Samsung TL34HD Review
The Samsung TL34HD is the first model we have reviewed in this series, and is among many of the 14.7-megapixel digicams that are now readily available, like the Canon Powershot SD990 IS and Panasonic Lumix FX150. This stylish and compact camera includes some very high-end features, like the 14.7-megapixel imager, high resolution (460K pixels) 3.0-inch Touch screen LCD, Samsung's DRIM Engine image processor, Schneider-Kreuznach 3.6x optical zoom lens, automatic Pop-up flash, Dual Image stabilization (OIS + High ISO), and MPEG4 HD movies at 1280x720 (30fps) with stereo sound to name a few.
Geared towards those who love having the latest technologies, the TL34HD offers a wealth of exposure options, all at the reach of your finger tips. There is a capture mode for every level of photographer, whether just starting out or a long time vet. You can choose from full Auto, Program AE, Manual, or 16 scene modes (including Dual IS).
Samsung did an excellent job of designing this camera, which allows it to offer a nice "well-built" feel. The body is durable thanks to the mostly metal exterior, and compact too. I had no problem stuffing this little guy into my coat pocket while out shooting samples. Because there is a touch screen LCD, there are only a few buttons left on the camera, just the Zoom, Menu, Playback, and the Mode Dial controls remain. The touch screen system is laid out very well, however I did have some issues. The Smart Touch 2.0 user interface didn't perform as well as I would have liked. I had all kinds of problems when trying to choose/change settings, especially when browsing the menus. It seems the camera would select whatever was just below where my finger touched the screen. I do have large hands, so I did try my pinkie. It worked better, but I still had problems. We were also disappointed that there was not a calibration option anywhere. This is a common feature you will find on most touch screen digital devices, whether a cell phone, digital camera, etc. I will say that when I wasn't having problems, I really liked the functionality of the system. That said, I found the LCD itself works well in most conditions. Samsung's press release claimed this camera features an effective anti-reflective coating. I beg to differ, as our eval unit had a very reflective LCD. Luckily, the live image is nice and bright, so I had no issues when framing our outdoor images in the bight sunlight.
The TL34HD performed well during our performance tests. From start up to first image captured, was 1.9 seconds. When pre-focused the shutter lag was less than 1/10 of a second and only 1/10 - 2/10 of a second when including the Autofocus system. The shot to shot was around 1.2 - 1.4 seconds without using the flash and between 2.7 and 3 seconds with the flash. There are four types of burst capture on this camera (Continuous, High-Speed Continuous, AE Bracketing, Motion Capture). In continuous mode, I was able to capture 5 full size images in 6 seconds. This is barely faster than using single drive mode, lacking far behind other models in this class. High-Speed mode was much better, capturing 4 images in just 1.9 seconds, however it then slowed down to about 1fps due to a full buffer. Motion capture mode that shoots at 1M (1024x768). Using it I captured 30 images in 4.4 seconds. During the standard Continuous and High-speed capture modes, 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 Ultra 150x 4GB SDHC memory card, program mode, ISO Auto, quality/size set at 14M 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 TL34HD offers the same 3.6x optical zoom lens we saw on the SL310W, 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 TL34HD captures sharp images with good exposure, vivid colors, and plenty of detail. However, I did notice some edge softness and an above average amount of Chromatic Aberrations (aka purple fringing) in many of our outdoor samples. You can see it the most when viewing the Museum/Library shot and looking at the tree limbs on the left side of the frame as well as in several other places. Indoors, the camera produced nice portrait images. The Face Detection was able to quickly find my subject's face, and I only saw one photo (out of 10 frames) where it did not lock focus properly on her face. The camera's pop-up flash worked great for such a small camera. It had no problems illuminating our subject from about 5-6 feet away, using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. The camera also controls output of this unit well, in fact almost too well, as our Macro shots came out a bit underexposed; which is preferable compared to overexposure.
Like we saw with the Panasonic FX150, the TL34HD's images show some grain or noise at even the lowest ISO 80 setting. However, you have to be viewing one of these Huge images at 100% to see this. I personally feel it does not effect image quality, even when making large prints. ISO performance was a bit disappointing. Like its little brother, the SL310W, I found that ISO 400 and below are the only "usable" settings. At 800, there is a ton of detail loss from Heavy noise reduction, and 1600 and 3200 look even worse. Luckily, the camera does well at keeping the ISO low when using the Auto setting, however I would have liked to see a Max ISO option like many manufactures are now offering.
The TL34HD offers a variety of movie mode options to choose from, including an HD capture mode. You can choose from 1280x720, 800x592, 640x480, and 320x240 resolutions with frame rates of 15 or 30fps. The smaller 320x240 mode also offers a high-speed 60fps option. Like most of Samsung's models, the TL34HD allows you to use the 3.6x optical zoom while recoding with OIS (Optical Image Stabilization). Our movie mode results were average. The 1280 HQ mode played back a bit choppy on my PC, which is a dual core system with a decent graphics card. This was an indoor movie sample shot under your typical mixed indoor lighting, and I noticed a good amount of noise in the video. One plus about this camera using the MPEG4 (H.264/AVC) codec is file size. Our 1280 HQ movie clip was about 8 seconds long and was only 11.4MB. That's just over 1MB a sec, which is great compared to other HD video formats that consume more than twice the amount of space per second. We did not test the movie mode outdoors as of yet, but we will be doing so as soon as the whether permits and will add a movie to our Sample Photos page.
Power is supplied by a 3.7V 1100mAh proprietary battery pack. Samsung claims this pack will power the TL34HD for up to 200 photos or 100 minutes of continuous recording. This is a pretty accurate claim, as I was able to capture about 135 images, 8 movie clips, and conclude many of our other tests with the battery level showing 1/3 full. Unlike most models that us an external AC charger, or a proprietary unit that charges the battery in the camera, the TL34HD 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 - The Samsung TL34HD is somewhat of a mixed bag. While it offers some Very "cool" features, good image quality, fast performance, and loads of exposure options, the High ISO noise, above average amounts of CA, and the difficult to use touch screen system really bring this camera down. With a street price of US$330 or less, this camera has the potential to be a very worthy competitor in the high-end ultra-compact category if Samsung can correct a couple of these issues.
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