Operation and controls

One of the biggest surprises with the NV7 OPS (and little brother the NV10) was the new 'Smart Touch' user interface; one of the only serious attempts at improving the ease and speed of access to advanced controls we've seen in over a decade of digital camera development. The trouble with small cameras is that there's no room on the body for all the buttons (and labeling) you'd need to give direct access to even a small subset of the myriad controls and options on offer. Typically camera manufacturers have used on-screen menus to overcome this problem, filling most of the space on the rear of the camera with menu navigation keys.

Although this works perfectly well (and is easy to master) it's not an ideal solution for people who actually like to change things often; you find even simple things like changing the white balance require several (often many) button presses. The Smart Touch system uses 13 touch-sensitive buttons around the screen to control the huge feature set without the need for pages and pages of menus. Virtually all settings can be changed with just two button presses using a system that - once mastered - is incredibly fast and powerful. It's not perfect, but it's a big improvement on the pages and pages of menus it replaces.

It's also worth mentioning that the NV7 OPS - which has an even more extensive feature set than the NV10, and is designed for a more advanced user - is really stretching the usability of the Smart Touch system. If you are the type to use aperture / shutter priority or manual exposure modes regularly you may find it getting in the way a little, and I certainly struggled to change settings quickly when shooting on the hoof. The lack of labels also makes it a pig to use in very low light. That said, if you want a camera this small with this many features you're never going to get SLR-like control.

Rear of camera

The rear of the NV7 is almost identical to the NV10 - it's round the front where the differences lie. Again the styling is deliberately spartan; almost entirely unadorned with the icons and labels we're used to seeing around compact camera controls. The 13 'Smart Touch' buttons change function according to what you are doing, and work with context-sensitive on-screen icons, so the lack of labeling makes perfect sense.

Top of camera

The top view of the NV7 certainly isn't its prettiest aspect; the huge lens looks oddly out of place stuck on the super-slim body (in fact the NV7 is - externally - basically an NV10 with a small metal plant pot welded onto the front). The top may be slim but Samsung still found space for a mode dial, shutter, power button and flash.

Display and menus

Here's a typical shooting screen in auto mode with the full (advanced) information turned on. Unlike 99% of similar compacts just about every setting you'd ever want to know about is shown on-screen and - more importantly- can be changed by pressing the soft key next to the icon. There's only one focus mode (center focus), so make sure your subject is in the middle of the frame! In the auto mode you get a much simpler set of controls; color (cool to warm), brightness (AE compensation), focus mode, file size and flash mode.

The Smart Touch system uses a sort of 'cross hairs' approach. Basically there are two sets of menus (down the side and along the bottom of the screen), each covering a single function or option. Press the button next to the icon and the menu appears, then select the setting you want by pressing the corresponding button on the opposite axis. The buttons are touch sensitive so you can slide a fingertip along the buttons to move the highlighter. It's easier to use than it is to explain, but it does take a little getting used to.

The functions you can access and control directly (in program and manual mode) are: white balance, ISO, AE-compensation, focus mode, flash mode, image size, metering, drive mode and sharpening. The final icon (bottom right) brings up a secondary set of icons along the bottom (see below).

Here's the AE compensation in action; simply move the slider (which follows your fingertip as you move it along the bottom row of buttons). There is a 'second level' of options containing less commonly accessed features (color effects, JPEG quality, self-timer, voice memo and setup menu).
An unusual option in auto mode; color fine tuning (from cool to warm) As well as aperture priority and shutter priority the NV7 has a full, metered manual exposure mode. It's not the fastest in the world to use, thanks to the finger sliding and button pressing required, but I've used worse.