Samsung PL170 Review

July 8, 2011 | Gavin Stoker | Rating star Rating star Rating star Half rating star


The Samsung PL170 is a new 16 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 PL170 also offers a large 3 inch rear LCD screen, plus there's a 5x, 26-130mm lens, 720p high-definition video recording, Smart Filter with various creative effects, and a clever Smart Auto mode which automatically chooses from 16 different scene settings. The Samsung PL170 is available in black, silver, purple or pink, priced at £179.99 / $229.99.

Ease of Use

Since 2009 Samsung has uniquely pioneered what it terms the 'dual view design' - back and front LCD screens on its digital compacts - and the latest affordable example is to be found in the PL170. Enabling easier self-portraits, or the playing of an animation to mesmerize the kids long enough to snatch a decent portrait, it's one of those glaringly obvious yet inspired ideas. Thus, in being one of three such enabled models for 2011 (the other two being the ST700 and PL120) the response the PL170 immediately prompts is 'why didn't anyone think of this before?'

With a manufacturer's asking price of £179.99, we get a front screen 1.5-inches in size that is noticeably small by current standards, and in that respect is an echo of the similarly teeny backscreens of consumer digital compacts of a decade ago. An 'Easy Self Shot' feature here allows only the front screen to be activated (the back turned off) when taking self-portraits. The rear LCD display is, fortunately, the regulation 3-inches in size in 4:3 aspect ratio and with 230k-dot resolution, the front panel being a low-ish 61k dots only. It really is just for compositional purposes therefore.

Linking mobile phone and camera phone is the PL170's use of the unloved (at least by us) microSD card, the fiddly fingernail sized removable storage media, with a 30MB internal memory to fall back on, good for around five or six Fine resolution shots. There's no option to use the larger and more common regular SD/SDHC/SDXC card, although there was surely space for such a slot. Dimensions are 95.3x57.3x19mm, so just a tad larger than credit card sized. The camera feels a little plastic-y when held in the palm, but not insubstantial at 153.3g without battery and card. Indeed it feels like it could withstand the occasional accidental knock or drop that we're all guilty of.

As with the SH100 model we were reviewing alongside this, the PL170 has a backwards slant to the body, meaning that when gripped in the palm or simply placed on the desktop in front of you the lens is pointing slightly upwards rather than dead-level forwards. Samsung would contend that this makes for a more comfortable and firmer hold, and certainly the way the PL170 sits in the palm, body nudging into the base of the thumb, makes the fact that it doesn't otherwise sport a proper handgrip less of an issue.

Samsung PL170 Samsung PL170
Front Rear

The lens and focal range here is also the same as that of the SH100, namely it offers a optically image stabilized 5x zoom starting out at a wideangle 26mm and reaching 130mm at the telephoto end, quoting 35mm equivalent film terms. At the PL170's heart beats a 16.1-megapixel 1/2.33-inch CCD sensor (a higher pixel count than the SH100), with the offer of 720p HD video recording and manually adjustable light sensitivity stretching up to ISO3200 at full resolution. HDMI and joint AV/USB output port is to be found lurking under a side flap, so in other words all the essentials are here that one might reasonably expect from a sub £200 compact camera.

The front of our black PL170 sample looks fairly conventional, rounded edges disguising what would otherwise be the usual rectangular box. Just left of centre is the lens, folded optical zoom retracted within the body when inactive. Top right of this is a small porthole for the standard self timer/AF assist lamp, mirrored for height on the opposite side of the lens with a narrow lozenge shaped window for the built-in flash. Due to the compact proportions it's possible this could be part obscured by a stray finger when using the flash.

The top of the camera is similarly straightforward, the largest control being the shutter release button, surrounded by a rocker switch with forward facing lip for operating the zoom. This is set into an attractively mirrored chrome strip which continues down one side, as are the adjacent power button and separate front LCD activation button. At the end of the same strip are a built in mono microphone and speaker.

Press the 'power' button and in just under two seconds the camera is ready for action, lens extending from flush to the body to maximum wide angle setting with a low audible whirr and back screen blinking into life a fraction of a second later. With total reliance on the screen for composition and review, we found visibility is adequate as long as you stay out of direct sunlight.

Half press the shutter release button and after a brief pause in which the screen visibly adjusts focus, you're ready to take the shot, AF point/s highlighted in green with a loud beep of confirmation to indicate we're good to go. Pres down fully and without noticeable shutter delay the screen blanks out before very briefly displaying the captured image - an image writing process taking approximately two seconds, which is as swift as we could hope for at full resolution from a pocket point and shoot.

Samsung PL170 Samsung PL170
Top Rear

Top right hand side of the camera back is a small, dime-sized shooting mode wheel - a traditional short cut to key settings that seems to be becoming something of a rarity in these touch screen times. With no dedicated video record button provided on the PL170, this is where we 'dial in' movie functionality, one of the eight presented options, the others being scene and subject recognizing Smart Auto, regular auto and Program modes, plus dual image stabilisation, beauty shot (a Samsung regular) and night shooing modes, and finally a collection of scene modes. By turning the dial to the latter, users have the option of accessing 'Magic Frame' effects, highlighting a subject by blurring the background, along with the usual suspects of landscape, text, sunset, dawn, backlight and beach and snow scenarios. No underwater options or toy camera effects here then.

We found Smart Auto very reliable - as it should be, given that this is the setting 99% of the PL170's happy snapper audience is going to be reaching for - the camera switching to macro mode if pointed at a flower, or landscape mode if directed at a general scene. Thus the Sl170's operation is simplicity itself and shouldn't tax any beginner.

Just below this mode wheel is an equally self explanatory 'menu' button, and beneath this again a four-way command pad with central 'OK' button for effecting any operational or functional changes. Set around this pad are a means of adjusting the display, self timer, switching from standard focus to macro/close up focus, and, finally, calling up the PL170's flash settings.

How expansive the latter selection is obviously depends on which mode you have selected. In Smart Auto for example there is the option to fire the flash automatically or simply deactivate it. Twist the dial to Program mode however and there is an expanded line up of user options including red eye reduction and red eye fix, along with slow sync and forced flash.

The last two buttons, which like the one for menu are quite tiny and require fingernail precision to operate, are playback and 'Fn' (function) buttons, the latter also doubling up as the delete button when in review rather than capture mode. Always useful to have a dedicated delete button rather than having to wade through function screens to alternatively find out how to rid yourself of undesirables. Convenience is the keyword here - an essential asset for any snapshot model. Thus a press of the 'Fn' key calls up a panel on the left hand side of the screen providing access to a toolbar of frequently used functions - similar to 'Quick Menu' on Panasonic point and shoots in that regard.

Samsung PL170 Samsung PL170
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Place the camera in Program mode and from the top working down we have the ability to alter photo size, and JPEG image quality/compression level, moving from Normal to Fine and on to Super Fine. Next up is exposure compensation (+/- 2EV), ISO (stretching from a lower than most ISO80 up to ISO3200), white balance, and even select some digital effects filters. These include the increasingly ubiquitous miniature effect mode, vintage style lens/vignetting effect (corner shading), self explanatory soft focus, two old-style film effects modes, an American comic book-style half tone dot effect, sketch effect, fisheye, defog, classic, retro and negative - a bit more than you might at first expect to find here then.

Next down the toolbar are the ability to switch on face detection, alter the focus area from default centre AF to multi zone or tracking AF, adjust metering from spot to multi or centre weighted, and finally change the drive mode - from single shot capture to continuous 6fps if wanted.

While the left hand side is devoid of any features expect for a pair of screws, the right hand side of the Samsung, if viewed from the rear, betters its SH100 brethren by featuring separate HDMI output for hooking the camera up directly to a flat panel TV, alongside combined standard AV output and USB output under a metal side flap.

The base of the camera meanwhile features an off-centre screw thread for the attachment of a tripod, and to one side a push open cover hiding the joint microSD and battery compartment.

So far, so straightforward then. Which brings us on to image quality. Is this Samsung a pocket rocket or damp squib in that respect? Read on to discover more…

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 16 megapixel SuperFine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 4Mb.

While images at maximum wideangle display a loss of sharpness towards the corners and familiar compact camera bugbears such as pixel fringing between areas of high contrast rear their heads, perhaps the most disappointing thing when it comes to image quality is the softness of photos when shooting towards the telephoto end of the range. Detail simply looks washed out and indistinct, which is a shame, as the PL170 is very easy to use and would otherwise be an ideal suggestion for someone's first digital camera. Close up shots tend to work best, where there is less for the camera to have to work with, and less to befuddle the metering system.

On a more positive note colours are vibrant and flattering as a default, although highlight detail does suffer in bright sunlight and thus we again lose definition. By contrast and like its sibling in the SH100, with all those pixels crammed onto a small-ish sensor the PL170 is no star performer when it comes to switching off the flash and shooting in low light either. Above ISO200 we're getting noise in the shadow areas, with in our opinion ISO400 being as high as you'll want to go if you desire to avoid a mottled appearance to the image. Although ISO800 is usable at a push, avoid ISO1600 and ISO3200 entirely. At ISO1600 too, colour is noticeably draining from the image and this gets more pronounced at ISO3200, the shot looking so soft it's as if it's being viewing through a net curtain.

So, while the Samsung performs its best under blue skies with lots of light around, such conditions give rise to loss of highlight detail and purple pixel fringing. Conversely, if shooting indoors in lower light, noise is a definite issue. Overall then, while shots from the PL170 aren't exactly terrible, there are far better performers out there for a similar price - if, that is, the possible advantages of the dual screen set up isn't crucial (or rather helpful) to your personal needs.


There are 7 ISO settings available on the Samsung PL170. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.

ISO 80 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


ISO 3200 (100% Crop)



Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are soft and ideally benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can also change the in-camera sharpening level.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations

The Samsung PL170 handled chromatic aberrations fairly well during the review, with some purple fringing present around the edges of objects in certain high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Example 1 (100% Crop)

Example 2 (100% Crop)


The Samsung PL170 offers a Macro setting that allows you to focus on a subject that is 5cms away from the camera when the lens is set to wide-angle. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.

Macro Shot

100% Crop


The flash settings on the Samsung PL170 are Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill-in flash, Slow sync, Flash off, and Red eye fix. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (26mm)

Auto - Wide Angle (26mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (130mm)

Auto - Telephoto (130mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, neither the Auto setting or the Red eye fix option caused any red-eye.


Auto (100% Crop)

Red eye fix

Red eye fix (100% Crop)

Night Shot

The Samsung PL170's maximum shutter speed is 8 seconds in the Night scene mode, which is good news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 6 seconds at ISO 80.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Samsung PL170 camera, which were all taken using the 16 megapixel SuperFine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample video from the Samsung PL170 camera at the highest quality setting of 1280x720 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 44 second movie is 50.8Mb in size.

Product Images

Samsung PL170

Front of the Camera

Samsung PL170

Front of the Camera / Lens Extended

Samsung PL170

Isometric View

Samsung PL170

Isometric View

Samsung PL170

Rear of the Camera

Samsung PL170

Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed

Samsung PL170

Top of the Camera

Samsung PL170

Bottom of the Camera

Samsung PL170

Side of the Camera


Samsung PL170

Side of the Camera

Samsung PL170

Rear of the Camera

Samsung PL170

Memory Card Slot

Samsung PL170

Battery Compartment


The Samsung PL170's back and front LCD screen set up holds obvious appeal for both families with restless children and the narcissists out there. Take away that unique facility and you have a rather ordinary snapshot camera underneath, which to give this a positive spin at least makes for ease for use. Retrieving and replacing the fiddly microSD card is a pain however, and loses the PL170 half a star from our rating.

Yes, the PL170 on the face of it seems fair value for money and taking a picture with it is relatively easy. However, as we've reported image quality is generally a little on the soft side if attempting anything other than a close up at the camera's widest setting, and the less said about its performance in low light the better. This loses the camera an additional star. So it's perhaps not as great value as it first appears, and one can indeed over-egg the pudding, or rather here the sensor, with too many pixels.

Raising the PL170 slightly in our estimation are the inclusion of some fun digital effects filters, the fact that all the essentials are here, including HDMI output, and the likelihood most of the camera's intended point-and-shoot audience may well not be scrutinising the images that closely and be satisfied with what they're getting. Not terrible but not Samsung's finest hour either.

3.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4
Features 3
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 3
Value for money 4

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Samsung PL170 from around the web. »

Samsung released the PL170 in January 2011 adding to their range of compact cameras with screens on both the front and the rear of the camera. The camera is available in black, silver, purple and pink from around £145.
Read the full review »



Usage note
(1) OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation), DIS (Digital Image Stabilisation)
(2) Slide show: Slide show with Effect & Music - Smart Album Category: Type, Date, Colour, Week, Face (External Memory card is needed for Sorting the photos by Face)
(3) Smart Movie: Landscape, BlueSky, NaturalGreen, Sunset Front LCD (hot Key): Self Movie, Children Animation Movie.
(4) Remarks: HDMI function is available when connected through Type D HDMI Cable (optional).
(5) Included battery may vary depending on sales region.

Image sensor Type 1/2.3″ (Approx. 7.76mm) CCD
Effective Pixel Approx. 16.1 Mega pixel
Total Pixel Approx. 16.4 Mega pixel
Lens Focal Length Samsung 5x Zoom Lens f = 4.7 ~ 23.5mm (35mm film equivalent: 26 ~ 130mm)
F No. F3.3(W) ~ F5.9(T)
Digital Zoom Still Image mode: 1.0x ~ 5.0x Play mode: 1.0x ~ 13.5x (depends on image size) Extra Optical Zoom: Max 2.0x
Image Stabilization   Dual IS (OIS + DIS) (1)
Display Type TFT LCD
Recording Main Display: 3.0" (7.6cm) QVGA (230K) Front Display: 1.5" (3.8cm) 61K TFT LCD
Focusing Type TTL auto focus (Multi AF, Centre AF, Face Detection AF, Object Tracking AF, Smart Face Recognition AF)
Range Normal: 80cm ~ infinity, 150cm ~ Infinity (Tele) Macro: 5cm ~ 80cm (Wide), 100cm ~ 150cm (Tele) Auto Macro: 5cm ~ Infinity (Wide), 100cm ~ Infinity (Tele)
Shutter Speed   Auto: 1/8 ~ 1/2000 sec., Program: 1 ~ 1/2000 sec., Night: 8 ~ 1/2000 sec., Fireworks: 2 sec.
Exposure Control Program AE
Metering Multi, Spot, Centre Weighted, Face Detection AE
Compensation ± 2EV (1/3EV steps)
ISO Equivalent Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
Flash Modes Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill-in flash, Slow sync, Flash off, Red eye fix
Range Wide: 0.2m ~ 3.5m, Tele: 0.5m ~ 2.0m, (ISO AUTO)
Recharging Time Approx. 4 sec.
Sharpness   Soft+, Soft, Normal, Vivid, Vivid+
White Balance   Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent_H, Fluorescent_L, Tungsten, Custom
Still Image Shooting • Mode Dial: Smart Auto, Auto, Program, Dual IS, Beauty shot, Night, Scene, Smart Movie *Front LCD (Hot Key) - Easy Self Shot: Front LCD (hot Key): Front Mode Self Shot Mode Long Key Self Shot *Front Mode: Normal, Self Shot,Children mode, Jump shot *Front Mode Setting Tap: Smile on / off, Children Smile on / off, Children Sound, Front Display demo *Smart Auto: Portrait, Night Portrait, Backlight Portrait, Night, Backlight, Landscape, White, NaturalGreen, BlueSky, Sunset, Macro, Macro Text, Macro Colour, Tripod, Action, Fireworks *Scene: Magic Frame, Object Highlight, Landscape, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Back Light, Beach&Snow • Drive: Single, Continuous, AEB, Motion Capture • Self Timer: Self-timer: 2 sec., 10 sec., Double (10 sec., 2 sec.) (Front LCD will be turned on when selecting Self timer)
Effect • Smart Filter2.0: Miniature, Vignetting, Soft Focus, Old Film 1, Old Film 2, Half Tone Dot, Sketch, Fish Eye, Defog, Classic, Retro, Negative, Custom RGB • Image Adjust : Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation
Edit • Image Edit: Resize, Rotate, Trimming • Smart Filter2.0: Miniature, Vignetting, Soft Focus, Old Film 1, Old Film 2, Half Tone Dot, Sketch, Fish Eye, Defog, Classic, Retro, Negative, Custom RGB • Image Adjust: Face Retouch, Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Red Eye Fix, ACB,Add Noise
Image Play   • Single image, Thumbnails,Smart Album, Advanced Slide show, Movie Clip (2)
Voice Recording   Voice Recording (max. 10 hours) Voice Memo in Still Image (max. 10 sec.)
Date Imprinting   Date&Time, Date, Off (user selectable)
Movie Clip Recording With Audio or without Audio - Sound Alive On / Sound Alive Off / Mute ('Sound Alive On' is default) Max Recording time: 20min Size: 1280 x 720 (30 / 15fps) High Quality, 1280 x 720(30 / 15fps) Standard Quality, 640 x 480 (30 / 15fps) , 320 x 240 (30 / 15 fps) Zoom: Optical 5x (3)
Effect • Smart Filter2.0: Palette Effect 1, Palette Effect 2, Palette Effect 3, Palette Effect 4, Half Tone Dot, Miniature, Vignetting, Sketch, Fish Eye, Defog, Classic, Retro, Negative, Custom RGB
Edit Pause during recording, Still Image Capture, Time Trimming
Storage Media Internal Memory: Approx. 27MB External Memory (Optional): Micro SD Card(up to 2GB guaranteed) Micro SDHC (up to 8GB guaranteed)
File format Still Image: JPEG (DCF), EXIF 2.21, DPOF 1.1, PictBridge 1.0 Movie Clip: H.264 (MPEG4.AVC) Audio: AAC
Image Size 16M : 4608 x 3456, 14MP : 4608 x 3072, 12MW: 4608 x 2592, 10 M: 3648 x 2736, 5M: 2592 x 1944, 3M: 1984 x1488, 2MW: 1920 x 1080, 1M: 1024 x 768
Interface Digital Output Connector USB 2.0
Audio Microphone: Mono Internal Speaker: Mono
Video Output AV: NTSC, PAL (user selectable) SCC-AV20 HDMI 1.4: NTSC, PAL (user selectable) (4)
DC Power Input 4.2V 20Pin
Power Supply   Rechargeable battery: BP70A Adaptor: SAC-48, CB20U05A Connector Type: 20pin (5)
Physical Specification Dimensions (WxHxD) 95.3 x 57.3 x 19mm
Weight 153.3g (w / o Memory, battery)
Operating Temperature 0 ~ 40 °C
Operating Humidity 5 ~ 85%
Software   Intelli Studio
Special Feature   • 16.1 Mega-pixel • 5x 26mm Slim Optical Zoom Lens • 3.0 ”Main Display (230K), 1.5" Front Display (61K) • Dual Image Stabilisation: Optical IS + Digital IS • Front Display: Self Shot (Still&Movie), Children mode (Still&Movie), Jump shot, Easy Self Shot (Still), Portrait Highlight (Still) (User can change the flash file of children mode by downloading new file from Samsung Website or making with Intelli Studio) • Self Timer(Front LCD On: 2 sec., 10 sec., Double (10 sec., 2 sec.) • Smart Face Recognition (Register 8 people manullaly and 20 people automatically / My Star: 8 people who are registered manually ) - Face recognition AF, Face List, My Star (Register manually),Smart Album (Face) • Smart Auto , Smart Movie • Smart Album (Smart Album Category: Type, Date, Colour, Week, Face) • Perfect Portrait System (Face Detection, Smie shot, Blink Detection, Smart Face Recognition, Beauty shot, Self Portrait- Front LCD) • Beauty Shot (1,2,3Steps) • Object Tracking AF • High Definition Movie Recording: - 720p Resolution @30fps / H.264 Movie File • HDMI CEC • Multi Slide Show
System Requirement in general For Windows Intel Pentium 4, 3.2GHz or later / AMD Athelon 64FX, 2.6GHz or later Minimum 512MB RAM (1GB) Windows XP / VISTA / 7 250 MB (Over 1GB recommanded) CD-ROM Drive USB 2.0 Microsoft 9.0c or later Over 1024 x 768 pixels, 16 bit colour monitor or later (1280 x 1024 pixels, 32 bit colour recommanded) Over 64MB video card (nVIDIA Geforce 7600GT or later / ATI x1600 series or later)
For Macintosh Power Mac G3 or later Mac OS 10.4 or higher Minimum 256MB RAM 110MB of available hard-disk space USB port CD-ROM drive

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