Samsung PL90 Review

December 1, 2010 | Gavin Stoker | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star


The Samsung PL90 is the first ever digital camera to feature a built-in USB connector, which provides quick, convenient USB data transfer to any computer without having to carry extra cables. The 12.2 megapixel Samsung PL90 also features a 4x, 28-112mm zoom lens with Digital Image Stabilization, 2.7 inch LCD screen, 640x480 VGA movies, ISO 80-3200, Samsung's Smart Auto (Still & Movie) technology, Perfect Portrait System, and Smart Album feature. The Samsung PL90 is available for $149.99 / £129.99.

Ease of Use

Inspired by the success of the Flip Video, in the arena of the digital pocket cam (pocket camcorder), devices with flip out USB connector arms that allow their users to hook up directly to a PC for charging the internal battery - as well as downloading the contents of the built-in drives - are commonplace. In fact the feature is practically seen as a must.

To the best of our knowledge, Samsung's PL90 is the first instance of such an integral USB connection appearing on a digital stills camera. Here the 'arm' is tucked in unobtrusively next to the shared compartment for battery and - ugh - microSD card at the base. Thus almost uniquely equipped the PL90 bobs momentarily above the normally indistinguishable flotsam and jetsam at the lower end of the snapshot camera market. We had the sophisticated looking matt black version in for review. As is often the way, only a quick start manual is provided out of the box with the full manual on CD.

Whilst we do also get a short USB extension lead that connects to a USB port within a mains plug for alternatively charging the battery in-camera, the idea is to do away with all that messy cabling that unfurls and spills out of camera boxes every time we open them. Or alternatively snakes around our desktops getting in the way. Also, if you carry a laptop with you at all times, you have a power source for the camera right there when it's needed.

The downside is that, because you always need to charge the battery in camera, even if buying a spare you're no better off. The camera will still be tied up each time the battery needs charging.

Funky connection aside, the rest of the PL90's headline specification appears fairly standard for its £130 UK asking price. Here that means a 12.2 effective megapixels still resolution, wide angle 4x optical zoom (28-112mm in 35mm terms), 640x480 pixels video (a slight disappointment) at 30 frames per second or 15fps, plus a 2.7-inch, 230k dot 'intelligent' LCD screen adorning the rear. This is flanked by a basic yet functional array of buttons that are very similar in layout to direct rivals in this price bracket. We're talking the Olympus FE-4050 and FE-5050, Pentax Optio M900 and Nikon Coolpix S5100 to name a few.

Like those cameras the SL90 is barely larger than a credit card, and with slender proportions of 97.8x157x17.9mm slips as easily into the pocket of a pair of jeans as it will a jacket or handbag, weighing just 122g without battery and card. The build quality is a match for the Nikon S5100 too, and like that model it's better than expected at this price point courtesy of more obvious metal details than plastic ones.

Very still much a budget friendly point and shoot snapper however, the PL90 is something to pull out and be up and shooting with quickly should the photo opportunity present itself. Thus it's no surprise to find Samsung again rolling out its take on intelligent auto shooting in the aptly named Smart Auto, which like its competitors' systems recognizes common scenes and subjects and switches settings automatically to deliver optimal results. Unlike some however this works whether shooting stills or shooting video.

Samsung PL90 Samsung PL90
Front Rear

We also get the facial flaw reducing Beauty Shot function common to the Samsung range, plus the ubiquitous Face Detection that can here detect up to 12 faces in any given frame. Smile and Blink Detection are natural extensions of this, found within the same user menu. At the playback stage the PL90 also has a Smart Album feature, allowing users to search for pictures not just by the usual date and time, but, esoterically, also by colour.

From the front then the Samsung PL90 appears much the same as any other snapshoot camera, the standard boxy oblong with lens ranged to one side and dominating proceedings, window AF assist/self timer lamp situated top left, next to which is a lozenge shaped integral flash. As seems par for the course at this lower end of the market, there's no handgrip of any description featured on the PL90.

The lug for attaching a wrist strap curves slightly backwards at the rear, only very marginally preventing your thumb from slipping and sliding around as you hold the camera in your right hand. There's nothing at all for the fingers to get a purchase on at the front, but at least the flash, in being inset by about an inch, avoids the usual problem of fingers partially obscuring it.

A mono microphone is tucked into the side of the camera to the left of the lens, and dead centre on the same side is a speaker. Over at the opposite end of the camera we find the aforementioned curving lug for the strap plus a plastic flap hiding a single AV output port. There's no HDMI connectivity option here - what do you expect for the price? - and since  the USB arm is located at the base, this connection feels a little isolated and so easily overlooked.

The top of the camera meanwhile features three controls set into a snazzy, mirrored chrome strip - or four if you count the lever for operating the zoom that encircles the shutter release button. Both are sloped slightly forward, a lip at the front of the lever falling under the pad of your forefinger, so you can locate it 'blind' when attention is otherwise taken up by whatever's on the LCD screen. The latter presents the standard 4:3 aspect ratio.

Next to these top strip controls is a lozenge shaped power button, slightly inset to prevent accidental activation when fetching the camera in and out of a pocket. Next to this is a dedicated button for, more unusually for the Samsung family, the camera's Smart Auto mode; its inclusion reminds us of the 'iA' mode buttons that have crept into the Panasonic range.

Press the power button and Samsung's new PL90 readies itself for the first shot in around a second. That's fast; its rear screen bursting into life and small and stubby lens extending to maximum wideangle setting. This movement is accompanied by an audible buzz of mechanics.

Samsung PL90 Samsung PL90
Front USB Connector

A half press of the shutter release button and focus and exposure is determined after the briefest of pauses, AF point/s highlighted in green accompanied by a bright beep of affirmation that the shot can be taken. Alternatively the central AF point glows red if you're too close to the subject and the camera is struggling.

The compositional screen is bright and clear, whilst a nudge of the zoom lever prompts the ST90 to travel through the entirety of its range in around two seconds. We did however occasionally find the camera got 'stuck' at extreme wideangle or maximum telephoto setting and took a second or two to 'wake up' again and get going. Take a shot and a full resolution image is committed to memory in another second or so, the screen freezing from the briefest of moments before return to the live relay. Again, this is a pleasingly swift response from this outwardly modest snapper.

As seems to be increasingly the case with the latest generation of point and shoots, the back plate of the camera features a mode button as its toppermost control rather than the traditional wheel or dial. Press this and you get half a virtual wheel appearing on screen, the options here being, from the top, Smart Auto, Program mode, Digital Image Stabilisation, Scene and Movie modes. The Scene mode features 13 options, and it's here one will find the Beauty mode along with the typical portrait, landscape and night shooting options - here displayed as a vertical list at the right hand side of the screen alongside the shooting mode options on the left.

There's no separate red record button for the movie mode however, so recording begins and ends with a conventional press of the camera's top plate shutter release button. Despite a low buzz as the zoom adjusts - your footage momentarily going in and out of focus as the camera adjusts too - happily the optical zoom can be used when shooting video. Should you wish to carry out self-editing as you're filming, Samsung has also included the option to pause live video recording, here neatly implemented with a press of the 'OK' button at the centre of a familiar control pad on the ST90's back. Useful for when the kids or pets stop doing something cute just as you've started recording.

Beneath 'mode' is a self-explanatory menu button, a press of which brings up options pertaining to whichever shooting mode has been selected at the previous stage. For example in Program we get the chance to adjust photo size (12MP down to 1MP, including 10MP in 3:2 ratio and 9MP at 16:9) plus quality (Super Fine, Fine or Normal compression levels), as well as adjust exposure compensation  (+/- 2EV) and select the white balance and ISO options - here ranging from ISO80 to ISO3200; again not a bad range given the camera's modest price and status. There's even a message warning less experienced users that 'noise may increase' when the photographer alights on ISO800 or above - what's less obvious from the camera manual and settings is that resolution drops to three megapixels at ISO3200. Face detection (with smile and blink detection options) can also be activated here, as can metering and focus area options (centre AF, multi point or AF tracking) be changed.

Rather more interestingly perhaps, under menu is where we find the Samsung's photo style selector options. These range from the default of 'normal', through our favoured subtle saturation boosting 'vivid' setting, and on to 'retro', 'cool', 'calm' and 'classic'. Sound, display and basic settings options (time and date, with the ability to format the memory in use) can be further explored with a press of menu and a tab through the relevant list of options for each.

Next down the camera back we find the familiar four-way control pad. At 12 o'clock is a means of turning the basic display information on, or off, to show a clean image free of all distractions except for an indicator of battery life and shots remaining. At three o'clock we get the self-timer options - here the usual 10 or two seconds, plus further choices of taking one image after ten seconds and subsequently another image after two, or the option for the camera to detect motion for up to six seconds and then take a snap when it has detected the subject has stopped. Again, children and pets seem the obvious beneficiary subjects.

Samsung PL90 Samsung PL90
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

At six o'clock on the pad meanwhile we have the option to switch between regular auto focus and macro focus, variously shooting at 80cm to infinity or less than 80cm (down to a so-so 12cm from your subject), while at nine o'clock we find the flash options. Here there's the ability to disable the flash (our favoured option), or automatically detect and remove instances of red eye, along with slow sync, fill in, red eye prevention and auto flash options.

Beneath the control pad are the last two buttons on the camera back, and of identical size to one another. To the left is the obvious playback button, while to the right we have an 'fn' (function) button that also doubles up as a delete button should the user already be in playback mode.

In review mode, a press of the menu button provides access to the ability to carry out basic image edits, such as rotate, resize and even adjust brightness, contrast and saturation - or add noise (!) - in camera if so wished. The same photo style selections can be applied post capture as well as at the point of capture.

A press of the 'fn' button meanwhile and we are presented with a list of key options down the left hand side of the screen, as a short cut if you like. It's here we can again adjust the likes of picture quality, the camera's metering, focus area and ISO on the hoof, with a drive mode option added providing single or continuous capture options.

As you'll have gathered from the above, operation of the Samsung PL90 is pretty much self explanatory and shouldn't trouble anyone - even mobile phone users - coming to this camera for the first time. Zoom occasionally freezing up at the extremities of its range aside, it's generally fast and responsive.

The base of the camera meanwhile features the aforementioned connection arm, screw thread for a tripod at one side, and a catch for opening (or closing) the door that protects the joint microSD and battery compartment. The rechargeable lithium ion cell here is good for just 200 shots by Samsung's reckoning, though we managed probably two thirds of that total before it gave out on us. We're not big fans of microSD as a storage format either; beyond anything else it's particularly fiddly to insert into and retrieve from the camera. Plus, most of us already own armfuls of SD or SDHC cards, without having to go out and buy another format.

The proof of any camera is of course found in its images however. So how does the SL90 stack up for picture quality? Does it transcend what we'd expect from a point and shoot at this price - as we found with Nikon's S5100 - or fall rather short in the final summation? Read on to find out…

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12.2 megapixel SuperFine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 4.5Mb.

With bright clear skies the Samsung PL90 delivers warm and colouful images, especially so if shifting from normal to vivid setting courtesy of the camera's Photo Style Selector mode. That said, even with plenty of light around we did experience occasional instances of camera shake and also noticed some loss of sharpness towards the edges of the frame and pixel fringing between areas of high contrast. OK, so the above is not really a big surprise seeing as we are dealing with a point and shoot compact, and any aberrations can also to an extent be forgiven because of the modest price point. At maximum 28mm equivalent wide angle setting the PL90 displays barrel distortion, though not to such an extent that the effect becomes ruinous.

In terms of low light shooting, with a steady surface we were able to get decent results up to and including ISO 800. As would be the case with any snapshot camera in this price bracket, approach ISO 1600 and/or ISO 3200 settings at your peril, where loss of detail and the encroachment of image noise really don't make the options worthwhile, specially at maximum ISO 3200 setting where images, with smudged detail and grain across the picture, take on a painterly rather than photographic aspect. Plus one has to contend with the resolution dropping to three megapixels at the top setting.

So not a completely clean bill of health when it comes to the Samsung PL90's images, but we preferred them to the likes of the Pentax Optio M900 and Olympus FE series cameras at this £130 price, if in the final analysis for us they can't quite compete with the similarly point and shoot Nikon S5100, costing nearly £50 more.


There are 7 ISO settings available on the Samsung PL90. 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 a little 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 PL90 handled chromatic aberrations fairly well during the review, with some purple fringing present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Example 1 (100% Crop)

Example 2 (100% Crop)


The Samsung PL90 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 PL90 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 (28mm)

Auto - Wide Angle (28mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (112mm)

Auto - Telephoto (112mm)

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 PL90's maximum shutter speed is 2 seconds in the Night scene mode, which isn't very good news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 1/8th second at ISO 800. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Samsung PL90 camera, which were all taken using the 12.2 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 PL90 camera at the highest quality setting of 640x480 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 22 second movie is 26Mb in size.

Product Images

Samsung PL90

Front of the Camera

Samsung PL90

Isometric View

Samsung PL90

Isometric View

Samsung PL90

Rear of the Camera

Samsung PL90

Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed

Samsung PL90

Top of the Camera

Samsung PL90

Bottom of the Camera

Samsung PL90

Side of the Camera

Samsung PL90

Side of the Camera


Samsung PL90

USB Connector

Samsung PL90

USB Connector

Samsung PL90

USB Connector

Samsung PL90

Battery Compartment

Samsung PL90

Memory Card Slot


In taking a tip from the pocket camcorder market by including a flip out USB arm, it feels like Samsung is ahead of its immediate rivals at the entry-level gadget-y-end of the market, who will appreciate such funky accoutrements and moreover convenience. But why stop there? How long will it be before we see a DSLR - or, rather, in Samsung's case, an NX series model - with retractable USB lead for shooting tethered, coiled within the body like the mains lead of a vacuum cleaner when not in use?

Whilst the Samsung PL90 is easy to use and mostly fast with it, we weren't quite so enamoured with Samsung's choice of microSD card only for storage (50MB internal capacity to fall back on) however, and bog standard 640x480 pixels video is further disappointing.

Other than that the Samsung PL90 is a rather conventional snapshot camera. But, given that it doesn't cost much more than the magic £100, it seems churlish to gripe about what's missing that could be gained from spending a few quid more. As it is, even for its modest price tag the camera feels well built and reasonable because of it. The Samsung PL90 might not set the world alight, but particularly with regard to the flip out USB connection it surely provides a taster of more to come.

4 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 PL90 from around the web. »

The Samsung PL90 was announced in August 2010 and the main feature is its built in USB connector which means there are no extra cables needed in order to view your pictures and videos as well as charge the battery. There is also a 4x optical zoom, 12.2Mp sensor and Smart Auto technology, helping the user to capture a good image in any conditions. The Samsung PL90 is available from £99. You may also be considering the Canon PowerShot A3100 IS which is also priced at £99 with a 4x optical zoom and 12.1Mp sensor.
Read the full review »


  • Gray Color
  • Point-and-Shoot
Image sensor
  • 12.2 Efective Megapixels
  • 1/2.3″ (Approx. 7.81mm) CCD
  • Samsung 4X Lens f = 5.0~ 20.2mm ( 35mm film equivalent : 28 ~ 112 mm)
  • 4x Optical Zoom
  • 5.0~ 20.2mm Focal Lenght
  • 2.8(W) ~ 6.3(T)
Shutter Speed
  • Normal :80cm~ infinity(Wide), 100cm ~ infinity(Tele),Macro : 12cm ~ 80cm (Wide), 70cm ~ 100cm (Tele),Auto Macro : 12cm ~ Infinity (Wide), 70cm ~ Infinity (Tele) Range
  • 1/8-1/2000 seconds
  • +/- 2EV (1/3 EV steps) Compensation Options
  • Program AE Control
  • Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 (up to 3M) ISO Equiv Settings
  • Multi, Spot, Center-weighted, Face Detection AE Metering Systems
  • Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill-in flash, Slow sync, Flash off, Red Eye Fix Modes
  • Normal:80cm-infinity,Macro:5cm-80cm (Wide),Auto Macro:5cm-Infinity (Wide), 1m- Infinity (Tele) Range
  • Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill-in flash, Slow sync, Flash Off, Red-eye fix Modes
  • 2.7" LCD Screen
  • Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill-in flash, Slow sync, Flash off, Red Eye Fix Modes
  • 0.4m ~ 3.3m, Flash Range, Wide
  • 1m ~ 1.8m Flash Range, Tele
  • 4 seconds recharging time
Image Stabilization
  • DIS (Digital Image Stabilization)
Smart Settings
  • Smart Auto
  • Smart Album
Picture Effects
  • Perfect Portrait System
White Balance
  • Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill-in flash, Slow sync, Flash off, Red Eye Fix Modes
  • Supports Still Image:JPEG (DCF), EXIF 2.21, DPOF 1.1, PictBridge 1.0
  • 12M : 4000×3000 pixels, 10MP : 3984×2656 pixels, 9MW : 3968×2232 pixels, 8M : 3264×2448 pixels,5M : 2592×1944 pixels, 3M : 2048×1536 pixels,1M : 1024×768 pixels
  • Internal memory: Approx. 50MB,External Memory(Optional) : micro SD™ (up to 2GB guaranteed),micro SDHC (up to 8GB guaranteed)
Still Image
  • Image Edit:Resize, Rotate, Trimming,Photo Style Selector :Soft, Vivid, Forest, Retro, Cool, Calm, Classic, Negative, Custom RGB,Image Adjust:Face Retouch, Red Eye Fix, Brightness, Contrast, Saturation"+
  • Photo Style Selector : Normal, Soft, Vivid, Forest, Retro, Cool, Calm, Classic, Negative, Custom RGB
  • (Mode : Smart Auto, Program, DIS, Scene, Movie),Smart : White, Macro Color, Portrait, Night Portrait, Backlight Portrait, Macro Portrait, Backlight, Landscape, Action, Tripod, Night, Macro,Macro Text, Blue Sky, Sunset, Natural Green,Scene : Beauty Shot, Frame Guide, Night, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Close-up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Firework, Beach & Snow,Continuous: Single, Continuous, Motion Capture, AEB Self timer: Off, 10 sec., 2 sec., Double(10 sec., 2 sec.), Motion Timer
  • Movie Stabilization, Pause during recording, Still Image Capture, Time Trimming
  • Photo Style Selector : Normal, Soft, Vivid, Forest, Retro, Cool, Calm, Classic, Negative, Custom RGB
  • Movie Size : 640×480, 320×240 ,Frame rate : 30 fps, 15 fps,Format : MJPEG,Voice On/Zoom Mute/Off,Smart Movie : Landscape, Blue Sky, Natual Green, Sunset,Photo Style Selector
Voice Recording
  • Voice Recording (max. 10 hours),Voice Memo in Still Image (max. 10 sec.)
  • Mono Microphone
  • Mono Speaker
Inputs & Outputs
  • NTSC, PAL via AV Out
  • USB 2.0
  • 3.85" x 2.24" x .70"
  • 0.035 oz.
  • 4.2V
  • Rechargeable battery:BP-70A, 3.7V,Charger: SAC-47,DC power input connector:20pin,* Included battery may vary depending on sales region.
  • BP70A (740mA) Battery
System Requirements
  • USB Port,Intel Pentium 4 3.0 GHz or above / AMD Athlon™ FX 2.2 GHz or above,Windows XP_SP2 / Vista / 7,250MB or more hard-disk capacity (over 1GB recommended), 512MB RAM (over 1GB recommended), nVIDIA Geforce 7600GT or above / ATI X1600 series or above 1024×768 pixels, 16-bit color display compatible monitor 1024×768 pixels, 16-bit color display compatible monitor CD-ROM Driver DirectX 9.0c or above For Windows
  • Power Mac G3 or above Mac OS 10.4 or above for Mac
Operating Conditions
  • 5-85% Humidity Range
  • 32-104° F

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