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By Mike Joubert 1 December 2009

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Let’s give it to Samsung, they’ve come up with a lot of innovations on their compact cameras. The 12.2 megapixel ST500, with its 3" touch-screen at the back and 1.5" screen on its face, crams so many features in its slim little body that we don’t quite know where to start.

Front LCD
The camera’s key selling point is its front LCD, which if you’ve seen the advertisements is there to help you compose your photo when you are taking a pic of yourself. If you don’t like asking other people to take a picture, this is the camera for you. It can also display animations to help capture the attention of kids, or show a countdown when using the self-timer. It’s activated by touch and works well enough, even though it sometimes take a couple of presses to activate.

Touch to focus
We like the iPhone’s touch-to-focus method of focusing, and we’re very glad to see Samsung implementing it on the ST500’s back touch-screen. It does, of course, offer a whole host of face detection options, including smile detection, blink detection and something Samsung calls Smart Face Recognition. With this you can register six people manually and 14 people automatically as your “Stars”, with the ST500 then being able to spot them in a crowd and setting the correct focus and exposure specifically for them. 

Even more
Samsung didn’t stop there. Another feature that we enjoyed was the Smart Gesture UI, which allows you to simply tilt the camera to select the mode that you want. While it’s limited to selecting Movie, Smart Auto or Program mode and not any of the other features, it’s a step in the right direction and we can see the future possibilities of this functionality. Furthermore, there’s a recycle bin to restore pics you’ve deleted, an excellent Smart Auto mode that worked like a charm and 720p HD video recording, although we missed an HDMI port to hook it up to a HD display.

Too much
All-in-all there is a heck of a lot of features to keep track of. Almost too many, and that\\\'\'s a problem. You really have to spend some time with both camera and manual to figure out how to activate some of the functions. Samsung doesn’t make it easy either, the info on what a certain icon does can really disappear quickly off screen. 

Display problems
Another big hindrance is the 3" display at the back. With no optical viewfinder present you’re really dependent on the screen for focusing, but also for playback of images. The problem is that the screen is composed of 230 000 pixels, compared for example to Canon’s S90 with 461 000 (granted the S90 does cost about R2500 more). The lack of pixels is frustrating since the display lacks a crispness about it- both when viewing a scene and when replaying your pics.This made, for example, using the touch-focus functionality difficult, because we were never quite sure if the subject was in focus or not. When in camera mode the actual display shrinks to about 2.5" so you have even fewer pixels present for composing your shot.

Conclusion
If you make the effort to get to know the ST500 you’ll be able to find the functionality you want, but Samsung could have done a better job with the LCD screen at the back by cramming in more pixels. While not all people will find the same amount of use from the LCD screen at the front, it does come in handy sometimes. R2999 seems like a reasonable asking price for the ST500, especially with the 720p HD video recording functionality and a whole host of extra features.

PROS
Touch-to-focus, 720p HD video, Smart Gesture UI, Smart Face Recognition, Optical and digital stabilization.
CONS
Lack of pixels on back LCD display, difficult to keep track of all the functionality.
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