Samsung PL150 Review
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The Samsung PL150 (also known as the TL210) is a new 12 megapixel point and shoot camera with a twist - it has a second 1.5 inch LCD screen on the front which makes it much easier to take self-portrait pictures and videos. As part of this DualView system the PL150 also offers a large 3 inch rear LCD screen, plus there's a 5x, 27-135mm lens, 720p high-definition video recording, and a clever Smart Auto mode which automatically chooses from 16 different scene settings. The Samsung PL150 / TL210 is available in black with red or blue highlights, priced at £179.99 / $229.99.
Ease of Use
Constructed out of robust plastic with a glossy black finish and complemented by subtle red detailing, the Samsung PL150 is a very stylish and slim compact camera, especially considering its budget price-tag. The 5x optical lens extends to provide a 27-135mm focal length, versatile enough for anything from wide-angle landscapes to candid head and shoulder portraits, although there are other similarly-sized models that offer a bigger zoom.
The lens dominates proceedings at the front of the PL150, taking up almost the full height of the face plate, with the built-in flash bulb shifted over to the left out of harm's way. On the right of the lens is a small porthole-style window for the AF assist/self timer lamp. There's no hand-grip at all on the glossy front of the PL150, just a small outward curve, which makes the camera more difficult to hold steady when shooting handheld at the extremities of the zoom.
Also positioned on the front of the camera is the headline-grabbing secondary LCD screen, which is 1.5 inches in size. Virtually un-noticeable when not in use, this provides an intuitive way of taking better self-portraits, either with your arm out-stretched holding the camera or mounted on a tripod. Being able to see a preview makes it easy to tell if you're going to cut the top of your head off, and the large self-timer countdown (if that feature is activated) also helps in the timing of that award-winning smile. Helping you to take better self-portraits is the clever Tilt-back body, which angles the camera slightly upwards when its put on a flat surface.
Samsung's Smart Face Recognition technology automatically adjusts the camera's focus and exposure for up to 20 faces, and it can even recognise the most photographed faces in your photos and focus on them. Smart Face Recognition also lets you quickly search for specific people in your photo album without having to browse through every single photo.
Samsung have also added a range of "fun" effects via the special Children scene mode, aimed at attracting children's attention so that they look towards the camera, although there's only a handful of them, so they may get bored if over-used. A new and very welcome addition is the ability to preview video as well as still images, something that was mysteriously lacking from the previous DualView generation.
Looking down on the PL150's top plate we find 5 controls. Starting at the left when viewed from the rear, there are holes for the microphone, the F.LCD button which as the name suggests turns the front LCD of and off, and a Power button that's a little too small and recessed for easy operation. Encircling the tactile shutter button is a rocker switch for operating the zoom. Controlled by a protruding lip that falls naturally under the forefinger, the zoom takes around three seconds to travel from maximum wide angle to full telephoto - which is about par for the course for its focal range. We did find that its transitions are sound-tracked by a low mechanical blur, but said sound is low enough to avoid being off-putting.
Once you've zoomed in and got your composition how you want, with a half press of the shutter button the Samsung PL150 is commendably swift to determine focus and exposure, the AF point highlighted in green and an operational 'beep' confirming you're good to go on and take the shot. With little noticeable shutter lag, at highest resolution setting an image is committed to memory in just under two seconds, the screen blanking out briefly, which isn't bad at all.
The rear of the PL150 is dominated by the large 3-inch LCD screen, which in the absence of an optical viewfinder is the only way of composing your images, with a vertical strip of controls running from top to bottom at its right. LCD visibility is adequate indoors and out, though you inevitably find yourself cupping a hand or angling the camera for a better view with the latter.
To the right of the LCD, and 'sunk' slightly into the bodywork, is a familiar bottle top style dial for the shooting modes. This feels firm to the touch and well implemented, in that the user can't accidentally slip from one setting to the other. Ranged around the dial are the expected Auto and Program settings, plus Samsung's own 'Smart Auto' mode. As it sounds, this is the manufacturer's equivalent of the intelligent auto modes on competitors from Panasonic (its Lumix range), Sony (the latest T-series Cyber-shots) and Canon (Digital IXUS family). Namely you point the PL150 at a scene or subject that hopefully the camera recognizes, automatically adjusting its settings to deliver optimum results. This means that it's not necessary for the user to manually delve into scene modes to call up the likes of 'landscape' or 'flower'; the PL150's operation is merely a case of point and shoot.
Incidentally, as you turn the shooting dial, a virtual version which the same eight settings rotates in tandem on screen, highlighting and explaining each one as you select it. Also found on the dial are a 'Dual IS' mode - which offers both optical image stabilization and the ISO boosting digital variety. In terms of light sensitivity the Samsung PL150 offers a very respectable range, stretching from ISO 80 up to ISO 3200.
|Front||Secondary LCD Screen|
Continuing around the dial we discover Samsung's 'beauty shot' mode, useful for both acne-d adolescents and those of us who have over indulged by automatically retouching out spots and blemishes. Spotlighting the PL150's intended audience as the family, Samsung clearly wants its users to have to spend as little time post-processing images as possible - if any. Adjacent to beauty mode is a dedicated scene mode. When selected this mode automatically displays its settings as a horizontal row of icons. Along with 'Night', 'Portait', 'Children' and 'Landscape' we get 'text', 'sunset', 'dawn' and 'backlight', with 12 choices in total.
The adjacent setting on the dial is for video mode. Here users get the opportunity to either shoot High Definition video clips in the economical H.264 format at top 720p resolution, a less memory hungry 640x480 pixels, or 320x240 pixels; choice dependant on intended use (whether playing back on an HDTV or merely posting on the Internet). Maximum frame rate at 1280x720 resolution is 30fps, with a reduced 15fps rate also selectable with a press of the button marked 'Fn' (or 'Function') on the camera back. Should users however plump for the very lowest picture quality, a higher frame rate of 60fps is selectable. Video can be paused mid-record and recording then re-started with a press of the OK button, allowing the user to perform rudimentary 'editing' as they shoot. The full extent of the 5x optical zoom is also accessible when shooting movies.
The Menu button provides a range of selectable options, the brevity or otherwise of which is dependant on the particular mode the user is in. Let's assume, for example, we're shooting in program mode. With menu selected an icon illustrated top bar provides drop down access to fine tuning the recording options. These include the ability to tweak operational sounds, LCD display, plus access to a setting menu, enabling memory to formatted or previously selected functions reset.
Directly underneath the Menu button is a four-way directional control pad with an OK button at its centre. This will be familiar to just about anyone who has ever used a digital compact before. Ranged around the four points are options for toggling the Display modes to show a nine zone compositional grid, all shooting information or just the very basics (i.e simply the number of shots remaining), self-timer modes, macro and focus modes, and the various flash settings.
Below the control pad is a self-explanatory Playback button and the useful Function button, which handily doubles up as a delete button in playback mode. As expected the amount of information and options accessed via a press of 'Fn' varies dependant on which shooting mode is selected. For example in regular auto mode the user merely has the ability to adjust image size and resolution. Twist the dial around the program mode however and there's the ability to swap focus area, metering modes, change from single shot to continuous capture, choose from the range of ISO settings, adjust white balance or turn the ubiquitous face detection mode on or off. Like its rivals, Samsung also allows user access to blink detection and smile shot in this mode.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
There are no controls on the left hand side of the PL150 (if viewing from the rear). On the right is a very small camera strap eyelet on the right side, located below an included mini-HDMI port for hooking the camera up to an HDTV. Increasingly common for DSLRs that also shoot movies, it's still a comparative rarity to find such on a digital compact, even if it does shoot HD video. The required HDMI cable is an optional extra though, so bear in mind if you're on a budget.
Alongside the HDMI connection is a proprietary connector for Samsung's power and sync cable - the WB600 is recharged with the battery in-camera, either from an electrical socket or or alternatively straight from a USB port connected to your computer, rather than via an external recharger, which means that annoyingly you can't use the camera with a second battery whilst charging the first. Note that there is no port for USB and AV out. Also in the box is a quick-start guide as a hard copy, the full manual on CD ROM, plus a wrist strap.
On the bottom of the PL150 is a plastic centrally-positioned screw thread for attaching a tripod and alongside that a sliding lockable cover for protecting the compartment that jointly houses the removable SD Micro media plus the provided battery. Battery life is good for approximately 200 shots from a full charge, but that's only if you don't use the secondary LCD screen, which then reduces it to less than 150 shots - you'll definitely need a second battery for day-trips.
Equally annoying is the tiny SD Micro format, which makes sense in Samsung's extensive range of mobile phones, but not in a larger camera. It's much too easy to lose in a pocket or bag, requires investment in yet another format, doesn't offer as much capacity or speed as SD / SDHC, and also needs the supplied adapter to be used in most external memory card readers. There's also 55Mb of built-in storage, enough for a dozen photos.