Pixels counts are not the headline draw they used to be. A higher number means you can crop into fine details more closely, but even a 10-megapixel camera, like theor , lets you print 300dpi shots at A4 size. That means pretty much any compact can hit A3 sizes and above, so using the pixel count as a differentiator -- and a reason to buy one camera over another -- is no longer enough.
That's good news for us as it means manufacturers are inspired to pack their gadgets with ever more innovative and useful features, including GPS.
With a built-in GPS receiver, like the one in this Samsung WB850F, the camera can automatically location-stamp your images so when you upload them to Flickr, or catalogue them in a geo-aware app like Lightroom or iPhoto, they're automatically positioned on a map. It helps you remember where each was taken -- a great additional feature for frequent travellers.
The Samsung WB850F can be bought now from around £265.
Aside from GPS, there are plenty of other features that make the WB850F a traveller's dream. The 16-megapixel sensor is topped off by a 21x zoom, equivalent to 23-483mm on a regular 35mm camera. That's an enormous range that should appeal both to landscape photographers, who will be able to squeeze in a generous slice of countryside at the wider end, and sports and nature photographers, who will spend much of their time at full zoom.
Impressively, maximum aperture at full telephoto remains a respectable f/5.9, while at wide angle it's a sharp f/2.8, which will help achieve shallow depths of field on portraits. You can control this manually using the dedicated aperture priority mode, or switch to shutter priority, program or full manual if you prefer. The inclusion of these dedicated modes, which mark this out as a more ambitious compact camera, greatly enhance its appeal, and put it in direct competition with the Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR, with its 20x zoom, 16-megapixel sensor and GPS chip.
What sets the Samsung apart is built-in Wi-Fi, which lets you share your pictures directly from the camera, without first having to download them to your Mac or PC.
Wi-Fi has a dedicated entry on the mode selector wheel and gives access to various backup and sharing features, and the ability to control the camera from a smart phone app.
It's also handy if you're travelling, as the Wi-Fi will let you share your photos with friends and family before you get home by emailing straight out of the camera or uploading stills to Facebook, Picasa and Photobucket. You can send videos to YouTube, but there's no option to upload directly to Flickr. You can get around this by using Flickr's upload by email feature (log into your account here) and sending them from the camera.
The WB850F has eight scene modes, taking in the usual selection of night, landscape and so on, plus aperture and shutter priority, manual and program modes. I performed my tests using the smart auto mode, allowing the camera to choose the best settings for each particular scenario.
Results were good across the board, with the WB850F carefully balancing the incoming light in starkly contrasting compositions for a pleasing, well-exposed result overall.
The lockside view below is fairly evenly split between dark bridge and trees, partially dark water and a bright, largely overcast sky. Rather than bleaching the sky as it draws out detail from the water, the WB850F has retained a high degree of colour and texture. It still properly exposed the darker areas of the shot, such as the wood of the lock itself, on which moss and fine splits remain clearly visible when zoomed to 100 per cent.
The results achieved in my tests were extremely sharp, with very small points of detail clearly reproduced across the frame. Even in situations where the framed scene contained only a fairly narrow gamut, it did a great job of differentiating between similar tones. In the image below of unripe blackberries, the fine thorns on the plant itself, and cobwebs stretching between them, are accurately reproduced. This is thanks to a generous depth of field and accurate focusing. The same is true of the fibrous hair on the inside of the husk that surrounds the lost blossom.