Samsung PL70 Review
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The Samsung PL70 (also known as the SL720) is a 12 megapixel compact camera with a wide-angle 5x, 28-120mm zoom lens. The largely point-and-shoot PL70 also features a large 3 inch LCD screen, optical image stabilisation, ISO 3200, Smart Auto Mode, Blink and Smile Detection, and Samsung's Perfect Portrait System which includes a Beauty Shot mode. For keen movie-makers, there's a 720p HD movie capture with Pause and Re-record functionality and HDMi connectivity. Available in red, pink, black and silver, the Samsung PL70 / SL720 costs £199 / $229.99.
Ease of Use
Constructed out of robust plastic with a metallic finish and shiny silver detailing, the Samsung PL70 is a fairly stylish if somewhat chunky compact camera. This is mainly due to its 5x optical zoom lens, which extends to provide a 28-140mm focal length, versatile enough for anything from landscapes to candid head and shoulder portraits. The PL70 does have a few similarly-sized rivals that provide an even bigger zoom range though, most notably the Panasonic TZ series.
Although it hasn't got an 'HD' suffix in the model name, as indicated in our introduction the Samsung PL70 nevertheless offers High Definition video clips, though at 1280x720 pixels rather than the Full HD 1920x1080. In what Samsung is claiming as a first for digital compacts in its class, these can be paused mid-recording then re-started. The user can therefore perform rudimentary 'editing' as they shoot, a clever idea that hasn't yet been picked-up by other manufacturers. Fortunately the full extent of the optical zoom is also accessible when shooting movies.
As expected, the large lens dominates proceedings at the front of the PL70. As the lens takes up the full height of the face plate, the built-in flash bulb is 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. Unusually for a pocket compact, running top to bottom at the left hand side of the front plate (if viewed lens on) is a narrow plastic strip with leather effect detailing. This strip provides some purchase for the fingers when gripping the camera, as does the fact that the same side of the PL70 curves outward slightly in effect forming a rudimentary grip. This makes the camera more comfortable to hold, and steadier too when shooting handheld at the extremities of the zoom.
Looking down on the camera's top plate we find 5 controls set into a wide mirrored strip that lends the Samsung PL70 a modicum of style. Starting at the left when veiwed from the rear, there are holes for the microphone and built-in speaker, acting as an accompaniment to video clips, a small Power button and a large tactile shutter button.
The rear of the PL70 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. Disappointingly the screen has an average resolution of 230k dots - we've been rather spoiled by some recent competitiors with higher-resolution screens. That said, we didn't have too many problems viewing the PL70's screen in all but the brightest sunlight conditions.
The PL70 has a rather plasticky but responsive 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 pretty much par for the course for its focal range. We did find on occasion that said zoom took a moment or two to 'wake up' - and 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 PL70 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.
Underneath the zoom lever is a familiar bottle-top style dial which provides quick access to 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 PL70 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 PL70's operation is merely a case of point and shoot.
Incidentally, as you turn the shooting dial, a virtual version with 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 WB550 offers a very respectable range, stretching from ISO 80 up to ISO 3200. We'll of course be examining how well it does at its higher settings in the 'Image Quality' section of our review.
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 PL70'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 the beauty mode is a dedicated scene mode, with the various settings helpfully displayed on the LCD screen as icons with accompanying explanatory text. Along with 'Night', 'Portait', 'Children' and 'Landscape' we get 'Text', 'Sunset', 'Dawn' and 'Backlight', with 12 choices in all.
The adjacent setting on the dial is for video mode. Here users get the opportunity to either shoot at top 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 faster frame rate of 60fps is selectable.
Directly underneath the shooting dial is a small Menu button, which 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. An icon illustrated vertical list provides access to four menus - Functions, Sound, Display and Settings. 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.
Underneath the shooting dial 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. It provides a means of selecting flash modes, self timer options, macro mode or changing the on-screen display to show a nine zone compositional grid, all shooting information or just the very basics (i.e simply the number of shots remaining).
A thumb press of the pad on the setting for macro mode when shooting video meanwhile allows the user to pause and play/resume the recording - the feature which Samsung is highlighting as one of the PL70's unique ones. It works, though whether most of us would actually need/use it is a moot point.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
Below the control pad are two buttons. The obvious Play button also doubles up as a means of earmarking selected images for direct printing. The Function button allows quick access to some of the camera's key settings. 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 change the EV, choose metering modes, change from single shot to continuous capture, choose from the range of ISO settings, adjust white balance, set the photo style 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. The Function button also handily doubles up as a delete button in playback mode.
There are no controls on the left hand side of the PL70 (if viewing from the rear), and just a small camera strap eyelet on the right side. On the bottom we find an included 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. Like the aforementioned remote control, the required HDMI cable is an optional extra though, so bear in mind if you're on a budget. The HDMI port also doubles up as the means of re-charging the camera, with the battery left in the camera itself, either from an electrical socket or or alternatively straight from a USB port connected to your computer. This is fine if you only have one battery, but obviously ties the camera up, so there's little point in buying a spare. Also in the box is a quick-start guide as a hard copy, the full manual on CD ROM, plus a wrist strap.
Completing the bottom of the camera is a screw thread for attaching a tripod and alongside that a sliding cover for protecting the compartment that jointly houses removable SD or SDHC media plus the provided battery. Battery life is good for approximately 280 shots from a full charge - adequate if not incredible.
Use of the Samsung PL70 is fairly intuitive, with nothing here to fox or confuse the camera's core target audience of the less experienced user.