Samsung L210 Review

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Samsung L210

Steve's Conclusion

Samsung's L210 is one of the latest ultra-compact models they have to offer for 2008. Sporting a 10-megapixel imaging sensor, 3x optical zoom, Dual IS system, face detection technology, and SVGA sized (800x592) MPEG-4 movies, the L210 offers some appealing features. On top of that, this camera can be used by just about anyone in your household or office. Those with less experience can choose full Auto or one of the several (13 in total) pre-programmed exposure modes, while novice users will appreciate the more advanced options that are offered in the Program and Manual modes.

At about the size of a deck of playing cards, the L210 is compact enough to be tucked away in a small pants pocket or purse, but still large enough to fit comfortably in your hands. While most of the camera controls are easy to access (Zoom mechanism, Mode dial, 4-way controller, etc.), the Effects, Fn (Function), Playback, and OIS buttons are a bit small. The metal body gives it a sturdy feel in your hands, and ensures that the camera should stand up to an active users lifestyle (just be careful with the LCD). Like some of the past Samsung models we have seen, the L210 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 2.5-inch LCD worked well in most lighting conditions. This display features 230K pixels of resolution, which offered a nice sharp picture. The surface is a little reflective, so there were times outdoors where it was difficult to "clearly" see the subject. When indoors (or any other dim lighting), the LCD does gains up nicely to help you see the subject.

The L210 performed well during our performance tests. From start up to first image captured, was 2.4 seconds. When pre-focused the shutter lag was just 1/10 of a second and only 1/3 - 1/4 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 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 6 full size images in 6 seconds. While this is faster than single drive mode, it's less than 1fps; lacking 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 4.6 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 Sandisk Extreme III 1GB SD memory card, quality/size set at 10M 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 L210 offers a standard 3x optical zoom, which covers an equivalent range of 34mm to 102mm. This focal range will allow you to capture some small group portraits and decent landscapes at the wide angle end. The telephoto capabilities are best used for framing your subject, like close-up portraits or macro shots. Just don't expect to bring an object off in the distance up close. There's also a digital zoom feature that will extend this range, however we recommend not using it unless absolutely necessary as image quality suffers. I noticed moderate barrel distortion on the wide end as well as some edge softness throughout the zoom range.

Image quality was good for a 10-megapixel camera in this category. Many of our outdoor photos showed good exposure, but we did have several shots that seemed a bit overexposed. You can see what I mean by looking at our canon example on the samples page. Colors are not too vivid, offering a more natural look. If you're one who likes to "tweak" settings, there are several color options available under the "E"ffects menu. When using Manual or Program mode, there's also adjustments for sharpness, saturation, and contrast. High ISO capabilities are something you see on almost all cameras these days. On consumer point-n-shoot models, there are two reasons for this. One is to raise shutter speeds to help reduce camera shake, and the other is to increase the flash range. Due to the small image sensor used, these cameras see much more noise in their photographs as the sensitivity in raised; when compared to a dSLR. I was actually surprised at who well the L210 handles noise at high ISOs. The in-camera noise reduction worked well, at the cost of detail. I found ISO 400 looked very good, and even 800 seems to be noise free when viewing at say 25% (you can see the detail loss from the heavy NR at 100%). I feel that at ISO 800, you could probably still produce some nice 8x10-inch prints. When shooting at 1600, for some reason the White balance changed, producing images that were a bit warm. There's also a very noticeable decrease in detail, even when viewing an image fullscreen (about 25-27% depending the size of your monitor). But, these images are still usable for 4x6-inch prints. Overall, the L210 offers close to the best high ISO performance I have seen, even from digicams costing quite a bit more.

Portrait mode produced great results. Samsung claims the flash can cover up to 15 feet at wide angle (ISO Auto). I found the flash had plenty of power for indoor portrait photography in our home. Shooting in mid-sized rooms, the flash helped produced pleasing exposures. We used both Program mode with Face Detection AF on, as well as Portrait mode. Both captured nice images with sharp facial details and accurate skin tones. The Face Detection system worked very well, finding an locking onto my subjects faces as soon as they appeared in the frame. It also had no problems with small children. Red-eye was common during our testing, however a quick switch to the Red-eye reduction or Red-eye correct flash modes took care of that. You can see an example of a portrait shot with and without Red-eye reduction on our samples page. The only issue I found with the flash was when using forced on mode. It was too intense and mostly blew out the image, especially when shooting macro shots. When I switched the camera back to the Auto flash mode the flash output was controlled nicely.

The L210's movie mode offers not only the standard 640x480 and 320x240 resolutions (15 or 30fps), but also includes an 800x592 (SVGA) resolution with a fixed frame rate of 20fps. Using the SVGA mode, I was able to capture pleasing video with crisp sound. I did notice a bit of compression artifacts though.

Power is supplied by a 3.7V 1050mAh proprietary battery pack. I had no problems capturing all of our samples (about 100 still images and several short videos) 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 L210 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 has created a nice contender for the affordable ultra-compact category. This model has the ability to capture beautiful photos, whether indoors our out. Thanks to the below average high ISO noise, you can actually be confident that you'll capture usable photos when shooting at ISO 400 and above. The only issues we saw were with the flash output, and the small size of several of the camera controls on the back. That said, we feel the Samsung L210 will make a great choice for those in the market for a camera that can be tucked into the smallest of pockets, yet can still capture nice photos. With a street price of US$200 or less, the L210 offers great "bang for your buck".

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