While not quite as compact as their ST80, the PL200 is still a petite camera. The body measures approx 3.9x2.3x0.8 inches (99.8x59.5x21mm) with the lens collapsed, and weights about 5 ounces (143g) without the battery or memory card installed. This is still small enough to fit into a small pants pocket or purse.
Although the PL200 is only a $180 camera, it still feels well made. All of the controls are spaced out well, and we especially liked the zoom control being mounted around the shutter release. Samsung has given you plenty of shortcut buttons for those who do like to toggle camera settings when using Program mode, all of which are well labeled. The camera fits in you hands well; we found the "half-pinch" method worked best. Here you pinch the camera with your left index finger and thumb, while wrapping your right hand around the body. The 3.0-inch LCD offers your typical resolution of 230K pixels, which allowed it to produce a decent live image. I will say that the coating on the PL200's LCD is much nicer than the one used on the ST80. There are still a few small angles which reflect bright light, however it never caused any problems when framing subjects outdoors in bright sunlight. Indoors the display will gain up when you are in marginal lighting, which does cause the live image to get a bit grainy; however, the ability to actually see your subject in these conditions out weighs this small negative effect.
When it comes to image quality, the PL200 delivers for being only a $180 US camera. I was actually quite surprised to see images that are crisp and clear with good overall detail, sharpness, contrast, and exposure. Colors are vibrant when using the Smart Auto mode, and more natural when using Program. The only real issue I saw was a good amount of edge softness on the left hand side of the frame only. This appeared in most all of our outdoor photos, where you can see the entire frame is nice and sharp, with the exception of a decent sized portion of the left hand side. While not very pleasing, this can only really be seen when "pixel peeping" images at 100% on a PC monitor. It's very unlikely that you'll see this at normal viewing sizes (about 20-25% depending on the size of your monitor) or your typical 4x6 to 8x10-inch prints.
The 7x optical zoom is a welcomed feature on the PL200. While not quite as wide as we would have liked to see with a maximum equivalent field of view of 31mm, the extra reach of the telephoto end (up to 217mm) is much appreciated when compared to your typical 3-5x zooms. The wide end will work well outdoors when taking landscapes, however indoors you might find the field of view a bit narrow. The telephoto end of the zoom won't reach out an touch those distant objects, but it will bring them a lot closer as well as give you more framing possibilities. Overall, this is a nice lens that compliments the PL200's size and price tag nicely, and helps the camera produce some nice photos throughout the zoom range with your typical amounts of distortion and aberrations.
Like most compact digicams, the PL200 can record video at several resolutions, including HD (720p ,1280x720), 640x480 or 320x240. The frame rate is selectable from 15, 30, and 60fps depending on the mode currently being used. The camera uses the MPEG-4 (.MP4) codec, which allows for decent HD video while helping keep the file size down. Video quality was decent, with typical amounts of noise indoors as well as all the background noise you normally don't notice while recording. Like many digicams, the microphone pics up even the slights breeze and makes it sound like a wind storm, which just ruins your outdoor video. I also saw some vertical banding from bright lighting; see our indoor sample. Like we saw with the ST80, the PL200 allows full use of the zoom while recording video. This is a handy feature, and the OIS system is available too (can be turned On or Off in the Movie mode menu). Samsung does note that you will hear the zoom motor in your video, however they've also added a menu option that allows you to turn off sound while zooming, or altogether. I found turning the sound off while zooming made for some strange videos though, so I personally would rather deal with the motor noise. Also, while the OIS system is usable in movie mode, be careful when using the PL200's 7x zoom. Even with this stabilization in place, your telephoto videos will be a bit shaky if you're not careful. You can see what I mean by looking at our outdoor example on the Samples page, where a family member was playing with the camera during a hay ride.
The PL200 uses a small Samsung BP70A 3.7V 740mAh Li-ion battery pack, which is the same pack they use in other compact cameras; like the ST80. I found battery life was pretty average for a camera of this size. We captured over 150 photos, recorded about a dozen or so short video clips, and conclude many of our other tests before having to charge the battery again. This shows me that Samsung's claims of only 160 frames per charge might be a bit underrated. While battery life is decent, a second battery pack used as a backup is always a good idea. The only problem with going that route with the PL200 is that the pack is charged in-camera with the USB cable and your PC (slower) or the included AC charger (faster). This might make is difficult to keep a spare pack with you at all times.
Bottom line - the Samsung PL200 is an affordable compact digicam that we were overall very pleased with. It's simple to use thanks to fully automatic operation with Smart Auto, produces very nice 14-megapixel images in various situations, is packed with useful features like a 7x optical zoom, and offers good shooting performance to boot. All of this for just $180 US or less. Therefore, we have no problem recommending the PL200 to anyone who's looking for a camera of this size, whether for a teenager, parent or grandparent.
Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.
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