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DCRP Review: Samsung Digimax i5
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 24, 2005
Last Updated: January 18, 2008

The Digimax i5 ($350) is Samsung's entry into the very crowded ultra thin camera market. The i5 features a 5 Megapixel CCD, 3X optical zoom lens, large 2.5" LCD display, and VGA movie mode. If that sounds like every other cameras in this class, you're right. But the Digimax i5 has a very interested features of its own, and I'll cover those in this review. Let's begin!

What's in the Box?

The Digimax i5 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

I applaud Samsung for going above and beyond the call of duty in the bundled memory department. Like many manufacturers, Samsung choose to build memory right into the i5 instead of supplying a memory card. On most cameras in this class, that means anywhere from 8.3 to 16 Megabytes of internal memory. Not Samsung -- they put a whopping 50MB of internal memory on the i5, something that separates it from everything else in this class. If you want to add more memory, you can buy a Secure Digital or MultiMedia card and put it into the slot on the bottom of the camera. I'd suggest a 256MB SD card as a good starting point. A high speed SD card does make a difference, especially when shooting in continuous mode.

The Digimax i5 uses the SLB-0737 rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power. This battery has just 2.8 Wh of energy, which is not much. Here's how the i5 compares to the competition in terms of battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD450 150 shots
Casio Exilim EX-S500 200 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z57 400 shots
Fuji FinePix Z1 170 shots
Kodak EasyShare V550 120 shots
Konica Minolta DiMAGE X60 150 shots
Nikon Coolpix S1 200 shots
Olympus Stylus 500 200 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX8 300 shots
Pentax Optio S5z 180 shots
Samsung Digimax i5 180 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T5 240 shots

First things first: I'm pretty sure that the 180 shot number for the Digimax i5 was not obtained using the CIPA battery life standard. I'm working on getting that number and will update this section when I get the info.

While I prefer cameras that use AA batteries, you won't find anything really thin that uses them. Just remember that lithium-ion batteries are expensive ($at least $20 each) and that you can't use off-the-shelf batteries when your rechargeable dies.

Samsung includes a camera cradle with the i5. This is used for charging your battery and connecting to a PC or television. The USB port here (which doubles as the A/V port) supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, which is good news. And here's more good news: the cradle is not required, as you can do the same things by just plugging the appropriate cable into the camera.

It takes about 150 minutes for the battery to charge while in the dock (or if the power cable is connected directly to the camera).

There's a big sliding cover on the front of the i5 that protects not only the lens, but the flash and AF-assist lamp too.

Samsung also includes a soft "camera pouch", which may be worth using, as the camera scratches with very little effort.

The only accessory that I know of is the SPH-A3 weatherproof case. This will let your i5 get wet, and go up to 5 meters underwater.

Samsung includes a few Windows-only software products with the Digimax i5. The first one is Digimax Viewer, which does just what it sounds like: it views images. It can rotate, resize, and e-mail them, but that's about it.

For "real" photo editing you'll want to use ArcSoft PhotoImpression 4, which is also included. If I'm not mistaken this is a pretty old version of the software, but it'll still do everything that you'd ever want.

The last piece of bundled software is Digimax Reader. This is used to extract text from photos taken in the text scene mode. I tested it briefly and wasn't pleased with the results -- there were many errors.

Mac users are pretty much out in the cold in the software department. The only Mac-compatible thing on the CD is an old version of QuickTime for OS 9. Thankfully the Digimax i5 works just fine with iPhoto, so you should use that instead. To be honest, you're not really missing much by not using the Samsung software.

The manual included with the Digimax i5 is average. While it's certainly complete, its layout isn't exactly what I'd call user friendly.

Look and Feel

The Digimax i5 is an ultra-compact metal camera that can go anywhere that you do. Its design isn't terribly original, but then again, neither are most of the other cameras in this group. The camera is very solid in the hand, and it feels like it'll hold up well. Just be careful, as metal cameras like this scratch very easily.

Two of the other colors available

The i5 comes in three colors: silver (which I tested), red, and black. There was supposed to be a gray color as well, but Samsung dropped it.

Now let's see how the i5 compares to the competition in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD450 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.4 cu in. 140 g
Casio Exilim EX-S500 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.6 in. 4.8 cu in. 115 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z57 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 130 g
Fuji FinePix Z1 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.4 cu in. 130 g
Kodak EasyShare V550 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu in. 143 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE X60 3.3 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 6.5 cu in. 115 g
Nikon Coolpix S1 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.4 cu in. 118 g
Olympus C-630 Zoom 3.1 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 125 g
Olympus Stylus Verve S 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.1 in. 9.0 cu in. 115 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX8 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 127 g
Pentax Optio S5z 3.3 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 5.8 cu in. 105 g
Samsung Digimax i5 3.5 x 2.4 x 0.7 in. 5.9 cu in. 133 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T5 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.1 cu in. 114 g

While it's not the smallest or lightest camera in its class, the Digimax i5 is still very slim and portable.

Okay, enough about that, let's start our tour of the camera now.

The Digimax i5 features an F3.5-4.5, 3X optical zoom lens. The focal range of the lens is 6.6 - 19.8 mm, which is equivalent to 39 - 117 mm. The lens is not threaded, nor would I expect it to be.

Like other cameras in this class, the Digimax i5 uses a "sliding lens design". That means two things: one, the lens is internal, and nothing protrudes from the body. Two, most of the lens elements travel perpendicular to the path of the incoming light. Light comes through the front of the lens, hits a prism, and goes down the body through more lens elements until it hits the CCD sensor. This is what allows the camera to be so thin.

To the immediate left of the lens is the built-in flash. This flash has a working range of 0.2 - 2.4 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 1.9 m at telephoto (both measured at auto ISO). That's on the weak side, though not as bad as the Sony T-series cameras. You cannot attach an external flash to the Digimax i5.

The last thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera to focus in low light situations.

A big LCD is par for the course on ultra thin cameras like this, and the Digimax i5 has one. The screen here doesn't skimp on pixels, either: there are 230,000 of them. As you'd expect, images on the screen are quite sharp, and motion is fluid as well. In low light situations the screen doesn't "gain up" very much, and I found it hard to see what I was looking at.

As you can see, there's no optical viewfinder on this camera. In fact, hardly any cameras in this class have one. While most people never use them, I personally like to have one on my cameras. So it's kind of a personal decision.

At the top-right of the photo you'll find the i5's zoom controller. This moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.9 seconds. I counted eight steps throughout the 3X zoom range.

Below the zoom controller is the recording mode button. This moves the camera between the various record modes, which include:

The manual mode unlocks the full record menu, which is listed later in the review. The text scene mode is what you'll use to extract text from a photo (explained earlier).

The next button to see is the one for entering playback mode. To the lower-right of that is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and also:

The voice recording feature lets you record up to one hour of audio. The voice memo feature will allow you to add a 10 second voice caption to each photo.

The next stop on our tour is the +/- button, which is used for adjusting manual exposure settings and for deleting photos. When in manual mode you'll find a full suite of manual controls on the Digimax i5, including:

As you can see, there are a few manual controls on the i5. The custom white balance option lets you use a white or gray card to get accurate color, even in difficult lighting situations. While you can manually select the aperture and shutter speed, these are only usable in the night mode. You can adjust the aperture and get faster shutter speeds than you can select manually.

On top of the i5 you'll find the microphone and speaker, and buttons for Safety Flash, power, and shutter release. You need to watch where you place your fingers, to make sure that you don't cover up the microphone (especially when filming movies).

Samsung advertises the Safety Flash feature a replacement for the regular flash when it cannot be used. They also say that your flash photos of people won't have redeye (since the flash doesn't actually fire). If this sounds too good to be true, you're right: Safety Flash is nothing more than a high sensitivity mode.

How well the Safety Flash works really depends on the situation. If you're in good light (in other words, outdoors) and you need a little fill flash, it works as promised. Then again, I don't know why you wouldn't just use the regular flash in that situation. In lower light conditions, forget about it -- you'll get very noisy images. I took the redeye test shot with it, and the subject was nothing more than a dark, noisy mess. It's probably best to just forget about this feature in most cases.

Nothing to see here.

Here either.

On the bottom of the i5 you'll find the battery compartment, SD/MMC card slot, and dock connector. The door covering the battery/memory compartment is a bit flimsy. The dock connector also accepts the power, A/V, and USB cables directly.

In case you didn't notice, there's no tripod mount on the Digimax i5. Some enterprising person should create a tripod mount that uses the dock connector.

The included SLB-0737 battery is shown at right.

Using the Samsung Digimax i5

Record Mode

It takes about 1.9 seconds for the camera to start up before you can start taking pictures. That's faster than most cameras, but I've seen faster in this class.

Autofocus speeds were above average on the i5, with typical focus times of 0.2 - 0.4 seconds in good light. If the camera has to hunt for focus, it'll take a little longer. Despite having an AF-assist lamp, I was disappointed with the camera's low light focusing abilities -- it were pretty awful.

Another disappointment was in regard to shutter lag. I noticed it at all times, even at faster shutter speeds. This means that there's a lag between the time the shutter release button is fully pressed and the moment the photo is actually taken. I don't think I've seen this much shutter lag on an ultra thin camera in a long time.

Shot-to-shot speed is very good, with a delay of about 1.5 seconds before you can take another shot, assuming the instant playback feature is turned off.

There's no way to delete a photo right after it is taken -- you must enter playback mode first.

Now, here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the Digimax i5:

Resolution Quality # images on 50MB onboard memory
2592 x 1944 Super Fine 17
Fine 32
Normal 49
2272 x 1704 Super Fine 21
Fine 42
Normal 62
2048 x 1536 Super Fine 26
Fine 51
Normal 76
1600 x 1200 Super Fine 43
Fine 81
Normal 117
1024 x 768 Super Fine 103
Fine 173
Normal 235
640 x 480 Super Fine 232
Fine 338
Normal 429

Once again, three cheers to Samsung for putting so much built-in memory on the Digimax i5. There's no RAW or TIFF support on the camera.

The camera saves images with a name of SSL1####.JPG, where #### = 0001-9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase/replace memory cards.

The Digimax i5 has a rather unconventional record menu. Instead of having one list which you view by scrolling down, you'll scroll across on the i5. In a way this is actually simpler than the usual menu system, but those familiar with the menus on other cameras may need some time to adjust. Anyhow, here's the full record mode menu:

There's just one continuous shooting mode on the i5, and it's pretty lousy. While you can keep shooting until the memory card is full, the frame rate is a sluggish 0.9 frames/second. To make matters worse, the LCD goes black during shooting... what's the point of a burst mode if you can't even see your subject?

The special effects modes are interesting. The highlight feature puts a blinking "frame" on the LCD, which helps you compose your photos. It's similar to the Scene Assist feature on some Nikon cameras. The composite feature lets you combine 2-4 shots into one image. Photo Frame puts a "picture frame" on the LCD, so you just fit your subject in the middle and fire away.

Let's move onto the setup menu now, which is accessed from both the record and playback menu. The items here include:

Okay, enough menus, let's talk about photo quality now.

The Digimax i5 did a good, but not great job with our macro test subject. The subject is plenty sharp, though noise levels seem higher than they should be. Also, the red cloak seems a little too orange to me.

There are two macro modes on the i5. In regular macro mode you can get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 50 cm at telephoto. Using super macro mode will lower that distance to just 1 cm, which is practically up against the lens. Do note that the lens is locked at the full wide-angle position while in super macro mode.

Since the Digimax i5 lacks a tripod mount, there will be no night shot test in this review.

Nobody should be surprised about the results of our redeye test. After all, this is a compact camera and the flash and lens are very close together. There's not much you can do about this on the camera side, but it cleans up fairly well in software.

There's very mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the i5's lens. While there's no vignetting here, there is a bit of corner softness, which popped up in my real world photos as well. Thankfully the i5 doesn't seem to have as much of a problem with this as do some other cameras in this class.

Overall, I'd rank the Digimax i5's photo quality as very good, and comparable to the other ultra thin cameras on the market. The camera took generally well exposed pictures with accurate color and a minimum of purple fringing. My only complaints are that photos are a bit soft at the default settings (if you agree you can turn up the in-camera sharpening) and noise levels are a bit higher than average, especially in the shadows.

Ultimately, judging a camera's photo quality is a personal decision. Take a look at the samples in the photo gallery and print them as if they were your own photos. Then decide if the Digimax's photos meet your expectations.

Movie Mode

The Digimax i5 has a very nice movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. It takes about three minutes for the internal memory to fill up, so you'll want a larger card for longer movies. You can also lower the frame rate to 15 frames/second for longer movies, and you can downsize to lower resolutions (320 x 240 and 160 x 128) as well.

Unlike most cameras, the i5 lets you use the zoom lens during filming. On most cameras this is a bad thing, but I was surprised at just how little motor noise was picked up while zooming during movie recording. Score another one for Samsung!

The i5 also offers a digital image stabilizer that helps reduce the effects of camera shake during filming. It's only for movies -- not stills.

Movies are saved in AVI format using the MPEG-4 codec. Mac users cannot play the movies right out of the box, and there are a few options for you. The easiest thing to do is just to use VLC to play them. If you want to view the movies in QuickTime, you'll need to download both DivX and the XviD codec. After doing that I was able to view the movie in QuickTime Player, but the sound was messed up.

Here's a short sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting. I have no idea why there's so much wind noise.


Click to play movie (1.7 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The i5 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, voice captions (10 secs), thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 10.1X into your photo, and then scroll around. This is useful for making sure that your subject is in focus. This feature is nice and snappy.

You can rotate, resize, and trim your photos. The same "effects" that were available in the record menu are also available here.

The camera also has an album feature, which lets you put organize your photos before they ever hit your computer. There are eight albums available, and each can hold 100 photos. As far as I can tell the Digimax Viewer software doesn't actually recognize the albums, so I think it's only for organizing photos on the camera.

A copy feature lets you move photos from the internal memory to a memory card.

 

By default the camera doesn't tell you anything useful about your photos. But hold down the play button for about a second and you'll get the screen on the right, which is a lot better.

The i5 moves from image to image quickly, with a low res placeholder shown instantly, with the high res version appearing about a half second later.

How Does it Compare?

The Digimax i5 isn't bad for being Samsung's first ultra thin camera. And while there's a lot going for it, it had a few annoyances that keep it from being one of the best cameras in this class.

First, the good news. The Digimax i5 is a stylish, ultra thin camera that can go just about anywhere. Save for the memory card/battery compartment, the i5's construction is solid. The camera fits well in the hand, and the important controls are well placed. The camera comes in three colors, ranging from silver to professional-looking black to eye-catching red.

In lieu of a bundled memory card, Samsung built a whopping 50MB of memory right into the camera -- and for that they should be commended. The camera has a large, high resolution 2.5" LCD display, though it's not terribly visible in low light situations. The camera includes a dock for battery charging and connecting to a PC or television, but it's strictly optional. Other features on the i5 include limited manual controls (full aperture, limited shutter speed, and custom white balance), a VGA (30 fps) movie mode, numerous scene modes, and support for the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

Camera performance was just okay. Start times were just under two seconds, which isn't as fast as most of the competition. The camera focuses quickly enough in good lighting, but it was horrible in low light conditions, despite having an AF-assist lamp. The i5 also had noticeable shutter lag, and I don't know why Samsung even bothered with the continuous shooting mode.

Photo quality was generally very good, with my only complaints being the somewhat soft images at default settings and above average noise levels. As you'd expect on a camera like this, redeye was a problem.

Some other complaints that don't fit in elsewhere include the i5's weak flash, unusual menu system, poor Mac support, and missing tripod mount. The over-hyped Safety Flash feature didn't do much for me, either.

While the Digimax i5 is a very capable camera, there are better cameras out there for your hard earned money. If Samsung addresses some of the cons listed below I think they'd have a real hit on their hands. Maybe next time?

What I liked:

What I didn't care for:

Some other compact cameras worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot SD450, Casio Exilim EX-Z57 and EX-S500, Fuji FinePix Z1, Kodak EasyShare V550, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X60, Nikon Coolpix S1, Olympus C-630Z and Stylus Verve S, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX8, Pentax Optio S5z, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T5.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Digimax i5 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Check out our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Read another review at CNET Asia.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

 

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