Samsung ST550 – a camera with two LCD screens? The What Digital Camera Samsung ST550 review checks out the ultimate self-portrait compact…
Samsung ST550 review – Features
As well as dual LCD screens, the ST550 dons a 12.2 Megapixel sensor for ample-sized images and has a 27-124mm (4.6x optical zoom) lens to cover a varied range that’s also optically stabilised to avoid camera shake. The main 3.5in rear LCD screen is touch sensitive, meaning there’s no need for any physical buttons on the rear. The front screen is more or less invisible until activated with a stern tapping, when it becomes bright and easy to view front-on.
High ISO setting ranges from ISO 80-3200 for low-light performance when needed, or the in-built flash can provide an extra punch of light. The 27mm lens is fairly wide angle, and with 4.6x optical zoom stretches as far as a 124mm equivalent.
A number of options including Smart Auto to auto-detect the best conditions, face detection, smile and blink detection as well as Smart Touch AF which tracks a subject in frame by clicking the very subject with your finger. It’s all rather clever stuff.
Samsung ST550 review – Design
Dressed in black, with a fiery orange lip running across the top and to the right hand side, the ST550 is quite the little stunner. It’s subtle, looks techy in a trendy way and doesn’t feel particularly targeted to one sex or other – in that respect it’s successfully androgynous and will be suited to a wide audience.
In use it can be a little tricky to get used to the ST550’s rear touch screen. With so many compacts having the standardised d-pad on the back – which lacks here – it’s a bit of an uphaul to try and locate all the settings. However, once you do everything’s a doddle with a little bit of practice. The screen does take abuse from naturally greasy fingers of course, and you will find yourself rubbing it clean a fair amount. But, and quite the big but, the screen itself is gloriously massive, the 3.5in widescreen ratio covering about 95% of the camera’s rear without the need for additional buttons taking up the space. The front screen, on the other hand, is smaller but of ample size. It appears to be invisible when not on, the only significant issue with it being the ‘tap to turn on’ function that’s more of a lucky strike than tap. Turning on can be temperamental and, really, Samsung should have opted for a simple, gentle ‘double click’ gesture or, more simply, a physical button on the camera itself to activate.
The zoom button atop the ST550 is rather small however, and needs to be pulled directly to the left or right, compared to many compacts which have a larger, more rotational zoom switch that’s easier to use. Perhaps, due to the slimness of the camera’s body it would have been difficult to implement such a system, and whilst not a huge issue by any means, just feels a little like your hand sits unusually to the camera’s body when zooming.
Performance, Image Quality & Value
Samsung ST550 review – Performance
The Samsung ST550 performs well. There are one or two niggles though – the front screen being a little temperamental to turn on until you have the knack of the ‘turn on tap’. Also, given the 27mm lens it’s not necessarily always wide enough to take a self portrait of two people with your heads fully in the frame. True as it is that wide angles certainly don’t purport to producing flattering portraits, so anything wider would admittedly over-enhance facial features, but an extra few mm – say a 24mm – would be great for general use when shooting other subjects too. The 4.6x zoom, equating to 124mm at its longest end, whilst mostly sufficient also feels a little lacking – a wider angle and longer zoom would really set the ST550’s feature set apart from the crowd, especially with the clever dual screen system. Furthermore the battery life is very poor and has to be charged in camera via the shortest charge cable I’ve ever seen bundled with a camera. Rather cleverly, on the other hand, is the fact that you can plug directly into the wall or instead to your computer via USB to charge.
The ST550 has an excellent macro mode which works very closely to subject, and the Smart Auto is deft at detecting when it should or shouldn’t be activated. In fact the auto modes are mostly accurate throughout, only leaving the lack of more manual controls or focus at bay. More advanced users may desire modes such as this, but then that would be to miss the point – the Samsung ST550 is meant to be a stylish point-and-shoot compact. And with that in mind, and including the abundance of facial recognition modes, it’s hit the nail squarely on the head for certain. Smile and blink detection compliment face detection, or ‘my star’ allows you to store your favourite people’s faces where the ST550 will then automatically recognise them in the future. Scene modes add ‘beauty shot’ which mildly softens larger skin areas of the face to give a more flattering portrait.
Auto focus steps up a notch too by adding yet more sophisticated modes such as Subject Tracking Mode to allow a physical click of your subject on screen to then be followed around frame for ideal focus. Most clever. Auto focus for the most part is good, with centre AF, multi AF and One Click Shot also available. The only slight issue is an ever so slight processing time where the screen blacks out upon taking a shot, which makes you feels somewhat disengaged from the shooting process.
The front LCD has a few extra bonuses too, such as ‘children mode’ which shows an animated display to keep young children’s otherwise easily distracted minds focus face-on to camera. And to prevent things getting stale, Samsung even hosts additional animations online which can be downloaded for free. There is also an HD video mode capable of capturing 720p (1280×720) at 30 frames per second with mono sound, however it’s not possible to utilise the front LCD in this mode.
For those looking for a more creative edge, there are numerous in-camera colour modes too. From more traditional ‘black and white’ options to fun ‘retro’ mode, there’s all sorts of ways to manipulate your images when shooting, without the need for software. Utilising these modes does disable any face detection or sharpness/contrast adjustment (the latter available only in Program mode).
Samsung ST550 review – Image Quality
The Samsung ST550 produces good images, though as you begin to utilise the higher ISO settings this quickly deteriorates to much softer images. It would seem that, from above around ISO 200, the noise reduction employed is perhaps a little excessive as it really douses out a lot of detail. In saying that however, it’s fairly typical of small-sensored compact cameras to struggle with high ISO images, but in good light or with flash this isn’t going to cause an issue whatsoever.
The ST550 lens quality is reasonable, and there’s no fringing or chromatic aberration to be seen, though the mildly ‘fuzzy’ appearance of many images at 100% will limit their use for pin-sharp large prints; it’s more the detail and sharpness which lacks – partly down to the lens, partly the in-camera processing. Colour is rich and realistic, tones are a good neutral and there are enough in-camera modes to correct all this to your liking should you so wish.
Samsung ST550 review – Value For Money
It’s not two screens for the price of one, nor should it be. At around £260 the ST550 isn’t a cheap compact by any means. But with other quality compacts on the market, such as the Panasonic FX550, at similar price points, it’s a fair price for a sturdy feature set and all-round decent camera.
It’s fairly uncommon that a compact comes along that shows true innovation – but the Samsung ST550 is certainly just that. Thanks to its dual LCD screens it’s an inspirational camera, so hats off to the Samsung.
Sure there’re a few small issues to iron out – the higher ISO image quality could do with performing better, the front screen should be easier to turn on, and the screen black out upon taking a shot can feel to disengage from the action. But brush those minor points aside and the abundance portrait and facial recognition technologies, image stabilisation, 3.5in wide touchscreen rear LCD, super macro mode and clever subject tracking auto focus make this a real ‘people camera’. It looks the part, by and large plays the part too and can only get a big thumbs up.
It’s fairly uncommon that a compact comes along that shows true innovation – but the Samsung ST550 is certainly just that. Thanks to its dual LCD screens it’s an inspirational camera, so hats off to the Samsung. Sure there’re a few small issues to iron out – the higher ISO image quality could do with performing better, the front screen should be easier to turn on, and the screen black out upon taking a shot can feel to disengage from the action. But brush those minor points aside and the abundance portrait and facial recognition technologies, image stabilisation, 3.5in wide touchscreen rear LCD, super macro mode and clever subject tracking auto focus make this a real ‘people camera’. It looks the part, by and large plays the part too and can only get a big thumbs up.