The Samsung ST50 / TL100 could be summed up by the writing on the front of the camera: it’s got an ultra slim 16.6mm stainless steel body, features “smart auto”, “beauty shot”, a 12.2 megapixel sensor and a 3x optical zoom lens. And that’s about as interesting as this camera gets. It doesn’t have HD video recording (max video resolution is 800×600 at 20fps), it doesn’t have any form of real image stabilisation (only offering digital image stabilisation), it has a 2.7″ screen and face, blink and smile detection. The Samsung ST50 is available for £136 in Black, Silver or Red, measures 94.2 x 56 x 16.6 mm, and weighs 121g.
Apart from the camera being very small and fitting very neatly in small pockets, the camera has a very annoying focal range where the subject has to be 80cm away from the camera in normal mode, meaning you’re always having to switch to macro mode so that you can focus on subjects that are between 10 and 80cm away from the camera, or alternatively leave face detection on all the time so that you can take photos of people! The camera has a macro button on the back of the camera, but it’s a little slow to respond, and the menu is even slower to access (this problem can be avoided by using the “Smart Auto” mode). The camera doesn’t feature any scene modes, so you can either use Auto and hope for the best, or try “Smart Auto” and once again, hope for the best. The Smart Auto mode will automatically select the scene mode it thinks is best, alternatively you can choose the “Photo style selector” in the normal mode, which gives you the choice of: Normal, Soft, Vivid, Forest, Retro (Sepia colours), Cool, Calm, Black and White, Negative, Custom RGB.
Samsung have this to say about the camera: “Ultra-slim and stylish, this 16.6 mm wide camera is an ideal choice for those searching for an easy-to-use, pocket-sized digital camera. The 12.2 Megapixels ST50 features a 3x optical zoom lens and large 2.7” LCD tucked into a brushed stainless steel body. Add SAMSUNG’s New Smart Auto feature and the camera automatically chooses from 11 scene modes to take the perfect shot in any lighting condition.”
Does the camera get better with use? Not particularly, apart from the annoying focusing issues mentioned, the camera has a habit of thinking that a cloudy day is too dark for sharp pictures and will switch on the flash, or alternatively, if you switch the flash off, your photos often end up blurred due to low shutter speeds, and the lack of image stabilisation. (The camera’s small size probably doesn’t help here either). In Smart Auto mode the camera is very easy to use, and you shouldn’t need to change any options, just point and shoot.
Ultra compact cameras are available from everybody else, and most of them feature at least one or all of the following: a wide angle lens, real image stabilisation, HD video recording, more than 3x optical zoom. So why would anyone choose the Samsung ST50 over for example a Canon Digital IXUS 100 IS that features real optical image stabilisation and HD video recording? (or a Panasonic Lumix FS7 or Sony Cybershot W210 both feature real IS and 4x optical zoom, and cost less). I’ve been using the ST50 for about 2+ weeks as one of my main cameras, and can find no reason for it’s existence (apart from the fact that it looks nice, and is small).
Yes, it’s small, and has a stainless steel body that looks nice from the front – the back looks much more ordinary, and the small size can make it difficult to hold, especially as there’s no hand grip. The shutter release and zoom control are quite nice to use, and the rest of the buttons are a fairly decent size considering how small the camera is. The camera also features a USB cable that charges the camera, so you can charge the camera by plugging it into a laptop or computer, or by plugging the USB cable into the provided wall charger.
- 12.2mp CCD sensor
- 3x optical zoom lens (equiv. 35 ~ 105 mm)
- 2.7″ screen 230k pixels
- Face, Smile, Blink Detection
- Video recording: 800×592, 20fps, 640×480, 30fps
- HD Output: No
- Red eye reduction: Yes – Flash and Redeye fix
- 10cm macro mode
- ISO: Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 (Up to 3 M Size)
- Image sizes available: 12mp: 4000 x 3000 pixels, 10mp: 3984 x 2656 pixels 9mp W: 3968 x 2232 pixels, 8mp: 3264 x 2448 pixels 5mp: 2592 x 1944 pixels, 3mp: 2048 x 1536 pixels 1mp: 1024 x 768 pixels
- IS (Image stabilisation): Digital
- Histogram available: No
- Exposure bracketing: Yes
- Optical viewfinder: No
- Manual White Balance: Yes
Box Contents: Camera, Wrist strap, Lithium Ion battery, User Manual, Software CD, Warranty, AC Adapter, USB Cable, A/V cable – a case and a large SD / SDHC memory card is highly recommended.
Battery life – I managed to take about 200 shots before the battery went flat. After this it’s possible to use the playback mode, but not take any more photos.
Speed – the camera takes 3 seconds from switch on to first photo. Focusing takes around half a second, and shutter response is good responding in 0.1 seconds or less. Shot to shot time (without flash, review off) the delay was 1.8 seconds, with flash on the delay increased to 2.4 / 2.5 seconds between shots. Continuous shooting took a shot every 1.1 second (Flash is unavailable). The camera can take photos at 5fps but only at a picture size of 640×480. The camera also does Auto Exposure Bracketing taking a photo every 1.2 seconds, and taking a total of 3 shots (which is fairly rare for a point and shoot).
Inside – Flash photos of people turned out okay, however, there was noticable red-eye in this photo and in group photos. Colour and detail was quite good. However focusing was often hit and miss even with face detection on – in one situation I can remember the camera taking about 10 attempts before it said it was in focus, and then I had to take about 5 more photos until one was actually in focus.
Outside – colour was quite good, but on the cold side, and could benefit from being on the Vivid setting. The camera had a tendency to over-expose and often lacked detail in the sky, which resulted in photos occasionally appearing washed out. Images were also quite soft near the edges of the frame.
Zoom – shown above, on the left, the ST50 on wide angle, and then on the right 3x optical zoom. Exposure was quite good. There are 7 steps between wide and telephoto zoom, and the camera also features a 5x digital zoom (although digital zoom is generally best avoided as it degrades image quality quite dramatically).
Macro – Somewhat disappointing focus range, the subject was 10cm away from the camera and this is as close as you can get. Custom white balance can help get better results. One nice feature is that flash can be used on macro mode, and the camera does a good job of making sure the flash doesn’t over-expose the image.
Video mode – the camera’s video mode is average offering 800×592 at 20fps, 640×480 at 30fps, and 320×240 at 30fps. All recorded with mono sound – however the optical zoom can be used whilst filming and the sound is muted while the lens zooms and re-focuses.
ACB – One clever feature that can help keep detail in the sky is called “ACB” on the menu – thankfully it’s explained as “Automatically compensates for differences in brightness” – a bit like shadow adjustment (on Olympus cameras), or D-Lighting (on Nikon cameras) – it basically aims to help expand dynamic range in your photos so that there’s detail in the sky and detail in the shadows. It appears to work quite well as you can see in the photo above – the image on the left is with ACB off (and is overexposed), and the image on the right is with ACB on.
Conclusion: The camera gives adequate image quality although the success rate was disappointing as the camera doesn’t have image stabilisation, and doesn’t like cloudy days, focusing was also an issue unless you are happy switching to Smart Auto mode or switching to macro mode, I also noticed a lot of red-eye, and some over exposed images. (7/10). The camera’s unique selling point (and pretty much only selling point in my opinion) is the ultra slim stainless steel body that looks good from the front, but is rather more ordinary from the back. Other features are greatly lacking, and the camera gives no real reason why you would choose this camera over practically every other compact camera on the market (7/10). Price wise the camera is in the middle, at around £136, with more expensive cameras available from Canon, but cheaper compact cameras available from Fuji, and most of them offer more features (7/10). Overall I would rate the camera as Average which basically means don’t bother, unless you particularly love the way the camera looks. The camera wasn’t particularly enjoyable to use and whilst image quality was acceptable the results were quite hit and miss. Samsung ST50 Rating: 7/10 Average.
What I like:
- It’s very small (Ultra compact)
- It looks good (from the front) thanks to the stainless steel body
- Very easy to use in Smart Auto mode
- 2.7″ screen
- Manual White Balance
- Video mode allows the use of the optical zoom (sound is muted whilst you zoom)
- ACB – Automatically Compensates for Brightness (expands Dynamic range)
What I don’t like:
- Focus range is very limiting – subject must be 80cm away from camera or alternatively you have to switch to macro mode.
- 10cm macro mode
- Poor low light performance (including cloudy weather).
- Slow and awkward menu system – no quick access?
- Lacks (real) image stabilisation
- You can’t manually select the scene modes
- Images over-exposed unless you use the ACB option
- Average battery life
Read more Samsung ST50 Reviews: DPExpert