Samsung HZ10W (WB500)
10.2MP | 24-240mm (10X) ZOOM | $240/£210
One look at the Samsung HZ10W (WB500 in Europe) and it's clear that the Samsung designers studied Panasonic's TZ series pretty closely before sitting down at their drawing boards. The HZ10W is Samsung's first venture into the compact super zoom bracket and comes with a 10.1 megapixel sensor, a 10x zoom and HD video recording capability. While these specs are pretty much in line with the competition in this comparison with 24mm at wide angle the Samsung offers the widest lens of the cameras in this test.
- 10.2 effective Megapixels
- 24-240mm equiv lens with 10x optical zoom and up to 5x Digital Zoom
- 1280 x 720p HD video recording with H.264 compression
- 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 dots resolution
- Optical Image Stabilizer
- ISO sensitivity up to 1600 (3200 up to 3MP)
- Face Detection, Beauty Shot and Dynamic Range enhancer (Auto contrast balance)
- 14 scene modes
- Program and Manual Exposure Modes
It's probably fair to say the Samsung HZ10W is one of the more attractive cameras here, although obviously this will to a degree depend on your personal taste. The all-metal body and different shades of gray give you the impression to hold a premium product in your hands. From a dimension and weight point of view the Samsung is pretty much in line with the rest of the field (apart from the Olympus Stylus which is quite a bit smaller) and handles very well in your hands. This is helped by the rubberized application on the curved grip and the overall good ergonomics.
All the controls are in the right places and the usual four-way controller gives you direct access to flash, macro, self-timer and display settings. Pressing the Fn button takes you to Samsung's variant of the now ubiquitous quick menu. You could probably argue that the 'E' (effect) button could have a more useful function but the HZ10W's exposure compensation lever makes more than up for this. Pressing the lever immediately applies exposure compensation, no multiple pressing of buttons, no turning of dials, so simple. The only question that remains is why can't all compact cameras have this feature? Better still, it can be customized to offer direct access to white balance or ISO, if you'd prefer.
Overall the HZ10W's feature set is in line with the target competition (read Panasonic's TZ/ZS series). Its 10x lens offers the widest wide angle in this test but therefore understandably is a little shorter at the long end (we'd trade some reach at the long end for more wide-angle any time though). The camera also features 720p HD video, the usual electronic gimmicks such as Face Detection and Dynamic Range enhancer, and offers a maximum sensitivity of ISO 3200 (albeit at reduced resolution).
Image quality and performance
The Samsung is probably the best all-round performer in terms of speed and responsiveness in our tests. It takes a fairly average 1.6 seconds to get started but its zoom speed is in the top half of the group at around 2.3 seconds to go from the wide end to the telephoto. Focus times are also some of the best in this test, averaging under 0.5 seconds for really snappy snapping (though we found it struggled more than some in low light, more on this below).
In review mode the speed of image browsing and magnification is fairly average. At first there is a very slight delay between images but once the thumbnails have been buffered the transition becomes more or less instantaneous.
When you have a closer look at the Samsung HZ10W's images you'll find both light and shade. Exposure is consistently good and requires little to no manual intervention. Highlight clipping does occur on the HZ10W but not to a larger extent than most other cameras. White balance does a reasonable job but is, at standard settings, slightly on the cool side of things (you can change color characteristics in the Photo Style Selector though).
While the focus works reliably and quick in good light we had a larger-than-average proportion of slightly out-of-focus images when shooting indoors and/or in low light. Unfortunately this occurs even when the camera confirms focus lock, so you'll often only realize what happened when you check your images later on the computer screen.
While general image sharpness is good, like previous Samsung compact cameras that we have tested the HZ10W applies pretty strong noise reduction even at base ISO, leading to a smearing of fine textures and loss of detail. This is something that all compact cameras do but the Samsung does it to a larger extent than some others. You won't spot this at a small output size but the larger you print the more likely it becomes that you will. Its much more of a problem at higher sensitivities though, where at ISO 400 already a large proportion of fine detail is destroyed. Higher up the ISO scale some chroma noise blobs are added to the smearing.
Flash exposures are generally good and don't push the ISO too far up. Skin tones tend to come out a little warm but in most situations that is preferable to a pale fluorescent light look.
The HZ10W is Samsung's first stab at the compact superzoom segment, and while the Korean manufacturer got many things right there is also some room for improvement. The optical and electronic components are housed in an attractive full-metal body that features a rubberized hand grip and handles nicely. The HZ10W's 24mm equivalent lens is the widest in this comparison and the user interface is is intuitive, we especially liked the camera's exposure compensation lever that makes manual intervention so much easier.
Image quality is the area where the Samsung engineers still have some work to do. The Samsung's output shows decent sharpness andreliable exposure but struggles with fine detail - even at base ISO - due to extensive application of noise reduction. The high ISO performance is relatively poor as well, with noise reduction smearing and chroma noise blobs creeping in at higher sensitivities. Having said that, you'll have to inspect images at a fairly large magnification to spot the difference to the better cameras in this test and if you're not a 'pixel-peeper' the HZ10W offers a good feature set including HD video at a very attractive price point. Maybe not the best choice for low light (thanks to the image quality issues and focus problems), but certainly a contender for use in more forgiving conditions.
- We like: 24mm wide-angle, good build quality, ergonomic user interface (especially the exposure compensation lever), good operational speed, reliable exposure and flash
- We don't like: Slow lens at the long end of the zoom (F5.8), unreliable focus in low light, heavy noise reduction through the ISO range, poor high ISO performance