Even if you take your photography seriously, it's not always convenient to carry around a chunky dSLR, no matter how much you love having access to full manual controls and shooting in raw file formats.
If you need something a little more portable, the Samsung EX2F is one of a handful of short-range zoom compacts that should appeal. It boasts plenty of hardware controls, a flip-out screen and produces some great-looking results.
The Samsung EX2F can be bought for around £350 online.
It's a professional compact in every sense of the word. The regular mode selector dial is supplemented by a second dial that handles shooting speed, with options for single frame, low, medium and high-speed burst, bracketing and 2 and 10-second timers.
Those three burst mode options translate to 10, 5 and 3 frames per second, each at full resolution. They're supplemented by a smart pre-capture mode that grabs 10 frames in the time it takes you to move from half-pressing to fully pressing the shutter release. When using this mode, you can slightly pre-empt the action you want to capture and still have a very good chance of successfully capturing it.
In regular use, shutter speeds range from 1/8 to 1/2,000-second in smart auto mode, but you can push the longest exposure as far as a full 30 seconds in manual mode.
This, along with aperture when in Aperture Priority mode, is set using a small wheel set into the handgrip. Pressing it in switches between the primary mode setting -- shutter, aperture and so on -- and exposure compensation. Compensation only gives you two stops in either direction in 1/3 stop increments, but it's supplemented by an excellent built-in neutral density filter to improve the balance of your shots.
This is a physical filter, not a digital work-around, and you can hear it click into place when you enable it.
Sensitivity ranges from ISO 80 to ISO 3,200 in regular use, and can be pushed to ISO 12,800 with ISO Expansion.
Low-light performance is good. Increasing the sensitivity naturally introduces some noise into the results, but even at settings as high as ISO 1,600, it's well controlled and resembles what you can expect from some rivals at half that sensitivity.
The lens itself is extremely versatile on account of its bright maximum aperture of f/1.4. Even at full telephoto, equivalent to 80mm on a regular 35mm camera (it's a moderate 24mm at the opposite end of the scale), it stands at f/2.7, which many rival compacts struggle to achieve at wide angle.
This means it's easy to take some really short-focused shots, with the subject clearly pulled away from its surroundings to draw the eye.
Minimum focusing distance is 40cm at wide angle and 100cm at telephoto, although wide angle macro shots can be recorded with the lens as close as 1cm from the subject.
Colour and detail
Colours are very accurately reproduced in all lighting conditions. I performed my tests under predominantly cloudy skies, with white balance set to match, and the results were punchy and very satisfying.
The nose of this plane, below, is bright and the colours are rich in the paintwork and the reflection on the propellor. The sky, which could easily have been rendered a feeble grey in comparison, has plenty of texture in its various levels of luminance.
The EX2F has a back side-illuminated 12-megapixel sensor, which produces shots of 4,000x3,000 pixels. That's plenty for printing at A2 size and above when using an online commercial printer. It also allows for moderate, although not particularly tight, cropping.