The Samsung ST93 looks lovely. It doesn't quite rival the, but it comes close, with a small body and neatly rounded corners. The Ixus 230HS set a very high bar, earning itself a five-star rating for its sharp images, great colours and excellent level of detail. The ST93 didn't match it on that front, but at less than half the price it deserves a closer look.
Samsung's Shrunken Shooter
One way in which Samsung has kept things on a Lilliputian scale is through its choice of memory format. It's opted for microSD, which is just 1mm thick and 15 x11mm face on. That's less than half the size of regular SD in every direction, and around a quarter of the weight of the average SD card. Fortunately there's very little difference in price with this format, and the cards are often sold with an adaptor to make themcompatible with regular card readers.
The buttons are small but perfectly useable, and the menu is stripped down to the essentials, which makes it easy to find your way around without frequent reference to the manual.
So, that's all good -- and so is the super-quiet zoom, which lets you frame your shot without turning heads. It's also very quick to fix its focus, so you shouldn't miss a spontaneous shot.
Smart Auto mode does an excellent job of picking the most appropriate settings for whatever you're currently framing, displaying the current aperture setting in the corner of the screen and automatically selecting macro when required.
Battery life it particularly impressive; after three days of shooting the gauge still showed two thirds of its power remaining. In other respects, though, the ST93 left us disappointed.
To get the best results you really need well-lit surroundings. It had a tendency to demand the flash in what we would consider fairly bright situations where the flash would have little effect anyway because the framing encompassed so large an area. When we manually suppressed it, the ST93 responded by dialling up its sensitivity, as we would expect, but with a corresponding impact on the quality of the picture.
The image below was shot in a marketplace with a glass ceiling that lets light in. It was shot in the middle of the afternoon on a sunny day. In fully automatic mode the ST93 increased its sensitivity to ISO 400, which impacted on the level of detail captured in the more intricate parts of the image. This is most noticeable in the grid to which the ducks are tied, where fine detail is lost in the upper quarter of the frame. For comparison, we have included a detail section of the same image as taken by the Canon PowerShot SX150 IS, outlined in red. The Canon hiked its sensitivity still further -- to ISO 640 -- yet as can be seen it retained sharper detail in this area, most likely because of the lower pixel count on its sensor (14mp).
In this shot of a flower stall, sensitivity was pinned at a more conservative ISO 240
and the shutter speed was increased from 1/15 to 1/30 second, but as can be seen from the results this is still too slow for handheld shooting.
This may limit the ST93's appeal in some situations. When presented with a scene that is both broad and deep, you can't rely on the flash to provide adequate illumination, whatever camera you're using. Neither can you use a tripod in a busy street or market. You therefore need a shooter that can capture sufficient light with a relatively short exposure to minimise shake, without increasing sensitivity to a level that introduces too much noise into the picture. On this front, the ST93 fares poorly.
In situations where the level of light made it possible to both minimise the sensitivity setting and increase the shutter speed to a level suitable for hand-held operation, the results were much improved. This picture of St Paul's Cathedral reflected in a chrome ball demonstrates good, sharp edges to the ball and an excellent dynamic range with good, even colour levels across the full spectrum.