Samsung WB850F Review

August 16, 2012 | Gavin Stoker |


The Samsung WB850F is a 16 megapixel travel-zoom compact camera featuring built-in Wi-fi connectivity. The WB850F also offers a 21x optical zoom with a 23mm wide-angle setting, 16.2 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor, 3-inch AMOLED screen, Full HD video recording, full manual controls, built-in GPS and a Digital Compass. The Samsung WB850F is available in black priced at £329.99 / $379.99.

Ease of Use

With smartphones increasingly becoming the number one default device via which Mr Average takes snapshots - helped, somewhat ironically, by Samsung's own well reviewed Galaxy handsets - manufacturers need to present a pretty compelling argument for the mass market to purchase a standalone camera.

Samsung has therefore taken an 'everything but the kitchen sink' approach to its WB850F 'long zoom' device - part of its self-christened 'smart camera' range - in order to outrun the unrelenting march of technology. Not only does the outwardly rather conventionally designed pocket model feature a best-in-class 21x optical zoom with a focal range the 35mm equivalent of an ultra wide 23-483mm supported by optical image stabilisation, it marries this to a 16-megapixel effective resolution from the standard sized 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor sporting 16.8 total MP. What's more it throws in a GPS antenna and cable-free Wi-Fi connectivity to further maximize desirability/future proofing. For us, GPS struggled to work indoors and when outside could be imprecise, proclaiming our whereabouts as 'London' rather than a particular place or borough.

Though fellow smaller body, big zoom cameras including Canon's 12x IXUS 510 HS also offer Wi-Fi, unlike other manufacturers this is a feature Samsung is extending across its range, with all new NX models incorporating wireless connectivity. Add in manual photographic control and AMOLED back screen on the black liveried WB850F, and the only thing that appears missing to make this the most ideal of travel companions might be actual waterproofing. The Samsung measures a pocket-sized 109.5x62.2x24.9mm, and weighs a solid feel but manageable 232g without battery and card.

Rivals that include some but not all of the above comprise the 20x zoom Canon SX260HS, Sony HX20V, and Panasonic TZ30, plus 18x zoom Nikon Coolpix S9300 and Olympus SZ-31MR (24x). With suggested asking price for the Samsung WB850F a slightly high £329.99, meaning its nearest competitors are the already excellent Sony HX20 and Panasonic TZ30, this camera has its work cut out to convince. Luckily we found the Samsung for a street price closer to £270 at the time of writing, which, after playing with it for a couple of weeks, feels about right.

With the exception of the aforementioned Sony and Panasonic models this it is a cut above the average snapper. For starters, the Samsung features something approaching a proper handgrip with a subtly textured surface to one side of its faceplate - a feature usually jettisoned in favour of cameras that pander more to sleek styling. This thereby suggests that sharp shots towards the telephoto end of its zoom just might be that much more achievable. A shooting mode dial on the top plate also reveals a combined array of not just 'smart auto' settings but manual ones too, the presence of the dial a very useful shortcut to the key settings - 1920x1080 pixels video at 30fps, GPS and Wi-Fi options included.

At the back of the WB850F, in the expected absence of any optical viewfinder, 16 MP stills and video are composed with the aid of AMOLED rather than LCD screen. Samsung does of course have expertise in screen technology, and here that gives rise to deeper blacks and better contrast when both composing and reviewing shots, which, coupled with a respectable 614,000 dot resolution, to our eyes results in a more life-like picture being relayed. The downside is that images may not look quite as dynamic as they did at the point of capture when subsequently viewed on your desktop PC. On the positive side, a sharp screen image ensures that menu options and function icons also look clean, crisp and legible. Indeed the virtual icons, such as a wheel for adjusting ISO speed up to a so-so ISO3200 - here selected from the on-screen table revealed when the dedicated 'Fn' (Function) button is pressed - can seem almost physical due to their sharp rendering.

Samsung WB850F Samsung WB850F
Front Rear

With what feels like a higher proportion of metal in the build than plastic, the WB850F's exterior looks the part too, falling somewhere between entry-level snapper and premium snapshot, even if the design execution is fairly conventional, especially in the wake of the likes of Pentax's Optio WG2. As you'd expect from a camera in its class, from the front the WB850F's lens dominates, the optical housing featuring a ridged and roughened surround to encourage a tighter grip should you want to use your left hand to encircle the lens and steady the camera.

Top left of the lens is a small porthole shaped window housing the AF assist lamp/self timer lamp, but other than that the WB850F's faceplate is unassuming. This uncluttered presentation is due, in part, to the integral flash being moved to the top plate where it is now - neatly - of the pop-up variety. If we've one gripe though it does seem to take an age to charge from cold before it can be fired. This wait might not be more than a few seconds, but it can take three squeezes of the shutter release before it will fire off a shot in flash mode.

Looking down on the camera's top plate with its backplate facing us, at the left hand edge is the aforementioned pop-up flash, with a manual switch for its activation provided alongside. So the flash won't automatically fire unless you have raised it first. Give this a nudge with a fingertip however and the flash pops up with a satisfyingly solid metallic clunk. Simply press the spring-loaded contraption back down to deactivate.

Left and right of the central portion of the Samsung WB850F's top plate is a pair of microphones, with a small inset power button located just behind the right-hand microphone. Give this a fingernail press and the lens extends from within its body housing to maximum wideangle setting, while the rear screen blinks into life a moment later. This combined process takes roughly 2-3 seconds. Not DSLR quick then, but roughly what we'd expect from a point-and-shoot camera.

A half squeeze of the shutter release button and a central highlighted AF point appears in green along with the customary confirmation 'bleep' that the user is free to go ahead and take the shot. Do so and in default single shot mode a full resolution, Super Fine (top) quality image is committed to all varieties of removal SD card in one to two seconds, which is impressive.

The Samsung WB850F's shutter release button is encircled by a lever for operating the 21x optical zoom; with a nudge from the forefinger the Samsung's Schneider Kreuznach lens mechanics take four seconds to propel the user from maximum wideangle to extreme telephoto. While, once again, it's not the quickest response ever, this was still sufficiently responsive to enable us to quickly frame up the shot we saw in our mind's eye. When shooting video, the zoom takes more than twice as long to move through the same range, no doubt to minimize the already fairly quiet operational buzz. While this is fine, the initial response could be quicker. Press the red record button on the camera back and wait a couple of seconds while the 4:3 ratio screen display blanks out and then re-appears showing a narrower 16:9 ratio image before recording begins - by which time the subject you were attempting to frame may well have moved on. Inevitably and in fairness this is a camera for a bit of photo fun and the occasional long-range snap, rather than serious use. Viewed in this way, and without great expectations, and you'll still find it's more versatile than most.

Samsung WB850F Samsung WB850F
Side Top

The top plate shooting mode dial puts eight options at our disposal. Most obvious due to being highlighted in green is the subject recognizing 'smart auto' setting. Twist the dial to this option and it's point and shoot all the way, the camera getting it mostly right, although - typically - busier scenes can confuse the auto focus and the shutter will still fire even if the image is noticeably soft, so you can occasionally come away with blurred results. No matter, re-compose the shot and simply try again.

The other options on the same dial are the familiar Program mode, which stands alone, plus aperture, shutter priority and manual mode - which are grouped together. Icons for all three are presented on screen so the user just tabs between them to select whichever as required and presses the 'OK' button at the centre of the rear plate command dial/scroll wheel to implement them. Aperture, to take one example, is then adjusted with a spin of said scroll wheel.

Flick the dial around one setting to scene mode and a brightly coloured array of eight options appear on screen. It's within this setting that we find Samsung's familiar zit-zapping Beauty Shot portrait mode, plus the usual night, landscape, sunset, dawn, beach and backlight settings, along with a possibly less essential text option. The scene modes might be few in number because next setting around the dial is where we find the WB850F's creative modes.

Presented here are the now customary self-stitching panorama option, along with a two megapixel resolution 3D photo mode (Samsung of course being one of the makers of 3D TVs), slightly tacky 'Magic Frame' (superimposing your shot on a number of mocked up backgrounds, such as a magazine cover or billboard), split-shot mode (whereby the camera will merge a series of three photos to form a single 5 megapixel image triptych), rather pointless and ugly 'Picture in Picture' mode (as it sounds, a small picture is superimposed within a larger one), the more fun Artistic Brush option which provides an end result like a hand coloured postcard, plus HDR (high dynamic range) and Creative Movie Maker options.

The remaining settings on the dial are for the aforementioned Wi-Fi, GPS and video options, though you don't actually have to have the shooting mode dial set to the latter to commence recording - hit the record button and after that brief wait you're away. The Wi-Fi options here are many and varied, and include the ability to sync up with a handset in order to use your phone as a remote viewfinder - though this first requires the downloading and installation of Samsung's 'MobileLink' software onto the phone. There's also the ability to let the camera search for a local wireless network in order to directly upload imagery to the likes of facebook, Picasa, YouTube and the ilk, or connect to a wireless network to email a selected picture to an email account - the address input within the camera with the aid of an on-screen 'qwerty' keypad. Inputting letters involves tabbing back and forth via the aid of the back plate control pad/wheel, and gets quicker with practice, though if Samsung had provided a larger touch screen on the WB850F it would have been faster still, but least it worked for us. There are further automatic wireless back up (either to your desktop or a cloud service) and TV link options for those who have the relevant tech at their disposal. In our connected age it isn't doesn't take a soothsayer to foresee all digital cameras going this way with 'smart' features and mobile phone like 'apps'.

With the 3-inch, 614,000-dot resolution screen we've already touched on swallowing up most of the backplate of the Samsung WB850F, the other controls are shunted over to an inch-wide strip on the right. From the top these include the one-touch video record button, which is, interestingly, encircled by a lever for switching between the camera's drive modes. Annoyingly though, if the camera is switched off or powers down to save battery it doesn't recall the drive previously selected when turned back on. The default setting is, predictably, single shot mode, but other options here include 3fps, 5fps or 10fps shooting - each to a maximum of eight pictures. This is fine, but if you want to shoot continuing sporting action is less useful, as once you've reached those maximum eight sequential images the camera freezes up while they're being committed to memory. Pre-capture - taking eight snaps before the shutter is fully pressed and 3-shot bracketing modes are the other selectable options with a flick of the same lever.

Samsung WB850F Samsung WB850F
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Beneath this drive mode selector and video record button are a self-explanatory menu button plus, alongside it, that 'Fn' (Function) control. Press this and as we indicated earlier, the user is offered an at-a-glance table of key functions, a time saving feature a bit like the Quick Menu toolbar on Panasonic Lumix cameras. Tabbing left or right, up or down this table allows the adjustment of exposure (+/- 2EV), ISO speed (ISO100-3200), photo size and degree of JPEG compression (16MP, Super Fine being the best), metering, white balance, face detection on/off, focusing (auto, manual or macro), focus area, access to smart filters (the usual array of digital effects including the popular miniature), flash settings, self timer and optical image stabilization.

Underneath these two buttons is the largest control on the camera back - the familiar four way control pad, encircled with a scroll wheel for those who prefer spinning through selections rather than tabbing one setting at a time. At points north, east, south and west on this dial are settings for controlling the amount of information shown on the camera display (including a live histogram if desired), self timer plus GPS settings - though pressing the latter again prompts a request to download further software providing map data. Would be really great if this was already loaded on the camera, as with rivals, as the natural default inclination is simply not to bother.

The final two buttons on the camera back are for playback and delete - again, these are straightforward and explanatory and we always love having the option at our fingertips to immediately delete duff images rather than having to wade through menu screens to do so.

On the right hand flank of the camera, as still viewed from the back, we find a plastic flap protecting ports for AV/USB output plus mini HDMI alongside. Just below this is a metal hoop for attaching a wriststrap.

Examining the base of the WB850F, there is a screw thread for a tripod provided slightly off-centre, and alongside e this a catch operated compartment holding both the supplied battery and also offering a vacant slot for an SD, SDHC, SDXC card. The rechargeable battery here - charged in camera - is good for 200 shots, which is no great shakes when you consider Sony's competing HX20V offers 320 shots from a full charge and Panasonic's TZ30 260 pictures. This is however on a par with the likes of Nikon's Coolpix S9300.

With all of the above suggesting that the WB850F is rather feature packed and impressive for a long zoom camera that outwardly appears fairly run of the mill, how does the Samsung deliver in practice? Click on to our next section to find out…