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DCRP Review: Samsung NV3  


by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 23, 2006
Last Updated: April 30, 2012

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The Samsung NV3 ($350) is one of three new models in the Korean mega-company's new "NV" series of digital cameras. The NV3 is the ultra-compact of the bunch, offering a stylish metal body, a 7 Megapixel CCD, a 3X zoom lens, and a 2.5" LCD display. The NV3 isn't just a camera, though. It's also a PMP -- portable media player -- and it can play MP3 music files as well as videos (that must be converted into a special format). In other words, this isn't your typical ultra-compact camera.

Ultimately all the bells and whistles in the world don't matter if the camera's photo quality isn't up to snuff. How does the NV3 compete in the crowded ultra-compact field? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The NV3 has an average bundle. Inside the box you'll find:

  • The 7.2 effective Megapixel Samsung NV3 digital camera
  • SLB-0837 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • AC-to-USB converter
  • Wrist strap
  • Headphones
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Digimax Master, Digimax Converter, and XviD codec
  • 92 page camera manual (printed)

Like so many camera manufacturers, Samsung builds memory into the camera rather than putting a memory card in the box. On the NV3 there's just 15MB of onboard memory, which holds a paltry four images at the highest quality setting. What that means is that you'll need to buy a memory card right away, which increases the initial purchase price of the camera. If you're just taking pictures I'd say that a 512MB card is a good starter size. If you're going to be watching movies or listening to music then you should be looking at a 2GB card. A high speed card seems to be a good idea, as I did notice a performance improvement compared with regular cards.

The NV3 uses the same SLB-0837 lithium-ion battery as a few of Samsung's other cameras. This battery packs 3.1 Wh into its compact form, which is about average for an ultra-compact camera. Unfortunately Samsung doesn't use the CIPA standard for their battery life numbers, so it's hard to compare it to the competition (which does test with the CIPA standard). With that in mind, have a look at this:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD600 160 shots
Canon PowerShot SD700 IS 240 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z700 460 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z850 440 shots
Fuji FinePix Z3 200 shots
HP Photosmart R727 270 shots
Kodak EasyShare V603 150 shots
Nikon Coolpix S5 200 shots
Olympus Stylus 710 180 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07 320 shots
Pentax Optio A10 150 shots
Pentax Optio S7 180 shots
Samsung Digimax NV3 200 shots *
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1 300 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 420 shots

* Not calculated using the CIPA standard

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

As you can see, the NV3's battery life numbers are below average (assuming that Samsung's testing method is close to what everyone else is using). Samsung says that the battery will last for about 135 minutes while viewing videos, and 240 minutes while listening to music.

Like all ultra-compact cameras, the NV3's batteries are expensive ($40), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when it runs out of juice. Since the NV3's battery life isn't the greatest, it's probably a good idea to buy a spare.

The NV3 has a rather unique way of charging its battery. All you need to do is plug the USB cable into the bottom of the camera and then connect it to your computer. A special adapter also lets you use a standard power plug, and you can also use the optional camera dock that I'll mention in a moment. Whichever way you use, it takes about 150 minutes to fully charge the SLB-0837.

As is the case with all ultra-compact cameras, there's a built-in lens cover on the NV3, so there's no lens cap to worry about. As you can see, it's a pretty stylin' little camera.

Being a "portable media player" in addition to a camera, it's not surprising that the NV3 includes headphones. They're a little bulky, but they do the job.

There are just a few accessories for the NV3. First up there's a camera cradle known as the SCC-NV3 (price not available). The cradle/dock offers USB/power and A/V out ports. About the only other accessories I can find are a headphone adapter (which lets you use regular headphones instead of the bundled ones) and a camera case.

Samsung includes their Digimax Reader software with the NV3. While not the most attractive or powerful software on the market, it gets the job done. Digimax Master is for Windows only -- there is no Mac software included with the camera (iPhoto will work fine, though).

The main screen of DM has the usual thumbnail view, and from this screen you can rotate, print, and e-mail photos. As you'd expect these days, the thumbnail size can be adjusted.

Double-clicking on an image opens the edit window. If you're editing a JPEG you'll find all kinds of tools on the left side of the screen, including an "auto enhance" option. There are also tools available for putting type (or drawings) on top of a photo.

Digimax Converter is also included, and this is what you'll use to convert videos into the SDC format used by the NV3. Just select the videos you wish to convert (they can be MPEG, AVI, MOV, WMV or ASF format), choose the settings you want, and hit convert. Converting the videos takes a while, so go grab a cup of coffee while you're waiting.

Like Digimax Master, the Converter software is Windows only, so Mac users cannot put videos on the camera.

While the NV series of cameras are new and improved, the manual is not. Expect a cluttered layout and lots of "notes" on each page. The information you're looking for is there -- it's finding it that's the problem.

Look and Feel

The NV3 is a stylish, compact camera that is a major step up from Samsung's previous cameras. Gone is the cheesy plastic body: the NV3 feels like it's been cut out of a block of metal. The camera is very well put together, feeling solid in your hands. The NV3 has a nice matte black finish and a blue ring around the lens that will surely catch people's eyes.

The controls are a bit unusual, and take some getting used to. There are two silver discs on the top of the camera that are both speakers and "finger rests", though they can easily be mistaken for buttons. The labeling for the buttons on the back of the camera is confusing, as well.

Now let's see how the NV3 compares to other ultra-compacts in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD600 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.4 cu in. 140 g
Canon PowerShot SD700 IS 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 7.9 cu in. 165 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z700 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.2 cu in. 112 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z850 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 130 g
Fujifilm FinePix Z3 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.2 cu in. 130 g
HP Photosmart R727 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.9 in. 8 cu in. 136 g
Kodak EasyShare V603 3.6 x 2.0 x 0.9 in. 6.5 cu in. 120 g
Nikon Coolpix S5 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.8 cu in. 135 g
Olympus Stylus 710 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.5 cu in. 103 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 132 g
Pentax Optio A10 3.5 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.6 cu in. 125 g
Pentax Optio S7 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in. 5.7 cu in. 100 g
Samsung NV3 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.7 cu in. 142 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1 3.8 x 2.4 x 0.9 in. 8.2 cu in. 151 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.9 cu in. 134 g

As you can see, the NV3 is the smallest (but not the lightest) camera in its class. It can go anywhere you do, fitting even in your smallest pockets.

Enough about that, let's take a 360 degree tour of the NV3 now, starting with the front of the camera.

Is this a cool-looking camera or what? Something about the matte black body and that blue ring just catches your eye. Anyhow, the main thing to see on the front of the NV3 is the lens. This F3.5-4.5, 3X zoom lens may very well be the same one that was on the "old" Digimax i5 and i6, but I'm not positive. The focal range of the lens is 6.3 - 18.9 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. Naturally, conversion lenses are not supported.

It's worth pointing out that the NV3 uses a "folded optics" lens design, which you'll find on many other ultra-thin cameras. On a typical camera the lens elements are all lined up in a row, so the light goes straight through them into the CCD. On the NV3 the light goes through the front element, hits a prism, and the goes down the body where it hits the sensor.

Just to the left of the lens is the built-in flash. It pretty small, so its not going to be terribly powerful. The NV3's flash range numbers are 0.3 - 3.4 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.5 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO), which is average for the ultra-compact class. There's no way to attach an external flash to the camera.

Continuing to the left, we find the 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.

Moving on to the back of the camera now, we find several buttons with a whole mess of labels. I've used many cameras over the years, and find the NV3 to be more difficult to use than most ultra-compacts. (On a side note, the other two NV-series cameras have a much different -- and unique -- interface).

The main thing to see on the back of the NV3 is the large 2.5" LCD display. Not only is the screen big, but it's sharp too, with 230,000 pixels. I wasn't terribly thrilled with the outdoor visibility -- it was hard to see the screen in direct sunlight. Low light visibility was better, though the screen doesn't brighten up as much as I'd like in those situations.

As you can probably tell, there's no optical viewfinder on the NV3. Whether this is a bad thing depends on you -- some people (like me) require them, others could care less. One thing's for sure, though: there aren't too many ultra-compacts that have viewfinders anymore.

Now let's talk about all those buttons. I'll start with the zoom controller, which is located to the upper-right of the LCD. This moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.1 seconds. I counted eight steps in the 3X zoom range. This button is also the volume control for when you're listening to music or watching videos.

Effect menu

Below the zoom controller is the "E" button, which stands for "Effect" according to the manual. Press this button and the following menu opens up:

  • Color (Normal, black & white, sepia, red, green, blue, negative)
  • Preset focus frames (Off, range 1-4) - puts framing guides on the LCD, similar to what Nikon has done for a few years
  • Composite shooting (Off, 2-4 shots) - combine a bunch of photos into a single collage-style image
  • Photo frame (Off, frame 1-9) - put virtual frames around your subject

The "E" button turns on the "hold" feature when you're viewing movies or listening to music, which disables the other buttons on the camera (so you don't press them accidentally).

The +/- menu

The next button to see on the back of the NV3 is the +/- button, which is also used to delete photos when in playback mode. When you're taking pictures or movies, however, you'll get this menu:

  • Long time shutter - see below
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/2EV steps)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent H, fluorescent L, tungsten, custom)
  • ISO (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1000)
  • RGB (-8 to +8 in 1-step increments) - allows you to adjust red, green, and blue levels in your photos before they are taken

The custom white balance feature lets you use a white or gray card to get accurate colors even under the most unusual lighting conditions. As you can see, the NV3 lets you crank the ISO as high as 1000, and we'll see how it performs at that sensitivity later in the review.

The long time shutter feature can only be used in the night scene mode. When activated you can manually select both the aperture and the shutter speed, with ranges of F3.5 - F8.0 and 1 - 16 secs, respectfully.

Below the +/- button we find the four-way controller, which is responsible for about a million different functions (only slightly kidding). In record mode, it's used for menu navigation and also for:

  • Up - Voice recording (records 10 sec voice clips to attach to a photo)
  • Down - Macro (Off, auto macro, super macro, macro) - more on this later
  • Left - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, slow synchro, flash off, redeye reduction) - I believe this last option uses the software tool to remove redeye
  • Right - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 sec, two shot)
  • Center - Menu/OK

You'll use the four-way controller while playing movies or music, just like you would on any MP3 player. This is also how you'll activate the voice recording feature, which records up to one hour of audio.

The final button on the back of the NV3 enters playback mode and also marks a photo for printing once you're there.

Here's the top of the camera. Those two silver discs on either side of the photo aren't buttons -- they're actually speakers that look a lot like buttons. While I like having stereo speakers on my camera, it would've been nice had they not looked just like shutter release buttons.

The button on the left turns the camera on and off and, as you can see, it glows when the power is on. Next up we have the mode dial, which has these options:

Option Function
Auto record mode Point-and-shoot, most menu options locked up
Program mode Still point-and-shoot, but with full menu access
Advanced Shake Reduction (ASR) A digital anti-shake feature; see below for more
Scene mode You pick the situation and the camera uses the right settings. Choose from night scene, portrait, children, landscape, close-up, text, sunset, dawn, backlight, firework, and beach & snow
Movie mode More on this later
MP3 player See below
PMP (portable media player)
Text viewer

There's a lot to talk about before we can move on! First I want to mention the ASR feature, which is similar to the Anti-Shake DSP found on Casio's cameras in that they are both digital effects. While cameras with true optical image stabilization move the a lens element or even the CCD itself to compensate for the effects of "camera shake", the NV3 boosts the ISO in order to get a faster shutter speed, and then digitally processes the image to reduce any blurring. There's also a "wise shot" feature, which is very similar to the Natural Light & Flash feature on some of Fuji's newer cameras, which takes a shot with ASR followed by another using the flash, letting you choose the best one. So how well does ASR actually work?

I had a tough time conducting this test, since there's no way to turn the ASR feature off while keeping the exposure the same. The examples below were taken with different ISOs and shutter speeds, since that's what the camera does too.

ASR off

ASR on

Yes there's a difference here, but ASR slows the shot-to-shot speed down so much that it's probably not worth using. I'd just raise the ISO manually to get a shutter speed that will result in a sharp photo.

Scene menu

As you can see, there are plenty of scene modes on the NV3. While there are no manual exposure modes, you can adjust the aperture and shutter speed (slow speeds only) when using the night scene mode.

Now let's talk about three features that make the NV3 stand out from the competition: the MP3 and movie playing functions, plus its unique text viewing feature. The first thing you need to do before enjoying any of these is to get the files to the camera. In the case of MP3 or text files, you can just put them in their respective folders on the memory card. Videos need to be converted to the proprietary format using Samsung's Digimax Converter software, which is Windows only (yes, that means no video playing for Mac users). Once that's done you're ready to roll.

Browsing MP3s...

... and playing them

The MP3 player isn't nearly as slick as my iPod (the interface leaves something to be desired), but it works fairly well. The NV3 only plays unprotected MP3 files, so anything you've downloaded from an online music store will not work. You can set up a folder structure (on your computer) to keep everything fairly organized. Once you've found what you want to play, you're ready to start enjoying your music. Pressing the "E" button lets you choose from several equalizers, including classical, dance, jazz, live, rock, and 3D.

Playing videos

The video player (called PMP here) plays only one format of video, and it's SDC. SDC files are created using the Digimax Converter program, and are basically MPEG-4 movies with a special wrapper. I converted a test video from QuickTime to SDC format and it looked nice when viewed on the NV3's big screen.

Viewing text files

The text viewing feature is one-of-a-kind. Just dump regular text files into a "TEXT" folder on the memory card and the rest is easy. You can have the text scroll automatically (you can choose the speed), and you can add background music as well from your MP3 collection.

Okay, enough about all that -- back to the tour. To the right of the mode dial is the microphone, followed by the shutter release button and one of the two speakers on the camera.

Nothing to see here.

On the other side of the camera you'll find the microphone port. This is a 2.5 mm port, which means that you'll need an adapter to plug in most standard portable headphones.

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the NV3. Here you'll find the battery/memory card compartment, a metal tripod mount (partially obstructed here), and the dock connector.

The metal door over the battery/memory card slot is of average quality. Since the tripod mount is right next door, you won't be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The dock connector is where you'll plug in the USB cable (which can go into a computer or into a power plug with the included adapter) and the A/V cable. The NV3 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC.

The included SLB-0837 battery is shown at right.

Using the Samsung NV3

Record Mode

It takes about 1.5 seconds for the NV3 to turn on and prepare for shooting, which is about average.

No histograms to be found here

Focus speeds were about average for an ultra-compact. Typically it took the NV3 between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus, with longer waits at the telephoto end. Low light focusing was sort of hit-and-miss. Sometimes the camera wouldn't lock focus the first time, but after another try (or two) it would lock.

Shutter lag didn't seem to be much of a problem, though the fake shutter sound that plays well after the photo is actually taken can be misleading.

Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent, with a delay of about a second between shots. The only exception to this is when you're using the ASR feature, as this can add a 2-3 second delay between shots.

There's no way to delete a photo while it's being saved to the memory card. You must enter playback mode and delete it from there.

There are a ton of image quality options available on the NV3. They include:

Resolution Quality # Images on 15MB onboard memory # images on 512MB card (optional)
3072 x 2304
Super fine 4 126
Fine 7 232
Normal 11 342
2616 x 2112
Super fine 4 148
Fine 8 276
Normal 12 390
2592 x 1944
Super fine 5 176
Fine 10 324
Normal 14 446

5M Wide (16:9)
3072 x 1728

Super fine 5 176
Fine 10 324
Normal 14 446
2272 x 1704
Super fine 7 236
Fine 13 404
Normal 17 548
2048 x 1536
Super fine 8 262
Fine 15 472
Normal 20 636
1600 x 1200
Super fine 13 416
Fine 21 446
Normal 27 844
1024 x 768
Super fine 24 762
Fine 33 1040
Normal 38 1200
640 x 480
Super fine 77 2402
Fine 91 2840
Normal 112 3472

Wow, they've got just about every possible resolution there, eh? One thing they didn't put on the NV3 was support for the RAW or TIFF image formats, though I wouldn't really expect it.

Images are named SNV3####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The NV3 uses a rather unusual menu, that puts each item in a separate "tab", instead of having a single, hierarchical menu. If you've used other cameras then you may find that Samsung's system takes some getting used to, but it's fairly easy once you figure it out. Here are the options that you'll find in the full record mode menu:

  • Still size (see chart)
  • Movie size (720 x 480, 640 x 480, 320 x 240)
  • Still quality (see chart)
  • Movie frame rate (30, 20, 15 fps)
  • Metering (Multi, spot)
  • Shooting mode (Single, continuous, AE bracketing) - see below
  • Sharpness (Soft, normal, vivid) - why are they using the word 'vivid' to describe sharpness?
  • Autofocus (Center, multi)
  • OSD information (Full, basic, LCD save) - what is shown on the LCD in record mode; that last mode turns will put the camera to sleep if it's been idle for more than 30 seconds

The only thing that I want to talk about are the continuous and bracketing features. In the continuous shooting mode you can keep taking photos at a sluggish 0.9 frames/second until you run out of memory (a high speed card is really helpful here). The LCD is dark the entire time, which makes it impossible to track a moving subject.

The AE bracketing feature takes three photos in a row, each with a different exposure (-0.5EV, 0EV, +0.5EV). Using bracketing is a good way to ensure proper exposure in every shot -- though it'll take up a lot of space of your memory card.

The entire setup menu is shoved into a single tab in both the record and playback modes. The options here include:

  • File numbering (Series, reset)
  • Power off (1, 3, 5, 10 mins)
  • Language - way too many to list
  • Format (Internal memory or card)
  • Date & time (Set, format)
  • Date imprint (Off, date, date & time)
  • Sound (Off, low, medium, high)
  • USB (Computer, printer)
  • AF sound (on/off)
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • LCD (Dark, normal, bright)
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • Quick View (Off, 0.5, 1, 3 secs) - post-shot review
  • Reset - back to default settings

There is also a "My Cam" menu that lets you select the various beeps and blips that the camera makes.

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

The NV3 did a decent job with our standard macro test subject. It's a wee bit darker than I would've liked, but since the exposure compensation operates in 0.5EV increments, going up another notch would be too much. Anyhow, the colors are quite saturated, with the reds being a little over-the-top. The subject has a nice "smooth" look to it, with no noise to be found.

There are two macro modes on the NV3. The regular macro mode lets you get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 25 cm at telephoto. Putting the camera into super macro mode lowers the distance down to just 1 cm, though the lens will be locked at the wide-angle end.

As you can see, it wasn't a great night to be out taking night photos, but since this review was already behind schedule I didn't have much of a choice. By putting the camera into the night scene mode you can manually set the shutter speed and aperture, and that's what I did here. The camera took in enough light, though the photo is soft and somewhat noisy (the ISO is locked at 80 in this mode). Purple fringing was not a problem.

Since I can't control both the shutter speed and ISO at the same time there's no night ISO test for you. I do, however, have the studio ISO test a bit later in this section.

There's mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the NV3's 3X zoom lens. Vignetting (dark corners) isn't a problem, though you will have some issues with corner blurriness with this camera.

Compact cameras generally have terrible redeye problems, and the NV3 has it pretty bad. Even the redeye removal tool didn't help here -- it had no effect at all. While your results may vary, odds are that you'll deal with redeye at least part of the time.

Here's that other ISO test that I promised. Like the macro shot, it's a little dark, but there's not much that I can do about that. Viewing the crops below give you a good idea as to how the NV3 performs at various ISO settings. If you're really serious about such things then you should view the full size images as well. Here we go:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1000

Things look pretty clean through ISO 200. Details start to muddy up at ISO 400, though you should be able to make smaller-sized prints at that setting. Things only get worse at ISO 800 and 1000, with a noticeable loss in color saturation as well. My advice is to avoid these two settings unless you're really desperate.

Overall the Samsung NV3's photo quality was very good. The camera usually took well-exposed photos, though a few were overexposed. Colors were nice and saturated. Noise levels are fairly low (when the ISO is 200 or less), though details do look a little muddy, even at ISO 80. Purple fringing was not much of a problem.

As usual, I urge you to take a look at our photo gallery, printing the pictures if you can. Then you'll be able to decide for yourself if the NV3's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The NV3 has a pretty snazzy movie mode. You can record video at 720 x 480 (widescreen) and 640 x 480 (regular) with sound until you run out of memory. The frame rate for 720 x 480 is 20 fps, while at 640 x 480 (and at the lower 320 x 240 setting as well) it's 15 or 30 fps. The built-in memory holds a little over a minute of 720 x 480 video, so you'll want a large memory card for longer movies. A 1GB memory card holds about 53 minutes of 720 x 480 and 68 minutes of 640 x 480 video.

Those long record times are thanks to the NV3's use of the efficient MPEG-4 codec. I didn't have any trouble playing the movies on my Mac using the latest version of QuickTime.

The camera has a unique "successive recording" feature that lets you pause recording by pressing down on the four-way controller. When you're ready to continue recording just press the button again and away you go. Everything is saved in a single movie file.

The NV3 is one of a small group of cameras that lets you use the optical zoom while filming. It moves slowly so the noise from the zoom isn't picked up by the microphone.

You can use any of the digital effects that I listed earlier in movie mode, and an electronic image stabilizer is also available (press the "E button" to get to both of those).

Here's a sample movie that I took at the 640 x 480 / 30 fps setting. I don't think the quality is so hot, and it seems like the sound is out of sync as well. Anyhow, have a look:

Click to play movie (1.9 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The NV3 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic features such as slideshows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, image protection, and zoom and scroll are all here. That last feature lets you enlarge an image and then scroll around in the blown-up area, so you make sure your subject is in focus.

The camera lets you rotate, resize, and crop photos easily. You can also apply the same digital filters that you could in record mode, and there's a redeye removal tool as well (though it didn't do any good with my test shot).

A copy tool lets you move photos from the internal memory to an SD card, and I also appreciate the ability to delete a group of photos at a time.

By default, the camera doesn't show much information about your photos. Go into the playback menu and turn on "full OSD info" and you'll see a bit more.

The NV3 moves through photos without delay. It's basically instant.

How Does it Compare?

The Samsung NV3 is a convergence device if there ever was one. It does the usual camera things like take pictures and video clips, but it also can play your MP3 and video files just like your iPod or other portable media player. And while the interface is a little clunky, the NV3 succeeds in doing all of these things pretty well. It may not be the perfect ultra-compact, but this stylish camera is good enough to earn my recommendation.

To be frank, I have never been thrilled with the build quality of Samsung's cameras. The NV3 changes all that. Like the other models in the new NV series, the NV3 feels like it's been cut from a solid block of metal. The NV3's matte black body (with blue ring around the lens) will turn heads, and it's small enough to go everywhere with you. Ergonomically speaking the NV3 is just so-so: the button labeling on the back of the camera is confusing, and the stereo speakers on the top of the camera can easily be mistaken for buttons. The NV3 features a fairly standard 3X optical zoom lens that goes from 38 to 114 mm. The LCD on the back of the camera is large and sharp, but not terribly visible in bright outdoor light. There is no optical viewfinder on the camera.

As I mentioned, the NV3 isn't just a digital camera -- it's also a portable media player. On the camera side you'll find all the usual point-and-shoot features, plus a digital anti-shake mode (which seems to work), built-in color filters, and a redeye reduction tool (which does not seem to work). The camera doesn't have any manual controls, save for shutter speed and aperture controls while in the night scene mode. The NV3's movie mode is quite nice, with the ability record widescreen movies (at 20 fps) or regular VGA-sized movies (at 30 fps) with sound. The zoom lens is active during movie recording.

Now let's talk about the PMP capabilities of the NV3. The camera can play music and videos, plus it has a unique text viewer as well. For music you just dump unprotected MP3 files into the MP3 directory on your memory card, and the rest is easy. Videos take more work. You must first convert them into the SDC format used by the camera (something that can only be done with the Windows-only Digimax Converter software), which takes a while. Once that's done you can watch movies to your hearts content. The text viewer lets you watch any standard text file, with autoscrolling and background music, if you'd like. Samsung includes headphones, though keep in mind that third party headphones won't work in the camera without an adapter.

Camera performance was about average in most respects. The NV3 is ready to start shooting about 1.5 seconds after you hit the power button. Focus speeds were typical for an ultra-compact, with fairly decent low light focusing performance. Shutter lag wasn't much of a problem, and shot-to-shot speeds were great as long as you're not using the ASR feature. The NV3's continuous shooting mode isn't worth writing home about, though. The frame rate is sluggish (0.9 fps), and the LCD is blacked out while you're shooting, which makes tracking a moving subject quite difficult. Battery life is a bit below average.

Photo quality was very good. The NV3 took well-exposed photos most of the time, with a slight tendency to overexpose. Colors look good, and purple fringing was well controlled. Noise levels are fairly low, though details are a bit mushy, even at ISO 80. I'd avoid using the two highest ISO settings, as there is noticeable loss in detail and color saturation as well. Redeye was a big problem, and even the in-camera redeye removal tool couldn't help.

There are a few negatives worth pointing out. For one, there's no Mac software included, which means that Mac users cannot put videos on the camera. Second, the 15MB of built-in memory is way too little, so you need to factor in the cost of a large SD card in the initial price of the camera. And finally, there's no way to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

If you want a stylish, ultra-compact camera that does more than just take pictures than the Samsung NV3 is well worth a look. It's not the best camera in its class, but it's still quite good, and it earns my recommendation.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Compact, very stylish and well built body
  • Large, high resolution 2.5" LCD display (though see issues below)
  • Can play movies, MP3s, and text files too
  • AF-assist lamp, decent low light focusing
  • Electronic anti-shake feature seems to work (though see issues below)
  • Very good movie mode: widescreen support, optical zoom can be used
  • Plenty of scene modes
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Details a bit muddy; color saturation drops at high ISOs; occasional overexposure
  • Redeye a big problem; removal tool does not help
  • LCD outdoor visibility isn't the greatest
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Using ASR (advanced shake reduction) feature slows down shot-to-shot speeds dramatically
  • Confusing button layout; interface a little clunky
  • No Mac software included, so Mac users cannot put videos on the camera
  • Manual controls would've been nice
  • Can't swap memory cards while on a tripod
  • Very little built-in memory

Some other cameras in this class worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD600 and SD700 IS, Casio Exilim EX-Z700 and EX-Z850, Fuji FinePix Z3, HP Photosmart R727, Kodak EasyShare V603, Nikon Coolpix S5, Olympus Stylus 740, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07, Pentax Optio A10 and S7, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1 and DSC-T30.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the NV3 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

You'll find another review at this camera at Pocket-lint.

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.

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