Samsung S730 review
I posted a pretty extensive review at PriceGrabber (I'm assuming linking is not allowed), but let me go over the highlights.
I've got a Nikon D70s, 4 lenses, a flash, a bag, tripods, etc., so I wanted something pocket-size for all those times I either didn't feel like lugging my dSLR kit around or just didn't happen to have it with me.
So as a dSLR owner I had certain desires in a P&S. I think the 3 main criteria are speed, high ISO noise and wide angle. Now, there are various cameras on the market that address one or two of these issues at a time, but currently nothing addresses all 3, for ANY amount of money (of course, the dSLR does but you pay for it in both money and size). For high ISO we have the Fuji F10/F20/F30/F31fd, but the wide angle is pathetic and the speed is average. There are only a handful of wide angle P&S's on the market and none of them seemed to be worth $300. So I went on the hunt to see how good I could do at the $100 price point. Enter the Samsung S730.
First, let me address how this camera attacks the 3 major criteria above.
Certainly at the $100 price point (in fact, $109 from Circuit City, a US retailer) there are a good amount of pokey cameras on the market. And of course I have not tried them all. But to my dSLR-calibrated senses (and compared to an old Sony CD Mavica I had years ago) this camera performs admirably. Startup time (turn off that Samsung logo!) is about 2 seconds, and shutdown time is the same. Yes there are faster cameras, but even for 3x more money, you don't get much faster than this. The AF performance I'd have to assume is average for P&S cameras in general, but for $109, I feel like it's quite snappy. And a little secret for the best shot to shot times - turn off image review! If you turn it off, you can take shots within about 1.5 seconds of each other, seemingly endlessly, and that includes AF time! That is right up there with the fast, pricey class. Even with the flash, at least at close range, you can knock off shots within 2 or 2.5 seconds of each other. The full flash power recharge time is quoted at about 5 seconds and that's also very good for $100. Even the image review at its fastest goes at a calculated 4.7 frames per second, and those are the full high res previews, not a blocky low res. Impressive. The other factor that directly effects shooting speed is ergonomics. I like the way this camera feels. It's just about the right size. But the best ergonomic feature has to be the way the shutter button and selected recording mode (depends on where you have the dial) has priority over any menu or image review mode. If you are reviewing an image and/or looking through a menu, simply tap the shutter button and the camera snaps back to record mode! This is exactly like my D70s! Wow! Feels like home, sorta.
* High ISO
Ok, there isn't much to say here. It's a 7.2MP 1/2.5" CCD so you get about what you'd expect. There appears to be a strange and noticable desaturation of purples at ISOs of 800 and 1000. However, there is a bright side. Samsung has chosen a less aggressive NR approach and I have had great results with Neat Image in Photoshop. It retains a lot of luminance detail, which is great. For better or worse, auto ISO works only up until ISO200 (unless the flash needs more range then it seems to go higher), so you'll need to manually select an ISO higher than 200 if shooting in natural light. That's no problem I guess.
* Wide angle
This camera's wide angle of 35mm-equivalent is a far cry from the Canon SD800's (and a few others) 28mm, but at least it's not as bad as the 36, 37 or even 38mm that I've seen. The barrel distortion at wide angle is remarkably controlled, as well. I've seen much worse, and not just from cheap cameras.
* Other aspects
One thing that deserves mention is the LCD. The S730 has the same screen size as the S630, but instead of 150k pixels it has 230k. No it's not the high end 170° viewing angle LCDs we've seen on top end P&S's and dSLRs but it IS nice and bright, sharp and with a glossy finish, unbelievably, it is totally usable outside in the sun!
It also has a surprising amount of adjustability as far as image quality settings. Witness: 3 levels of contrast and saturation, 5 levels of sharpening, +/-2EV of exposure comp, manual exposure mode (no A or S priority, and manual mode is limited to two apertures and half-stop shutter selections), spot metering, auto 3 shot bracketing (but only in increments of 1/3EV) and Wise Shot (a fill flash shot + an ASR shot back to back).
There's no face recognition but it DOES have a 5-point AF system, another surprise at this price level. And relating to AF, the macro mode is automatic. This means even in macro mode, it will focus to infinity, though it may take longer if the lens has to rack to minimum focus for whatever reason.
In short, I am very delighted with this camera and expect to get a lot of life out of it before I move onto something else. Feel free to e-mail me for photo samples.
Lots of people talk about battery life and some people even claim to get decent life on Alkalines (with competing cameras, not this one). Frankly, I never even opened the Duracell Ultras from their shrink-wrapped package and opted, instead, to pirate two PowerEx 2700mAh NiMH rechargables from my SB800. On my first charge, I got 163 pictures and movies (over 2 minutes/169MB worth), or about 413MB of storage before the camera died. That includes pretty heavy flash use and LOTS of turning the camera on and off. I probably deleted a bunch in camera so in reality, it's probably an even greater number than I just listed (maybe about 207). It's not going to win any battery life awards but with good NiMH AAs, you won't have any problems. There is a setting to blank out the LCD after a certain time period and I suspect with this setting you could leave the camera on for a good chunk of a day without problems. I'll have to give it a try.
Update: On the 2nd set of batteries, I got 231 pictures and it died over 4 times claiming low battery. Each time, after letting it rest, it kept going, although each time got shorter. It is basically dead now. Of the 231, at least 90 used flash. I understand it's pretty typical for NiMH AA powered P&S cameras to have strange battery behavior. But I am a little curious about people in online reviews (I've read several) who claim they exchanged their camera for another one and the battery life (with Alkalines, mind you) was much improved. I don't know what to make of that. I can't imagine an electronic defect that would cause faster battery usage.
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