Samsung has added yet another model to their TL-series ranks with the inclusion of the TL100. This 12-megapixel digicam boasts some appealing features, including an ultra-compact metal shell, 2.7-inch LCD, SVGA (800x592) resolution movie mode, Digital IS system, Face Detection (with Blink detection, Smile Shot, and Beauty Shot modes), Voice recording, built-in memory (~31MB), SD/SDHC memory card compatibility, and a Li-ion power source. This point-n-shoot model was designed with one thing in mind, ease of use. To achieve this, Samsung has pretty much taken away all of the typical exposure modes, except two. You can either choose Program AE, which is fully automatic with access to more advanced settings like ISO, Metering, Exposure comp., etc. Or, you can choose Smart mode, which is an intelligent exposure mode that analyzes the scene being framed, then chooses the best setting from 11 different pre-programmed "Scene" modes. You can only set the resolution, flash mode, and self-timer. This makes taking photos with this camera a snap, which is the whole idea behind these pocket point-n-shoots.
Like I mentioned above, the TL100 is what we consider an ultra-compact camera. Measuring 3.7x2.19x.65 inches, the TL100 can fit into the smallest of pockets. However, even with this small stature, I found handling the camera was quite comfortable. Pinching the camera between my left index finger and thumb, then wrapping my right hand around it offered the best grip. The camera controls then fall right under your fingers, and I especially like the zoom controls being mounted around the shutter release. While the controls are also very small, they are spaced out well enough to ensure you don't press more than one at a time. The 2.7-inch LCD takes up the majority of the real estate on the back of the camera. This is a nice display that offers 230K pixels of resolution, which provides a nice clear picture with pleasing colors. The display does also gain up when shooting in dim lighting, but the live image can get a little grainy. However, the fact that you can see your subject in these conditions is a benefit worth noting; something that was impossible in the film days. The menu system is extremely easy to use in Smart mode, since there are very few options available. When using program mode, all of the various options are separated in four main categories (Functions, Sound, Display, Settings). While this is a logically way to organize the menu, and allowed for easy navigation, using the Function category was a bit different. When scrolling through the available options, you are in the full menu system with the normal background image. However, once you've selected a setting to be changed, it pulls up the live image, and now it looks much like a shortcut menu. This "menu jumping" didn't affect much, I just found it to be a bit odd.
The TL100 is a very speedy camera. From start up to first image captured was just 1.7 seconds. When pre-focused the shutter lag was less than 1/10 of a second and 3/10 - 5/10 of a second when including the Autofocus system. The shot to shot delay was around 1.5 - 1.7 seconds between frames without using the flash and just under 3 seconds with the flash. There are two burst capture modes on this camera (Continuous and Motion Capture) as well as Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB). Using continuous mode I was able to capture 11 full size images in 11.2 seconds (less than 1fps). This is barely faster than using single drive mode, lacking far behind other models in this class. Motion capture mode shoots at VGA resolution (640x480), and using it I captured 30 images in just 9/10 of a second. During standard Continuous capture, the LCD screen blacks out after the first frame, then quickly displays the last image captured for each additional shot. This makes it 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, making it easy to follow motion. All tests were done using a Lexar Professional 133x 2GB SD memory card, program mode, ISO Auto, quality/size set at 12M Superfine, flash off, quick view on and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Samsung equiped the TL100 with a 3x optical zoom lens, which covers a typical range of 35-105mm (in 35mm equivalence). This lens will afford decent outdoor landscape type photos as well as small group portraits. Indoors you might find that the 35mm wide angle extreme is a bit narrow when trying to shoot a group of your friends. The telephoto capabilities of this camera will not bring distant subjects up close, but will work rather well for close up macro or portrait style photos. We found that this lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at wide angle along with traces of chromatic aberrations present throughout the zoom range.
Image quality is only decent for a 12-megapixel digicam in the $200-250 price range. The AE system was able to produce nice exposure outside, with only a couple of our test photos showing blown out highlights. Color saturation is natural, producing images that are pleasing to the eye. The TL100 was able to capture nice sharp subjects, however the edges of the frame suffer from a good about of edge softness. This was seen throughout the focal and aperture ranges. Two fields where the TL100 excelled at were individual portrait and macro photography. When shooting our people photos, the camera was able to quickly find the subjects face and lock focus and exposure accordingly. The resulting images show pleasing facial detail, along with natural skin tones. When shooting macro shots, the TL100 controlled the flash output nicely, producing pleasing flash macro shots. You can see for yourself by taking a look at our candy dish shot on the sample photos page. The built-in flash is a bit anemic when shooting indoors, but worked well as a fill-in outside. Indoors the camera will boost the ISO to help produce a brighter image, which will increase noise.
Speaking of image noise, we were a bit disappointed with the TL100's results. We noticed a good amount of noise present in dark or shadow areas, even at the lowest ISO 80 setting. I found that ISO 200 and below produced the best quality images, and 400 was pretty much the highest setting I would use, if need be. Using ISO 800, you could more than likely create a usable 4x6-inch photo. The Higher 1600 and 3200 settings will produce unsatisfactory images that could not even create a usable 4x6. Once you get to ISO 800, there is a good amount of detail loss from noise reduction. Luckily, the Smart exposure mode as well as the Auto ISO setting in Program mode do a good job at keeping the sensitivity levels down. The highest settings I saw were in the 160-200 range, with the occasional spike to 400 or 800 under some Very dark conditions where I had the flash turned off (my mistake). Other than those couple instances, the camera kept the ISO set at 200 and below.
The TL100 offers a variety of movie mode options. You can choose from 800x592, 640x480, and 320x240 resolutions with frame rates of 15, 20 (SVGA mode only) or 30fps. Like most of Samsung's models, the TL100 allows you to use the optical zoom while recoding, and also offers a Stabilizer function. The stabilizer is only available when using an SD/SDHC memory card; this option can not be used when using the internal memory. Our movie mode results were average. The SVGA mode played back a bit choppy on my PC, most likely due to the slower fixed frame rate of 20fps. When using the lower resolution settings at 30fps, you should not see this at all. We on the other hand used the 800x592 (SVGA) setting for all of our samples. While the TL100 allows you to use the zoom while recording, we found that this did not produce pleasing results. While you are zooming the sound is paused, and the AF system does not continuously focus while you are zooming. So, when we zoomed the lens, our movie sample lost sound and went out of focus, until we stopped zooming. I highly recommend you choose the desired focal length before recording starts.
Battery life was great for such a compact digicam. The TL100 uses Samsung's SLB-07A 3.7V 720mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery pack, which is charged in camera via the USB port. They claim you can capture up to 200 photos on a single charge, which is quite accurate. We were able to capture about 175 total samples (mostly still images with several short videos), and all of our other tests on a simple charge. Unlike most models that us an external AC charger, or a proprietary unit that charges the battery in the camera, the TL100 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 - Samsung's TL100 is a "decent" ultra-compact, 12-megapixel digicam. With various appealing features, good built-quality, robust shooting performance, decent image quality, and a Very easy to use intelligent "Smart" exposure mode, the TL100 is sure to please many users. However, with its slower than average burst mode speeds, and poor image noise results, we can't give this camera a "High" recommendation. With that said, if you are looking to purchase a tiny camera in the $200-250 price range, be sure to also take a look at some other models like the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS, PowerShot SD960 IS, Casio Exilim EX-S12, or the Olympus FE-5010 to name a few. These models offer similar features, with equal or better shooting performance and image quality.
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