DCRP Review: Samsung Digimax 350SE
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Last Updated: Thursday, June 27, 2002

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With this review, we add Samsung as the latest manufacturer to send us cameras for review. We've got just about everyone now!

The Digimax 350SE ($549) is a 3.2 Megapixel camera with a 3X optical zoom Schneider-Kreuznach lens.

This is a review that almost did not get written. My first experience with the 350SE was not positive: it locked up three times in a row after taking a picture. Removing and re-inserting the CompactFlash card solved that problem. Then, after a walk down to the base of Snoqualmie Falls (seen in our gallery), the camera again locked up: this time the lens was suck and it would not retract, focus, or zoom. After much frustration, we finally got the lens to move, and the camera was working again. These problems were probably specific to my review camera, but I thought those considering this camera would want to know.

Anyhow, let's take a complete look at the Digimax 350SE to see how it stacks up against the competition.

What's in the Box?

The Digimax 350SE has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Samsung Digimax 350SE camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • Four AA alkaline batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • Hand strap
  • Camera pouch
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring MGI PhotoSuite and Digimax Viewer
  • 119 page manual (printed)

The first purchase you'll need to make after buying the 350SE is a set of rechargeable batteries. In fact, buy two sets. The Digimax includes four non-rechargeable AA batteries, which quickly end up in the trash (please recycle them if you can!). I recommend buying NiMH batteries (1600 mAh or higher) for your digicam: they last longer, cost less, and don't pollute the environment like alkalines. Battery life seemed about average using my 1600 mAh cells.

The second purchase you'll probably want to make is a larger memory card. Samsung includes a 16MB card, which is pretty skimpy these days. I recommend a card at least four times that size.

A nice thing that Samsung does include is a case for the camera.

As you can see, the lens cover, which doubles as the power switch, eliminates the need for a lens cap.

Mac users really get shafted when it comes to the bundled software and drivers. Samsung's versions of MGI PhotoSuite and Digimax Viewer are only for Windows. Nothing for Mac OS. The camera does work with Mac OS X though, so you can use iPhoto and Image Capture.

I looked around but couldn't find any information about accessories for the Digimax 350SE.

The 350SE's manual isn't going to win any awards. It's confusing with lots of "notes" on each page.

Look and Feel

The Digimax 350SE is a mid-sized camera -- comparable to things like the Sony DSC-S85 or Canon PowerShot G2. The camera is fairly easy to hold, though I wish it had a larger grip for the right hand. The body is made of "high grade" plastic, and it feels very solid.

The official dimensions of the 350SE are 4.5 x 2.8 x 2.0 inches (WxHxD), and it weighs in at 240 grams (empty).

Let's take our usual tour of the camera, starting with the front.

One of the big features on the Digimax 350Se is that Schneider-Kreuznach lens. This F2.6 lens has a focal range of 7 - 21 mm, which is equivalent to 34 - 102 mm. The lens is not threaded.

Directly above the lens, you'll find the self-timer lamp, optical viewfinder, and flash sensor.

Over to the left of that is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.2 - 3.0 m (wideangle) and 0.2 - 2.0 m (telephoto). There is no support for an external flash, as you might expect.

One thing I'd like to see here is an AF illuminator. There are cheaper cameras out there (from Canon and Sony most notably) that offer this focusing aid, and there's really no excuse for not having one on every camera.

Now onto the back of the camera. The Digimax has as 1.5" LCD display, which is rather small for a camera of this size. The LCD itself is of good quality -- the image is bright and fluid.

Above the LCD is an average-sized optical viewfinder. There is no diopter correction knob for those without perfect vision. Nose smudges on the LCD may be a problem if you use the viewfinder with your left eye.

To the right of the LCD are many buttons (there's also the power button above it). The buttons include the four-way switch, LCD on/off, menu, and focus/delete.

The four-way switch was somewhat annoying in that it wasn't very precise. It was easy to move up/down/left/right when you tried to push "OK". The four-way switch is used for menu navigation but also does other functions as well. These include:

  • Up - Audio record (up to 10 secs per photo)
  • Right - Self-timer
  • Down - Metering [center-weighted, spot] and movie play/pause
  • Left - Flash [Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, slow synchro, fill-in flash, off]

The menu button does just what is sounds. The focus/delete button took me a minute to figure out. Pressing the button toggles macro mode on and off. Holding it down will toggle infinite focus.

Above all those buttons are the zoom controls. I wish they had more "play", as they don't move as much as I'd like. The zoom mechanism itself is painfully slow, in my opinion. It takes nearly four seconds to move from the wide to telephoto positions.

Continuing our tour now with the top of the camera. As you can see, there isn't much up here.

The main thing here is the mode wheel, with the shutter release button inside it. The choices on the mode wheel are:

  • Record
  • Playback
  • PC Connect
  • Setup
  • Movie Mode
  • Night Shot Mode

These are all pretty self-explanatory. The only other items of note on the top of the camera are the speaker and microphone. I wish the camera had an LCD info display -- it certainly has room for it.

On this side of the 350SE are the I/O ports. They're under that rubber cover that's on the right of the photo. The ports include DC in (for optional AC adapter), USB, and A/V.

Here's the other side of the camera... not much to see here. Where is that CompactFlash slot, you ask?

It's down here on the bottom of the camera! The slot is hard to see, but it's just above the battery compartment. This is a Type I slot, so the 350SE isn't Microdrive compatible.

Toward the left of the photo, you can see the metal tripod mount.

You can also see the included 16MB CompactFlash card -- though it looks a bit funny here.

Using the Samsung Digimax 350SE

Record Mode

After using the Digimax 350SE for a few weeks, I learned that "slow" is the operative word. The camera takes over five seconds to extend the lens before you can take a picture. For some reason, it'll take 2-3 more seconds before you can change the flash setting.


The LCD in record mode

When you press the shutter release button halfway, the camera usually locks focus in a second or so.

However, sometimes the LCD will display the dreaded "low luminance" warning. If that happens, the camera will focus at 2.5 meters (or 0.5 meters in macro mode), which usually is not a good thing.

When you press the shutter release fully, you will first hear the phony shutter release sound, then the real shutter sound. I'd say there's about a one second lag before the real shutter is opened. I advise you to turn off the phony shutter sound so you don't think it took the picture and then move the camera (thus blurring the photo).

Shot-to-shot speed is also bad. The camera will take upwards of 7 seconds to write the photo to the CF card, and the camera is totally locked up during that time. Add to this the slow zoom speeds and you've a camera that is much below average in terms of performance.

There are several choices available for image resolution and quality on the 350SE. And they are:

Resolution Quality # photos on 16MB card (included)
2048 x 1536
(Large)
Super Fine 9
Fine 19
Normal 29
2048 x 1360
(Photo)
Super Fine 10
Fine 22
Normal 32
1024 x 768
(Medium)
Super Fine 38
Fine 75
Normal 110
512 x 384
(Small)
Super Fine 163
Fine 269
Normal 377

There is no TIFF or RAW mode available on this camera.

The Digimax has a pretty simple (yet slow-moving) menu system that is easy to figure out. This is mostly a point-and-shoot camera, as you'll see. The menu choices are:

  • Size (See chart)
  • Quality (See chart)
  • Sharpness (Soft, normal, hard)
  • Effect (Normal, black & white, sRGB, sunset)
  • Shooting (Single, continuous)
  • Exposure (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/2EV increments)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, fluorescent, tungsten)

There is, of course, the usual setup menu with basics like date/time, power saving, beep, etc. A few additional notes about the above options:

Since the 350SE has an sRGB mode, it's a good possibility that it's use a proprietary color space in "normal" mode. Then again, the EXIF data says it's an sRGB space then too, so who knows.

In continuous shooting mode, you'll be able to take 5 to 100 shots in a row, depending on resolution and quality. At the best picture quality setting, you get 5 shots. They are taken at a rate of 1 frame per second, more or less.

One last annoyance is that the 350SE does not remember its settings when it is turned off!

Well that's enough of that! Let's talk about photo quality now.

Since the fog has been thick here lately, I headed back to SF's City Hall, my backup-backup night shot site. I was quite pleased with the photos the 350SE produced here. There's a bit of noise and some purple fringing, but overall it's not bad at all. (Do note that I rotated and cropped this image a bit.) I took this picture in the Night Shot mode.

The 350SE actually did a pretty good job with the macro test shot. The focal range for macro shots on this camera is 20 - 80 cm.

Photo quality was decent on the Digimax. The two issues I have are higher than average noise, and auto white balance than tended to give images a red cast. Some of the last few shots in the gallery display this. I didn't notice any major problems with chromatic aberrations (purple fringing), except in the night shot. Take a look at the gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

The Digimax 350SE can record movies, with sound. They are saved in AVI format at the usual QVGA resolution of 320 x 240.

Movies can be as long as the available memory allows. The bigger the card, the longer the movie.

Strangely, you have to depress the shutter release halfway before you can start filming -- just as you would for a still. The zoom lens cannot be used during filming.

Here's an exciting sample movie for you to check out. I took it in portrait view, so I had to rotate it so it looks correct. The sound recorded sounds more like static than a waterfall.


Click to play movie (AVI format, 4.3 MB)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Digimax has a decent playback mode. The usual basic features like slide shows, image protection, DPOF print marking, and thumbnail mode are all here.

There is also a "zoom & scroll" feature, which lets you zoom up to 5X into your photo, and then scroll around in it. The scrolling portion was smooth, a nice change from the sluggish operation of this camera.

Speaking of which, the 350SE is very slow moving between photos. A low resolution thumbnail is shown within 1/2 second of pushing the button, but it takes another 4 seconds to show the high resolution version. That's much slower than average.

Pressing the LCD button will show some (basic) exposure information about your photo, a nice touch.

How Does it Compare?

The Samsung Digimax 350SE is one of those cameras that is pretty good overall, but with one fatal flaw. For the 350SE, that's the very slow operation. From startup to zoom to shot-to-shot speed, this camera is much slower than average. It's very easy to miss a shot when you have as much focus and shutter lag as this camera. The 350SE's photo quality is average, and the features are pretty basic. In a world of 3 Megapixel cameras, the Digimax 350SE isn't your best choice.

What I liked:

  • Movie mode lets you record until CF card is full

What I didn't care for:

  • Very slow operation in many areas
  • Images a bit too noisy; occasional red cast
  • Limited features compared to competition
  • Reliability issues?

Other 3 Megapixel cameras (with a 3X or greater zoom) worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot S30, Minolta DiMAGE S304, Nikon Coolpix 885, Olympus C-3020Z and D-550Z, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P71 and DSC-S75, and the Toshiba PDR-3300.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Digimax 350SE and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out the photo gallery to see the Digimax 350SE's photo quality.

Want a second opinion?

Read the Steves Digicams review to get another viewpoint on the Digimax 350SE.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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