Samsung WB550 Review
The Samsung WB550 (also known as the Samsung HZ15W) is a pocket digital camera featuring a versatile 10x, 24mm wide-angle zoom lens. Taking on the popular Panasonic TZ series of cameras, the 12 megapixel WB550 has a large 3 inch LCD screen, 24-240mm lens with Dual Image Stabilization,and can record HD video at a resolution of 720p complete with a HDMI port for playback on a HDTV. A wealth of auto modes - Smart Auto, Face Detection, Smile Shot, Blink Detection, Self Portrait and Beauty Shot - promise to make it easier for beginners to easily take great photos, while there's also a Manual shooting mode for the more experienced user. The Samsung WB550 / HZ15W is available in black and dark grey for $329.99 / £299.
Ease of Use
Constructed of robust plastic with chrome detailing and large-ish buttons, Samsung's WB550 upgrades its WB500 predecessor - the manufacturer's first to wed a 24mm lens to a 10x optical zoom - and in doing so continues Samsung's run of HD movie shooting compacts initially begun with the NV24HD (as reviewed on Photography Blog last year).
We've yet to get really excited by a Samsung compact - although they are typically aggressively priced, the performance, design and feature implementation has always felt rather, well, average. So, at a UK asking price of £299, will the 12 megapixel WB550 be the one to break from the pack and deliver standalone excellence for those who want a bit more 'firepower' in the lens department?
First impressions are of a bold and chunky design that with a width of 36.5mm looks rather more conventional than previous additions to the same manufacturer's NV range. It actually looks more like a 35mm film compact of old. Apparently the WB prefix stands for 'Wide' and 'Big' - not necessarily the attributes you'd want attributed to a 'compact', but here it refers to the lens reach, equivalent to 24-240mm in 35mm terms.
Although it hasn't got an 'HD' suffix in the model name, as indicated in our introduction the Samsung WB550 nevertheless offers High Definition video clips (though at 1280x720 pixels rather than the Full HD 1920x1080), and, in what Samsung is claiming as a first for digital compacts in its class, these can be paused mid-record and recording then re-started. The user can therefore perform rudimentary 'editing' as they shoot. Fortunately the full extent of the optical zoom is accessible when shooting movies. Since that is one of the camera's key selling points, it would have been a travesty if it hadn't.
As expected, the large lens dominates proceedings at the front of the WB550, its surround jutting out almost a centimetre even when the camera is inactive, suggesting Samsung could have found room for a lens thread for supplementary attachments - a la Canon. The lens takes up the full height of the face plate, meaning the built-in flash bulb is shifted over to the left out of harm's way. Immediately beneath this are two small porthole-style windows for the AF assist/self timer lamp, and below it a sensor for an optional remote.
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 WB550 curves outward slightly in effect forming a rudimentary grip. This makes the model more comfortable to hold, and steadier too when shooting handheld at the extremities of the zoom. Sometimes bigger can have its advantages.
Looking down on the camera's top plate we find a row of chunky controls set into a wide mirrored chrome strip that lends the Samsung WB550 a modicum of style. Starting at the right, 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, Program and Manual 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 WB550 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 WB550'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 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 WB550'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. But rather than this mode automatically displaying its settings as icons, the user has to press the 'menu' button at the camera's rear and scroll down the text options to find them. Along with 'Night', 'Portait', 'Children' and 'Landscape' we get 'text', 'sunset', 'dawn' and 'backlight': 15 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 higher frame rate of 60fps is selectable. Horses for courses obviously.
Staying on the Samsung WB550's top plate, the next control along is the large-ish and springy shutter release button, surrounded by 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.
Confusingly, there's also a second toggle switch top right of the camera back - where we might otherwise find a zoom lever on competing models - that is narrow and uncomfortable, digging into the thumb. Disabled in auto mode, turn the dial round to program and it transpires this is a 'command lever' providing a means of adjusting exposure compensation from +/- 2EV.
That aside, once you've zoomed in and got your composition how you want, with a half press of the shutter button the Samsung WB550 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.
Next along the Samsung WB550's top plate, next to the shutter release/zoom combo, is an indented power button, surrounded by a circular ring that glows an attractive 'Samsung blue' when in use. Not perhaps what you'd want if trying to use the camera surreptitiously at night, but then glow from the high-res 3-inch, 460k dot resolution rear LCD screen - in the absence of an optical viewfinder - kind of gives the game away anyway. Finally, at the far end of the top plate to the mode dial is located the WB550's built-in speaker, acting as an accompaniment to video clips.
While that's it for the top of the Samsung WB550 at its left hand side (if viewing from the rear) we find an included HDMI port for hooking the snapshot 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.
More run-of-the-mill connections are found over on the right hand flank of the camera - specifically a joint port for USB and AV out, with said cables provided. Also in the box is a quick-start guide as a hard copy, the full manual on CD ROM, plus a wrist strap.
Moving to the back of the Samsung WB550, this is dominated by the three-inch screen, 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. At the top of the run of controls we have the previously highlighted slider switch/command lever, below which is the also touched upon Function button. This 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.
Directly underneath the function button is a four-way directional control pad. With a menu/OK button at its centre, this will be familiar to just about anyone who has ever used a digital compact before. A press of menu will again provide a range of selectable options, the brevity or otherwise of which is dependant on the particular mode the user is in.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
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 switch that fiddly command lever from adjusting exposure to ISO or white balance. One can also tweak operational sounds, LCD display, plus access to a setting menu, enabling memory to formatted or previously selected functions reset.
Surrounding the menu button is that control pad, featuring 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 WB550's unique ones. It works, though whether most of us would actually need/use it is a moot point.
Bottom left of this pad is an equally obvious play button that doubles up as a means of earmarking selected images for direct printing - while to its right is the camera's final control, a small button marked 'E'. Unlike you might expect this doesn't grant access to a greatly simplified 'easy' shooting mode, but rather photo effects for normal or vivid hues and tones among others.
Up-ending the WB550 and examining its base, we discover 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. Samsung provides a compact plug/charger set up in the box that charges the battery within the camera itself.
Use of this compact is, then, fairly intuitive. There's certainly nothing here to fox or confuse less experienced users. So how do the images measure up; do they provide the intended optimal results with minimum user effort?
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 3Mb.
Even when left on its normal default colour effect setting, the Samsung WB550 delivers warm, well-saturated images. Whilst this treatment is flattering for portraits, on occasion other subjects are rendered a tad 'hyper realistic', as if torn from the pages of a manga comic.
While the blues and greens of landscapes and the reds of flowers notably leap off the screen, pixel fringing is far more noticeable between areas of high contrast on the Samsung WB550 than on competing brands; here it's not so much purple as mauve and is evidenced without the user having to actually zoom in to check for it. Images therefore look quite obviously digital and 'processed' on close inspection.
When shooting at maximum wide angle there is some slight barrel distortion though not to an intolerable degree. The camera's built-in flash doesn't however quite match the breadth of the range at its extreme setting, and we ended up with darkened corners of the image as our test shots show.
In terms of low light shooting without flash, as noted the Samsung WB550 offers a broader ISO range than most, extending from a manually selectable ISO 80 up to ISO 3200. It seems Samsung was right to offer such, as the WB550's performance at ISO 3200 rivals that at ISO1600 from its point and shoot competitors. Even at ISO 800, though detail is slightly softening in the jump up from ISO 400, noise is kept well at bay. Not bad at all then.
Overall then the Samsung WB550 rewards users with a better performance than expected, even if we weren't quite satisfied with the flash and very obvious pixel fringing.
There are 7 ISO settings available on the Samsung WB550. 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 at the default sharpening setting. You can change the in-camera sharpening level if you don't like the default look.
Original (100% Crop)
Sharpened (100% Crop)
The Samsung WB550 suffered quite badly from chromatic aberrations during the review. Purple fringing was mainly 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 WB550 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.
The flash settings on the Samsung WB550 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 (24mm)
Flash On - Wide Angle (24mm)
Flash Off - Telephoto (240mm)
Flash On - Telephoto (240mm)
And here are a couple of portrait shots. As you can see, neither the Auto setting or the Red Eye Fix option caused any amount of red-eye.
|Flash On (100% Crop)|
Red Eye Fix
Red Eye Fix (100% Crop)
The Samsung WB550's maximum shutter speed is 16 seconds in the Manual mode, which is great news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 1 second at ISO 400. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
This is a selection of sample images from the Samsung WB550 camera, which were all taken using the 12 megapixel JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
Sample Movie & Video
Front of the Camera
Front of the Camera / Turned On
Rear of the Camera
Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed
Top of the Camera
Bottom of the Camera
Side of the Camera
Side of the Camera
|Memory Card Slot|
Though it is beginner friendly, Samsung's WB550 fortunately doesn't look cheap and cheerful and neither should it for £299. While, OK, it may not be the most svelte compact around, compensation comes in the form of its broader-than-average focal range which provides competition for Panasonic's similarly specified TZ series of big zoom, small form factor compacts. For my money I prefer the TZ's styling, if admittedly the Samsung is just as much fun to use for candids and close ups, and easy with it. Basically the broader the focal range, the greater the range of compositional options for the user.
With ideal shooting conditions the WB550 impresses with its vivid, colour-rich imagery - with the caveat that this can veer towards looking slightly unrealistic on occasion. Keep an eye on the LCD and simply re-compose or stop down if everything looks a tad too bright and breezy.
Though a £299 asking price isn't overly inexpensive and in fact comparable with other more fashion conscious models with a smaller zoom, a quick Internet search found the WB550 on sale for just £230 from the largest online retailer, compared to £270 for the Panasonic TZ7 (admittedly 12x). You pay your money and make your choice.
|Ratings (out of 5)|
|Value for money||3.5|
Reviews of the Samsung WB550 from around the web.
The Samsung WB550 is a wide angle megazoom compact – the first compact camera to introduce a wide 24mm lens with 10x optical zoom (24-240mm). The WB550, or Samsung HZ15W as it’s known over the water in the US of A, also packages together 720p HD video and an HDMI output for best use of your HD recordings. So, wide angle, big zoom, compact size – is the Samsung WB-550 the ideal all-encompassing wide angle zoom compact for any scene at hand?
Read the full review »
|Type||1/2.33" (1.09cm) CCD|
|Effective Pixel||Approx. 12.1 Mega-pixel|
|Total Pixel||Approx. 12.3 Mega-pixel|
|Focal Length||Schneider Lens f = 4.2 ~ 42mm (35mm film equivalent: 24 ~ 240mm)|
|F No.||F3.3 (W) ~ F5.8 (T)|
|Digital Zoom||Still Image mode: 1.0x ~ 5.0x
Play mode: 1.0x ~ 11.4x (depends on image size)
|Type||TTL auto focus (Centre AF, Multi AF, Selection AF, Manual Focus, Face Detection AF)|
|Range||Normal: 50cm ~ infinity (Wide), 2m ~ infinity (Tele)
Macro: 5cm ~ 50cm (Wide), 1m ~ 2m (Tele)
Auto Macro: 5cm ~ Infinity (Wide), 1m ~ Infinity (Tele)
Manual: 5cm ~ Infinity (Wide), 1m ~ Infinity (Tele)
|Compensation||±2EV (1/3EV steps)|
|Control||Program AE or Manual Exposure|
|ISO Equivalent||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 (Up to 3M Size)|
|Metering||Multi, Spot, Centre Weighted, Face Detection AE|
|Modes||Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill-in flash, Slow sync, Flash off, Red eye fix|
|Recharging Time||Approx. 5 sec.|
|Range||Wide: 0.3m ~ 4.7m, Tele: 0.5m ~ 2.7m (ISO AUTO)
Flash Amount Compensation: ±1EV (1/2 steps)
|Media||Internal Memory: About 30MB
External Memory(Optional): MMCplus(up to 2GB guaranteed 4bit 20MHz)
SD (up to 4GB guaranteed)
SDHC (up to 8GB guaranteed) (1)
|File format||Still Image: JPEG (DCF), EXIF 2.21, DPOF 1.1, PictBridge 1.0
Movie Clip: MP4 (H.264(MPEG4.AVC))
|Image Size||12M: (TBD)
10M: 3648 x 2736 pixels,
9MP: 3648 x 2432 pixels,
7MW: 3648 x 2056 pixels,
7M: 3072 x 2304 pixels,
5M: 2592 x 1944 pixels,
3M: 2048 x 1536 pixels,
1M: 1024 x 768 pixels
|Image Play||Single image, Thumbnails, Advanced Slide show, Smart Album (2)|
Internal Speaker: Mono
|Digital output connector||USB 2.0
HDMI Type C (Built in)
|Video Out||AV: NTSC, PAL (user selectable)|
|DC power input||4.2V|
|Dimensions (WxHxD)||105 x 61.4 x 36.5mm|
|Weight||219g (without battery and card)|
|Operating Temperature||0 ~ 40?C|
|Operationg Humidity||5 ~ 85%|
|Software||SAMSUNG Master, Quick Time Player 7.5, Adobe Reader|
|Image Stabilization||Dual IS (OIS + DIS) (3)|
|Feature||3.0" (6.86cm) hVGA (460000 pixels)|
|Shutter Speed||Auto: 1/8 ~ 1/1500sec., Program: 1 ~ 1/1500sec., Manual Mode: 16 ~ 1/1500 sec.
Night: 8 ~ 1/1500sec., Fireworks: 4 sec.
|White Balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent_H, Fluorescent_L, Tungsten, Custom|
|Shooting||Auto, Program, Manual, Dual IS, Beauty Shot, Night, Scene
Scene : Frame Guide, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Close-up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight,
Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Self shot, Food, Cafe
Continuous: Single, Continuous, HS Continuous, AEB, Motion Capture
Self-timer : 10 sec., 2 sec., Double, Motion Timer, Remote Controller (SCR-A5)
|Effect||Photo Style Selector: Normal, Soft, Vivid, Forest, Retro, Cool, Calm, Classic
Colour Effect: Normal, BW, Sepia, Red, Blue, Green, Negative
Image Adjust: Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation (5 steps)
|Edit||Image Edit: Resize, Rotate, Trimming
Colour Effect : Normal, BW, Sepia, Red, Blue, Green, Negative, Custom
Image Adjust :ACB, Red Eye Fix, Face Retouch, Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Add Noise
|Recording||Size: 1280 x 720 (30fps & 15fps) High Quality, 1280 x 720 (30fps & 15fps) Standard Quality,
640 x 480 (30fps & 15fps) , 320 x 240 (60fps & 30fps & 15fps)
(10x Optical Zoom (f = 24 ~ 42 mm) with sound recording)
Max Recording time: 29min
|Effect||Colour: Normal, BW, Sepia, Red, Blue, Green, Negative
Photo Style Selector: Normal, Soft, Vivid, Forest, Retro, Cool, Calm, Classic
|Edit||Pause during recording, Still Image Capture, Time Trimming|
|Voice Recording||Voice Recording (max. 10 hours)
Voice Memo in Still Image (max. 10sec.)
|Sharpness||Soft+, Soft, Normal, Vivid, Vivid+|
|Date Imprinting||Date & Time, Date, Off (user selectable)|
|Power Source||Rechargeable battery: SLB-10A (1050mAh)
Adaptor: SAC-47, SUC-C3
Connector Type: 20pin (4)
|Special Features||Ultra Wide 24mm 10x 10M Compact High Zoom
World Famous Schneider Zoom Lens
Dual IS (OIS + DIS)
Photo Style Selector
High Quality HD Movie
- 720P Resolution (30fps)
- High compression H.264 Codec
- Stereo Microphone
Perfect Portrait Technology
- Face Detection, Smile Shutter, Blink Detection, Self Shot, Beauty Shot
(2) Slide show: Slide show with Effect & Music
(3) OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation), DIS (Digital Image Stabilisation)
(4) Included battery may vary depending on sales region.