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DCRP Review: Samsung Digimax V50
 
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 11, 2004
Last Updated: April 30, 2012

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When you think of digital cameras, the name "Samsung" probably isn't the first (or tenth) name that pops into your head. But the Korean electronics giant is making a big push into consumer digital photography and the Digimax V50 ($329) is one of their showpieces. The V50 offers a 5 Megapixel CCD, 2-inch rotating LCD display, 3X optical zoom lens, dual memory card slots, and full manual controls.

There are a whole bunch of cameras in that category (well, minus the rotating LCD) and competition is fierce. How does the V50 hold up? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The Digimax V50 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.0 effective Megapixel Samsung Digimax V50 camera
  • 32MB Secure Digital card
  • SLB-1037 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Camera pouch
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Digimax Viewer, PhotoImpression, and drivers
  • 123 page camera manual (printed)

Samsung includes a 32MB Secure Digital (SD) card with the V50. That won't hold too many 5 Megapixel photos, so consider a larger card a mandatory purchase. The V50 is somewhat unique in that it has two memory card slots: one for SD and the other for Memory Stick Duo. That's right, not regular Memory Sticks but the even more expensive Duo cards.Why they did this, I don't know. Anyhow, I strongly recommend using SD cards -- the fact that they're an industry standard means that they cost a whole lot less than MS Duo cards. I'd say that a 256MB card is a good size to start with.

Samsung loves to tout the fact that the V50 can take "nine different types" of batteries. While I suppose that's true, the reality is this: it can take a proprietary battery pack, two AA, or one CR-V3. Samsung breaks them down even more (e.g. NiMH, NiCD, Ni-Zn, lithium) to come up with the number nine. You can use rechargeable and non-rechargeable AAs and CR-V3s.

You'll find the 5.3Wh SLB-1437 rechargeable li-ion battery in the box with the V50. Samsung says it can take 440 photos per charge, though I don't think that's using the new CIPA standard. No word on how the other batteries fared.

I highly recommend using NiMH rechargeables (2000 mAh or greater) instead of the SLB-1437 because they're a whole lot cheaper. I can't even find the li-ion battery for sale by itself -- only included with the charger for $99, and you don't need two of those. It's nice to have that choice on a camera!

When it's time to charge the SLB-1437, just pop it into the included charger. It takes around 2.5 hours to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those "plug it right into the wall" chargers, you must use a power cable.

An added bonus in the bundle department is a soft case for the camera. Usually these are $20-30 extra.

The Digimax V50 has a built-in lens cover so there's not need to worry about a lens cap.

There are a couple of accessories for the V50 worth mentioning. First, you can add a wide-angle or telephoto conversion lens to the camera. The SCL-W3755 wide-angle lens reduces the wide end of the lens by a factor of 0.7, which translates to 26.6 mm. If you want more telephoto power then you want the SCL-T3755 1.7X teleconverter, which boosts the top end of the lens to 193.8 mm. To use either of these you must first purchase the SLA-3537 conversion lens adapter.

Other accessories for the V50 include a wireless remote control ($15), AC adapter, and various battery packs (either another SLB-1437 or the SBP-1303 rechargeable CR-V3).

I had a heck of time finding any of these items for sale, so you've been warned.

Samsung includes software only for Windows-based PCs with the camera -- Mac users will have to come up with their own software (the camera DOES connect to the Mac). The included software includes Digimax Viewer 2.1, ArcSoft PhotoImpression 4.0 (an outdated version), QuickTime, and USB drivers. Digimax Viewer is a very basic product which can download images from the camera and then view, rotate, or print them. For more complex tasks you'll want to use the far superior PhotoImpression.

The manual included with the V50 is about what you'd expect from a major electronics company: poor. You'll find what you're looking for... if you're lucky. It's cluttered and confusing, to say the least.

Look and Feel

The Digimax V50 is a midsized camera, comparable in size to the Sony P-series cameras and a touch smaller than the Canon S60. The V50 is surprisingly well-built (compared to the V4 I tested a few years back), made mostly of metal with some high grade plastic thrown in for good measure. The camera is easy to hold with one hand or two and the important controls are easy to reach. I do, however, have a big issue with one control in particular that I'll discuss a bit later.

But first, let's see how the V50 measures up versus the competition:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot A95 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.4 in. 14.0 cu in. 235 g
Canon PowerShot S60 4.5 x 2.2 x 1.5 in. 14.9 cu in. 230 g
Casio Exilim EX-P600 3.8 x 2.7 x 1.8 in. 18.5 cu in. 225 g
Fuji FinePix E550 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.4 in. 14.4 cu in. 201 g
Kodak EasyShare DX7630 4.0 x 2.7 x 1.6 in. 17.3 cu in. 219 g
Nikon Coolpix 5400 4.3 x 2.9 x 2.7 in. 33.7 cu in. 320 g
Samsung Digimax V50 4.2 x 2.2 x 1.5 in. 13.9 cu in. 190 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P100 4.3 x 2.1 x 1.0 in. 9.0 cu in. 158 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 11.2 cu in. 190 g

As you can see, the Digimax is one of the smallest cameras in the group. There are some other "worthy" cameras worth considering that are much larger and I'll mention those at the end of the review.

With that out of the way, we can now begin our tour of the V50!

The V50 has an F2.7-4.9, 3X optical zoom lens with a Schneider-Kreuznach label. The focal range of the lens is 7.7 - 23.1 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. The camera supports conversion lenses, as I mentioned before. To attach one, just remove the metal ring from around the lens, screw in the conversion lens adapter, and then attach the conversion lens of choice.

The three circles above the lens are the optical viewfinder, flash sensor, and AF-assist lamp. The latter is used to help the camera focus in low light conditions and it's great to see it on a Samsung camera.

At the upper-left of the above photo is the V50's built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 3.0 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 2.0 m at telephoto, which is rather weak. Those numbers on the Canon PowerShot A95 are 0.45 - 4.4 m and 0.45 - 2.5 m, respectively. Samsung lists the flash recharge time as 6 seconds. You cannot attach an external flash to the V50.

Below the "Samsung" logo is the "function lamp". This blinks when you turn on the camera (of course), after you take picture, while taking video or audio, when the self-timer is counting down, etc.

Probably the nicest feature on the V50 is its 2-inch, rotating LCD display. With 117,600 pixels, the screen is sharp.

Once flipped into position, the screen can rotate 270 degrees, from facing the ground all the way around to facing the subject. You can close the screen altogether and just use the optical viewfinder, if you wish. In low light, the screen does not brighten at all, making it difficult or even impossible to use.

Here's the back of the camera with the LCD in a more traditional position.

Above the LCD is a rather small optical viewfinder. There's not much to say about it other than that it lacks a diopter correction knob.

To the left of the viewfinder are two buttons. The one on the left is for AE lock in record mode and for copying between memory cards in playback mode. The button on the right is for choosing a focus mode in record mode and deleting photos in playback mode.


Manual focus

There are three focus options on the V50. The first is your normal everyday "push the shutter release halfway to lock focus" mode. Another option is continuous AF, which is constantly focusing, even if you're not pressing the shutter release. This can help reduce the lag between the time you press the shutter release and the time the photo is actually taken. The third and final option is manual focus. Here you'll use the jog dial on the top of the camera to set the focus. A guide showing the current focus distance is shown on the LCD. The V50 lacks any kind of center-frame enlargement which other cameras offer so you can ensure that your subject is in focus.

Moving now to the top-right of the photo, we find the zoom controller. Hold it down and you can fly through the whole zoom range in just over one second. I counted 8 steps in the zoom range, so you can't be terribly precise when it comes to zoom position.

Below that is the display button, which toggles the LCD, as well as what's shown on it, on and off.


S-button menu

The next button down is the S-button, which opens up a menu full of shooting options. Some of these are only shown in the manual shooting modes. These include:

  • Exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2EV in 0.5EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, daylight fluorescent, white fluorescent, tungsten, custom) - the custom option lets you use a white or gray card/paper to get perfect color under any light
  • ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • RGB (Red, green, blue) - adjust each of these from -7 to +7 in 1-step increments
  • A/S/M mode - choose the shooting mode when the mode dial is set to A/S/M; more on this later
  • Long time shutter - set the shutter speed and aperture while in Night Scene mode; this is in addition to the manual controls in other shooting modes

As you can see the V50 has some interesting manual controls, and I'll tell you about even more in a bit.

Below the S-button is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation as well as:

  • Up - Voice menu (add a 10 sec audio clip to an image)
  • Down - Macro mode (on/off)
  • Left - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, slow synchro, flash off)
  • Right - Self-timer/remote control (you can set the timer for 2 or 10 seconds)

I should add that the four-way controller has a backlight that turns on when you use it.

Below the four-way controller is the button for entering playback mode. To the right of that, under a plastic cover, are the two I/O ports on the camera. They include A/V out + USB (one port for both) and DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The V50 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard -- but don't worry, it'll still work on your old PC too.

On the top of the V50 you'll find the speaker, power button, mode dial, and the jog dial with the shutter release in it.

I want to rant about the jog dial, but first let's talk about what you'll find on the mode dial:

Option Function
Automatic Point-and-shoot mode, many options are locked
Program mode Still point-and-shoot but with full menu access
A/S/M mode

That stands for aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual mode (I wish they weren't crammed onto one spot on the dial!).

In aperture priority mode, you set the aperture while the camera chooses the shutter speed. Aperture range: F2.7 - F11

In shutter priority mode, you set the shutter speed and the camera chooses the aperture. Shutter speed range: 15 - 1/2000 sec

In full manual (M) mode, you choose both the aperture and shutter speed. Same ranges as above.

MySET mode Your favorite camera settings, easy to access
Voice recording mode Record up to one hour of audio
Movie clip mode More on this later
Night scene mode For night shots
Scene mode You pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from portrait, children, landscape, close-up, sunset, dawn, backlight, fireworks, beach & snow

There are the rest of the manual controls I was talking about! So far, so good!

Something about the V50 that really bothered me is the jog dial. It looks like a zoom controller, it feels like a zoom controller, and it's even in the same place as many zoom controllers. My brain seems to agree: many times I tried in vain to zoom the lens with that controller. Why Samsung designed the jog dial in this way is a mystery to me (and it's not even a dial!)

Nothing to see on this side of the camera.

On this side of the camera you'll find the dual memory card slots as well as the battery compartment, which are protected by a so-so plastic door. As I mentioned at the start of the review, the V50 uses both SD and Memory Stick Duo cards.

The included 32MB SD card and SLB-1437 battery are shown at right.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount, which is located on the far side of the camera body.

Using the Samsung Digimax V50

Record Mode

It takes about three seconds for the Digimax to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.

I should mention some problems I had with the V50. For a while it didn't want to turn on, despite having fully charged NiMH batteries inserted. It also locked up (read: crashed) while saving an image to the included memory card, which ended up corrupting all the images on the card.


No histogram to be found

Here's where the V50 starts to fall behind the competition. The camera has a rather slow AF system, taking nearly a second to lock focus at wide-angle, and even longer at telephoto. If the camera has to hunt, it can take 1.5 seconds for the camera to lock focus. Even though it has an AF-assist lamp, the V50 had difficulty focusing in dim light. In addition, the LCD is too dark to be usable.

Things don't much better in the shutter lag department. Even at fast shutter speeds like 1/180 sec, there's a noticeable delay (approx 0.2 sec) between the time you fully press the shutter release and when the photo is actually taken.

Shot-to-shot speed is below average, with a 3 to 4 second wait before you can take another photo. Images saved in TIFF format will lock up the camera for about 24 seconds while they are written to the memory card.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the V50:

Resolution Quality # Images on 32MB card
(included)
2592 x 1944 TIFF 1
Super fine 11
Fine 23
Normal 35
2272 x 1704 TIFF 2
Super fine 15
Fine 30
Normal 45
2048 x 1536 TIFF 3
Super fine 18
Fine 36
Normal 53
1600 x 1200 TIFF 5
Super fine 30
Fine 61
Normal 91
1024 x 768 TIFF 12
Super fine 70
Fine 130
Normal 183
640 x 480 TIFF 29
Super fine 183
Fine 305
Normal 457

As you can see, the V50 supports the TIFF file format, which is uncompressed and as close to perfect as you're going to get on this camera (there's no RAW format here). Do note the lengthy shot-to-shot time in TIFF mode that I mentioned earlier, though.

Images are named SA50####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace or erase the memory card.

Let's move onto the menus now!

The V50 has an attractive and slightly unusual overlay-style record menu. Instead of one big list, you move between the icons at the top of the screen (see above) by pressing left or right with the four-way controller. Here is what you'll find in the record menu (keeping in mind that many of these options are unavailable in the automatic modes):

  • Image size (see chart)
  • Frame rate (15, 30 fps) - movie mode only
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Metering (Multi, spot)
  • Effect (Normal, black & white, sepia, negative)
  • Sharpness (Soft, normal, vivid) - how can sharpness be "vivid"?
  • Shooting (Single, continuous, AE bracketing) - see below
  • Load (MySET 1, MySET 2, MySET3) - load your favorite settings; only shown in MySET mode
  • Save (MySET 1, MySET 2, MySET3) - save your favorite settings for the MySET mode
  • Scene (Portrait, landscape, sunset, backlight, children, close-up, dawn, fireworks, beach & snow) - only shown in scene mode

The only thing worth mentioning there are the continuous shooting and AE bracketing modes. In continuous mode, the camera takes three shots in a row at 2 frames/second. AE bracketing also takes three shots in a row, but this time each photo has a different exposure value (-0.5EV, 0EV, +0.5EV [this is not adjustable]).

Inside the record menu is the setup submenu. The items here include:

  • File numbering (Reset, series)
  • Power save (Off, 1 - 10 min)
  • Language (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese) - note that this list may vary depending on where you buy your camera
  • Format (MS, SD/MMC)
  • Date, time (Set, date format)
  • Imprint (Off, date, date & time) - print the date on your photos
  • Lamp (on/off) - turn the blinky light on the front of the camera off
  • Sound (Off, low, medium, high)
  • LCD (Dark, normal, bright)
  • Video (NTSC, PAL)
  • Quickview (Off, 1 - 5 secs) - post-shot review
  • USB (Computer, printer)
  • Reset - back to defaults
  • Card select (SD/MMC, MS)

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The macro test did not turn out so hot. The photo on the left is what came out of the camera. I shoot these test shots under 600W quartz lamps, and they can sometimes throw off the various white balance settings that a camera has. The V50 has custom white balance, and I tried that, and got a nice brownish-yellow cast in the photo. I then tried tungsten white balance and decided I liked the blue case (shown in the photo on the left) better. After running the image through the "auto color" function in Photoshop CS, I came up with the photo on the right which is accurate. If you shoot under unusual lighting the V50 probably isn't for you.

Color aside, the subject is quite sharp -- almost too sharp. You can make out plenty of detail, for sure.

The minimum distance to the subject is 4 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto while in macro mode.

As if to make up for that crummy macro shot, the V50 delivered a beautiful night photo of San Francisco (in the fog). The image is, again, quite sharp, and a little grainy/noisy. I think the fog destroys some of the detail at the top of the buildings, as well. There is some purple fringing to see here, and you can get rid of it by using a smaller aperture (higher F-number).

With full control over shutter speed, taking shots like this is easy on the V50. Just don't forget a tripod!

Using that same scene, let's see how the camera performed at higher ISO sensitivities:


ISO 50
View Full Size Image

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image

While it may look like the ISO 400 shots is actually less noisy than ISO 200, this is not the case. The photo wasn't exposed for as long (in my attempt not to overexpose it, I did just the opposite) which reduced the brightness and thus the visibility of the noise. But if you adjust the levels in Photoshop you'll see that it is indeed noisier.

There's very little redeye to see on the flash test shot, which both surprised and impressed me. I did have to adjust the levels a bit on this shot, as the V50's way underexposed the picture.

The distortion test shows moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. I see no evidence of vignetting (dark corners) or blurry corners.

Photo quality on the Digimax V50 was a mixed bag. Sometimes it was average, although with above average noise and purple fringing. I think Samsung really cranked up the in-camera sharpening (which is adjustable, by the way) which makes things look grainy (the sky being a prime example). Other times, the photos were just outright wrong, like this one:


Ferrari by Samsung
View Original


Ferrari by Kodak
View Original

Anyone who knows their cars understands that Ferrari Red is NOT orange. The Kodak isn't perfect either, but it's a heck of a lot closer to reality than the V50. I noticed this same discoloration in at least two other photos (one, two). The V50 didn't always do it, as you can see in the Stanford photos, so I don't know what causes it.

Please don't take my word for all this. Have a look at our gallery first, and print the photos just like you would if they were your own. Then decide if the Digimax V50 is right for you!

Movie Mode

Another nice feature on the Digimax V50 is its movie mode. It's one of the small group of cameras that record in the MPEG4 format, which allows for good quality videos that take up less space on your memory card. The V50 can record at 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 at 15 or 30 frames/second, which is (just about) as good as you'll get these days. The included 32MB SD card can hold just under two minutes of video at the highest quality setting (640 x 480, 30 fps). Buying a larger memory card will allow you to take longer movies.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming.

Here's a sample movie for you, recorded at the 640 x 480 (30 fps) resolution. As you can probably tell from me frame grab below, Samsung really turned up the MPEG4 compression on the V50.


Click to play movie (2.6MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Digimax has a pretty standard playback mode. Features such as slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, voice captions, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll are all here. The camera is also PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.

The "zoom and scroll" feature (my term) lets you zoom into your photos by as much as 9 times, which is helpful for determining whether your image is in focus. Once zoomed in you can also crop your image.

Other options include image rotating and resizing, as well as the ability to copy photos from one memory card to another (e.g. SD to MS Duo).

By default, the V50 shows you nothing about your photos. Press the display button once and you'll ge the screen on the right, which is very basic, but better than nothing.

The V50 moves from photo to photo at an average pace. A (very) low resolution placeholder is shown instantly, with the high res version appearing a second later.

How Does it Compare?

The Samsung Digimax V50 is a great example of a camera that sounds great after reading the spec sheet that turns out to be a disappointment after start using it. With a 5 Megapixel CCD, large rotating LCD, manual controls, VGA movie mode, and dual memory card slots, it sounds like the camera to beat in the lower-cost 5MP market. In reality, its photo quality is hit-or-miss and performance is subpar.

Let me mention the nice things about the V50 first. It has a nice, sharp 2-inch LCD display that flips to the side and rotates. The camera supports three types of memory cards: Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard (MMC), and Memory Stick Duo. I'm not sure why Samsung chose MS Duo, as the much more common Memory Stick card would've easily fit. The camera also supports many types of batteries, including a proprietary li-ion battery (which comes with the camera), AA, and CR-V3. The V50 has a full suite of manual controls, even white balance and focus. It also has the ability to record VGA (30 fps) movies until the memory card is full.

Now the bad news. Photo quality, as I said, was not consistent. Sometimes it was pretty good, aside from above average noise and purple fringing. Other times it was just plain wrong (that's the best word I can use to describe it), with noticeably inaccurate color. The camera also lags in the performance department (pun intended), with lengthy AF times and noticeable shutter lag at all times. Despite having an AF-assist lamp, the camera did not focus well in low light. To make matters worse, the LCD becomes unusable in dim lighting. Finally, I really didn't care for the "jog dial" on the top of the camera, which not only looks and feels like a zoom controller, but is located in perfect place for one!

Bottom line: you can do better than the Digimax V50. See below for some suggestions.

What I liked:

  • Lots of features for a low price
  • Flip-out, rotating 2-inch LCD display
  • Plenty of manual controls
  • AF-assist lamp (though it does little good)
  • Low redeye
  • Supports conversion lenses
  • Can save favorite settings to spot on mode dial
  • Dual memory card slots (but why MS Duo?)
  • VGA, 30 frames/sec movie mode
  • USB 2.0 High Speed supported

What I didn't care for:

  • Photos often had noticeably inaccurate color
  • Slow autofocus speeds, major shutter lag
  • Poorly designed/placed jog dial (in my opinion)
  • LCD unusable in low light conditions
  • Despite AF-assist lamp, poor low light focusing
  • Weak flash
  • No Mac software included

Other cameras in this class worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot A95 and S60, Fuji FinePix E510 and E550, HP Photosmart R707, Kodak EasyShare DX7440 (4MP) and DX7630 (6MP), Nikon Coolpix 5200, Olympus C-60Z, Pentax Optio 555, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F88 and DSC-W1.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Digimax V50 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?

Check out a review of the V50 over at Steve's Digicams.

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.