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Samsung HZ15W review: Samsung HZ15W

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The Samsung HZ15W is a camera that looks good on paper but doesn't live up to the specs. The main attraction is the 24mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with 10x zoom, which is certainly a plus in a camera this size, giving you a lot of shooting flexibility for less than $280. It also has plenty of features to keep you experimenting with your photography. On the other hand, the lens doesn't result in the greatest pictures and finding what features you want to use can be trying at times. I'm sure the HZ15W will have its fans, but there are better executed compact megazoom cameras for the money.

OVR
6.2

Samsung HZ15W

The Good

Good feature set; miniHDMI out; 24mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with 10x zoom.

The Bad

Subpar photo quality; menu system too spread out.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung HZ15W has good parts and features, but it ultimately disappoints on the whole.

As you'd expect from a camera with a long zoom, wide-angle lens, the HZ15W is neither small nor light. It's pretty amazing the camera is as compact as it is, though, and it'll comfortably fit in a small bag or jacket pocket or rather awkwardly in a pants pocket. From the front it's a nice-looking camera, too, as it's basically all lens and hand grip. On top is a standard simple arrangement of controls: power button, shutter release with zoom ring, and a shooting mode dial. On back things get a little weird. To the top right of the reasonably bright and sharp 3-inch LCD is a rocker switch sitting in the thumb rest. The Command Lever, as it's called, is primarily used for adjusting exposure compensation, though it can be programmed to adjust ISO or white-balance options instead. Its location, however, makes it open to accidental presses while doing things such as zooming the lens or, you know, taking a picture.

Below that sits a Function (Fn) button that brings up a context-sensitive shooting menu. If you choose to set the Command Lever to change ISO or white balance, a single press of the Fn button will then bring up exposure compensation, which you can then adjust with the command lever. A second press of Fn gives you the actual shooting controls.

Then there's a four-way directional pad for navigation and changing display information, setting a timer, entering macro and manual focus, or turning on the flash. At its center is a Menu/OK button for accessing basic shooting, sound, display, and system settings. At the bottom of the control panel is a Playback button as well as an Effects button. This is for selecting a color style, a photo filter, or tweaking sharpness, contrast, or color saturation. Why these needed their own menu with a dedicated button, I don't know, but three menu systems is really one too many to keep track of in a point-and-shoot camera.

What was nice to find was a miniHDMI jack on the left side of the camera in addition to Samsung's proprietary charging/AV/USB jack on the right side.

Shooting modes range from full auto to full manual. The Smart Auto mode automatically chooses the appropriate camera settings based on 11 scene types. Those who can actually ascertain what their subjects are can choose from 15 scene-shooting options 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. Those who don't want to touch any settings can put it in Auto, which locks most options from being changed. Then you get the other end of the shooting spectrum with a standard Program mode for changing everything except shutter speed and aperture as well as a full manual option with control of aperture (though there are only four stops to choose from) and shutter speeds from 16 seconds to 1/1,500 of a second. The Mode dial also has spots for shooting using both optical and electronic image stabilization, Samsung's face-smoothing Beauty Shot portrait mode, and a movie mode capable of HD-quality clips with use of the zoom while recording and the mic stays live. You will hear the lens motor but barely, and I'd rather have that than a dead mic.

Megazooms--compact or otherwise--are generally not fast performers. The HZ15W, follows suit, but is at least on par with the competition. The camera takes 2.8 seconds to go from off to first shot, but then just requires an average wait of 2.2 seconds between subsequent shots. Turning on the flash slows that time to 3.2 seconds. It takes a reasonable 0.5 second to focus and shoot in good light and only goes up to 0.7 second in dim conditions. The camera's standard continuous drive option is capable of 0.7 frames per second. There is a full-resolution high-speed continuous mode, but the LCD goes completely blank while it's in use. In our informal tests the mode nearly doubles the standard continuous frame rate.

The photo quality from the HZ15W is fairly mediocre--good for Web use, 4x6-inch prints, and maybe the occasional 8x10. Like a lot of point-and-shoot cameras, the results are at their best when using ISOs below ISO 200. Above that mark and you'll end up with noticeable noise/artifacts and a significant loss of detail, sharpness, and color accuracy. In Macro mode, the camera can produce shots with good fine detail and sharpness, but may look oversharpened and crunchy. Detail and sharpness aren't good out of macro, though, and generally appear overprocessed when viewed at full size.

There's nearly no barrel distortion at the camera's widest lens position. More noticeable (but barely) is some pincushion distortion when the lens is fully extended. However, the amount of chromatic aberration in my test shots was well above normal and the purple/blue fringing not only made frequent appearances, but was visible even when pictures were viewed at smaller sizes. Overall, colors are pleasing and in a standard shooting mode like Program or Manual they're reasonably accurate. Exposure was OK, but highlights had a tendency to blow out.

Video quality is good in general, though low-light movies are loaded with noise. This is typical of video from compact cameras, however. It is appreciated that the zoom does function while recording and that Samsung chose not to cut the mic; the lens moves reasonably quietly.

Again, I'm sure there are people that will be thrilled enough by the Samsung HZ15W's lens and feature set to overlook its unremarkable photo quality and frequently frustrating menu and control design. But with similar--and generally better--options out there from Panasonic, Canon, Sony, and Kodak, it's a much tougher sell.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Kodak EasyShare Z915
1.7 
1.1 
0.6 
0.4 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20
2.8 
2.1 
0.7 
0.4 
Samsung HZ15W
2.8 
2.2 
0.7 
0.5 
Canon PowerShot SX120 IS
2.5 
2.6 
0.7 
0.6 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1
2.3 
2.5 
1.1 
0.9 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

OVR
6.2

Samsung HZ15W

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 7Image quality 5