Samsung HZ25W / WB5000
12.47MP | 26-624mm (24X) ZOOM | $340/£280
The Korean electronics giant Samsung is still one of the newer kids on the digital camera block but has been able to secure fairly sizeable chunks of the market in many areas. The HZ25W (WB5000 in Europe) is the company's first stab at the lucrative superzoom segment and comes with a well-rounded specification including a 24x zoom lens, 720p HD video and RAW shooting (up to ISO 400 only). All this is wrapped up in an attractive and compact body that bears a few design parallels to other recent Samsung models such as the large sensor compact NX10.
Please note that as this test was being prepared for upload we were informed by Samsung that the HZ25W which was launched in September last year has already been replaced by the HZ50W (WB5500). The new model comes, amongst other changes, with a new sensor.
- 12.47 effective Megapixels CCD
- 26-624mm equiv lens with 24x optical zoom and 5x digital zoom
- 3.0 inch LCD with 230,000 dots resolution
- Electronic Viewfinder
- 720p HD video recording
- Stereo microphone
- Optical Image Stabilizer
- ISO sensitivity up to 6400 (ISO 3200 and 6400 at reduced resolution)
- RAW-format (ISO 64-400 only)
- 10 shooting modes, 22 Scene Modes
- Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Mode
- Scene and Face Recognition, Beauty-retouch
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The Samsung is slightly larger than the smallest camera in this group test (that honor goes to Pentax X90) but still surprisingly compact considering its zoom range. It's an attractively designed camera as well. Samsung has managed to merge the comparatively large lens in a coherent way with the tiny body. The HZ25W's textured black surfaces make a better quality impression than the smooth finish on some of its competitors. The front of the grip and the thumb rest on the back have both been covered with a comfortably soft rubber and even the bottom of the lens features an ergonomically shaped plastic grip inlay.
The menu system is clean and modern in design and is fairly intuitive and easy to master after a couple of days use. The Fn menu gives quick access to frequently used settings including ISO and white balance but there's a good array of external controls as well, including a dedicated movie button. The four-way controller/dial combination is used to navigate menus and change settings. Overall, the HZ25W's user interface is, with its customizable AEL button and two user definable settings on the mode dial, suitable for both auto-mode users and photographers who tend to select parameters manually (setting shutter speed and aperture manually in M-mode can be a little tedious though).
If you'd prefer to capture some moving images instead of the 12MP stills, the Samsung HZ25W also offers the now standard 720p HD resolution in combination with the fairly efficient H.264 codec.
Image quality and performance
The Samsung HZ25W is one of the slower cameras in this group. It takes approximately 2.7 sec before it's ready to take a shot and 3.3 sec shot-to-shot time doesn't give you much of a second chance if you miss on your first attempt. The latter can however be reduced to a more acceptable 2.7 sec by switching the image quality from 'Superfine' to 'Fine'. The zoom is very quick at 1.3 sec from wide angle to full tele setting but on the downside it's a little difficult to zoom and frame with precision. Image browsing and magnification do not leave any reason to complain though.
The AF works very well at wide angle and in good light (0.3 sec) but slows down a little at the tele setting (0.6) and quite significantly in low light (0.7 sec at wide angle and 1.3 sec at tele). Oddly, we've found that the LCD also turns very grainy and pink streaks can appear from light sources after the camera locks the focus and exposure (i.e. after a half-press of the shutter button).
Generally we did not have any complaints about focus and exposure but in bright conditions the camera has a tendency to overexpose just a little which can lead to some clipped highlights. We weren't always 100% happy with the auto white balance's performance. It produced very yellow images under tungsten light and occasionally appeared to 'white balance' pale blue skies to gray.
Close-up in good light the HZ25W's output shows the usual mix of low contrast detail smearing, shadow noise and grain which is slightly exacerbated by comparatively strong default sharpening. The result are images that are less clean and detailed than the best in class but the difference is pretty small and will only be visible at large magnifications. Color response is a little on the warm side but not unpleasantly so.
Sharpness across the the frame is generally very good with only some hints of corner softness at wider zoom settings. The quality at full tele is quite impressive indeed although you'll also find some chromatic aberrations and vignetting in your tele end images.
At higher ISOs the Samsung is amongst the weaker performers in this group. Most cameras in this class blur a lot of fine detail at higher ISOs. The Samsung is no different but applies a lot of sharpening to the previously blurred image which makes it look sharper but does not recover any additional detail. In fact you also sharpen a lot of the noise and artifacts which becomes very obvious at larger magnifications. High ISO images are only really suitable for smaller size prints (from ISO 800 upwards you'll also find some color noise and images can appear a little desaturated). In our flash test the Samsung balanced ambient light and flash nicely and sensitivity was kept low at ISO 200 which ensured relatively good detail.
The movie image quality is, together with the Pentax, the weakest in this test. The Samsung's movie files show smooth motion but are comparatively grainy and we also noticed slight exposure shifts which can sometimes almost result in a 'flickering effect'.
The Samsung HZ25W comes with a 24x zoom lens in a fairly compact body and an intuitive and ergonomic user interface but otherwise the spec sheet does not offer anything out of the ordinary. At base ISO the image quality is by no means horrible but cannot quite keep up with the best cameras in this class. In low light the camera is one of the weaker performers in our group test with large amounts of both sharpened noise and noise reduction and a generally quite unpleasant appearance at pixel level. On the plus side focus and exposure are usually trustworthy. We weren't always happy with the performance of the auto white balance though and, like the Pentax, the video output can be very grainy even in good light.
All in all the Samsung offers a pretty long lens in a attractively small package. However, fairly bad low light performance, some other image quality quibbles (like auto WB performance) and generally slowish operation mean you can probably find better alternatives within our test field.
- We like: Long zoom range, customizable and coherent user interface, compact dimensions, reliable metering, focus and flash, big zoom range, attractive design
- We don't like: Slowish operation, low light performance, chromatic aberrations at tele end, unreliable auto white balance, grainy video output, focus slows down a lot in low light, battery life, comparatively inefficient image stabilization