With a 5x optical zoom, HD movie recording a 3in touchscreen, how does this upper entry-level compact fare against its peers? The Samsung ST95 review finds out...
Samsung ST95 Review – Features
Available in five colours, the Samsung ST95 is based around the combination of a 16.1MP CCD sensor and a 5x optical zoom lens, which provides a respectable focal range of 26-130mm. Samsung’s Smart Auto 2.0 technology is on hand to automatically tweak shooting parameters in both stills and movie modes, while a reasonable sensitivity range of ISO 80-3200 also features to handle a range of lighting conditions.
Although the Samsung ST95 clearly has the younger and more novice consumer in mind, it’s refreshing to see that Samsung hasn’t skimped on the camera’s core feature set. The full quartet of multi, centre-weighted, spot and face detection metering options are joined by seven separate focusing functions, including Focus Tracking AF and a one-touch shooting option. This latter feature takes advantage of the 3in LCD touchscreen which dominates the camera’s rear, and allows subjects to be brought to focus and captured by pressing the relevant area on the screen.
Completing the camera’s spec sheet is a 720p HD movie mode, as well as Smart Face Recognition for up to 20 faces per frame. There’s also a range of processing effects which can be used to treat images before and after capture, although the omissions Samsung has made may deter potential buyers: In contrast to similar models from Panasonic, Canon and others there’s no mechanical image stabilisation system, for example, and there’s no sign of an HDMI socket either. Worse still, the model records all images and videos to the small and fiddly microSD/SDHC format of memory card, rather than the more standard SD cards which are instantly compatible with laptops, televisions and printing kiosks.
Samsung ST95 Review – Design
The ST95 is small and light, while its plastic and metal body is built to a standard which befits its price tag. When a camera such as the Samsung ST95 is controlled almost entirely by its touchscreen, though, operating it comfortably depends on a number of factors, such as the dimensions and responsiveness of the screen, the size of its buttons, and the way the camera handles when its display is poked and swiped – and it’s here that the ST95 falls down.
The screen may measure three inches along its diagonal, but being sized to the 16:9 aspect ratio means that (non-widescreen aspect ratio) full-resolution images only fit the centre of the frame. The screen itself is fairly responsive for a resistive display (the other type, known as capacitive, performs better but is reserved for higher-end models), although trying to swipe a thumb across the small areas over which the main menus appear often obscures the content of the menus themselves. It’s also difficult to make anything out in harsh conditions, and the viewing angle is narrow whenever the camera is tilted up or down.
Performance & Image Quality
Panasonic Lumix FS22 Review – Performance
The camera’s design issues are unfortunate, as it impresses in a number of other areas. The home screen which houses all scene and exposure options is well designed and makes good use of both colour and space, while the screen used in Program shooting may be customised to offer instant access to functions of the user’s choosing. Start-up and power down times are also swift, and while focusing speed is fairly average on the whole, the one-touch capture option makes light work of quickly identifying, focusing and capturing a subject through the display. The responsiveness of the zoom collar, however, could be improved, as it can be difficult to adjust the focal length with the expected precision.
Panasonic Lumix FS22 Review – Image Quality
The Samsung ST95’s image quality is a mixed bag. The camera does well to expose consistently in both balanced and trickier lighting, only losing a touch of highlight details in high-contrast situations in order to expose for the main subject. Flash performance is also good and the camera is capable of capturing a reasonable amount of detail, although the effects of image noise and noise reduction processing can be witnessed in images on all sensitivities, which rob them of fine details.
Distortions are also minimal, even at the 26mm wideangle of the camera’s lens. The slight unevenness which can be seen – either a result of aspherical elements in the lens or in-camera processing – is perfectly acceptable for a model priced this aggressively. There’s also almost no sign of any chromatic aberrations where they may normally be expected, which may not be quite as vital as other aspects of image quality, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Elsewhere, there’s less to get excited about. The main bugbear is the ST95 ‘s Auto White Balance system, which does well around 80 per cent of the time but otherwise fails to capture the colours and tones originally present. As an example of this, the two images above were captured using the camera’s Smart Auto mode within seconds of each other. There’s so little colour in the second that it almost appears as a black and white capture, while the other appears to have been taken on a gorgeously sunny day, despite both being shot under the same cloudy conditions. Considering these are different subjects we should expect some difference, but certainly not to this degree.
Another issue is with corner sharpness, which is decidedly poor. Part of this stems from the camera’s automated settings which often choose the lens’s widest aperture of f/3.3 where possible, where this is at its worst. Results improve at smaller apertures, although there’s no way for the user to regulate this themselves.
Value & Verdict
With a current street price of around £140 the ST95 is priced in between cheaper touchscreen models such as the Fujifilm Z90 and Kodak Slice, or the more expensive Panasonic FS22 and Fujifilm Z900 options. In terms of functionality and performance this positioning seems to be justified, although considering that it’s only been on the market for a few months it seems certain that this price will continue to fall.
Samsung ST95 review – Verdict
The ST95 has a number of positive attributes, such as its colourful graphical user interface and wideangle lens, and in the right hands it can produce well-exposed an decent-looking images. Sadly, the performance of its LCD screen lets it down, while the over-processed and inconsistent quality of its images makes it a less than reliable camera for the less experienced user.