Samsung HZ15W Review

Using the Samsung HZ15W

Record Mode

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:

Resolution Quality # images on 21MB on-board memory # images on 2GB memory card
4000 x 3000
Super fine 3 295
Fine 6 568
Normal 8 805
10M (3:2)
3984 x 2656
Super fine 3 336
Fine 6 626
Normal 9 885
9M (16:9)
3968 x 2232
Super fine 4 405
Fine 7 738
Normal 11 1050
3264 x 2448
Super fine 4 424
Fine 7 746
Normal 11 1068
2592 x 1944
Super fine 7 666
Fine 12 1148
Normal 16 1589
2048 x 1536
Super fine 10 984
Fine 17 1631
Normal 22 2137
1024 x 768
Super fine 26 2479
Fine 35 3262
Normal 39 3646

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
    • Language
    • 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
    • Format
    • Reset
    • 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.

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

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:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

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.

Movie Mode

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.

Playback Mode

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.