The Samsung Digimax A55W is an entry-level whose standout feature is its 28 mm, 4.8X wide-angle lens. The A55W is probably the cheapest wide-angle camera you can buy, with a street price of just $231. In addition to the wide-angle lens, it also features a 5 Megapixel CCD, 2.5" LCD display, and MPEG-4 movie mode.
For those looking for something a little more stylish, for about $80 more you can get the Digimax L55W, which features a metal body and 2.8" LCD display.
How does this budget camera perform in our tests? Find out now!
What's in the Box?
The A55W has an average bundle. Inside the box you'll find the following:
- The 5.0 effective Megapixel Samsung Digimax A55W digital camera
- Two AA alkaline batteries
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Digimax Viewer and PhotoImpression software plus USB and video drivers
- 128 page camera manual (printed)
As is the case with many cameras these days, the Digimax A55W has 25MB of built-in memory instead of a bundled memory card. You can fit just nine photos at the highest quality setting in the internal memory, which isn't very much. Therefore you'll want to buy a memory card for the camera right away. The A55W uses Secure Digital (SD) or MultiMedia (MMC) memory cards, and I'd suggest a 256MB OR 512MB card a good place to start. A high speed memory card is not required on this camera.
The Digimax A55W uses two AA batteries for power (the L55W uses a lithium-ion battery), and Samsung includes two alkaline cells which will quickly run dry. That means that you'll need to buy a set or two of NiMH rechargeable batteries (2500 mAh or above, preferably) as well as a faster charger. Unfortunately Samsung does not publish battery life numbers for the A55W, so it's impossible to compare it to other cameras.
As you may know, I'm a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. Unlike with cameras that use proprietary li-ion batteries, you can pop in off-the-shelf alkaline cells when your rechargeables die, so the A55W gets points for that. The camera can use CR-V3 batteries (rechargeable and otherwise) as well.
There's a built-in lens cover on the A55W so there's no lens cap to worry about.
Being an entry-level camera it's not surprise that the A55W doesn't have a lot of accessories. In fact, the only two that I could locate were a CR-V3 rechargeable battery kit and a soft camera case ($20).
Samsung includes two Windows-only programs for viewing your photos. The first is Digimax Viewer, which does just as it sounds: it views photos, and that's it.
For more complex tasks you'll want to use PhotoImpression 4, which is also included with the A55W. While it's interface is a bit quirky, this software has lots of useful tools and effects.
Again, both of these products are for Windows only. Mac users will want to use iPhoto instead.
The manuals included with Samsung's cameras aren't the greatest. While the content itself is okay, it's not terribly user friendly, with a poor layout and lots of fine print.
Look and Feel
The Digimax A55W is a compact camera made entirely of plastic. Despite its plastic body, the camera feels solid and well built. If you want something a little more stylish, there's also the L55W model which shares the A55W's sensor, lens, and features. The A55W is available in silver and black bodies.
The camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand. There aren't too many buttons on the camera, though the labeling could be clearer (what's the "E" button for?).
Let's see how the A55W compares to some other wide-angle cameras in terms of size and weight:
||Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
|Canon PowerShot S80
||4.1 x 2.2 x 1.5 in.
||13.5 cu in.
|Kodak EasyShare P880
||4.5 x 3.1 x 2.4 in.
||33.5 cu in.
|Kodak EasyShare V570
||4.0 x 1.9 x 0.8 in.
||6.1 cu in.
|Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200
||4.5 x 3.2 x 4.5 in.
||64.8 cu in.
|Nikon Coolpix 8400
||4.4 x 3.2 x 3.0 in.
||42.2 cu in.
||4.6 x 3.4 x 2.6 in.
||40.7 cu in.
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1
||4.2 x 2.2 x 1.0 in.
||9.2 cu in.
|Samsung Digimax A55W
||4.2 x 2.2 x 1.0 in.
||9.2 cu in.
|Samsung Digimax L55W
||3.9 x 2.2 x 1.1 in.
||9.4 cu in.
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1
||5.5 x 3.9 x 6.3 in.
||135.1 cu in.
As you can see, that's a pretty diverse group of cameras. The A55W isn't the smallest in the bunch -- that award goes to Kodak's unique EasyShare V570, which has two lenses. While it's not what i'd consider a compact camera, the A55W is still small enough to fit into most of your pockets.
Okay, let's move on to our tour of the camera now, shall we?
The biggest feature on the Digimax A55W has to be its wide-angle 4.8X zoom lens. The focal range of this F3.3-4.8 lens (yes, it's a little slow) is 4.6 - 22.2 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 135 mm. Wide-angle lenses are great for taking indoor photos where the typical compact digicam is just too telephoto. The A55W does not support conversion lenses.
Just above the lens is the camera's AF-assist lamp, which is also the visual countdown for the self-timer. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.
To the left of the AF-assist lamp is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.6 m - 3.0 m at wide-angle and 0.6 - 2.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO), which is average. You cannot attach an external flash to the camera.
Under the Samsung logo is the camera's main power switch. Sliding it to the left (as seen here) will slide back the lens cover and power up the camera. Sliding it in the opposite direction will turn everything back off. You can also use the playback button on the back of the camera for starting up in that mode.
The main event on the back of the Digimax A55W is its large 2.5" LCD display. Despite being a budget camera, Samsung didn't skimp on the screen resolution: there are 200,000 pixels on this LCD (though it doesn't seem that sharp). While outdoor visibility is very good, low light visibility is awful: the screen does not "gain up" at all, so good luck seeing your subject.
As you can see, there's no optical viewfinder on the camera. Whether that's a bad thing is sort of up to you: some people like them, others never use them.
Now let's talk about the four buttons immediately to the right of the LCD. They include:
- Mode + Album (explained later)
- Color/ISO/WB/Exposure compensation + Delete Photo
- Playback mode
Some of those items require further explanation. The mode button switches between program, movie, and scene modes, and you can select what items are shown here. I'll list the various scene modes later in the review.
The +/- button lets you quickly adjust the color (red, green, and blue), ISO (Auto, 100, 200, and 400), white balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent H, fluorescent L, tungsten, and custom), and exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/2EV increments). The custom white balance option lets you use a white or gray card for perfect color in any lighting.
When you press the effect button you'll open up a menu full of unique options. They include:
- Color effects (Normal, black and white, sepia, red tone, green tone, blue tone, negative color)
- Preset focus frames (Off, range 1 - 4) - helps you compose photos
- Composite shooting (Off, 2, 3, 4, panorama) - combine 2 - 4 photos into one image; the panorama feature combines two photos into one wide view
- Photo frame (Off, 1 - 9) put rather cheesy frames around your photos
Back to the tour now. To the right of the Effects button is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and also:
- Up - Voice memo + Voice recording
- Down - Macro mode (on/off)
- Left - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, slow synchro, flash off)
- Right - Self-timer (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec, double)
The voice memo feature lets you attach a 10 second sound clip to a photo. The voice recording feature will record up to an hour of audio (not attached to any picture).
The double self-timer takes one picture after 10 seconds and then another one two seconds later.
The last thing to see on the back of the A55W is the zoom controller, which is at the top-right of the above photo. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just one second. I had a hard time counting the steps in the zoom range since it didn't seem consistent, but it seems like there are more than enough.
The only things to see on the top of the camera are the speaker and shutter release button.
The only thing to see here are the A55W's I/O ports. Actually there's just one, and it's for both USB and A/V out. The camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard for speedy photo transfers to your computer.
Since there's no DC-in port there is no AC adapter available for the A55W.
On the opposite side of the camera you'll find the battery and memory card compartment. This compartment is protected by a somewhat flimsy plastic door. As I mentioned earlier the A55W supports SD/MMC memory cards and AA/CR-V3 batteries.
The lens is shown at the full telephoto position here.
The only thing on the bottom of the camera is the tripod mount. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the tripod mount is metal and not plastic.
Using the Samsung Digimax A55W
It takes about 2.7 seconds for the Digimax A55W to extend its lens and prepare for shooting -- nothing spectacular.
The A55W's autofocus performance was not impressive. Typical wide-angle focus times exceeded 0.5 seconds, and at the telephoto end 1+ second delays were common. Despite having an AF-assist lamp, low light focusing was poor.
I noticed some shutter lag on the A55W as well. When I do notice shutter lag, usually it's at slower shutter speeds, but it's present at fast shutter speeds as well on this camera.
Shot-to-shot speeds were average, with roughly a two second delay before you can take another picture.
There's no way to delete a photo right after it is taken: you must enter playback mode first.
Now let's take a look at the image resolution and quality options available on this camera:
||# images on 25MB
|# images on 256
SD card (optional)
2592 x 1944
2272 x 1704
2048 x 1536
1600 x 1200
1024 x 768
640 x 480
There is no support for the RAW or TIFF formats on the A55W.
The camera names files as SA55####.JPG (where # = 0001 - 9999), and remembers the numbering even if you switch cards or delete photos.
The Digimax A55W has a rather unusual menu system. Instead of one long hierarchical list, menu options are all in their own tabs (save for the setup options), which I found to be more difficult to use than traditional menu systems. Here's what you'll find in the recording menu:
- Mode (Still & movie, full, custom) - what options are shown when you press the Mode button
- Mode set (Auto, program, movie, night, portrait, children, landscape, close-up, sunset, dawn, backlight, fireworks, beach & snow) - what options are shown in the mode menu when "custom" is selected in the previous item
- Size (see chart)
- Quality (see chart)
- Metering (Multi, spot)
- Shooting (Single, continuous, AEB) - see below
- Sharpness (Soft, normal, vivid)
- OSD information (Full, basic, save mode) - what is shown on the LCD
- Startup image (Off, logo, user image 1/2)
- Shutter sound (Off, 1-3)
- Startup sound (Off, 1-3)
- Setup - See below
Let's talk about that continuous shooting mode now. In that mode the camera will keep taking pictures at a sluggish 0.9 frames/second until the memory card is full. To make matters worse, the LCD goes dark when you start shooting, which makes it impossible to see what you're trying to photograph!
The AE bracketing feature will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure (-0.5EV, 0E, +0.5EV).
The setup tab has an entire submenu inside it, and here are those options:
- File (Reset, series)
- Power save (Off, 1, 3, 5 mins)
- Language (too many to list)
- Date & time
- Set date/time
- Format (Off, YYYY/MM/DD, DD/MM/YYYY, MM/DD/YYYY)
- Imprint (Off, date, date & time) - print the date on your photos
- AF lamp (on/off) - AF-assist lamp
- Sound (Off, low, medium, high)
- LCD (Dark, normal, bright)
- Video (NTSC, PAL)
- Quick View (Off, 0.5, 1, 3 secs) - post-shot review
- Reset camera
Okay, let's move on to our photo tests now!
The Digimax A55W did a fine job with our test subject. Colors are accurate and saturated, and the figurine is sharp. I do notice a little noise/grain here, but it's fairly minor.
The minimum focus distance in macro mode is 2 cm at wide-angle and 19 mm at telephoto, which is very good. The lens moves a little bit past the wide-angle end when it macro mode, though you can still move the lens more toward the telephoto end if you'd like.
I really don't have anything good to say about how the night shot turned out. The camera didn't take in enough light (despite using "night" scene mode), the right side is horribly soft, and noise levels are higher than where they should be. The camera never actually said it had a focus lock, despite numerous attempts, and since there's no manual focus (or even an infinity option) there was nothing I could do about it.
As you can see, the A55W produced a lot of redeye in our flash photo test. This shouldn't be too surprising, as the flash and lens are very close together.
Despite having a wide-angle lens, there's just very mild barrel distortion at the wide-end of the A55W's lens.
Overall, the Digimax A55W's photo quality was just average. Exposure was inconsistent, and often overexposed. Details were sometimes blown out even in regular photos. Colors were alright, though there seemed to be a brownish cast in many of my test shots. Sharpness was about right, and purple fringing levels were decent. As I noted in the macro test section, there is noticeable grain in the photos, which is surprising given the relatively low resolution of the camera.
But don't just take my word for all of this. Have a look at our photo gallery, printing the photos if you can, and then decide if the A55W's photo quality meets your expectations!
One of the bright spots on the Digimax A55W is its movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. Since the camera uses the efficient MPEG-4 codec, you'll be able to fit a lot of video on your memory cards. A 512MB card holds over 33 minutes worth, which is way better than on your typical digicam.
For longer movies you can either lower the frame rate (to 15 fps) or the resolution (to 320 x 240).
As you'd expect, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. A digital image stabilizer helps to soak up camera shake while you're recording.
Movies are saved in AVI format using the MPEG-4 codec. A video driver for Windows is included with the camera. Mac users may need to download the DiVX codec in order to view the movies.
Here's a sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (2.6 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Digimax A55W has a pretty nice playback mode. Basic features like slideshows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, voice captions, image protection, and zoom and scroll are all here. The camera is, of course, PictBridge-enabled.
The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge the photo by as much as 8 times, and then move around in the zoomed-in area.
You can rotate, trim, and resize photos right on the camera.
The A55W's album feature lets you organize photos into eight albums (each album holds 100 photos). You can have a slideshow for each album, complete with special effects.
By default the camera doesn't show you any information about your photos in playback mode. Press the playback button quickly and you'll get the screen on the right, which has some useful info.
The A55W moves through photos quickly. A low resolution image is shown instantly, with the high res one showing up about half-a-second later.
How Does it Compare?
While I like the idea of a low cost camera with a wide-angle lens, the Samsung Digimax A55W has too many annoyances to earn my recommendation.
The A55W is as midsize plastic camera with a 4.8X zoom that goes from 28 to 135 mm. Despite being plastic, I found the A55W's build quality to be good. The camera has a large 2.5" LCD display, though it didn't seem as sharp as it's pixel count (200k) would imply. Low light visibility was poor.
The Digimax is a 100% point-and-shoot camera, with the only manual control being for white balance. You'll get a nice selection of scene modes and colorful menus, though the latter could be better organized. Fans of movie modes will enjoy the A55W's unlimited VGA-resolution recording, and the MPEG-4 codec means that you can fit longer movies on your memory cards than on cameras using things like M-JPEG.
Camera performance was the A55W's weak point. Startup speeds were average, and I found focus and shutter lag times to be bothersome. Low light focusing was poor, despite the fact that the camera has an AF-assist lamp. The continuous shooting mode was also a disappointment, with a slow frame rate and an LCD that blacks out while you're taking pictures. The only bright spots here are the snappy playback mode and the support for the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol.
Photo quality also left something to be desired. Exposure wasn't always the greatest, and there was some noticeable grain in my test shots. Color and sharpness were good, though. The A55W did not fare well in two of our test photos: redeye and night scene. In the night scene test the A55W produced one of the worst night photos I've seen in some time.
At this time, the Samsung Digimax A55W is the cheapest wide-angle camera you can buy. Unfortunately, the camera isn't the best performer, so I'd recommend passing on it and spending the extra money for something a little more capable. There is a "higher end" Samsung model available (the L55W), but I did not get a chance to test it. Aside from that, the next step up is probably the Canon PowerShot S80 or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1.
What I liked:
- Wide-angle, 4.8X zoom lens for very little cash
- Large 2.5" LCD display (though see issues below)
- Well built plastic body; metal tripod mount a nice touch
- Very nice movie mode
- USB 2.0 High Speed support
What I didn't care for:
- So-so photo quality
- Poor showing in redeye and night shot tests
- Noticeable shutter lag, slow focusing
- Poor low light focusing, despite AF-assist lamp
- LCD not usable in low light; screen didn't seem terribly sharp either
- Sluggish continuous shooting mode; LCD blacks out during shooting
- Unusual menu system could use some refinement
- No Mac software included
Some other wide-angle cameras (most of which are much larger than the A55W) include the Canon PowerShot S80, Kodak EasyShare P880, Nikon Coolpix 8400, Olympus C-7070WZ (these last two may be hard to find), Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1, and the Samsung Digimax L55W.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the A55W and it's competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Check out our photo gallery!
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