February 14, 2011

Zooming in on a New Compact Camera

Travelers, gardeners and bloggers have one thing in common—they take lots of photos. For a few years, I've been in pursuit of a camera that handles the majority of my issues.

When I travel, I don't check bags anymore, but that's another story. I pack all of my clothes and belongings in one bag, but that's also another story. So, I require a small and lightweight camera to meet my limited baggage space. Given my past experience with a SLR camera and the flexibility of multiple lenses, I prefer having wide angle and zoom capabilities.

For the last two years, I've been using a Canon SX10 IS camera with a 20x zoom lens. The body resembles a DSLR, but the zoom and wide angle lens are built-in to the camera, so there are no extra pieces to carry on a trip. The camera weighs 1.5 lbs, uses four AA batteries and does not fit in a pocket. To use the full capability of the zoom, it is best to use a tripod for stability. I don't want to haul a tripod to Europe. After carrying the camera around Paris in 2009, I was "over it" from the inconvenience of the size and weight. That said, the lens flexibility is wonderful and I am very pleased with the quality of the images, both at home in the garden and on trips. My only complaint is in hauling the camera around.

Since then, I've been following camera reviews for "Compact Super Zoom Travel Cameras" that are small, point-and-shoot with manual options, but have a long enough lens to meet my demands. Based upon the reviews, I decided to try the Samsung HZ35W model (but, I got the HZ30W without the GPS capability). I waited months for the camera to go on sale before purchasing it—and the price was so unbelievable that Circuit City has sold out as of the writing of this story! (Use the links to the reviews and to the Circuit City site to read about all the details about the camera.)

I took the camera to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro to try out the capabilities, image quality, color accuracy, ease-of-use and portability.

For most of the shots, I decided to use the "Automatic" setting so that I didn't have to keep track of any manual tinkering that is possible. The Samsung is 12.2 MP with a lens capable of 24-360mm. There is a 15x optical zoom and a 5x digital zoom. For the longest zoom (the elephants), I used the "Scene" mode in "landscape" to stretch the length as the elephants were far and away across a large pasture from the observation point.

Samsung HZ30W in automatic mode
using the optical zoom at 15x. Full sun; moving animals.

Samsung HZ30W in landscape ("Scene") mode
using both the optical and digital zoom for 75x!
No tripod was used, but the stabilization
capability worked well. Full sun; moving elephant.

The wonderful world of true colors! Red is such a difficult color to capture accurately. This Samsung delivers the best color accuracy that I've ever experienced with a digital camera in automatic mode!

For this review, I did no post-processing on these photos to balance exposure, color or brighten shadows. I reduced the size for faster uploading. (click photos to enlarge)

At home--red and white flowers indoors with no flash. Macro setting.
Scarlet Ibis inside the zoo aviary.
Automatic mode using 15x optical zoom.
A duck of many colors inside the aviary. Automatic mode with 15x zoom.
Hummingbird in flight; through glass window; indoors; partial
zoom; automatic mode.

Macro with automatic setting. Indoors without a flash in the aviary.

I am thrilled with the image quality, macro and zoom results in the automatic setting. However, the Samsung has a big bag of tricks for those who wish to play with the manual settings—adjusting the exposure, compensating for backlighting, shutter speed and more. There is a dual (optical and digital) stabilization capability to reduce camera shake. There are many point-and-shoot options for face detection, smile detection, blink detection and scene composition.

The camera takes 720p HD quality video at 30 frames per second (I tried this out, but didn't want to upload 45mb of an elephant swaying). You can also record memos separately—a handy option when you want to remember what you are photographing during travels or the different flowers in the garden.

There is a HDMI connection if you want to connect to a high-definition TV. The charger uses the USB adapter so that you can charge the battery while it is installed in the camera. An independent battery-only charger is a separate purchase.

Photos can be edited on the camera, or you may upload to your computer to use an editing package of your preference. I've not yet tried in-camera editing, but the options are similar to those in my Apple® iPhoto software.

There is no viewfinder, but the back 3-inch AMOLED screen is large and easy to view, even when wearing sunglasses. The camera allows you to read all of the options in text, instead of just symbols, on the screen. The grip is easy and comfortable, so I don't feel like I'm in danger of dropping the camera.

As for meeting my travel requirements, the Samsung fits easily into my purse when not in use. It's a bit larger (2.38"H x 4.21"W x 1.13" D) than some other compact cameras, but men with a jacket pocket will have no problem stowing this one away. The macro and zoom lens satisfies my desire for a wide range of distance focusing.

Whether snapping garden shots or travel memories, the flexibility of the Samsung and the quality of the images make this camera well worth the sale price of $151, including shipping!


Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel. All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks, copyrights, or patents owned by those respective companies or persons.

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Defining Your Home, Garden & Travel

Home, garden and travel tips by Freda Cameron

Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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