Samsung introduced a new ultra-zoom P&S digicam, the WB2100, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Ultrazooms are a relatively new class of digital cameras that feature exceptionally long zoom lenses, typically 30x to 50x. A digital camera with a zoom lens that can go from true wide-angle to super telephoto allows photographers to cover virtually the entire spectrum of outdoor photographic genres--from expansive landscape shots to tightly framed portraits.
I've reviewed ultrazoom digital cameras from Nikon, Olympus, Samsung, Fuji, Panasonic, and Canon and all of them share similar shortcomings--slow maximum apertures (typically f3.5 or f4.0), very complex multi-element zoom formulas (which reduce contrast), noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center of the frame) at the wide-angle end of the zoom, increased purple fringing (chromatic aberration), more image noise than most other classes of digital cameras, and fuzzy/soft pictures at the telephoto end of those monster zooms. The WB2100 (with 35x zoom) is guilty on all counts, but Samsung digital cameras often provide better value/features/performance than their competition. That's the case with WB2100, which doesn't offer any truly compelling features lacking in its competitors, but is substantially cheaper than either Nikon's new P520 (with 42x zoom) or the industry leading Canon SX50 HS (with 50x zoom). Based strictly on the Pinnochio factor (zoom range) the WB2100 comes in somewhere near the bottom of the ultrazoom pack, but deciding on which ultrazoom provides the best bang for your camera buying buck is not as simple as just buying the camera with the longest zoom. How does the WB2100 stack up against the competition?
The camera sells for $328 at the time of this review. For a limited time it is on sale at B&H for $298.
Build and Design
The Samsung WB2100 is a rather utilitarian looking entry-level DSLR sized 16MP ultrazoom camera with a 35x (25mm-875mm equivalent) optical zoom lens that resolves images to a 1/2.3in BSI (back side illuminated) CMOS image sensor. It features a 3.0-inch tilting LCD monitor with 460K resolution (but no EVF), HD video recording at 1080p @ 60i fps, a Silent Video Motor, optical image stabilization, and a top shutter speed of up to 1/4000th of a second. The WB2100 should appeal to amateur photographers who want to be able to cover a very broad range of photographic genres without having to carry a heavy DSLR, a sturdy tripod, and a bag full of lenses. The WB2100's robustly constructed metal-alloy/polycarbonate body is tough enough to go just about anywhere and provides good dust/weather/moisture seals. The WB2100 measures 4.7in/11.9cm x 3.3in/8.4cm x 2.2in/5.6cm and tips the scales at 1.10 lb/0.5 kg and is available in either trendy red or traditional black.
Ergonomics and Controls
The WB2100's control layout is efficiently designed and all buttons are logically placed and come easily to hand for right-handed shooters. The top deck features a standard mode dial, a large raised shutter button (with zoom toggle surround), a "one-touch" video stop/start button, and the on/off button. Samsung's function button is very similar to Canon's "func" button (which calls up a shortcut menu to directly access often changed settings), unlike the Nikon Fn button which provides direct access to one (WB, metering, continuous shooting mode, ISO, or AF area) user selected function. I actually like the way Samsung's function button works better than Canon's short cut menu system. The WB2100's control pad functions in the familiar compass switch configuration - up/down (display/macro), left/right (flash/self-timer), and center "OK" button. At first I felt the WB2100's one-touch video Start/Stop button was awkwardly positioned, but after using it for a while I like the top deck (as opposed to back deck) placement--since the one touch video button is also a shutter release and it can be used without requiring the shooter to look away from the LCD when starting or stopping a video.
Menus and Modes
The WB2100's menu system is simple, but it is neither logical nor intuitive. Fortunately most commonly utilized camera functions can be accessed via the "Fn" button. What I find exceedingly strange is that the WB2100 provides a full manual mode, but no aperture preferred mode and no shutter speed mode--unlike most of its competitors.
Auto: Just point and shoot--no user input.
Program: Auto exposure with limited user input (sensitivity, white balance, exposure compensation, flash, etc.).
Manual: Users select all exposure parameters.
Scene: Provides a selection of automatic scene modes designed to cover many common shooting scenarios.
Panorama: Automatically shoots panoramic images with a preview function.
Effects: Low Light, HDR, Split Shot, etc.
User Settings: User saved settings/preferences can be linked to this mode dial position.
Movie: With the stop/start video button just over an inch away, this mode dial control seems redundant.
Unlike most currently available ultra-zooms, the WB2100 does not provide an EVF (electronic viewfinder) requiring shooters to use the LCD screen for all framing and composition, image review, and menu access chores. The WB2100 features a fairly large 3.0-inch LCD monitor with 460K resolution. The LCD monitor is sharp, bright, hue accurate, and fluid. The default info display provides all the information this camera's target audience is likely to need. The LCD gains up (automatically increases brightness) in dim lighting and brightness can also be adjusted to the individual shooter's preferences. The screen tips/slides allowing the LCD to be positioned at a 180 degree angle to the lens (like an old time waist level finder) which is really good for shooting macro, but not much else. The WB2100 has the worst anti-glare/anti-reflection coating on the LCD screen that I have seen recently--it is often frustratingly difficult and sometimes impossible to use the screen as a framing/composition tool in bright outdoor lighting because of the glare/reflection problems.
The Samsung WB2100 is a competent picture maker that is capable of producing consistently excellent still images and decent HD video. Performance was dependably competitive with similar ultra-zoom cameras from other manufacturers.
The WB2100 features a TTL Contrast Detection AF system with Center AF, Multi AF, Face AF, and Tracking AF. The WB2100's AF system analyzes the scene in front of the lens then calculates camera-to-subject distance to determine which AF point (in multi AF mode) is closest to the primary subject and then locks focus on that AF point. The WB2100's AF system is consistently quick to acquire the subject and locks focus with dependable accuracy.
The WB2100 utilizes an optical image stabilization system with built-in gyro-sensors to detect camera shake and then shift an element in the zoom lens rapidly and precisely to compensate for that involuntary minor camera movement.
I couldn't find any battery/power duration numbers for the WB2100, but based on my experiences with the camera - battery life is a little below the average for cameras of this class. I used the camera heavily for two weeks and had to charge the battery twice.
At the end of the day (when reviewing ultrazoom) everything comes down to the lens, since those monster optics are main claim to fame for this class of cameras. When the WB2100 is powered up, the lens automatically telescopes out of the lens housing. When the camera is powered down, the lens is fully retracted back into the lens housing and a built-in iris style lens cover closes to protect the front element. Ten years ago 10x was considered a long zoom so the WB2100's f3.0-f5.9/4.6mm-152.5mm (25mm - 875mm equivalent) 35x zoom is the star of the show here--allowing WB2100 users to stand in one spot and cover everything from grand vista wide-angle landscapes to super-telephoto shots of distant wildlife.
The f/3.0 maximum aperture is barely fast enough for shooting indoors, but should be more than fast enough for most outdoor shooting--at least in decent light. Center sharpness is pretty good overall, but at the wide-angle end of the zoom corners are very slightly soft. I didn't notice any vignetting (dark corners) and both barrel and pincushion distortion are visible, but seem well corrected. Contrast is balanced (but a little flat) and colors are hue accurate and amazingly neutral. Chromatic aberration is remarkably well controlled, but some very minor color fringing is present in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds. Zooming is smooth, but fairly slow when compared to cameras with shorter zooms. Interestingly, there is much less motor noise than I expected--due, I'm sure, to Samsung's silent motor. The 35x can be used during video capture. Samsung has included a new lens housing zoom toggle button that is especially useful when using the zoom during video capture. Personally, I liked the new lens housing zoom toggle button best for adjusting the zoom while shooting verticals. It's much easier than using the standard zoom toggle switch surrounding the shutter button. Since I shoot about 70 percent of my images in vertical format I found this new control especially useful.
With most ultrazoom digicams the maximum telephoto setting can be more of a curse than a blessing--since long zoom digicams produce images that are notoriously soft at the maximum telephoto setting. Maybe because Samsung's optical and mechanical engineers showed some restraint with the WB2100's slightly shorter than average zoom explains why the lens is much sharper (at the long end of the zoom) than expected.
The WB2100 captures HD video at 1920x1080p at 60i fps and the 35x zoom can be used during filming. This camera also provides an HDMI out so that users can watch their HD video clips on their wide screen TVs. The WB2100's video mode has one frustrating shortcoming. When users press the start/stop control to start recording - the WB2100's LCD goes dark for about one second before video capture actually begins, which rather defeats the purpose of having a "instant" start/stop video button. Since video capture doesn't start until a second after you push the button, it will be necessary to anticipate the beginning of your video and press the start/stop button at least a second before the action you wish to capture commences. The video that accompanies this review was shot in mid-afternoon on a hot and very bright day. This is my first macro video and I am impressed with just how nicely the WB2100 captured my close-up bee/passionflower interaction.
The WB2100's image files and videos are clearly optimized for accurate real world colors. Images display very good resolution (sharpness) with the most neutral color I have ever seen from an ultrazoom camera. Most point and shoot cameras boost color saturation, so it is refreshing to see real world colors rather than the circus colors generated by most of them. The WB2100's images are highly-detailed and surprisingly sharp with very accurate neutral colors and good contrast. Image quality, across the board, is noticeably better than average for cameras in this class.
The WB2100 has an adjustable LCD screen, but the adjustments are very limited. There is no EVF and the LCD screen suffers from above average glare in outdoor lighting. The WB2100 provides a manual exposure mode, but neither of the more popular manual assist modes (aperture priority and shutter priority) and the video mode has a one second lag before it starts recording - so why would a consumer purchase this digicam (which has the shortest zoom range of all the currently available ultra-zoom digicams) rather than a Canon SX50 HS, a Nikon P520, an Olympus SP-820UZ, or the new Panasonic FZ70 with the longest zoom range (60x) on the planet? The WB2100 is the cheapest ultra zoom currently available, but that shouldn't logically be the primary product selection criteria. For serious amateur photographers the WB2100's neutral color palette provides a compelling reason to select this digicam rather than similar cameras that feature more highly saturated colors. Plus the WB2100's 35x zoom is sharper than most of its competition at the telephoto end of the zoom range and slightly faster (f3.0 maximum aperture) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range. Ultrazoom digicams won't fit in a pocket (unless you've got pockets like Captain Kangaroo), but the WB2100 - while still fairly large, is noticeably smaller (and lighter) than most of its competition. In some ways the WB2100 appears to have been designed by a committee, but overall this digicam delivers excellent image quality with surprising consistency and that really is job one in photography. The Samsung WB2100 would be an almost ideal choice for an aspiring photographer on a budget, an excellent choice as a family camera, and a very good choice for casual shooters who want a cheap, tough, easy to use camera with lots of zoom.