The Samsung WB550 incorporates an ultra wide angle 24mm lens with 10x optical zoom, so does it have the best of both worlds? Is the W550 (HZ15W in the US) both the perfect wide angle and megazoom compact camera? The What Digital Camera Samsung WB550 review...
Samsung’s picked a trick with the WB550. 24mm wide angle, but with a 10x zoom too? To date that’s the widest angle 10x zoom lens to hit the market, and ought to appeal to those looking to shoot wide angle landscapes, 50mm portraits or even picking subjects from afar.
The Samsung WB550 marries the company’s Dual Image Stabilisation system into the package too, helping to ensure your images stay sharper when conditions and low light become more demanding. This can be used alongside many scene modes, despite the WB550 having the IS mode as a standalone option on the top thumbwheel too – just so you can be sure; if not a little unnecessary.
As high definition becomes more and more popular, and an increasingly important selling point, Samsung has invested its HD technology into the WB550. Capable of shooting 720p HD video at 30 frames per second, the WB-550 even utilises the H.264 codec (MPEG 4 part 10). This may sound geeky, but it’s a very good way of encoding video files at equally high quality to previous compression types, but with a much smaller file size. Perfect for saving space and sharing files without the fuss of transmitting gigantic amounts of data.
The Samsung WB550 supplies scene modes – including Smart Auto, Auto, Programme and Manual – in abundance; ensuring the right mode for any occasion. The dominant modes are available via a quick rotation of the WB550’s top thumbwheel, whilst some simple menu-digging will reveal the more specialist options (such as ‘Café scene mode’). The manual mode is a nice touch, though with the limitation of only a couple of apertures on any occasion it’s only a little more sugar-coated than the P mode’s already decent offering.
Whilst Samsung has introduced an OLED screen to the WB1000 series, the WB550, contrary to a number of reports, does not add this to the spec sheet. Perhaps disappointing, but the 230K dot 3in LCD is more than ample and, for this price point, it seems unlikely that an OLED screen would be added to the equation.
Samsung WB550 review – Design & Performance
For all its merits, however, the Samsung WB550 unravels itself somewhat by its design. Primarily it’s the placement of the flash that undoes an otherwise strong looking spec sheet – it’s placed to the right, exactly where your fingers go to rest when shooting. The result is that, when using flash in low light, your fingers will block the flash, thus obscure half exposed snaps are commonplace. The shutter button is placed on the WB550 body in such a fashion that it becomes an issue to not cover the flash when pressing – it’s a flaw that’s been thoroughly overlooked by the design team. Tut tut. Furthermore the battery flap can be very easily slid open, which can become an issue when storing in a tight pocket, given it can flap open upon retrieval… Precarious indeed.
On the upside the thumbwheel – for selecting scene modes – clearly illustrates your selection on the WB550’s LCD screen. Face, smile and blink detection all feature. The standard wide/tele zoom function on top of the camera is effectively responsive and the lens feels stable at all zoom ranges. The body is sturdy and, whilst relatively bulky, is of a sensible size considering the zoom prowess that the WB550 offers. This is all dressed in a tidy black or grey finish with elegant silver-like buttons and controls, along with the power button’s blue illumination. All in all its an aesthetic improvement over the previous NV series, but the new layout struggles and menus are less intelligible – an oddity, given it would make sense for the design to push forward rather than taking a step back.
The WB550 has a rechargeable battery which can be charged in-camera – whether wired to a plug socket or, by conveniently removing the plug head, a USB cable (which, admittedly, is absurdly short) can be popped directly into the computer. An HDMI port on the camera’s left side allows for convenient HD output too – be that images or 720p video (as shot in camera at 30fps).
The Samsung WB550 has an excellent 24-240mm zoom range, which is further enhanced by an excellent macro mode and even the option for manual focusing. Usually only top of the line (i.e. expensive) compacts come with such a focusing benefit and it can make a great difference when creatively composing macro shots.
Performance is good throughout the range, though in low light scenarios the WB550 can struggle (perhaps no more than most standard compacts though). Most notably in testing all modes became confused by bright lights and over-saturated some image areas. Dual image stabilisation did assist in many circumstances, though it can only be relied on in dim light rather than a significant absence of.
Image Quality & Value For Money
Samsung WB550 review – Image Quality
The Samsung WB550 has a small image sensor which carries an effective 12.1 megapixels. Ideal for making enlargements, though so many pixels on such a small sensor does tend to limit the image quality, especially at the higher ISO sensitivities. From ISO 80-400 the results deliver with no issues, but the 800-1600 range pronounces some noise, particularly in low light.
In-camera sharpening can also come across a little strongly too, though this can be turned down via the WB550’s in-camera menu. At ISO 3200 the camera limits to a 3MP size where colour and quality significantly lack; it seems an unnecessary ‘perk’ to have such an option available. The WB550’s lens is of ample quality, though not strikingly sharp – it’s the in-camera sharpening which seems to add to edges in an overtly pronounced way.
Samsung WB550 review – Value for Money
Shop around and the Samsung WB550 can be bagged for around £230 (down on its £300 SRP). Considering the number of electronics companies hoisting prices sky-high of late, this is great value for money given the specs and is an excellent reason to opt for the Samsung. Compared to the older Samsung NV range, the WB550 is head and shoulders above in terms of looks and introduces enough new bang for your buck, without excessively pushing the price. It seems Samsung has a firm understanding regarding affordability and the WB550 takes successful advantage of this.
The Samsung WB550 has some excellent specs on offer. Its 24mm wide angle lens with extendable zoom to 240mm means shooting a wide range of subjects is ideal – beyond what most compacts will offer, not least at this affordable price point. Where the WB550 really wains, however, is in its design – the flash is so misplaced it impairs its use significantly. Additionally, use in low light causes difficulty with focus, plus colours can saturate to excess. It’s very much not for those out on the town snapping pictures of their mates in dark venues. However, with the inclusion of 720p HD video (and the playback is wonderfully smooth), an array of modes and that wonderful wide angle lens, the WB-550 is a top shooter for your range of day to day shots – and for that, despite its occasional downfalls, we can only give the Samsung WB550 a firm thumbs up.