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Samsung NV7 OPS - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 05/04/2007
Rating: Above Average

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Introduction: Announced on the 4th of July 2006, the Samsung NV7 OPS is part of Samsung's new "NV" range of digital cameras and is a new 7 megapixel digital camera with a large 7x optical zoom lens. The NV7 is features anti-shake / CCD-shift image stabilisation and a new "Smart Touch" interface. The NV7 is a 7.2 megapixel digital camera with a high resolution 2.5" screen, and a 7x optical zoom lens. The 7x optical zoom lens is equivalent to 38 - 270mm on a 35mm camera. The Samsung NV7 is available from around £210. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy metal body and is available in black. The camera has a 640x480 30fps video mode with sound, although strangely optical image stabilisation doesn't seem to be available. The camera is fairly compact, and the body is particularly thin - but the large lens is around twice as large as the body - it measures: "106 X 62.3 X 20.9mm (projecting part 35.7mm)" according to Samsung - but in real life it actually measures 106 x 62.3 x 56.6mm including the lens, and weighs approx. 245.2g (without battery and card)

Samsung have this to say about the camera:

"Delivering a more advanced photographic experience for taking scenery, sports or even more challenging shots, the NV7 OPS, with 7.2 mega pixels and a 7x optical zoom, offers both the Optical Picture Stabilisation (OPS) and the Advanced Shake Reduction (ASR) processing function to deliver optimum image quality. These combined technologies enable you to take clear and natural pictures anywhere and in lower light conditions without using a flash. Additional functionality provides TV quality MPEG-4 VGA (640x480) 30 fps video recording (including zoom and pause) and a photo gallery function for convenient picture viewing with the Smart Touch interface."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Olympus SP-550 Ultra Zoom)


Front - Camera off.


Front view - camera on, red self-timer led, infra-red receiver, microphone, lens (wide-angle), focus assist lamp.


Back - 2.5" screen, surrounded by "Smart Touch" buttons, zoom, OPS / Back button, Play button.


Top: speaker (far left), pop-up flash, Power, Shutter release, mode dial.


Bottom - USB / TV out / Charging connection, tripod mount, lockable battery and memory compartment. 3.7v 860mAh Lithium Ion battery.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison - compared to the Olympus SP-550UZ.


Size comparison - compared to the Olympus Mju Stylus 770SW.

Specifications / Features:

  • 7.2 million pixel CCD
  • 2.5" TFT screen - 230,000 pixels
  • 7x optical zoom lens (38-270mm equiv.)
  • SD memory card compatibility
  • ISO: Auto:100, 200, 400, 800, 1000
  • 11 Scene modes
  • Optical Image Stabilisation (OPS - CCD-shift)
  • Advanced Shake Reduction
  • Voice Recording (max 1 hour)
  • MPEG4 Video at VGA, 30fps with sound (sound is muted when lens zooming in/out or focusing)
  • 10cm macro mode, 1cm super macro mode
  • 19mb of internal memory

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Strap
  • AC Adapter / USB cable
  • Audio/video cable
  • Lens cap / strap
  • Rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery
  • AC Charger
  • Software CD Rom
  • Printed Manual (80 page)
  • Warranty Card

Average box contents - There is no memory card provided with the camera, instead the camera has 19mb of internal memory - this is worse than a lot of other cameras, and you should invest in a much larger memory card. Some kind of case would be very useful. There is an optical docking station available for the camera.

Battery usage: Battery life seemed poor, using the provided battery I was able to take around 125 photos, this is disappointing, and is generally the number you would get from an ultra-compact, rather than a mid-range digital camera - for example the Fujifilm FinePix F30 gives 580 shots before the battery goes flat! If you need longer than this then I would recommend you buy a second battery.

Camera Operation and OptionsThe control dial on top of the camera lets you select the camera mode from: Program, Auto, Play, Video, Scene, Effects, ASR and ASM (Aperture - priority, Shutter -priority, Manual).

Photo mode / menu:

Photo Mode Scene mode selections

In photo mode all the controls are accessed using the "Smart Touch" panel on the back of the camera - it shows you six main options at the bottom of the screen in P / Program mode, and then a further six options are available by pressing the bottom right button. Scene mode selections: Nightscene, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Close up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Firework, Beach and Snow.

Effect Menu / ASM Manual Mode:

Effect mode, choosing a frame A, S, M Manual Mode

The Effect mode lets you frame images with a cartoon frame (complete with Polaroid emulator - another one of the frames is shown above), take composite images (multiple photos in one image), or make an animated GIFs. ASM mode lets you set the aperture and / or shutter manually, and also lets you manually focus.

Setup Menu / Playback Mode:

Setup menu Playback mode

Screen / LCD display in play mode: (shown above, right) The screen resolution with 230,000 pixels is very good and pictures look clear on it. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. The screen is slightly reflective, but blacks are good. Playback mode: Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is quick. Zooming in is very quick and magnifies the image up to 12x. Zooming out shows 9 images at a time as thumbnails. You can rotate, resize, crop, adjust colour, and turn images into an animated GIF in the edit menu.

Optical / Electronic Viewfinder:  There is no optical viewfinder.

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

Size
Number of Photos Stored / Quality
.
SuperFine
Fine
Normal
7mp (3072x2304)
5
9
14
5mp (2688x2016)
6
12
17
3mp (1920x1440)
12
21
28
1mp (1024x768)
32
47
56

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended. You can fit a very limited number of 7mp Fine images on the built in memory, and you will definitely need to buy a larger memory card.

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 NV7:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £2, 512mb: £4, 1gb (1000mb): £6, 2gb (2000mb): £11, 4gb (4000mb SDHC): £28 (with USB reader)
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's switch on time is fairly quick but could be quicker, and takes around 2 seconds to switch on and become ready to take a photo, taking a total of 3.3 seconds to take the photo. Focusing is quick at around 0.4 seconds - shutter response is a quite quick at around 0.1 - 0.2 seconds. Shot to shot time is around 2 seconds, with flash on this slows down to around 2.5 seconds between shots. Playback mode is quick, and it's easy to zoom in on your last shot and check for blur with the zoom control. Moving from picture to picture is quick but you can also get an overview of 9 shots at a time if you zoom out one more notch. Moving around the different menu options is rapid. Continuous shooting is sluggish taking 1.5 second or more for each shot and the screen switches off meaning you can't see what you are taking photos of, high speed shooting is much quicker at around 2fps for upto 3 shots, a motion capture continuous shooting mode shoots at 8fps at 1mp.

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 features of the camera (such as red-eye flash) it can becomes more complicated, due to the "Smart touch" interface. If you pick up the camera without reading the manual, you may find it difficult to use, as the buttons functions can change depending what mode you are in, and the function is displayed on the screen. Lining up the button with the correct function you want can be difficult at times. Switching between the modes is easy thanks to the mode dial on top of the camera and once you find all the options the camera becomes easier to use, and it is fairly easy to use the more basic functions of the camera - although it took me much longer to get used to this camera than other cameras I've used. Using the Advanced Shake Reduction system is somewhat of a learning curve as best results are achieved in fairly limited lighting conditions.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) The camera feels solid, with a robust metal body. The stylish design and colour scheme looks very good. However there isn't much that your thumb can grip onto. There is a decent hand grip on the front of the camera. The zoom control is fairly easy to use, however I personally prefer horizontal controls that you press left or right rather than the vertical control found on the NV7. There is a built in tripod mount although it is very near the edge. The strap loop is very stylish. The camera labels almost none existen, instead, the "Smart Touch" interface labels are on screen when the camera is in use. The buttons and controls are positioned all around the screen meaning you will need to use two hands to operate some of the controls and functions.

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 NV7 OPS Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO100) Group photo (ISO100)

Inside: The camera has good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - although it does appear to have a pink look to it - there is little or no red-eye in the photo (thanks to the red-eye reduction flash), however there is noticeable redeye in the group photo - the built in red-eye reduction does help, however it will occasionally correct the wrong thing. The colour is very richly saturated and detail is average. It has a fairly decent flash, and copes well with group photos, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept fairly low in these photos. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light.

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: 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1000) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 6 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix F30 and 7 megapixel Olympus Mju Stylus 770SW.

Fujifilm FinePix F30 Samsung NV7 OPS Olympus Mju 770SW (Tungsten)

ISO Noise Test Photo - Flash off unless otherwise stated. Fujifilm FinePix F30 on the left, Olympus Mju 770SW on the right. The colour difference is due to the camera's automatic white balance / white balance setting.

Fujifilm FinePix F30 (6mp) Samsung NV7 OPS Olympus Mju 770SW (7mp Tungsten)
   
N/A N/A ISO80 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1000 - Actual Pixels ISO 1600 - Actual Pixels

The lowest ISO setting normally produces images with little or no noise - the NV7 gets off to a bad start by showing noise (and black dots) in ISO100 images. It can only get worse from here... noise is much more noticeable on the Samsung NV7 OPS with a steady increase in noise as the ISO setting is increased. Black dots are noticeable at all ISO settings. Some of the noise looks like it has a slight banding to it making it even more noticeable, and even photos taken with a bright source of light show excessive noise (for example the flower photo) where other cameras have little or no noise when taking the same photo. The NV7 shows more noise than the Olympus Mju 770SW at all ISO settings, and much more noise than the Fujifilm FinePix F30. I would try and stick to ISO100 if possible, as even ISO200 images showed excessive noise even when dramatically resized (see the camera photos taken in the Olympus SP-550UZ review for examples). You'll also want to try and avoid using ISO400. ISO800 and ISO1000 modes have excessive noise and colour saturation is much lower.

ASR / Advanced Shake Reduction: The Samsung Digimax NV7 OPS, NV3 and i6 features ASR / "Advanced Shake Reduction" - this is a software based blur reduction system, it is designed to enable low light shots without flash, with sharp results, and accurate colour. It works by combining a slow shutter photo (with full colour information) with a fast shutter photo (with sharp edges) in order to generate a natural coloured sharp photo. There are some limitations to this, in that the subject and camera have to remain quite still, unlike other anti-shake / image stabilisation systems, and the camera takes two photos which isn't as instant as just taking one photo. Samsung explain it on this page.

ISO100, 1/100, Flash on, pixels below ISO200, 1/5, Flash off, actual pixels below ISO200, 1/5, ASR On, actual pixels below

Examples: Flash on, Flash off, ASR - The photo using the flash appears the sharpest and most detailed with good colour and low noise, although the background is quite dark, and there is obvious flash reflection. The photo without the flash is blurry and dark, but the background can be seen. The photo using ASR produces a sharper picture with saturated colour, both in the subject and in the background, but noise is much higher (which is definitely a bad thing with this camera!). Attempting to use ASR outside at night produces photos that were drastically underexposed, as the slowest shutter speed was 1 second - using night scene mode, the shutter speed was 16 seconds. Optical image stabilisation can be used with the ASR mode however, images taken with OPS (Optical Picture Stabilisation) and ASR suffer from the same amount of excessive noise as shown above in the third example.

ASR is a clever idea, and works well in some situations, but it has a number of drawbacks. The more "traditional" image stabilisation methods (such as optical image stabilisation) generally work much better to avoid camera shake, whereas using the ASR version it is more difficult to avoid the camera shaking - in fact the manual recommends the subject and camera stays still. In some situations the ASR mode seems counter-active, as it disables the flash, and occasionally seems to use slower shutter speeds compared to the normal mode. I think it would be better labelled as a "Natural light" mode rather than an anti-shake mode... as the ASR mode works well in limited situations as it seems designed for indoor use (the manual states that ASR doesn't activate if lighting is brighter than "Fluorescent lighting"), and can be confusing, and dissapointing when it doesn't work (at night) or isn't available (in bright daylight). ASR works fairly well for macro photos in low light, as long as you can hold the camera fairly still. Thankfully the NV7 has optical image stabilisation which nicely brings us onto the next test...

OPS / Optical Picture Stabilisation: Samsung's optical image stabilisation system moves a the CCD sensor element to counter any camera shake and is a "true" image stabilisation system rather than a digital image stabilisation system (such as ASR above, or high ISO settings). True image stabilisation systems such as optical image stabilisation and anti-shake CCD shift sensors are able to prevent blur in images without increasing noise, and are therefore generally much better than digital image stabilisation. The one main benefit of digital image stabilisation (where the ISO setting is increased) is that the shutter speed is increased which means moving subjects can be photographed more easily.

ISO200, 1/5, OPS off , actual pixels below ISO200, 1/5, OPS mode 1, pixels below ISO200, 1/5, OPS mode 2, pixels below

OPS appears to work best in mode 1 producing a fairly sharp image despite the slow shutter speed. Due to ASR's limited usefulness and added noise, I would recommend avoiding ASR, by using OPS mode 1 instead. Image stabilisation will help take blur free low light photos like the ones shown above, but will also help when using the camera's telephoto zoom lens.

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO100) Trees (ISO100)

Outside: The camera has rich, saturated colour with good contrast and fairly good detail. Some may find the colour saturation too high, and images are slightly soft. Noise was low in these ISO100 photos. The quality was set to maximum to minimise any jpeg artefacts.

Zoom: This camera has a 7x 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 7x optical zoom is capable of.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom 7x Optical zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower seem well exposed, with detail in the dark areas, and detail in the clouds. Exposure can be altered using exposure compensation. There is some slight purple fringing on some edges mainly on the telephoto zoom photos.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is fairly quiet in operation. There are ten steps between wide and telephoto zoom, this gives you fairly good control over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was difficult to detect in any normal photos, although there was some in the telephoto clock tower photos, and the red berries photo.

Macro:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO100)
Timex Watch Super Macro Actual Pixels (ISO100)

The macro mode allows you to be 5 cm away from the subject - this is gets good close up shots, although detail seemed to be quite low, and noise was high for a shot taken at ISO100. The super macro mode is very impressive, allowing you to be 1 cm away from the subject - this gives you fairly good detail but the image seems slightly soft, and noise is noticeable. Custom white balance helps get better colours.

Video mode: The camera features a good video mode - it records 640 x 480 (VGA) video at 30fps, with sound as MPEG4 files - this means you can fit a decent length video onto your memory card. The video mode records sound except when using the zoom or when the lens is focusing. Optical image stabilisation doesn't appear to be available while recording.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is good but not brilliant for an ultra compact digital camera - the images have good colour with very high saturation, good contrast, although noise is noticeable at all ISO settings. The higher ISO settings of ISO800 and ISO1000 were fairly disappointing and lacked colour. Detail seemed lower than expected, and images did appear slightly over-processed resulting in soft looking images. Indoors photos were good, but noise was high, and there was noticeable red eye. Purple fringing was noticed in some of the shots, but is quite low. The camera was competent at focusing, indoors thanks to the focus assist lamp. I did not notice any vignetting, barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a good range of image sizes, and compression options, but no choice regarding the aspect ratio. Auto white balance, metering, and exposure seemed to be good to very good. The camera gives you quite good control over image quality with custom white balance, RGB settings and sharpness. The advanced shake reduction system is quite good indoors, but can only be used in limited lighting conditions, thankfully optical image stabilisation is much more useful. The video mode is good with a high resolution, high frame rate, and the ability to use the optical zoom. The macro mode and super macro mode is very good, although detail seemed low (mainly due to high noise). (6.5/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is stylish with a smooth black body. The camera has a very good 2.5" screen, with a high resolution. The camera feels sturdy and is comfortable to hold. The camera is fairly easy to use, thanks to the mode dial, but the moment you need to alter settings you have to use the "Smart Touch" interface, which I simply did not like as it made changing options difficult and awkward (what's wrong with a normal button?). The options will take a little time to get familiar with, and it's recommended you try the camera before you buy! The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, rapid focusing time, okay shutter response, rapid flash recharge time, quick playback mode, quick menus, and average continuous shooting. The camera has a very large range of features, such as Audio recording, CCD-shift image stabilisation, manual focus etc. Battery life is average to poor. The camera is slightly bulky and unfortunately doesn't feature a wide-angle lens. (7.5/10)

Value for Money: The Samsung NV7 OPS is available from around £210, this makes it average value for money for a 7 megapixel digital camera with 7x optical zoom lens and image stabilisation. There are a number of alternatives: Ricoh Caplio R5 / R6, Canon Powershot A700 / A710 IS, Panasonic Lumix LZ5 all of them are available for less money, and offer a more compact, more pocketable body, with a more traditional and (in my opinion) easier to use interface. From those cameras the Ricoh Caplio R5 / R6 also offers a wide-angle lens, and an ultra compact body. There are also a number of other ultra compact cameras such as the Casio Exilim EX-Z7, and even a camera from Samsung (the Samsung L77), that offers a 7x optical zoom lens in a much smaller body. (7/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: Sometimes a little bit of noise is acceptable, especially if you can use the lowest ISO setting for noise free photos, but the NV7 features noise even when using ISO100. The "Smart Touch" interface is an interesting idea, but whilst it was designed to make using the camera easier, none of the buttons are labelled, and I found the controls fiddly and difficult to use, meaning even the simplest of changes were time consuming. The camera has appealing features, such as CCD-shift image stabilisation, a 7x optical zoom lens, however, it also has a number of annoying faults: for example optical image stabilisation is off by default, the lens is rather bulky meaning the camera is difficult to fit in your pocket, noise is visible at all ISO settings, and battery life is disappointingly short. Overall, it makes it difficult to recommend this camera. It produces bright colourful images, and is fairly speedy in operation, but I found it annoying and awkward to use, even after several weeks of trying to get used to the user interface.

Samsung NV7 OPS Rating: Above Average (7/10)
Only £210 at Amazon - Check for more price below!

What I like:

  • Good image quality - high colour saturation (albeit with too much noise)
  • Good macro / very good super macro mode
  • Excellent 2.5" screen - very clear, high resolution 230,000 pixels
  • Good video mode - VGA, 30fps, Sound, optical zoom available (sound mutes when zooming in/out)
  • Can charge through the USB cable! (wouldn't it be great if ALL cameras did this?)
  • Feels good (solid) and looks good with a stylish body
  • CCD-Shift Image stabilisation helps to avoid blue when taking low-light or telephoto images. (but by default is switched off!)
  • Lots of features / options: eg Manual mode, Manual focusing, Effects, Frames, Colour options etc

What I don't like:

  • ASR / Advanced Shake Reduction produces noisy images and is of limited usefulness (especially when real image stabilisation is available).
  • Excessive noise at all ISO settings with black dots visible even using ISO100 (and some banding)
  • In playback mode, the lens retracts, when you switch back to photo mode, the lens defaults back to the wide setting loosing your lens setting
  • Optical Image Stabilisation is OFF every time you switch the camera off by default!
  • Power button / Shutter release very close
  • Bulky 7x optical zoom lens compared to other cameras.
  • Short battery life.
  • Awkward / frustrating "Smart touch" user interface
  • Less detail in images than expected - images appear over-processed

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Samsung NV7 OPS Sample Photo Gallery.
Additional resources: Digital still cameras provide memories that live on ... To help your business live on, a surveillance camera is a good idea. Surveillance cameras, and even an entire surveillance camera system will bring peace of mind.

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