One of the most interesting recent developments in the ongoing digital imaging revolution is the introduction of the travel zoom point and shoot digital camera. Travel zooms look and handle like compact P&S cameras, but they feature extra long zoom lenses (typically 10x to 25x) and manual exposure options not included on the flood of auto exposure only compact cameras now inundating the marketplace. Consumers adore travel zooms and that's made this class of cameras one of the most competitive arenas in the digital camera wars. I reviewed the industry leading travel zoom, the Canon SX280 HS, for DCR so I was quite enthusiastic when offered the opportunity to review Samsung's newest travel zoom, the WB800F.
The new Samsung WB800F is very similar in design and features to the Canon SX280 HS. And like its popular rival looks and handles like a point and shoot camera. The WB800F features a 21x zoom with a relatively fast f2.8 maximum aperture (the SX280 features a 20x zoom a 2/3 of a stop slower f3.5 maximum aperture). Both cameras provide Wi-Fi connectivity and 1080p HD movie modes. Both cameras also feature 3.0 inch LCD monitors with 460k resolution. The WB800F's LCD monitor is a touchscreen unit, while the LCD screen in the SX280 HS is not. Both cameras also feature BSI CMOS sensors and optical image stabilization. The cameras not only look very similar, they have nearly identical dimensions--the WB800F measures 4.19 x 2.35 x 1.26 inches while the SX280 HS measures 4.2 x 2.5 x 1.3 inches. Another similarity is the price. The Canon SX280 HS costs about $299.00 and the Samsung WB800F runs about $279.00. Both cameras are precision built and robustly constructed imaging tools that were clearly designed for photography enthusiasts.
Build and Design
At first glance, the 16 megapixel WB800F looks (and handles) like a typical point-and-shoot digicam, but under the hood beats the heart of a warrior. The WB800F is a precision built and robustly constructed imaging tool that was obviously designed for serious shooters. The WB800F's fit and finish are excellent as are its dust and moisture seals. The WB800F 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. Both Canon SX280 and WB800F are available in either trendy red or traditional black--Samsung also offers a white model.
Ergonomics and Controls
The WB800F'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 only 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, and shutter release with zoom toggle surround. Just below those controls are the "direct link" Wi-Fi button and the flash activation button. The back deck is also uncluttered featuring a classic P & S layout. The 3.0-inch LCD monitor takes up about two thirds of the back deck. At the top of the right side of the back 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 with the right thumb 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 WB800F features a genuine hand-grip (paired with a back deck thumb pad) for improved handling and camera stability. The SX280 HS only provides a finger-rail grip and most compact P&S digicams provide no grip at all--kudos to Samsung for including this very useful feature.
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.
Scene: Select the scene mode that best suits your subject.
Effects: Low Light, HDR, Split Shot, etc.
User Settings: User saved settings/preferences can be linked to this mode dial position.
Best Face: Comprehensive Face Recognition mode.
Wi-Fi: Use this mode to share your images.
Like most current point and shoots, the WB800F 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 WB800F's monitor screen is bright, hue accurate, fluid (movement is smooth - not jerky), automatically boosts gain in dim/low light, and covers approximately 100% of the image frame. The WB800F's monitor, like all LCD monitors is subject to fading and glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting--in fact, the WB800F (like the WB2100 I just reviewed) suffers from above average glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting. The default display provides all information this camera's target audience is likely to want or need.
The WB800F is a first rate general purpose P&S digicam that will dependably produce excellent quality images and HD videos not only for travelers and photography enthusiast, but also for straight-shooters, casual photographers, and amateur shutterbugs as well. In fact, the WB800F is sufficiently dependable, capable, and versatile that it could easily function as a pocket camera for part-time pros.
Auto exposure in the smart auto and program modes is dependably accurate and impressively quick. The WB800F reliably chooses the appropriate shutter speed in aperture priority mode and the appropriate aperture in shutter speed priority mode. In manual mode, exposure accuracy is completely dependent on the skill and experience of the shooter.
The WB800F features a fairly standard TTL Contrast Detection AF system with center AF, multi AF, tracking AF, and face detection AF. The WB800F's AF system analyzes the scene in front of the lens and then calculates camera-to-subject distance (when in default multi-AF mode) to determine which AF point is closest to the primary subject. It then locks focus on that AF point. The center AF option is super for portraits and traditional landscapes, but it is even better for street shooting since straight shooters don't want the camera selecting which face in the crowd to focus on.
Push the WB800F's flash release button and the pop-up flash deploys with a satisfyingly solid thump--check out that tiny flash unit's amazing engineering. The flash unit is at the top of a folding metal arm that raises the flash almost an inch above the camera's top deck--in addition the unit is positioned at least an inch to the left of the center axis of the zoom--so red-eye should be substantially ameliorated. The WB800F's small multi-mode pop-up flash provides an acceptable selection of artificial lighting options, including auto, auto & red-eye reduction, fill flash, slow sync, red-eye fix, and manual. Based on my very limited flash use, the EX2F's flash recycle time is between 4 and 5 seconds.
Stabilizing a camera with a long zoom is particularly important because it is virtually impossible to hold a camera with the zoom extended rock steady. The WB800F's optical image stabilization system reduces blur by rapidly and precisely shifting an element in the 21x zoom to compensate for minor camera movement. Image stabilization allows users to shoot at shutter speeds up to three f-stops slower than would have been possible otherwise. Image stabilization is also helpful when shooting in dimly lit indoor venues where flash is inappropriate or in situations flash use would be obvious when viewing the image.
I couldn't find any battery life/power duration numbers, but based on my experiences with the camera (I used the camera fairly heavily for two and half weeks and charged the battery twice). I would guess the WB800F to be good for about 250 exposures on a fully charged Samsung SLB-10A lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The battery is charged inside the camera - an external AC charger isn't included, but Samsung offers external chargers as optional accessories. The battery can be charged via a powered USB port on your computer or with the included AC charging cable.
The Samsung WB800F saves JPEG still images and HD video SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media. I'm left to wonder why Samsung designed an excellent enthusiasts digicam and then failed to include the ability to create RAW images. It seems to me that the RAW function from Samsung's exceptional EX2F could have been incorporated into the WB800F fairly easily. I regard the failure to include a RAW image mode as this camera's most egregious shortcoming.
When the WB800F is powered up, the 21x zoom telescopes from the camera body and when the camera is powered down, the lens retracts back into the camera body and a built in iris-style lens cover closes to protect the front element. Zooming is smooth, fairly quick, and relatively quiet--especially for such a long lens. The WB800F's long zoom and compact profile makes this camera an almost ideal for an incredibly broad variety of photographic applications, but its strongest appeal will be to weight and space conscious travelers.
Images show barely perceptible corner softness and barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center of the frame) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range is slightly above average. Pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center of the frame) is about average at the telephoto end of the zoom. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is above average, but well managed. Images shot at longer telephoto settings grow consistently softer as the lens is zoomed further out, but still remain sharper than most of the WB800F's competition--even at full telephoto.
The WB800F captures HD video at 1280x720p @ 30fps and the zoom can be used during video capture. Unlike the Samsung WB2100 I just reviewed (which had a very frustrating one second lag) the WB800F's videos start recording as soon as the start/stop button is pressed. In my book this is more important than the WB2100's slightly better specifications. The video that accompanies this review was shot in an old letterpress print shop in downtown Louisville. In fact, this dimly lit shop (long building with front window lighting and overhead incandescent lighting), reminded me very much of my high school print shop from way back in the 10th grade. The WB800F's f2.8 maximum aperture was very helpful. I shot some stills in the same setting with the WB2100 (f3.5 maximum aperture) and they were noticeably darker than the WB800F's video clip. This camera provides an HDMI out so that users can watch their HD video clips on their wide screen TVs.
The WB800F's image files are clearly optimized for accurate real world colors and slightly harder than average contrast. Images display very good resolution (sharpness) with almost neutral colors and essentially no noise up to ISO 400. The vast majority of P&S digicams boost color saturation -- reds are always a bit too warm, blues are invariably brighter than they are in real life and greens/yellows are dependably too vibrant. Veteran shooters call this "consumer color" because casual shooters like bright, bold colors. The WB800F's images are highly detailed and surprisingly sharp. Image quality is noticeably better than average for cameras in this class.
The WB800F is a compact, well designed, sturdily built, and easy to use P&S digicam with a 21x zoom, but I'd like to offer a bit of advice to Samsung's product development folks - constantly crowding more pixels onto tiny P&S digicam sensors results in noticeably higher noise levels and the WB800F 16 megapixel sensor does produce marginally more noise than the SX280 HS's lower resolution 12 megapixel sensor. The differences are subtle, but they are visible. How about including a RAW mode and lowering the resolution to 12 megapixels on the WB800F's successor? The WB800F's strongest appeal will be to travel shooters, but this camera should also appeal to street shooters too. It's small, fast enough to capture the decisive moment, inconspicuous, and capable of generating reliably excellent digital images.
Samsung cameras often provide better performance than their competition and that's the case with the WB800F. After carrying this nifty little digital camera with me just about everywhere I've gone for the last couple of weeks I have decided that if I were going on a trip, I could take only one camera, and my choices were limited to either the Canon SX280 HS (the top selling travel zoom in the USA) or the Samsung WB800F, I would choose the WB800F for its neutral color palette and better-than-average image quality.