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Samsung HZ35W (WB650)
10.2MP | 24-360mm (15X) ZOOM | $349/£244

Following the HZ10W, released last year, the HZ35W is Samsung's latest attempt to produce the ultimate all-in-one compact camera. To that end, it features the most broad-spanning lens of all of the cameras in this group, from a wideangle setting of 24mm to a telephoto of 360mm (equivalent). At 15x, this is a remarkably powerful optic, and its wide range is reflected in the camera's large size, relative to the other models in this group. In fact, the only camera here that is bulkier than the HZ35W is the Kodak EasyShare Z950, and only a handful of grams and millimeters separate the two.

  • 12.0 effective Megapixels
  • 24-360mm equiv lens
  • 1280 x 720p HD video recording with H.264 compression
  • 3-inch pentile AMOLED with VGA (equivalent) resolution
  • Built in GPS and compass
  • Combined optical and digital image stabilization
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200
  • Face Detection, Beauty Shot and Dynamic Range enhancer (Auto contrast balance)
  • Smart Auto 2.0
  • PASM shooting modes

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Overview

The Samsung HZ35W is one of the bulkiest cameras in this group test, but it carries its extra weight very well, thanks to a decent sized handgrip and solid construction. It's a shame that Samsung has done away with the strangely shaped but useful 'lip' that appeared on the top right of the HZ10W, but the HZ35W is nevertheless a comfortable camera to hold and use.

As well as the ski-jump-shaped lip on the rear of the camera, Samsung has also gotten rid of the rather sharp exposure compensation button/switch of the HZ10W, and replaced it with a video shooting button, conveniently placed close to the thumbrest. These are the two main changes, but they do make a difference to handling. The dpreview office is split on the omission of the old-style exposure compensation button. Personally, I see it as a welcome improvement, although in our sample, the switch is rather stiff, and catches a little. It takes quite a lot of pressure to convince the camera that you want to zoom the lens, but this may not be common to all samples.

Cosmetically, the HZ35W is, like its predecessor, a really nice piece of work. The matte black body of our sample, with silver accents on the top, sides and around the lens, looks really classy. The only thing about this camera that we don't really like is the plastic lump on the top right of the camera (when viewed from the front). This conceals the GPS receiver. The GPS can be turned off using a convenient physical switch on the top plate (and we'd recommend that you do - see 'performance' below). Unfortunately though, turning GPS off doesn't get rid of the ugly plastic lump.

The rear of the HZ35W is dominated by a 3inch AMOLED monitor, which makes the Samsung unique amongst its competitors in this group test, all of which feature more conventional LCD technology. AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) offers better contrast than normal LCD, and better visibility in bright light. The advantage is subtle when the camera is used indoors, but outside, in bright sunlight, it is considerably better than the other cameras in this test, particularly those without an anti-reflective coating on their screens.

Key Features

The HZ35W is a bulky camera by the standards of (most of) the others in this group test, but it is well-designed and comfortable to hold.

 

Like its predecessor, the Samsung's lens only extends fairly moderately even at full zoom.

The Samsung's combined USB/video/power connector is located on the camera's right side, alongside an HDMI output.

On the Samsung's back the ubiquitous four-way controller is accompanied by three buttons including the Fn button for quick access to frequently used settings such as ISO or white balance.

Above there's a direct access button to initiate video shooting.

Compared to the last generation HZ10W, the positions of the exposure mode dial and shutter release have been swapped, and the zoom control has been slightly redesigned (and not for the better, in our opinion) but that's it for the right of the top plate.

 

The lens covers a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 24-360mm. This is both the joint widest, and longest of any of the cameras in this group test. A full 15x optical zoom range.
Here you can see the GPS housing, which has its own on/off switch and the main power switch for the camera.
Pressing the Fn button brings up the Quick Menu that allows direct access to many of the key shooting settings (exactly which settings those are depends on how automated the selected shooting mode is).

Image quality and performance

The Samsung turns in a very good performance, both in our tests, and in day to day use of the camera. At low ISO settings is delivers amongst the best pixel-level image quality of all the cameras here, and unlike some previous Samsung compact cameras that we've used, noise reduction is well-controlled, and colors are accurate with no unpleasant color casts or white balance issues. It is clear that in the past couple of years Samsung has put a lot of effort into improving the output of its compact models, and this has definitely paid off in the HZ35W. Although high ISO image quality is sketchy compared to the results at low ISOs in good light, the Samsung has done very well in all the image quality tests to which we have subjected it, including the all-important low-light flash snapshots.

The Samsung is also one of the fastest cameras in our group. Startup time is a respectable 1.5 seconds (approx) and in use, the HZ35W was one of the few cameras in this test that really didn't keep us waiting at any point. Despite its impressive range, the 24-360mm lens zooms quickly and smoothly, rather than 'jerking' from step to step, and AF is fast and positive, even at the telephoto end of the zoom. In low light the AF falters, but this is only to be expected, and a bright orange AF assist lamp is on hand to supply some contrast for the system to latch onto.

The 24-360mm lens is nice and sharp, and shows minimal chromatic aberration, although in-camera processing undoubtedly has a part to play in reducing its appearance. Our only substantial criticism of the Samsung's lens is a slight but noticeably uneven vignetting in our test sample, which is slightly worse on the right of the frame compared to the left when shooting at 24mm (equivalent).

However, it's not all sunshine and good news - the Samsung does have one major black mark against it, but how much of a problem it is depends on why you bought (or are considering buying) the camera. If you've read this far you'll know that the HZ35W features a built-in GPS mode, but what you probably don't know (and Samsung doesn't make clear) is that GPS in the HZ35W doesn't work in quite the way you'd expect it to. In fact, depending on your location and the particulars of your personal Internet setup, it might not work at all.

Although the Samsung offers geotagging for photographs and an on-screen map feature, the camera doesn't come preloaded with any maps. Instead, you'll need to visit Samsung's website and download the files that you need, then copy them to your memory card.

This is the point where it gets complicated. Although we had no problems downloading the 50Mb file for the UK, some of our forum users have reported serious issues when downloading the larger mapfiles for the US and other areas of the world. If you have a download limit on your Internet connection, watch out, because if the map file you want exceeds this limit, you'll lose the download, and Samsung only allows you three attempts at downloading a particular file before locking you out. Yes, - you guessed it - a failed download counts as an attempt.

If you're interested in using GPS with the HZ35W we'd recommend you check out this thread on our forums which explains a lot. There isn't space in this test to thoroughly explore the intricacies of the HZ35W's GPS system, but suffice to say that try as we might, we couldn't get our sample to work in the way that we expected it to (or indeed work at all).

Good image quality at all focal lengths from 24-360mm and reliable metering and white balance systems make the Samsung a genuinely useful tool for serious photography. Image quality isn't so hot higher up the ISO scale, but as a go-everywhere camera the Samsung excels. But don't buy the HZ35W for its GPS.

Summary

Compared to its predecessor the HZ10W, the HZ35W gets a lot of things right. Build quality and ergonomics match the high standards set by the HZ10W, and - crucially - image quality is very high too, and definitely improved over the earlier camera. We love the chunky metal body and excellent AMOLED screen, and given the choice of any camera in this group to just go out and shoot with, the HZ35W would be very high on our list. The 24-360mm zoom lens is excellent, despite its extremely broad span, and its inbuilt image stabilization works very well indeed.

The only aspect of the Samsung's performance that is genuinely disappointing is the implementation of its GPS system, which in our experience is idiosyncratic at best, and at worst, non-functional. We suspect that our particular problems stem from a combination of technical issues with our specific sample, and the frankly baffling online Mapview download implementation. Hopefully Samsung will streamline the process of downloading and using Mapview files on the HZ35W, but for the moment, we're not confident that the GPS feature will be useful for that many people. Certainly, judging from some of the comments on our forums, a lot of HZ35W buyers are experiencing problems with it.

Fortunately, there are a good many other reasons to buy the camera. In fact, in the final analysis the HZ35W is amongst the best models in this group test, and deserves serious consideration.

  • We like: 24mm wide-angle, excellent image quality (especially at lower ISO settings), good build quality, excellent LCD, ergonomic user interface, good operational speed, reliable exposure and flash

  • We don't like: Slow lens at the long end of the zoom (F5.8), hesitant focus in low light, poor GPS implementation.
Samsung HZ35W (WB650)
Category: Travel Zoom Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Pretty much anything. The HZ35W has arguably the strongest feature set in this group
Not so good for
Geotagging - the HZ35W's GPS integration doesn't feel finished.
Overall score
72%
The Samsung HZ35W gets the joint-highest score in this test because of its excellent all-round performance and impressive feature set. Ironically, the Samsung's 'headline' feature of built-in GPS is one of its few weaknesses, but there are easily enough good points to put the HZ35W at the top of the pile, and there is no doubt that it is one of the strongest contenders in this category.
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