Looks can be deceptive. Samsung's latest play in the market for long-zoom point-and-shoots is the plain-Jane WB700. Not much to look at from the front or back, it nonetheless boasts a pin-sharp lens bundled up in a very efficiently stabilised 18x zoom. At just £160, it's an unqualified bargain and, as our tests reveal, one that's worth serious consideration if you're looking to upgrade from a less ambitious pocket snapper.
As with other point-and-shoots, we performed most of our tests with the camera set to fully automatic -- in this case Smart Auto. This gives it a choice of 16 photo modes and four movie modes which it chooses on your behalf.
Colours were bright and realistic, and detail was well preserved thanks to its pin-sharp lens. Each of the available wavelengths of light was perfectly aligned in our chromatic aberration test (which checks for improperly rendered colours), giving us crisp edges on fine detail overlaid on brighter backgrounds.
Skies were subtle and realistic, with a gentle fade towards the horizon, and where they were overlaid with objects of a similar colour -- a white aerial on a grey sky, for example -- the overlaid subject remained clearly discernible.
Indeed, detail was very well handled throughout, even at the maximum 18x zoom, where we noticed no distortion and the image remained bright. This was despite the fact that the light has to pass along a longer barrel, which naturally reduces the maximum effective aperture. In this case it stops it down from an aperture size of f/3.2 at wide angle to f/5.8 at full telephoto, which remains fairly fast considering the length of the zoom.
The WB700 has dual image stabilisers -- both optical and digital -- that together perform an impressive job of steadying up a shaky, long-zoom shot. They don't kick in until you half-press the shutter button to lock the exposure, at which point your wobbly framing comes under control. This means that in brightly-lit conditions you can do away with a tripod, as the 18x zoom is perfectly usable for handheld shots. When translated to the equivalent on a 35mm camera, it equates to 24-432mm, on top of which there's a further 4x digital zoom.
Closer at hand, it had no trouble with our macro shots, rendering fine detail with the lens just 3cm from the subject (minimum focusing distance in regular shooting modes is 50cm at the widest angle, and 2m at full zoom).
As we would expect, the WB700 performed best under studio lighting when shooting our still life test scene. Receding text in a book remained sharp through the full depth of the frame, while fine detail such as the digits on a thermometer and the weave of a fabric doorstop were well rendered.
When the result was viewed in full-screen, it put in a good performance using ambient light. But zooming 1:1 revealed increased noise (variation in brightness caused by the camera's sensor or circuits) as the camera had increased its sensitivity setting to ISO 800 to compensate for the lack of artificial light.
The most disappointing result was that achieved using the flash. Although it allowed the WB700 to reduce its sensitivity to a more manageable ISO 100, which combated the unwanted noise, the lighting within the scene was very unbalanced. The foreground was harshly lit and the rear too dark, giving an uneven result overall.
There's loads of fun to be had with this camera's more creative tools. Beside extensive manual controls, there's a range of smart filters, which post-process your image to give it an 'artistic' result. Many of these, such as sketch and half tone, are shared with the video mode, but there are others that are unique to stills shooting, including two very effective old film filters, which overlay random scratches and scuffs on the live view so that each new shot differs from the last.
We did, however, occasionally notice some clipping in our highlights on frames that displayed particularly stark contrasts between light and dark. As can be seen in the example below, detail has been lost on the lighter buildings -- highlighted in red -- as the camera has set the exposure to bring out detail in the darker half of the scene. We noticed the same effect when shooting video.