Just about every camera manufacturer has a point-and-shoot with a zoom lens that's longer than the 3x you'll find on entry-level models, but shorter than bulkier and more expensive 10x zoom models. They're in-betweeners if you will, and Samsung's PL200 is one. They typically don't offer anything special in the way of shooting options or speedy performance. Their features, like the PL200's, are a little better than basic with the main benefit being the extra zoom range in a pocket-friendly body.
They tend to be less than $200, too, which makes them very attractive; the PL200 starts at $180, but can easily be found for much less. The thing is, Samsung didn't really do much to differentiate this model from its competition, so it ends up looking like just another pocket camera that happens to have a slightly longer lens than smaller, less expensive models. It's not a bad camera by any means, but not a standout either.
|Key specs||Samsung PL200|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.9x2.3 x0.8 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||5.6 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||7x, f3.3-5.5, 31-217mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,320x3,240pixels / 1,280x720 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA-rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 160 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||Yes; wall adapter included|
|Bundled software||Samsung Intelli-Studio (Windows)|
Overall, the photo quality is very good from the Samsung PL200. There isn't a noticeable shift in quality until ISO 400, where subjects get visibly softer even at smaller sizes. In Smart Auto or if you have the camera set to Auto ISO, the PL200 seems to use ISO 400 as its ceiling, which is good for getting the best possible photo, but bad if you're shooting indoors or in low light; the PL200 will go with increasingly slower shutter speeds instead of raising the ISO, which means you need steady hands and still subjects to get blur-free photos. ISO 800 is somewhat usable for small prints and Web use, but colors look off. I don't recommend using ISO 1600 or 3200 as there are just too many problems with color, noise, and noise reduction to make photos worthwhile.
There is some slight barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. There's no significant distortion when the lens is extended, though. Center sharpness is very good on this Samsung, and it's consistent from edge to edge, except for maybe the very edges. There is visible softness in the corners that can make subjects look smeary when viewed at larger sizes.
Color is very good: bright, pleasing, and fairly accurate. Smart Auto seems to have punchier color than in Program mode, but that could have more to do with Samsung's settings for individual scene types. White balance is good, but its presets were better than the auto white balance, and taking a quick manual reading is preferable to either. Exposure is generally correct, though I did occasionally get shots that were overexposed. Clipped highlights are pretty common, too.
Video quality is OK, on par with good DVD video, which is disappointing considering its 720p HD resolution. Panning the camera too quickly or shooting moving subjects will result in a lot of judder, but that is typical for point-and-shoot cameras. Also, the AV output is composite only and requires a proprietary cable that's not included.
|General shooting options||Samsung PL200|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent H, Fluorescent L, Tungsten, Custom|
|Recording modes||Smart Auto, Auto, Program, Dual IS, Scene, Movie|
|Focus modes||Multi AF, Center AF, Face Detection AF, Tracking AF|
|Macro||2 inches (Wide); 2.3 feet (Tele)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Spot, Center-weighted, Face Detection AE|
|Color effects||Normal, Soft, Vivid, Forest, Retro, Cool, Calm, Classic, Negative, Custom|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Unlimited continuous|
Though the PL200 does offer some extra shooting options beyond basic point-and-shoot use, it's primarily designed for those who don't stray from auto modes. The Smart Auto mode automatically chooses the appropriate camera settings based on 16 scene types--everything from Portrait and Landscape to Macro Text and Action. If you want to take some of the guesswork out of the process there are 13 scene-shooting settings, including a Frame Guide option that lets you compose a shot, capture part of the precomposed scene on screen, and then hand the camera off to someone else to take the picture while you get in the shot. Switching to Program adds control over exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, and metering, along with a few other things like face and smile detection and color effects. Although there isn't full control over shutter speed and aperture, there is a Night mode that lets you set the shutter speed and aperture for long exposures using a tripod (up to 8 seconds).
Also in the Mode menu is Dual IS, which uses the camera's optical image stabilization along with electronic image stabilization. Most manufacturers make this a menu option, so why Samsung continues to make this a full mode you have to enter is beyond me. The spot could be better filled with a user-selectable scene mode or custom shooting settings.
If you like taking close-ups, the PL200 does pretty well in Macro mode. It's able to focus as close as 2 inches from a subject. Macro can be entered automatically in Smart Auto mode or set to it in Program mode. And as long as you can keep the ISO low, you'll get reasonably sharp results with good fine detail. If you like things even sharper, there's an in-camera slider for bumping it up as well as contrast and saturation.