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Samsung TL34 HD (NV100HD)
14.7MP | 28-102mm (3.6X) ZOOM | $320 US / £170 UK

After years floundering in photography's budget backwaters, Samsung has of late been taken a lot more seriously thanks to its 'New Vision' range of slim, stylish, feature-packed metal-bodied compacts. The NV models don't just look like no other cameras (a rare enough virtue in this era of lookalike silver boxes), they also boast some unique features and - on paper at least - offer high spec at a very competitive price point.

The TL34 HD (or NV100 HD as it is known in Europe) was announced in July this year and is the new flagship of Samsung's NV range, offering high resolution (14.7 MP), a wide zoom lens and a wealth of features. With its sleek design and touch-screen user interface it appears to be aimed at the gadget loving technophile, but looking at its spec sheet it's clearly got a lot to offer to more serious photographers as well. The specification highlights are:

  • 14.7MP effective Megapixels
  • 28-102mm equiv lens with 5x Optical zoom and up to 6.1x Digital Zoom
  • 3.0 inch Touch-screen LCD with 460,000 dot resolution
  • Dual Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200
  • Face Detection including Smile & Blink Detection
  • 8 shooting modes, 13 scene modes including Beauty Shot Mode
  • 40MB internal memory
  • 720p HD recording
  • Available in Black and Silver & Red
  • Optional Accessories available, including HDMI cradle

Click here to view the original news story and full specification (opens in new window)

Overview

The Samsung TL34 HD is perhaps the most stylishly designed camera in this test and complements its good looks with a solidly built, all-metal body that is available in silver or black. It's not the smallest camera in this group, but it's certainly quite slim and will easily fit into any shirt pocket.

In pure specification terms, the TL34 HD certainly doesn't have to fear any competition. It offers the highest resolution sensor in this test, a maximum sensitivity setting of ISO 3200, optical image stabilization, HD video recording and HDMI output - certainly plenty to play with even for the most demanding gadget freaks. Images are captured through a 5x zoom lens that offers a useful 35mm equivalent range of 28-102mm, enough to cover most photographic subjects from architecture and landscape to social snaps. If you want to photograph your kids on the soccer pitch though this is not for you, you'll need more reach.

The TL34's user interface is fairly unique in so far as it combines a 3.0 in touch-screen with a small number of hard buttons. In practice this works quite well (at least after some initial time of adjustment) and also allows direct access to many more settings than would be possible with a conventional user interface. Luckily Samsung has opted for hard buttons to control the zoom (in the previous group test we found it quite difficult to control the zoom precisely via a touch-screen), and there is also a conventional dial for choosing the shooting mode. What the touchscreen is not very good at though is gestures. You can drag across the screen to browse images, or draw an 'X' to delete a picture, but while in theory this is a pretty cool feature in practice it hardly ever works. It's much easier to simply 'click' on the corresponding icon. We also found the exposure compensation control (using a virtual slider) frustratingly unresponsive.

Key Features

The TL34 HD features a slim and stylish body that is available in black or silver. There is also a tiny grip for improved handling.
On the camera's top plate you find the power button, shutter button and the mode dial.
There are only four buttons on the TL34's back. Most functions are controlled on the 3.0 in LCD touch screen.
Virtually all shooting parameters are accessible via the touch-screen. Tap on one of the icons...
...and the options pop up (AF mode in this case).
You get to the settings menu by pressing the Menu button. The layout is fairly conventional but again the menu is controlled via the touch-screen.

Image quality and performance

Autofocus on the Samsung is generally pretty quick, though it's also very quick to give up if it doesn't find focus immediately. Luckily another quick tap of the shutter button usually puts this right. Shot-to-shot times are poor, with even the most fevered shutter pressing still resulting in around 3 second intervals between releases. The flash slows things down still further, taking the shot-to-shot pause to 3.5 seconds, or nearer 5 seconds with red-eye reduction. Shutter lag is pretty good though, and is not likely inhibit your shooting, especially if you've pre-focused.

The TL34's image quality is, to put it kindly, not terrible. But it's distinctly underwhelming when you look closely at what is supposed to be 14.7 megapixels' worth of detail only to find it looks more like five megapixels, because there's so much noise reduction going on that any fine detail or texture is smeared away and all you have left is a lot of redundant pixels. Don't believe me? Check out the three crops below comparing an area of bold detail taken with the Samsung TL34 and with the lowest pixel count camera in this test, the Canon SD880 IS.

Canon SD880 IS, 100% crop Samsung TL34 100% crop Canon SD880 IS, upsized (Photoshop bicubic)

As you can see there's no resolution advantage to the Samsung. In fact we tried reducing the Samsung's images to 5 megapixels in Photoshop, saving the files then resizing back up to their original (14.7MP) size, and apart from a slight softening of the image, in most parts of the frame - areas of low contrast detail and texture - you couldn't tell them apart. And this is with a high contrast subject at base ISO in optimal lighting; low contrast detail, higher ISO settings and shadow areas are far worse.

Ultimately this all means that even in small prints the Samsung's output looks slightly plasticy and lacking in texture compared to many of its competitors. Again I should stress the quality is far from terrible, and I'm sure most owners are happy with their prints, but it looks distinctly second rate compared to the best models in this sector of the market.

To be honest the lack of fine detail and texture in the shots would be more forgivable if everything else about the image quality was perfect, but it isn't; we had far too many focus errors (even in daylight) at the long end of the zoom, the white balance and metering are both a bit dodgy, the colors are a bit oversaturated, and there's quite strong purple fringing when shooting against the light.

The TL34HD has by far the least impressive pixel level image quality, with excessive noise reduction at base ISO robbing the pictures of texture. But we could forgive that if the things that matter at more realistic viewing distances were good enough. And whilst the bright colors aren't too offensive, the number of focus errors (when the camera claims to have locked focus but is in fact way out) is unacceptable, and we found the metering and white balance to be a little unreliable too.

Compare the two shots to the left; the wideangle shot is perfectly good (top), whilst the telephoto shot - which was apparently 'in focus' when we took it - is completely wrong. We saw this far too often.

Summary

On paper the TL34HD offers a compelling mix of advanced features - including HD movie capture, 14.7 megapixel stills, a very slim, stylish casing and a large, bright touchscreen. The touchscreen system is the best we've tried and manages to put a lot of control quite literally at your fingertips (though it's far more responsive to taps than gestures, making sliders like AE compensation frustrating to use). Our overwhelmingly positive initial response to the TL34HD became more and more muted as we used it, when we discovered that it often feels sluggish in use and has some image quality issues towards which we found it impossible to turn a blind eye.

There's no doubt that Samsung is becoming a serious player in the photography market - partly by offering customers what they want (feature-packed, stylish cameras at very keen prices) but the TL34HD simply doesn't deliver on what it promises, and the impressive multi megapixel resolution is slightly misleading, to say the least, when the amount of detail captured could be achieved with half as many pixels.

  • We like: Styling, build, feature set, extensive controls, HD movies, screen

  • We don't like: Slow operation, focus errors, over processed output, incredibly soft at anything over base ISO, touchscreen doesn't always respond (such as when trying to move the AE compensation slider)
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