Samsung HZ15W Review
Look and Feel
The Samsung HZ15W is a fairly compact camera (especially by ultra zoom standards) made almost entirely of metal. The camera feels well put-together, save for the usual plastic door over the memory card/battery compartment. Ergonomics are a mixed bag. While the camera is easy to hold, your thumb ends up sitting on the rear control level, which can lead to the accidental changing of settings. Samsung kept buttons to a relative minimum, though I found the labels on them difficult to see in certain lighting conditions.
Here's a look at how the HZ15 compares to other compact ultra zooms in terms of size and weight:
The HZ15W is right in the middle of the group when it comes to size and weight. It's a little too large for your smaller pockets, but the camera will fit into a a jacket pocket or small bag with ease.
Alright, let's move on to our tour of the camera now, shall we?
Probably the most notable feature on the HZ15W is its 10X, wide-angle zoom lens. With a maximum aperture range of F3.3 - F5.8, this lens isn't terribly "fast", though this is a common issue on compact ultra zooms. The focal length of the lens is 4.2 - 42 mm, which is equivalent to a very nice 24 - 240 mm. The lens is not threaded, and conversion lenses are not supported.
Inside the lens is Samsung's optical image stabilization system. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands that produce what is called "camera shake". This shake can blur photos, especially in low light or at the telephoto end of the lens. The camera is able to shift one of the lens elements to compensate for this motion, which gives you a higher likelihood of getting a sharp photo. These systems won't work miracles, though. You can't freeze a moving subject (though Samsung has a "dual IS" feature to try to help with that), and forget about taking handheld long exposures. Nevertheless, the IS system still lets you use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Want proof? Have a look at these:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
I took both of the above photos at a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second, with the lens near the 5X position. As you can probably tell, the OIS system did its job, producing a sharp photo. As is usually the case, you can also use image stabilization in movie mode, as illustrated by this short video clip.
Just to the left of the lens are the AF-assist lamp and the receiver for the optional remote control. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations. This same lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
Above those items is the HZ15W's built-in flash. This flash is fairly powerful, with a working range of 0.5 - 4.7 m at wide-angle and 2.0 - 2.7 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). Not surprisingly, there's no way to attach an external flash to the HZ15.
The main event on the back of the HZ15 is its 3-inch LCD display. While the screen is large, the resolution is the same as you'd find on a smaller display: 230,000 pixels. That said, the screen seemed quite sharp to me. Outdoor visibility was just fair, and low light viewing wasn't much better. The screen brightens up in the dark, just not very much.
As you probably noticed, there's no viewfinder of any kind of the Samsung HZ15W. I can't really knock Samsung for that, since none of its competitors have one either.
Moving to the controls now: at the top-right of the photo is the command lever. By default, you'll use this for adjusting the exposure compensation, shutter speed, and aperture. You can also redefine its function to change the ISO or white balance setting. You can also use this lever to move between the various "tabs" in the menu system.
Below that is the Function / Delete Photo button. If you're taking pictures, pressing the Function button opens up an overlay-style menu, which contains these options:
- Image size (see chart later in review)
- Focus area (Center, multi, selection) - the last option lets you pick in area in the frame on which to focus
- Metering (Multi, spot, center-weighted)
- Drive mode (Single, continuous, high speed, AE bracketing, motion capture) - see below
- ISO (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, daylight fluorescent, white fluorescent, tungsten, custom set) - the last option lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting
- Face detection (Standard, self-portrait, blink detection, smile detection, off) - see below
Okay, time for a little explanation before we continue the tour. The HZ15W has two continuous shooting modes: regular and high speed. In regular mode, the camera will keep shooting at 0.7 frames/second until the memory card fills up -- pretty slow. The high speed mode shoots faster (1.4 fps) but the LCD blacks out the entire time, essentially making this feature useless. A third continuous option (also not available in manual mode) is motion capture, which shoots at 6 fps for up to 5 seconds, though the image size is 640 x 480.
The last item in the drive menu is a bracketing option takes three shots in a row: one with the set exposure, a second at -1/3EV, and a third at +1/3EV.
Hard to see here, but the camera found five of the six faces
The HZ15 has the latest bells and whistles in the "detection" department. Those include face, smile, and blink detection. The face detection feature can find up to 10 faces in the frame, and makes sure they're properly focused and exposed. This feature works very well, easily finding five or all six photos in our test scene. There's also a clever self-portrait mode, which "guides" you with sound as you point the camera toward yourself. The faster the beeping, the better the composition. The smile shot feature waits until one of the people is smiling, and then it takes a photo. The blink detection mode warns you if somebody in your photo had their eyes closed.
Returning to the tour, the next item of note is the HZ15's four-way controller. You'll use this for menu navigation and also:
- Up - Display (toggles info on the LCD)
- Down - Focus (Auto, macro, auto macro, manual focus) - see below
- Left - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, slow synchro, flash off, redeye reduction)
- Right - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 sec self-timer, double self-timer, motion timer, remote) - see below
- Center - Menu/OK
The camera has two macro modes: one automatic (available only in certain shooting modes), the other manual. There's also a manual focus mode, where you can set the focus distance manually. The center of the frame is enlarged, and while there is a focusing guide shown on the LCD, the lack of numbers makes it kind of difficult to use.
I should also mention the unique "motion timer" on the HZ15W. After a six second countdown, the camera starts detecting subject motion. When that motion stops, it takes a photo.
The last two buttons on the back of the camera are for entering playback mode (and DPOF print marking) and for opening the Effect menu. Here's exactly what you can adjust with the Effect button:
- Photo style (Normal, vivid, soft, forest, retro, cool, calm, classic) - the quick and dirty way to change settings; if you select anything other than normal here, the options below are off-limits
- Color (Normal, black & white, sepia, red, green, blue, negative tone, custom color) - last option lets you adjust red/green/blue levels manually
- Sharpness (1 - 5)
- Contrast (1 - 5)
- Saturation (1 - 5)
And that's it for the back of the HZ15!
That may look like a button on the far left of the above photo, but it's actually the HZ15W's speaker. The glowing blue thing at the center is indeed a button, used for turning the camera on and off. Continuing to the right, we find the shutter release button, with the zoom controller wrapped around it. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.8 seconds. I counted sixteen steps in the HZ15's 10X zoom range -- more would've been nice.
The last thing to see on the top of the HZ15W is its mode dial, which has these options:
Lots to talk about before we continue. The HZ15W has numerous auto and scene modes. You can go totally point-and-shoot, pick a scene mode yourself, or let the camera do it for you. There's also the requisite "beauty" feature, which all compact cameras seem to have this year.
One of the notable scene modes is called frame guide. In a nutshell, you compose the photo and then hand the camera off to someone else to take the picture. A transparent frame is shown (similar to in-camera panorama shooting features) and the photographer just lines everything up, and take the photo with your desired composition.
One of the other shooting modes is Dual IS, which combines the optical image stabilizer, ISO boost,and some digital processing to ensure a sharp photo. Keep in mind that any feature that boosts the ISO sensitivity can lead to noisy images!
While the HZ15 doesn't have aperture or shutter priority modes, it does have a full manual mode -- sort of. You can set the aperture and shutter speed at the same time (which is a slight pain due to the control system), though you only have two apertures to choose from at any given moment. In other words, at wide-angle you can choose from F3.3 or F37.5, and nothing else.
On this side of the camera you'll find its mini-HDMI port and one of the two microphones on the HZ15. The lens is at full wide-angle here.
On the other side you'll find the USB + A/V port, which is also used for charging the battery inside the camera. Do note that this is a proprietary connector, so don't lose that cable!
Right next to the I/O port is the HZ15's second microphone.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the HZ15W. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden in this photo) and the battery/memory card compartment. The door over the compartment is quite flimsy, and you won't be able to get at what's inside while the camera is on a tripod.
The included SLB-10A battery can be seen at right.