Samsung’s style conscious ST series of compacts gets an addition, the 16.1-megapixel ST93, a smart and slim line snapper that has a host auto features that make snapping fun and easier. Doug Harman finds out if it lives up the billing in this it’s full What Digital Camera test.
Samsung ST93 Review – Features
Looking at the ST93, the headline features must however be the 16.1-megapixel resolution CCD and the wide-zoom lens and yet, something Samsung has always done with its compacts, even looking back to the days of film, is pile in loads of shooting features, some you might never use, and the ST93 is no different.
But first my initial reservation are centered around having so many pixels crammed onto the 1/2.3 -inch sensor, which usually just means loads of image noise so we’ll see how it gets on there later.
In the meantime, the lens is a very nice Samsung optic providing a 26-130mm, F/3.3-F/5.9, 5x wide-zoom ratio that is pretty good for most subjects from snapping sweeping landscapes to closer zoomed shots; the lens provides a flexible and versatile focal range.
The ST93 has a good shutter speed range too running from 8-seconds (in night mode) to a maximum 1/2000th second, the latter a speed available across all the camera’s many modes that range from auto settings such as Smart Auto (in its 2.0 iteration here) to the motion capture mode.
The Smart Auto feature applies a scene mode corresponding to the view before the camera, so you’ll get portrait mode for people and landscape mode for landscapes; it will even apply the backlit subject mode and fire up the flash for what it recognises to be backlit subjects and switch to macro mode when the subject gets close to the camera, down to 5cm in fact. Smart Auto is a system that works really well here.
Alongside the Smart Auto setting is Program mode, which offers a modicum of manual control in that it allows you to adjust all the many bits of kit within the camera, as opposed to applying settings automatically for you.
Settings you get to play with in program mode include the usual stuff such as the image resolution, and quality, exposure compensation and sensitivity, smart filters (more on these in a moment) and face detection modes such as smile and blink detection; the focus areas can be adjusted here too as can the metering modes (including centre-weighted, spot and multi-segment modes) as can the drive modes and image stabilisation settings.
In other words, if it can be adjusted you can get at in the Program mode. Then throw in the sweep panorama mode which is great fun to use but limits the final resolution of the shot you take as it crops and squeezes the image down unlike those systems that simply allow you to align and stitch multiple full resolution images together.
Nevertheless, it works well and offers load so fun as you can get a full 180-degree sweep into a shot and, say, include the same person at either end of the image. You get the idea.
However, one drawback in Program mode is if you pick a lens filter or other special effect feature then some control options can no longer be used, so you cannot use one effects feature if already using one of its others.
Add to this the 10 scene modes, which include the more mundane kit such as a landscape and sunset modes you also get a couple more fun features, such as the magic frame mode where you can add shots into some clever-looking fun digital frames that include the side of a building, a television set and so on; these are great fun to use and to have a play with.
Other fun scene modes include the Beauty Shot mode that helps smooth skin tones to make flattering portraits (though it’s a bit too aggressive at the smoothing for my liking) and the object highlight mode that mimics a large aperture effect to blur backgrounds thus emphasizing the main subject. This works well too but you need to allow it to shoot two images, one focused on the subject, one defocused and then it marries the two together to give the final effect.
The HD movie mode is also able to take advantage of a lot of the special effects or filters that can be applied to still images, theses include miniature, fisheye, retro, black and white (or rather ìclassicî as Samsung prefers to call it), negative mode and an RGB setting that allows you to refine your own mix of the three colours for an almost infinite variety of coloured looks. You’ll spend hours in there I can tell you.
The metering and image stabilisation can all be used in both video and still image shooting and means that overall, the ST93’s features and fun tools are hard to beat.
Samsung ST93 Review – Design
The black liveried version of the camera I had to test looks smart and at just 89.6 x 54.8 x 17.5mm in size it is eminently pocketable.
A sliver-like on/off button on the top plate is joined by a shutter release with its encircling lens zoom control and both are large and easy enough to use. The shutter release also doubles up for video capture, the latter mode selected from the mode button on the camera’s back, as are the other camera shooting modes such as the scene or program settings.
A small mono speaker is also mounted on the top plate (three small slots two thirds of the way across the top plate from the shutter release) while a mono microphone sits just above the sculpted lens protrusion on the front of the camera.
The camera back features a 2.7-inch screen that is great to use and benefits from automatic illumination adjustments, varying its brightness automatically to suit the ambient light in which the camera is used. This is both a great idea and helps reduce battery drain, so offers a real benefit when using the camera.
To the right of the screen are the other main controls (including those mentioned above) you have the menu, playback and function of ìFnî buttons, the latter also acting as a direct, delete button in playback mode. Between these two sets of buttons is the circular four-way controller that toggles display information, the self-timer, direct macro and flash mode activation.
The circular controller also scrolls images or menus and these can be selected or acted upon by pressing a central OK button. All are fairly straightforward to use, although the circular four-way control is rather small for my larger fingers and that make it prone to accidentally activating or selecting the wrong feature.
The menus are clear and laid out as lists that can be scrolled through quickly and each mode has its on contextual menu system; helpfully you only get relevant menu options for the mode the camera is set to.
I love the explanation for each of the shooting items within the menus too; these really help to get you used to what the camera can do and what’s what within the camera. Ditto the smart previews for each filter or scene mode you select, which helps you pick effects and features based on actually seeing what affect the filter has, for example, before you have to take a shot.
The base of the camera houses the battery and the MicroSD memory card slot. The hatch cover is rather flimsy but the BP70A Li-ion rechargeable battery held charge for the three days I used it for and without needing a recharge. Of course, this varies depending on the number of shots you take using flash and how much video and reviewing you do.
The MicroSD cards are tiny and help save space, thus helping make the camera lighter and smaller, but you may need a standard SD memory card adapter if you use a card reader to offload the images, rather than connecting the camera to your PC using its USB 2.0 connector and interface, which is housed under another flap on the right side of the camera just below the wrist strap lug.
Overall, the small size of the camera makes it fiddly for those with larger hands, but as control is so straightforward to use and the automatic modes work so well, there are no real barriers to playing around with the camera and to getting snapping quickly and easily.
Samsung ST93 Review – Performance
Performance wise, the ST93 combines a feature set that would happily grace cameras two or three times the price. The focus is a tad slow for my liking however, and if you need to wait for the flash to charge up, the four seconds or so lag can be onerous.
But there’s little, if any noticeable shutter lag once the flash, metering and focus have all charged and sorted themselves out, which is a real boon snapping faster moving subjects, children, pets and the like.
The HD video quality at 720P and 30fps is a bit grainy but is otherwise smooth and judder free, although there is not a direct movie capture button, you have to select the movie option within the Mode menu, but once there, it’s easy to use. Focusing continues during shooting, albeit very slowly, and the lens can be zoomed while filming too, making the camera even more versatile.
Metering performance is great overall, with centre-weighted setting performing best in my view; in spot metering the spot is too large and in multi-segment metering, the camera had a tendency to underexpose slightly.
The exposure compensation control is also useful but would be more so if it was not buried within the menus, making awkward and time consuming to apply. Colour rendition is good while the auto white balance can be hit and miss, although a lot of the mixed lighting I threw at it (Christmas lights at night, that sort of thing) can cause problems for most auto white balance systems no matter what the camera.
Overall, given its price and what the camera can achieve based on its feature set, the camera performs well.
Images and Verdict
Samsung ST95 Review – Image Quality
With just over 16-million effective pixels, I was fully expecting the image quality to suffer a lot more than it does. For most of the time, in bright daylight, the images look vibrant, clean and suitably detailed.
But once sensitivity rises, say in lower lighting, and the dual image stabilisation starts to get a grip (it uses optical and electronic modes to help reduce camera shake and subject blur, the latter type bumps up the ISO) then things become less pleasing.
However, the way the noise is handled leaves a granular look to the shots, with little luminance noise so it is more akin to film grain than traditional image noise and I prefer that look so it’s not all doom and gloom.
Interestingly, noise in low light when shooting video is particularly heavy, which is a shame particularly as control of the ISO is one of the missing options in movie capture.
And so, while image noise is well controlled overall, once you’re over ISO 800 it becomes more intrusive and as expected, noise reduction processing starts to smear away the details. Writing of detail, the Panorama feature is fun to use but the downside of a Sweep system like this is the amount of detail you can capture.
It is limited by the height (in pixels dimensions) of the image which becomes very long and narrow, so the very subject you would most like to use it for, wide landscapes and vistas, where the smallest distant detail needs to be rendered in the best possible way, if very small in the final image or smoothed away by image processing.
One of the image aspects that did not suffer as much as I’d have expected however is the highlights which are well rendered, in fact and is something that seems a common thread on many of today’s compacts. Namely, highlight detail is preserved at the expense of shadow detail, which just seem to fill in very quickly so that any finer details in darker areas is simply gone.
You can get round this to a degree by astute use of the metering, being more selective where you measure light from in a shot, but in the auto modes, you’re left in the hands of the camera’s systems and they do not always get the best balance. However the face Detection AF is actually rather good as seems to capture flattering faces without too many problems.
A couple of the features I like include the object highlight scene mode, that shoots two images, one focused on the subject and one completely out of focus, and then combines them to mimic the effect of large aperture lens and the narrow depth of field it would be capable of achieving. It works really well as long as the subject does not move between snaps.
Another fun feature is the magic frame mode, where you can insert a subject into a preloaded frame of which you can choose between a TV set, the side of a building or even a wave effect. And despite what you may think of these modes (yes they’re silly, frivolous or to some, simply not necessary) they are fun and some really rather effective.
Another good example of these fun features is the now almost ubiquitous miniature mode, which is included as one of ten other lens filter effects that include a fisheye effect and effects such as a sketch mode.
In each case, the effects can add a touch of the creative to otherwise mundane subjects but if nothing else, they allow you to experiment, and that is great as it means you’ll use the camera more than you otherwise would.
Samsung ST95 Review – Verdict
There’s so much crammed into theSamsung ST93 that it seems you’re getting much more for the money than a simple pocket snapper, and of course you are, well, at least to a degree. The auto snapping modes are able to help you get faster more effective snaps, the image stabilisation works – but watch out for the introduction of image noise – and the many effects and fun filters that you can apply add further creativity into the mix, some are actually really rather good too.
The 16-megapixel resolution sensor is frankly overkill given the likely size the shots taken on this camera are likely to be used at, and yet, given enough light and enough time, you can get very decent results. On the downside, the flash takes too long to recharge, the image noise at higher ISOs is intrusive and detail can be smeared away as the camera tries to deal with it.
But nevertheless, given the cameras feature set and its versatility and then looking at its price, it is surely a small compact that will provide so much snapping pleasure and frivolous fun that if you’re looking to buy such as compact, it’ll be hard to resist and one that perhaps you should not.