Samsung Digimax V50 Review
The Digimax V50 is Samsung's top of the line 5-megapixel digicam for 2004. Like its predecessor, the Digimax V4, the V50 has features that appeal to a broad cross section of users, from the beginner using Auto mode to the experienced photographer who will find manual controls for almost everything.
The V50 is a small camera, easily carried in your pocket or purse. Its sleek and durable metal body is also easy on the eyes. The V50's small size is due in part to its diminutive Li-ion battery pack whose capacity exceeds its size -- the V50 was able to capture 300 images before a low battery condition was indicated. And speaking of batteries, the V50 can run on a variety of power sources including two AA (alkaline, NiMH, NiCd or photo lithium) or one CR-V3 lithium, one-use or rechargeable. Ergonomically, I found the controls well organized with one exception, the "right" button of the 4-way controller is located where your thumb rests. This sometimes caused me to accidentally activate the self-timer and gave a whole new meaning to the term shutter-lag!
The V50's most dominant physical feature is its large and articulated 2-inch color LCD monitor, used for reviewing images, navigating the menu system and as a live image viewfinder. It's bright enough to be useful even on the sunniest days, but it doesn't "gain-up" the live image in dim lighting. The LCD's 270-degree vertical rotation allows the camera to be used at eye-level, waist-level or overhead. Its 180-degree horizontal range of movement allows it to face forward for self portraits, but it fails to reverse the viewfinder image. While I found the LCD to be very effective as a viewfinder, it was difficult to read the menu system outdoors; the issue was not the viewfinder itself, but Samsung's choice of light pastel colors as a background for the text. Its use for image review was excellent, offering magnification of up to 9x for checking critical focus.
The V50's shooting performance was average. From power-on till the first image was captured took about four seconds, slow enough that you'll miss a fair percentage of spontaneous moments. Shutter lag, the elapsed time between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, was 4/10 second when pre-focused and an agonizingly long 1.3 seconds including autofocus time; the delay in the LCD showing the live image accounted for about 1/10 second of the measured lag. Rapid shooting in single shot mode captured an image every 3 seconds without flash, and between 3.5 and 7 seconds with flash (depending on subject distance). Continuous shooting captured 3 images in 1.3 seconds; the LCD goes blank during continuous capture, so the optical viewfinder should be used to follow a moving subject. These measurements were made with a fast SanDisk Ultra II 512MB SD memory card installed.
I was pleased with the V50's outdoor results. The autofocus system combined with the Schneider-Kreuznach zoom lens produced consistently sharp images, the metering system delivered well-exposed, richly saturated results, and the white balance system reproduced the original colors in nearly every lighting condition. The 38-114mm (35mm equivalent) zoom range is typical for a camera in this class, offering enough field of view at wide angle for landscapes, and enough magnification at telephoto to bring your subjects closer. The lens produced quite noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, diminishing to near zero at the telephoto end of the zoom range. If you need more versatility, Samsung offers two optional conversion lenses that attach to the V50 via the SLA-3537 Lens Adapter. The SCL-W3755 Wide Conversion Lens provides a 26-80mm zoom range for your scenic shots. The SCL-T3755 multiplies the lens focal length by 1.7 for distant subjects, but produces vignetting at the wide end of the zoom range, limiting its effective zoom range to approximately 120-194mm. You'll have to use the LCD viewfinder with either conversion lens as the optical viewfinder is not coupled to the modified lens focal length and its view is blocked by the lens barrel.
Indoors, the V50 delivered adequate results, limited by the relatively weak flash and the narrow field of view of the lens at full wide angle (38mm). You won't be able to use the Wide Conversion with the V50's built-in flash; the lens barrel blocks the flash and reflects light back to the flash sensor, resulting in underexposure. Your best indoor results will be individual or small group portraits. The V50 does an effective job of squelching its flash at close range, producing good macro shots of small objects. Although equipped with an AF illuminator lamp, the V50's autofocus system frequently failed in normal to dim interior lighting.
The V50 offers features to please the entire family. Beginners will enjoy the results in Auto Mode and the versatile Scene modes will help them capture good images in unusual lighting conditions. Advanced users will be able to exercise their creativity in Manual, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority shooting modes. They'll also enjoy having direct access to exposure controls via the "S" button; exposure compensation, white balance and ISO adjustments are just a touch away. The V50 even offers manual focus, but it doesn't enlarge the LCD viewfinder image to help with that task. Auto Exposure lock and a choice of spot and multi metering round out the controls appreciated by advanced users. The V50's movie mode was useful for capturing the action, but I noticed a slight delay in the audio when recording at 640x480 size and a fair amount of visible image compression.
With its 5-megapixel imager, high quality lens, and host of exposure features, the Samsung Digimax V50 is only an average competitor in the consumer digicam market. It produces good image quality, but suffers a bit from shutter lag, a weak flash, and average low-light autofocus performance. If you need a camera that's versatile enough to be used by everyone in your family, and like the expandability offered by the optional conversion lenses, the V50 offers a fairly good value with a street price of about $400 (as of Aug. 2004.)
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