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Samsung Digimax L55W - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 19/07/2006
Rating: Above Average

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Introduction: Announced on the 3rd of June 2005, the Samsung Digimax L55W is a compact 5 megapixel digital camera with a wide-angle 4.8x optical zoom lens and a large 2.8" wide-screen. The camera appears to be loosely based on the Ricoh Caplio R1v and appears to share the same lens. The 4.8x optical zoom lens is equivalent to 28 - 135mm on a 35mm camera. The Samsung Digimax L55W is available from around £199, this makes it slightly expensive compared to the new Ricoh Caplio R4 and R3 - both available for around the same price, but with image stabilisation and a bigger zoom (7.1x optical instead of 4.8x). The Samsung Digimax L55W is one of a small number of digital cameras to feature a 2.8" wide-screen, the newly announced Casio Exilim EX-Z1000 being one of the others available. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy metal body and is available in silver or dark grey. The L55W can record video in 640 x 480 resolution at 30fps with sound and digital image stabilisation. The body measures:Approx. 99 x 55 x 27mm (without protruding parts), and weighs approx. 169g. excluding battery and memory card.

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Samsung have this to say about the camera:

"For the first time ever, a 2.8" wide TMR LCD is adopted by Samsung Camera for the Digimax L55W, enhancing your photography with a wider and larger display. This 2.8" wide LCD allows you to view in 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios. The LCD display of the Digimax L55W uses TMR (Transmissive with Micro Reflective) technology to maintain balanced light, even in bright outdoor environments. The 160 degrees of wide viewing angle LCD display delivered by the Digimax L55W provides a more comfortable image-viewing, and sharing, experience. With its high contrast ratio the TMR LCD display offers a clearer and brighter display image. Colours are represented better by the LCD's ability to reproduce 16.7 million true colours."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix TZ1)


Front - Camera off.


Front view - camera on, infra-red reciever, led, flash, focus-assist lamp, lens at wide-angle position.


Back: On the right is the strap loop. On the back is the large 2.8" wide-screen, Photo / Video / M / Mode button, Playback button, Wide/Telephoto zoom, Speaker, 4-way controller and Menu / OK button, E button and +/- button.


Top: Microphone, Power, Shutter release, Print / Red-eye reduction button, Wide-angle button.


Bottom / Right - Metal tripod mount, battery / memory card compartment, Samsung docking station / USB cable socket.


Lens in telephoto position.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera. (the following pictures taken with the FZ3)


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison, compared to the 7.1x optical zoom, 6 megapixel Ricoh Caplio R4.


Screen size comparison, compared to the 3" screen on the Nikon Coolpix S6.

Specifications / Features:

  • 5 megapixel CCD sensor
  • 4.8x Wide-angle optical zoom lens (28 - 135mm equiv)
  • Store images on Secure Digital (SD) memory cards
  • 2.8 inch LCD - 195,840 pixels
  • MPEG4 Video Records 640 x 480 (Wide: 640x360) at 30fps with sound and digital image stabilisation
  • ISO: Auto/50/100/200/400
  • 24mb built in memory
  • ~1cm macro mode
  • Shutter speeds: 1 ~ 1/2,000 sec. (Night Scene mode : 16 ~ 1/2,000 sec.)

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • AC Adapter (charges battery whilst it's in the camera),
  • Lithium-ion Battery Pack (1280mAh)
  • AV Cable,
  • USB Connection Cable,
  • Strap,
  • CD-ROM
  • AC Adapter power cable
  • User manual (147 page)

Average box contents - There is limited memory provided with the camera (24mb built in). Some kind of case would be useful. It's nice to see the inclusion of a full length printed manual, however I'm not keen on the Samsung USB cable connection.

Battery usage: Battery life seemed average to good, I was able to take over 210 photos between charge before the camera displayed "please replace the batteries". If this isn't long enough for you, then you will need to purchase a second battery.

Camera Operation and Options: The camera mode is selected using the M / Photo / Video button on the back of the camera - this lets you choose between Auto / Program / Video or one of the several scene modes. You can also change how the M mode button works in the setup menu. It can be slightly confusing when you start using the camera, but over a period of time it becomes more understandable and easier to use. The playback button switches between photo and playback mode.

Photo mode/menus: The two aspect ratios available are shown below - the W button switches between these two modes

Normal aspect ratio (4:3) leaves the sides black Wide-aspect ratio (16:9)

To view further Samsung Digimax menu screens and options, you can see them in the Samsung Digimax i6 Review.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of pictures will fit in the provided memory:

Image Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality
Aspect Ratio
TIFF
Superfine
Fine
Normal
5M : 2944x1656
Wide (16:9)
1
9
19
27
4M : 2688x1512
1
11
22
33
3M : 2304x1296
2
15
29
43
2M : 1792x1008
4
25
46
67
1M : 1280x720
8
41
64
99
VGA : 768x432
22
92
135
185
5M : 2592x1944
Normal (4:3)
1
9
18
27
4M : 2272x1704
2
12
23
34
3M :2048x1536
2
14
28
41
2M : 1600x1200
4
23
45
64
1M : 1024x768
10
47
74
106
VGA : 640x480
24
99
148
185

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, and you can't fit very many photos in the provided memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended. There is a very good amount of choices regarding image size, compression (including a TIFF mode), and aspect ratio.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to be away from a computer for a long time (such as when going on holiday) then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in. This camera takes only secure digital memory. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Samsung Digimax L55W*:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £8.10, 512mb: £10.99, 1gb (1000mb): £22.89, 2gb (2000mb): £49.22
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is fairly quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in around 1.8 seconds, it takes roughly 2.2 seconds to switch on, focus and take the photo, this is a not very fast, but it's not very slow either. Focusing is quick in average light at around 0.4 - 0.5 seconds set to wide angle, but slower when using the focus assist lamp. Shutter response is fairly quick at around 0.1 - 0.2 seconds. Shot to shot time is average at around 2.3 seconds between shots (with review switched on), with flash switched on this shot to shot time is around 3.0 seconds. High speed continuous shooting allows you to take continuous shots at roughly 2.5 frames per second (a shot is taken every 0.4 seconds with flash off for upto 4 shots). Playback mode is fairly quick, and its easy to zoom upto 9x (4.6x in wide-aspect ratio) on your last shot and check for blur with the zoom control. Moving from picture to picture is quick. Moving around the different menu options is rapid. The screen updates in photo mode are generally very quick and smooth.

Ease of use: Using the camera is fairly straightforward, simply switch it on and start taking photos, however, when you want to use some of the more advanced features of the camera it quickly becomes much more complicated, mainly due to the complicated menu system(s), and some of the hidden functions (such as the +/- button and audio recording). Once you get used to switching between the modes and find all the options the camera becomes slightly easier to use, and it is fairly easy to use the more basic functions of the camera - for example it's easy to switch between the Photo, Video and playback modes and use those parts of the camera. Using the night scene mode lets you choose the aperture and shutter speed, which is a fairly advanced feature to have hidden away in a scene mode.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position and in easy reach for using the camera with one hand - although the aspect ratio button and red-eye reduction button feel slightly stiff and seem poorly placed. There seems to be a good amount of buttons for a mainly automatic point and shoot digital camera. The buttons feel okay, allthough some are on the small size. The buttons are labelled fairly well, although some are quite cryptic, for example the +/- button hides various options. I thought the camera felt okay ergonomically, there is not much of a handgrip, the camera feels quite slippery, and due to the large screen there isn't much room to put your thumb. All of the compartments and covers seem well positioned and are easy to open.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Samsung Digimax L55W Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO50) Group photo (ISO200)

Inside: The camera has quite good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - and there is quite low red-eye in this photo and the group photo. Flash performance seems quite good. On AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept at the quite low in these photos. The camera did a fairly good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light, although there were times when I thought it could be better. Colour is quite well saturated.

ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 50, 100, 200, 400).

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 5 megapixel, Canon Digital IXUS Wireless.

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Samsung Digimax L55W on the left, Canon Digital IXUS Wireless on the right. The 5 megapixel Canon was picked as a comparison due to the same ISO range of ISO50 - ISO400. The colour difference is due to automatic white balance / different lighting conditions.

Samsung Digimax L55W Canon Digital IXUS Wireless (5mp)
ISO50 - Actual Pixels ISO50 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels

Noise is low at ISO50 and ISO100 (they almost appear the same?) on the Digimax L55W, and still fairly low at ISO200. At ISO400 it becomes noticable and detail is being lost. Compared to the Canon Digital Ixus Wireless noise is more noticable. The results are generally quite good for a 5 megapixel digital camera. On long exposures, for example, the night shot of the stars in the gallery, noise reduction seems to get rid of a lot of detail.

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO50) Trees, Mystery Park (ISO100) Wide

Outside: The camera has quite rich, saturated colours, with good contrast. There was average detail, and images were soft - slightly more so in the corners. There was slight vignetting in some photos although this was only noticed in one or two photos. Purple fringing was higher than average - especially in shots of trees like the one above.

Zoom: This camera has a wide-angle 4.8x optical zoom lens and a built in 5x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the optical and digital zoom is capable of.

Wide-angle 4.8x Optical Telephoto Full Optical + Digital Zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas as well as the lighter areas - exposure in other photos was generally good. Purple fringing is slightly higher than average in the wide angle and zoom photo. Vignetting can be seen slightly in some of the clock tower photos, although this wasn't noticed in other shots.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is slightly louder than normal in operation - from memory it sounds pretty much identical to the lens in the Ricoh Caplio R1v. The lens gives good control over how you frame your subject with 12 steps between wide and telephoto zoom.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was noticable in a number of photos, and was much higher than average, especially in photos of trees as shown below. Unfortunately this would take quite a lot of effort to remove in a photo package - and if image quality is a high priority then this could put a lot of people off.

Thumb Actual Pixels, top left

Macro: the macro mode allows you to be roughly 1cm away from from the subject, this is with the lens zoomed in slightly. The camera helps you find the "sweet spot" by zooming in slightly when you press the macro button. The camera does a good job toning down the flash however best results are achieved using manual white balance and more natural lighting.

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO100)

The custom white balance helps get better colours in the macro mode - the closest the camera can get to the subject is excellent at around 1cm (even though Samsung states it has a 2cm macro mode). Noise seems low in this photo and detail and colour is very good.

Video mode: The camera features a high resolution VGA 640 x 480 video mode at 30 fps with sound. Digital image stabilisation is available, and crops the view slightly to achieve this. Video quality and length seemed quite good even in low light, although the sound quality didn't seem brilliant. MPEG4 helps fit longer videos into memory thanks to the high compression.

Conclusion

Image Quality: I was slightly disappointed with the image quality of this camera, as images were overly soft, occassionally out of focus, and suffered from high purple fringing. Colour was quite good, with saturated colours, and detail was average. The macro mode is very impressive allowing you to be 1 cm away from the subject. Noise was also quite low the majority of the time. If a long exposure was selected then noise reduction went into overdrive, meaning that lots of detail is lost. Red eye is generally low. Exposure seemed good inside and outside. The camera was generally competent at focusing although it did occassionally struggle indoors in low light. I did not notice any barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a good below average range of image sizes, and compression options, and a good choice regarding aspect ratio. Auto white balance seemed to be good although occassionally struggled indoors in artificial lighting. The camera gives you good control over image quality although finding the options can be a little tricky - for example sharpness is in the main menu, whereas some controls are in the E (Effects) menu and other controls are hidden behind the +/- button. (6.5/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is quite compact and is fairly stylish, although grip isn't one of the cameras strong points. Some of the buttons and menus are slightly confusing. The camera is fairly easy to use, once you get used to the menu system and layout of buttons and controls. There is a good choice of features and options including some more advanced features such as manul shutter and aperture in the night scene mode. The camera speed is generally quite good, with a good switch on time, good focusing time, good shutter response, and a good continous shooting mode. The screen size and resolution is very impressive at 2.8" with 195,840 pixels, and the quality appears good with a dark black background - it's also easily viewable in bright sunlight - I prefer the 2.8" wide-screen to other 3" screens. Battery life is quite good providing around 200 shots per charge. The video mode is quite decent at 640 x 480 at 30fps with sound. The camera's wide-angle 4.8x optical zoom lens is appealling as you can fit more in the picture in tight locations like inside a room or car, and the 2.8" wide-screen is very nice. Some additional control over how the flash fires would be nice, as currently there is no way to stop the flash firing twice, causing some people to blink or move. (8/10)

Value for Money: The Samsung Digimax A55W features the same lens and specifications as the L55W, however, it has a 2.5" screen instead and is slightly cheaper. The main selling point of the Samsung Digimax L55W is the large wide-aspect ratio 2.8" screen and the wide-aspect ratio photo mode - if you want a screen like this then there is little choice, with the only other camera being the considerably more expensive Casio Exilim EX-Z1000 (and the new Panasonic Lumix LX2). If you want a wide-angle lens and a decent amount of zoom in a compact camera then the Ricoh Caplio R4 with better image quality, more zoom, and a smaller body would definitely be worth considering. The L55W is around a year old now and sources are quite limited, at the cameras full retail price of £199, there are now better alternatives, such as the Ricoh Caplio R4, however, if you can find the L55W for a bargain price and really want a wide-screen / wide-angle photo mode then the L55W could be good value for money - especially if it's available second hand. (7/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Samsung Digimax L55W on paper is an impressive camera, with a wide-angle 4.8x optical zoom lens, a wide-aspect ratio photo mode and an impressive wide-aspect ratio 2.8" screen the camera is very appealling. However, image quality was generally slightly disappointing, especially when it came to the high levels of purple fringing when photos contained trees or other high contrast areas. The camera is now facing some extremely strong competition from the likes of Ricoh, Panasonic and to a lesser extent Casio - the Ricoh Caplio R4 offers more zoom and a more compact body for the same price, whereas the Panasonic Lumix LX2 offers a true wide-aspect ratio CCD sensor, and a wide-aspect ratio screen, while people who aren't concerned about a wide angle lens can opt for the Casio Exilim EX-Z1000. If you can find the Samsung Digimax L55W for a bargain price, then it is worth considering, however high image quality is to be found elsewhere.

Samsung Digimax L55W Rating: Above Average (7/10)
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What I like:

  • Excellent wide-angle 2.8" screen - works in sunlight
  • Very good macro mode
  • 4.8x optical zoom wide-angle lens (good for interior shots / real estate etc)
  • Good video mode with high compression (MPEG4)
  • Custom White Balance
  • Shutter / Aperture controls available in Night Scene Mode

What I don't like:

  • Disappointing image quality (generally soft images)
  • Lots of Purple Fringing!
  • Wide-aspect ratio mode uses a smaller part of the image then enlarges it, making images even softer
  • Confusing menu system
  • ISO, White Balance, etc hidden behind the +/- button
  • Proprietry / Non-standard Samsung USB Cable / Connection
  • Flash always fires twice - this can make people blink for the second flash, or make people turn away after the first flash as they think the photo has been taken, this can't be altered.

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Samsung Digimax L55W Sample Photo Gallery.
* Please note: Some digital cameras will not accept larger than 1Gb memory cards.

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