Samsung SL310W Review
By Movable Type Admin
The SL310W is one of two "SL" series models from Samsung for 2008. This is a point-n-shoot digicam that boasts a 13.6-megapixel imaging sensor, 3.6x optical zoom, 2.7-inch LCD, Dual IS system, Face Detection technology, and SVGA sized (800x592) MPEG-4 movies, all packed in an ultra-compact shell. With 12 scene modes along with the full Auto exposure mode, the SL310W can be operated by the least experienced user, without much fuss. For those who consider themselves a Novice user, there are also more advanced settings available with Program and Manual exposure modes.
Measuring 2.3x1.5x0.9 inches, the SL310W is about the same size as a deck of cards. This allows it to be tucked into small pockets and handbags. While compact, I had no problems using this camera with my large hands, and I found the various camera controls are all well placed on the body. Like we saw on past Samsung models, the Effects, Fn (Function), Playback, and OIS buttons are a bit small. This camera also seems to be quite durable, with a mostly metal exterior, ensuring it will stand up to the test of time. Like some of the past Samsung models we have seen, the SL310W has 3 separate menu systems that you have to look through when you want to change record settings; Effects, Function, and the normal Record menu. This is only a problem until you learn where these features are. The Function menu was very useful when shooting in Program or Manual mode, allowing us to make quick changes to settings like ISO, Image size/quality, White balance, Drive mode, etc. The SL310W features a 2.7-inch LCD for framing and reviewing pictures. This is the only viewfinder on the camera, and I found it worked well in most lighting. While the display gains up well in dim lighting to help you see, the coating is reflective and very prone to collecting fingerprints.
Shooting performance from the SL310W was good for a camera in this category, with the exception of burst mode. From start up to first image captured, was 2.6 seconds. When pre-focused the shutter lag was just 1/10 of a second and only 3/10 - 4/10 of a second when including the Autofocus system. The shot to shot delay was around 2 seconds without using the flash and between 3 to 3.5 seconds with the flash, depending on the level of output. There are three types of burst capture modes on this camera (Continuous, AE Bracketing, Motion Capture). In continuous mode, I was able to capture 5 full size images in 6 seconds. While this is faster than single drive mode, it's less than 1fps; lagging far behind other models in this class. There is also a motion capture mode that shoots at 640x480 resolution. Using it I captured 30 images in 4.3 seconds. During the standard Continuous capture mode, the LCD screen blacks out between frames, so it can be a little hard to follow your subject while shooting. Motion Capture reminds me of movie mode, but saves each frame separately. When using it, the live image does not black out or pause. All tests were done using an ATP Pro Max (Class 6) 4GB SDHC memory card, Program mode, quality/size set at 13M Superfine, flash off, quick view off and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The SL310W offers a 3.6x optical zoom, which covers an equivalent range of 28mm to 102mm. While this lens has a nice wide field of view, because of that extra .6x magnification, you still have the same telephoto capabilities as typical 3x zooms that start around 34-35mm. This wider view will offer better indoor framing possibilities as well as more dramatic landscapes. The Telephoto end is nice for framing tightly against a subject's face for a portrait shot, but will not bring those distant objects or people up close. Overall I enjoyed this lens unit, and found it exhibits moderate barrel distortion at wide angle, and I also saw several traces of purple fringing (aka Chromatic Aberrations) on objects with extreme contrast.
The SL310W offers some very impressive image quality for such an inexpensive digicam. Not only were our images pleasing, but with 13-megapixels, they are huge! When reviewing our outdoor images, I saw nice exposures and vivid colors. Images are also nice and sharp with plenty of contrast. For those who want to "dial in" a certain look, you have access to Image adjustments like Sharpness, Contrast, and Saturation (Program and Manual modes only). Indoors it also does well for an ultra-compact digicam. I was able to capture good results when using either Program, Portrait, or the Beauty Shot mode. Samsung claims a flash range of up to 15 feet at wide angle or up to 7.5 feet at telephoto. These ranges seem pretty true, as I found the flash did well when using the telephoto end of the zoom for framing, while shooting from about 5 feet away. When doing so, our individual portrait images showed good flash coverage and pleasing skin tones. The Face Detection system also worked well, and was able to find my subjects face within the first second she entered the frame. The Beauty Shot mode is kind of like a "Glamour shot" mode, as it softens the facial features and adds some saturation to the skin; for rosier cheeks. Be sure to check out our Sample Photos page to see how well the camera did for yourself.
As with a good number of ultra-compact models, the SL310W offers some very high ISO settings. Like most, these higher settings produce less than spectacular results. While reviewing our M&M man shots, I found that ISO 400 and below looked very good. At 400, you can see some slight detail loss from noise reduction, still being able to create nice big prints. However, at ISO 800, image quality gets pretty bad, and only gets worse as you increase the sensitivity. This includes lots of detail loss as well as an overall change in color temperature (white balance). Even the ISO 3200 setting, which drops the resolution down to 3-megapixels, looks bad. While I was a bit disappointed with these findings, they are pretty common with cameras in this class.
While the SL310W offers the standard 640x480 and 320x240 resolutions (15 or 30fps) for movie mode, it also includes a larger 800x592 (SVGA) option with a fixed frame rate of 20fps. Unlike most cameras, this model does allow you to use the 3.6x optical zoom while recording, and also offers use of the OIS system. Our movie samples turned out good for a consumer point-n-shoot. Indoors, there is a bit of compression noise, and I noticed the white balance exposure system was having some troubles while following a moving subject while under mixed lighting.
Power is supplied by a 3.7V 1050mAh proprietary battery pack. Samsung did not claim a battery life, however I had no problem capturing all of our samples images, several short movie clips and concluding many of our other tests on a single charge. Unlike most models that us an external AC charger, or a proprietary unit that charges the battery in the camera, the SL310W uses the USB cable. While there is an included AC adapter that you can plug the USB cable into, you can also use you PC. This offers great versatility, as you can charge the camera just about anywhere without having to carry anything with you but the USB cable.
Bottom line - As with past consumer models from Samsung, we were pleased with the SL310W. This affordable ultra-compact has something for everyone, and offers image quality and shooting performance which equals that of many cameras in its class and beyond. The only issues I had with this camera was the slower than average "normal" burst mode setting and the unusable High ISO settings. That said, with a street price of $180 or less, the Samsung SL310W offers a great deal for such a capable little camera. I would have no problem recommending this camera to anyone who is in the market for a simple to use digicam that can be tucked away into their pocket or purse.
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