available during movie capture, however, the audio of the movie is muted while the zoom motor is running (so you don't hear the motor during playback).

Metering

The default metering is a multi-pattern metering, but if you're in program auto or movie mode, you can also select spot metering.

White Balance

The S850 has an auto white balance setting, several presets and a way to set a custom white balance.  You can choose daylight, cloudy, fluorescent H, fluorescent L, or tungsten.  If none of those settings works, you can set a custom white balance by pressing the shutter while pointing at a neutral target or white balance card.

Sensitivity

If you stick with full automatic mode, the sensitivity (ISO) setting of the camera stays on auto as well.  If you want to adjust the ISO yourself, just switch to program auto mode, or any of the manual exposure modes and you can select ISO 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, or 1600.

In-Camera Image Adjustment 

Besides changing the basic shooting settings during image capture, there are a few more settings that can be changed to give you a particular effect that you're looking for.  You can change the sharpness to be soft, normal, or vivid.  You can apply an effect, which can be a color (normal, B&W, sepia, negative, red, green, blue, custom color), or do something fun (composite, photo frame).

After you capture the image, you can resize the image, rotate it, trim it, or apply a color filter.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

As with many of the other cameras in Samsung's L and NV lines, the S850 has a nice stylish black finish with cool blue accents.  The metal body is very sturdy and the camera is just a bit on the heavy side.  There is a "bump out" hand grip to give your fingertips something to wrap around.

The controls are well placed.  The shutter button is right where it needs to be, there is a place to rest your thumb when not operating the zoom, and the mode dial is easy to turn with your thumb.  If you have to go small with the zoom switch, the wide, "up and down" rocker, is probably the best choice since it feels more natural for your thumb to push up and down than left and right.  The power button is recessed nicely on the top so you don’t accidentally turn it on (or off).

The front of the camera has a focus assist/self-timer lamp, built-in flash, microphone, and lens.

Samsung S850
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The top of the camera has the shutter release button, power button, mode dial, and speaker.

Samsung S850
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The back of the camera houses the 2.5" CD, zoom rocker switch, an "E" button for effects, a +/- button to adjust shooting settings, a 5-way control pad, and a button to access playback mode.

Samsung S850
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The right side of the camera has a lanyard attachment point while the left side has a pop-off door to access the USB jack and DC in jack.

Samsung S850
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On the bottom, you'll find the tripod mount, and battery/memory card compartment.

Samsung S850
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Included

Included in the box with the camera is a strap, USB cable, AV cable, a set of 2 alkaline batteries, software CD, and user manual.

PERFORMANCE

Usage

The S850 is pretty easy to use.  It's no winner when it comes to start up speed, but after that, the shooting modes are easy to use.  The camera is easy to hold, which can be important with the slightly longer than average 5x optical zoom.

When in the manual shooting modes (S, A, M on the mode dial), it was straightforward to change the settings that you needed to.  For example, in shutter priority mode, you just press the +/- button to highlight the shutter speed setting and then use the left and right directions of the control pad to select what you want.  When you're in full manual mode (M), there is also a little exposure meter to help guide you to get the right settings for a correct exposure.

Battery life was good.  I used 2500mAh rechargeable NiMH batteries and took around 200 shots.  The battery meter still showed plenty of charge.

Image Quality

Overall, image quality was average. At first glance, colors are very saturated - to the point that they just don't look natural anymore and contrast starts to get lost. Looking a litle closer, details are not that sharp. The camera had a tendency to underexpose, which, if you can't get a completely correct exposure is the best way to err. At least with underexposed images, it's much easier to brighten than it is to adjust completely blown-out highlights in an overexposed image. Other than that, images were pretty average - chromatic aberration was present, but not bad. Lens distortion - barrel distortion (straight lines bow away from center) at wide angle and pincushion distortion (lines bend toward the center) at telephoto - was about average.

The claimed flash range of about 10 feet was just about what I experienced, but if the camera boosts the ISO automatically to something higher than ISO 200, noise will be noticeable (as you can see below).

As far as noise performance, noise becomes noticeable at ISO 200 and just increases from there.  For best results, stick to ISO 50 and 100.  But, if you need to get the shot, then don't let noise stop you!


ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

Timing/Shutter Lag

The speed of the camera was pretty good.  Start up time was right around 2 seconds.  If you get a pre-focus first (with a partial press of the shutter), shutter lag is right at 0.1 seconds.  If you have to do a full press, you'll have to wait for the camera to acquire focus and then capture the image.  Under good focus conditions, this was anywhere from 0.6-0.7 seconds.  In tougher focusing conditions (low light or low contrast), I experienced focus times up to 2 seconds.  The cycle time (time between shots) was about 2-3 seconds and the flash recharge time was about 3 seconds.

Sample Images

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Conclusion

The Samsung S850 is a nice-looking, well equipped compact digital camera. It has the nice looks that the Samsung NV line brought to the market with black body, blue accents and quality construction. It also has a full complement of manual exposure modes that isn't seen as often in point and shoots. The S850 is also my preferred compact camera form factor - something just a bit larger than an ultra-compact with a nice pronounced battery compartment/hand grip. Besides all this, the S850 has just average image quality, specifically blurry details and very oversatured color reproduction. Camera performance (shutter lag, shot to shot times) is just about average and battery life is good. It's very hard to recommend this camera when it's competing against cameras like the Canon Powershot A570 IS, which has a similar form factor, similar shooting modes, an optical image stabilization system, and face detection.

Pros

Cons