Originally Posted: August 13, 2009
Last Updated: December 24, 2009
The Samsung HZ15W ($299) is a compact, ultra zoom camera that's designed to compete with the likes of the Canon PowerShot SX200 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3. It features a 12 Megapixel CCD, a 24 - 240 mm lens, optical image stabilization, a 3-inch LCD, and HD movie recording. The camera also has the usual point-and-shoot features, plus a nice selection of manual controls.
The HZ15W has as little brother, known as the HZ10W ($279). That camera has a 10 Megapixel sensor, a smaller LCD, and no HDMI port.
While recent Samsung cameras have all been well designed, they've disappointed in the image quality department. Will the HZ15W buck that trend? Find out now in our review!
The HZ15W is known as the WB550 in some countries.
What's in the Box?
The Samsung HZ15W has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find the following:
- The 12.2 effective Megapixel HZ15W camera
- SLB-10A rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Wrist strap
- USB-to-AC adapter
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Samsung Master software
- 17 page Quick Start manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
Like most cameras these days, the HZ15W has built-in memory, instead of having a memory card included in the box. Samsung put relatively little memory into the HZ15 (21MB to be exact), which holds just three photos at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to buy a memory card, and fast. The HZ15 supports SD, SDHC, and MMCplus cards, though I'd stick to the first two for best results. I'd recommend a 2GB or greater card for use with the HZ15, and it wouldn't hurt if you spent a little extra on a high speed model.
The HZ15W uses the SLB-10A rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power. This battery has 3.8 Wh of energy, which is fairly typical for a compact camera. Let's see how that translates into battery life:
The Casio Exilim EX-H10 pretty much spoils the party for the other cameras in the group, with its unbelievable 1000 shot/per charge battery life. If you take that camera out of the equation, then you'll find that the Samsung HZ15W's battery life is about average.
With the exception of the Kodak, all of the cameras in the above table use proprietary li-ion batteries. These batteries tend to be expensive (a spare will cost you at least $25), and you can't use something "off-the-shelf' in an emergency.
The HZ15's battery is charged inside the camera via the USB cable. You can connect it to a computer, or you can plug into a power outlet using an included USB-to-A/C adapter (which you can also use to power the camera instead of using a battery). It takes a rather lengthy three hours to fully charge the battery. While Samsung doesn't sell an external charger, I found some third-party models available online.
As with most compact cameras, there's a built-in lens cover on the HZ15, so there's no clunky lens cap to deal with.
There aren't too many accessories available for the Samsung HZ15W. Here's all I could find:
I'm not sure how accurate those model numbers are. That's what Samsung lists in the manual, but I can't find them for sale anywhere. Good luck!
Samsung Master for Windows
Samsung includes their "Master" software with the HZ15W. This is a decent product for organizing and editing your photos, though it's for Windows only (Mac users can use iPhoto). After you've transferred images from the camera, you'll wind up on the screen pictured above. You get the usual thumbnail view on the right, with a file browser on the opposite side. From here you can print or e-mail your photos, view them in a slideshow, or do a side-by-side comparison.
Editing in Samsung Master
Double-click on one of the thumbnails and you'll end up on the edit screen pictured above. There are plenty of editing tools here, which include cropping, leveling, auto image quality enhancement, redeye removal, and much more. You can also create calendars or add virtual frames to your photos.
You're on your own when it comes to movie editing, as there are no such tools in Samsung Master.
The HZ15W won't win any awards for its documentation. The only printed thing you'll find in the box is a leaflet to get you up and running. For more details, you'll want to open up the full manual, which is included in PDF form on a CD-ROM. The quality of the manuals themselves is typical of those from major consumer electronics manufacturers -- average, at best. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your computer.
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.
Using the Samsung HZ15W
It takes the HZ15 about 1.5 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's about average.
A histogram is available in record mode
Focusing speeds are in the average realm as well, at least in good light. Expect wide-angle focus times of 0.3 - 0.5 seconds, with delays twice as long for telephoto shooting. The HZ15 struggled to focus in low light, despite its AF-assist lamp. Thus, it's probably not a great choice for those taking a lot of photos in dim lighting conditions.
I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot delays range from two seconds without the flash, to a sluggish four seconds with it.
You cannot delete a photo right after it's taken -- you must enter playback mode to do that.
Now, here's a look at the image size and quality options that are available on the HZ15W:
See why I recommended buying a memory card right away?
The HZ15W does not support the RAW or TIFF image formats.
The Samsung HZ15W has an attractive, easy to navigate menu system. You can use the rear command lever to move through the four tabs in the menu, with the four-way controller handling everything else. Keeping in mind that not all of these options will be available in every shooting mode, here's what you'll find in the record menu:
- Recording options
- Command lever (EV, ISO, white balance) - what this button does
- Flash intensity (-1EV to +1EV, in 1/2EV increments)
- Quality (Super fine, fine, normal)
- ACB (on/off) - I have no idea what this stands for, but it essentially brightens shadows when your subject is backlit
- OIS (on/off) - you'll want to turn the image stabilizer off while using a tripod
- Voice memo (on/off) - add a 10 sec sound clip to a photo
- Voice recording - record up to 10 hours of audio, saved in WAV format
- Sound options
- Volume (Off, low, medium, high)
- Start sound (Off, sound 1/2/3)
- Shutter sound (Off, sound 1/2/3)
- Beep sound (Off, sound 1/2/3)
- AF sound (on/off)
- Self portrait (on/off) - turn the audio feedback for this feature on or off
- Display options
- Grid line (2 x 2, 3 x 3, X, cross hairs)
- Date & time
- Start image (Off, logo, user image)
- Display brightness (Auto, dark, normal, bright)
- Quick view (Off, 0.5, 1, 3 secs)
- Display save (on/off) - whether the LCD turns off when camera is idle
- Setup options
- Recycle bin (Off, on, recycle folder) - see below
- File name (Reset, series)
- Imprint (Off, date, date & time)
- Power off (Off, 1, 3, 5, 10 mins)
- Video output (NTSC, PAL)
- AF lamp (on/off)
- Anynet + (on/off) - allows you to control the camera with your Samsung TV remote, when connected via HDMI cable
- HDMI size (1080i, 720p, 480p, 576p)
- USB (Auto, computer, printer)
Believe it or not, I only want to discuss one of the options above. That option is the "recycle bin", which is a good idea in theory, but not as useful as one would like in practice. When the feature is on, the camera uses 10MB of the internal memory to store recently deleted photos. So, if you delete a photo accidentally, you can get it back. The catch is that 10MB of memory only holds about two images are the highest quality setting, so don't expect to get back a photo that you took last week.
Alright, let's move onto our photo tests now, shall we?
The Samsung HZ15W turned in a pretty good performance in our macro test. Exposure and color both look good, though there's a very slight greenish cast to the image. The subject is slightly soft, with noticeable fuzziness on sharp edges. While I can spot a bit of noise here, it shouldn't really get in your way.
The HZ15 features both automatic and "forced" macro modes, whose availability depends on your shooting mode. For either one, the minimum focusing distance is 5 cm at wide-angle and 1 m at telephoto.
The night shot turned out fairly well, too. Since you can control the shutter speed manually, you can bring in as much light as needed. I do wish there was a dedicated shutter priority mode, though. The buildings are generally sharp, though you can already see noise reduction eating away at the details, and this is at ISO 80. Highlight clipping isn't too bad for a compact camera, and purple fringing levels are low.
Now, let's use that same scene to see how the HZ15 performs at higher sensitivities. Since the quality is poor at the two highest sensitivities (1600 and 3200), those shots are not posted.
The ISO 100 image is just a bit noisier than the one taken at ISO 80. Noise reduction starts eating away at low contrast detail at ISO 200, though a midsize print is still quite possible at this point. ISO 400 is probably as high as I'd take the HZ15 in low light, and only for small prints or web viewing. At ISO 800, the image gets quite soft, details get smudged, and color saturation drops.
We'll see if the HZ15W performs better in normal lighting a bit.
There's remarkably little barrel distortion at the wide end of this 24 - 240 mm lens. I have a feeling that Samsung is doing some digital correction here. The HZ15 does have some trouble with corner blurriness, however. Vignetting (dark corners) was not a problem in my real world photos.
The HZ15W takes a two-pronged approach to removing redeye. First, it fires the flash a few times before the actual photo is taken. The idea behind that is that your subject's pupils will shrink, making redeye less likely. If that doesn't work, the camera locates any red eyes in the scene, and removes that annoyance automatically. As you can see above, this feature works quite well.
Now it's time for our studio ISO test. Since the lighting is always the same, these test photos can be compared to others I've taken over the years. While the crops below give you an idea as to the noise levels at each setting, viewing the full size image is always a smart idea. Here we go:
The ISO 80 and 100 shots are both pretty clean, though they seem a bit on the green side. At ISO 200, noise reduction starts smudges details -- just look at the letters on the hot sauce bottle to see what I mean. Despite that, a midsize or large print shouldn't be a problem. When we get to ISO 400, the image is getting pretty soft, with yet more detail loss. I would try to not exceed this ISO setting unless you're absolutely desperate. At ISO 800 you get a drop in color saturation in addition to more noise reduction artifacting. ISO 1600 is too noisy to be usable, and things don't get any better at ISO 3200, where the resolution drops to 3 Megapixel and there's more than enough noise to go around.
Overall, the photos produced by the HZ15W were decent, but there's lots of room for improvement. Exposure was generally accurate, though the camera does clip highlights at times (which is common on compact cameras). No complaints about color -- everything was nice and saturated. Sharpness and detail are the weak spots here. The HZ15 uses heavy duty noise reduction, which smudges fine and low contrast detail, and gives the images a fuzzy appearance. If you're making smaller sized prints or downsizing for web viewing then you probably won't notice. If you're making giant prints or viewing the photos at 100% on your computer screen, then you'll certainly notice. I did not find purple fringing to be a problem on the HZ15W.
Now, I invited you to have a look at our photo gallery. View the full size images, print a few if you can, and then you should be able to decide if the Samsung HZ15W's photo quality meets your needs.
More and more cameras are recording HD movies, and the Samsung HZ15W is one of them. It allows you to record 720p video -- that's 1280 x 720 -- at 30 frames/second with stereo sound. You can keep recording for up to 29 minutes. There are two 720p settings: high quality and standard.
If you want a lower resolution, you can choose from 640 x 480 or 320 x 240. For all three sizes you can set the frame rate to 15 or 30 fps, with a 60 fps option available at the 320 x 240 setting.
The camera allows you to operate the zoom lens while you're recording a clip. By default, the sound of that lens moving will be picked up by the microphone. However, if you go to the "voice" option in the recording menu, you can turn on the "zoom mute" feature. As its name implies, this will mute sound recording while the zoom lens is operating. As you might expect, the optical image stabilizer is also available in movie mode.
The HZ15W is somewhat unique in that you can pause a video that you're recording. When you're ready to continue, just press a button and the camera continues saving video to the same file.
Movies are saved in MPEG-4 format, using the efficient H.264 codec.
Here's a sample for you, taken at the highest quality setting:
Click to play movie (22.3 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, MPEG-4 format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The Samsung HZ15W has a very nice playback mode. Some of the basic features include slideshows (complete with music and transitions), DPOF print marking, image protection, voice captions, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the image by as much as 12.5X, and then move around.
Photo retouching in playback mode
Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. In addition, pressing the effect button gives you the following options:
- ACB - brightens shadows
- Redeye removal
- Face retouch - removes blemishes
- Brightness/contrast/saturation control
- Noise effect - adds noise to an image; are they kidding?
There are two movie editing features as well. You can trim a video, getting rid of unwanted footage at the beginning or end of a clip. You can also take a frame grab as you're viewing a movie by pressing the "E" button.
|Viewing photos by date||And by color (!)|
The camera's Smart Album feature allows you to sort through images by date, file type, and even the colors in the photo (see above). You can view anywhere from three to twenty images at a time using this feature.
The camera can delete photos one at a time, in groups, or all at once. There's also the "recycle bin" feature that I described earlier, though it doesn't have enough capacity to really save your bacon. As you'd expect from a camera with internal memory, there's a tool available to copy images over to a memory card.
The HZ15W doesn't show you too much information about your photo, but at least it's the important stuff. A histogram is available, as well. The camera moves from one image to the next without delay.
How Does it Compare?
The Samsung HZ15W (also known as the WB550) is a competent but not spectacular compact ultra zoom camera. There's a lot to like about the HZ15: it's relatively small, it has a great 24 - 240 mm stabilized zoom lens, a large LCD, tons of automatic features, manual controls, and an HD movie mode. Downsides include heavy noise reduction in photos, poor low light performance, limited aperture choices in manual mode, and a few design-related annoyances. The HZ15W is definitely one of the best Samsung cameras I've tested, it's just not one of the best in its class. Even so, it's worth a look, especially if you don't plan on making large prints.
The HZ15 is a relatively compact camera with a stylish black metal body. In terms of build quality, the only real weak spot is the flimsy door over the memory card/battery compartment, which is inaccessible when the camera is on a tripod, by the way. The HZ15W fits in your hand perfectly, though your thumb rests right on the rear command lever, which makes it easy to accidentally adjust the exposure compensation. Samsung has managed to stuff a 10X, 24 - 240 mm lens into the HZ15, though the lens is on the slow side (in terms of maximum aperture). There's also optical image stabilization, which removes blur from still photos and helps smooth out your movies, as well. On the backside you'll find a large 3-inch LCD display that seems sharper than its 230,000 pixel count would make you believe. As far as visibility goes, things were about average outdoors, and below average in low light situations. Just like its competitors, the HZ15W does not have an optical viewfinder.
The Samsung HZ15W has a nice combination of automatic and manual features. For the point-in-shoot enthusiast, you'll find several auto modes, including one that selects a scene mode for you. If you'd rather do that yourself, there are plenty of scenes to choose from. The HZ15 has a lot of manual controls, though some of them are a bit crippled. You can select both the aperture and shutter speed in "M" mode, but there are only two apertures to choose from at any given time. While manual focus is nice, the distance guide on the LCD isn't terribly useful. The HZ15 has the requisite face/smile/blink detection features, and they all work very well. I was especially impressed with the self-portrait feature, which uses sound to tell you when your photo is well-composed. The HZ15 has a really nice HD movie mode, capable of recording up to 29 minutes of continuous 720p video, with stereo sound. Both the zoom lens and image stabilizer are available, and you can pause in the middle of a recording and resume later.
For the most part, the HZ15 scored average across the board in terms of performance. It takes about 1.5 seconds to start up, and focus speeds ranged from 0.3 seconds at wide-angle to close to a full second at telephoto. The HZ15 struggled to focus in low light, and the fact that the LCD doesn't brighten a whole lot doesn't make things any easier. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and without the flash, shot-to-shot delays weren't too bad. The HZ15's flash is slow to charge, though, so be prepared to wait around 4 seconds between flash shots. The HZ15 has two continuous shooting modes: one is slow (0.7 fps) but lets you see what's going on, while the other is twice as fast, but the LCD is blacked out the entire time (what's the point?). Battery life was about average for this type of camera. Do note that the battery is charged internally (via a proprietary cable), which some folks may not like.
Photo quality has always been a weak spot on Samsung's cameras, and that hasn't changed here. On the positive side, color and exposure were both good, though don't be surprised if you see some highlight clipping here and there. Purple fringing was minimal as well, and redeye was well-controlled thanks to the camera's digital removal system. The bad news is that images are soft and fuzzy, and fine or low contrast details appear mottled due to heavy noise reduction -- even at the lowest ISO. The HZ15 doesn't compete with the best cameras in its class at higher ISOs, either. The small print crowd probably won't notice, but if you're making larger prints, viewing images on your computer screen at 100%, or planning on using high ISOs, you'll probably want to consider another camera.
The only other things I wanted to mention relate to the bundle. The HZ15W doesn't come with much in the line of internal memory, which not only restricts how many photos it can hold, but it also holds back the well-intentioned Recycle Bin feature. There's also no Mac software included, though iPhoto is arguably better than what would've been supplied anyway. Finally, the full manual is only available in digital format on a CD-ROM, and its quality is lacking.
If you want a smallish camera with a great zoom range, large LCD, and useful set of features -- and you'll be taking photos in good light and not making large prints -- then the Samsung HZ15W is certainly worth checking out. Those of you who want better image quality and low light performance will probably want to consider one of the HZ15's competitors.
What I liked:
- Good color and exposure; no redeye or purple fringing
- Compact, stylish metal body packs a 10X zoom
- Useful 24 - 240 mm zoom range
- Optical image stabilization
- Large and sharp 3-inch LCD display
- Good set of manual controls (though see below)
- Lots of point-and-shoot features; well-implemented face/smile/blink detection
- Strong flash
- Great HD movie mode with stereo sound, zoom/IS usage, long recording time
- Nice playback mode
- Optional wireless remote, if you can find it
- HDMI port
What I didn't care for:
- Heavy noise reduction smudges fine and low contrast details and gives images a soft, fuzzy look, even at low ISOs
- Poor low light focusing; LCD difficult to see in those situations, as well
- Only two apertures to choose from in manual mode; manual focus feature could be better
- LCD blacks out during high speed continuous shooting
- Thumb rests on command lever, making it easy to accidentally change settings
- Flash is relatively slow to charge
- No optical viewfinder
- Battery charged internally via proprietary cable
- Flimsy door over memory/battery compartment; cannot access memory card when camera is on a tripod
- Not a lot of built-in memory; makes the Recycle Bin feature a lot less useful
- No Mac software included; Full manual only on CD-ROM
Some other compact ultra zooms worth a look include the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS, Casio Exilim EX-H10, Fuji FinePix F70EXR, Kodak EasyShare Z915, Olympus Stylus 9000, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20.
As always, I recommend heading down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Samsung HZ15W (and its competitors) before you buy!
See how the photos turned out in our photo gallery!