Samsung ST30 review

Travel-friendly super-compact digital camera marred by lacklustre images
Photo of Samsung ST30
£90

To stand out in the already crowded digital camera market, manufacturers have to offer something ever so slightly different. To this end, Samsung has actually take a  few steps back, taking away a lot of features to create what it claims is the ‘world’s smallest zoom camera’ – the ST30.

The ST30 is an occasional camera – the kind you put in your top pocket for times when you really don’t want to carry anything bulkier. It’s also a great idea for professional photographers who want something to take a rough composition shot – an idea – and then improve on later with a D-SLR.

All about the zoom?
The low price doesn’t put us off, but anyone with a camera phone might wonder what the point is of a low-spec phone-sized point-and-shooter. Is it only about the zoom?

Actually, no. While it doesn’t exactly offer the state of the art in photo quality, the ST30 has a few more attractions, aside from the powered 3x optical zoom – and we’re not talking about the black/silver/lilac/pink/green colour options that threaten to consign it to the folder marked ‘fashion cameras’.The Samsung’s principal attraction is its measurements, which at 82x52x17mm make it remarkably easy to carry around.

It weighs just 86.5g, too, which adds to its attractiveness for brief foreign business trips that just don’t warrant carrying a large camera – but which might offer the odd chance for a souvenir photo.

Easy charging
The clincher for travellers is the ST30′s highly unusual mode of battery replenishment. Doing away with a separate, bulky charger, the ST30 uses a USB cable, complete with wall plug, to charge the battery while in-situ.

This is great news for anyone packing a bag – already, no doubt, stuffed with chargers – though the use of a proprietary termination on the camera prevents the cable doubling up for other USB devices.

The battery is a tiny lithium ion model, but in our tests managed a respectable 667 shots – with flash – before packing up. Nevertheless our advice to anyone using the ST30 is to invest in a second battery (Samsung’s cost £36, other brands £10) to avoid the camera being out of action for a couple of hours while charging.

Efficiency isn’t helped by the power-guzzling – and rather low-resolution – 2.4in LCD screen, though a viewfinder might be a wish too far on a camera of this size.

In among all of these compact niceties, minimalism gets perhaps a nod too many; inside the ST30′s undercarriage, beside the battery, is space for a microSD/SDHC card, which is hardly the most convenient and will irritate some. The slot is capable of taking a 32GB card, so seems a natural inclusion on a small camera, and the USB cable also serves as a link to a PC or Mac (all OS versions).

Despite being smaller than a credit card (not slimmer – that would be ridiculous!), the ST30′s core specs are far from dreary; while the 10.1-megapixel sensor (maximum resolution is 3648×2736 pixels) might seem like a throwback, we all know that anything over four megapixels is overkill for most people’s purposes.

Unexpectedly, given the tiny flash, the ST30′s smart autofocus, along with some basic optical image stabilisation, face detection, self-timer, continuous shooting and red-eye fix – as well as some nice preset modes – mean that the Samsung isn’t as much of a throwback as it first appears.

Picture quality
We were initially surprised by the ST30′s video mode. Not just by its presence, but also because the camera offers a choice of frame rates – 15 or 30 per second – as well as relatively advanced exposure, alongside balance and light metering options. The resulting AVI formatted files, however, and grainy, washed-out and soft – and not only because they’re not HD quality.

Images from the 28mm lens are as expected – reasonably good outdoors, and blurry and noisy inside. The former can involve slight softness at the edges, and we weren’t convinced by the image stabilisation. Face detection issomewhat better, but this camera is at its best only with landscapes, when its images are generally sharp with plenty of contrast and vibrant colour.

We found that we had to adjust the white balance in bright sunlight, while using the zoom lens came at the cost of acceptable detail. Used inside, the quality drops substantially, with noise less of a problem than blur. Any movement in less-than-perfect light conditions creates blur, and using the flash isn’t the answer.

The advantages offered by the ST30 over a camera phone are in its higher resolution only; the zoom is disappointing and the camera only behaves in excellent light. It’s traveller-friendly by design, but there’s nothing revolutionary on the inside; there are better point-and-shoot options available.

Company: Samsung

Website: http://www.samsung.co.uk/

Positives
  • Small size; easy to use; no external charger required.
Negative
  • Images suffer from softness, noise and blur.

Verdict

Though hardly a camera to get excited about, we welcome the sight of a camera that's low on specs, thoroughly uncomplicated, easily portable and comes with fewer cables and less clutter than most. In some ways it's the perfect travel camera - though our concerns over build quality and lacklustre images threaten to make this more ‘fun size' that photographer's friend.