Most sub-$200 shooters tone down or outright ignore many of the features and options found in their more expensive brethren. The Olympus FE-210 and HP Photosmart M537, for example, completely automate their shooting and leave settings such as white balance and ISO entirely out of your hands. If you plan to spend as little as possible on a camera, you can expect to find an extremely simple device with few settings. Samsung's 7-megapixel L700 skirts this rule, offering a solid selection of controls and options in a surprisingly inexpensive package.
While it's not a fashion camera like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T100, the L700 hardly looks ugly. Its compact, all-aluminum body comes in silver and black versions and slips easily into most pockets. Its 2.5-inch LCD isn't large by this season's standards, but it's bright and clear enough to shoot in all but the most direct sunlight. The 35mm-to-105mm-equivalent lens offers a standard 3x zoom factor and does little to distinguish the camera from the competition.
Compared to a lot of other budget cameras, Samsung's L700 offers plenty of options when shooting, including sensitivity, white balance, and exposure compensation. The camera's sensitivity peaks at ISO 1,600, allowing nice flexibility in low-light and high-speed shooting. White-balance settings include standard (aka auto), cloudy, sunny, tungsten, fluorescent, and manual. We rarely see manual white balance modes in budget cameras, so this came as a pleasant surprise.
If the various white balance modes aren't enough for you, the L700 also lets you tweak the individual red, blue, and green color channels. While not technically a white-balance setting, it does let you change how colors look in your shots. Most cameras include black-and-white, sepia, and various tinted color modes, but the L700's much more precise, customizable color controls surprised us.
Samsung's menus may be simple, but getting to them can be confusing. Most of the camera's shooting modes are accessible through the "+/-" button, a symbol that usually indicates only exposure compensation rather than all shooting settings. The mode button simply toggles between still photo and movie modes, but it's labeled with a large "M," a symbol that usually denotes manual shooting mode. The effects button, labeled with a cryptic "E," can apply a series of colors and highlight overlays to your shot, helping you frame and tint your photos. These strange buttons won't cause much of a problem once you get used to them, but they'll likely confuse new users and confound your friends if you hand off the camera so you can get into a shot.
In our tests, the Samsung L700 performed acceptably for a budget camera, though it felt a bit sluggish for our tastes. The camera took 2.1 seconds to start up and capture its first JPEG. Shutter lag measured 0.6 second in our bright light test and 1.2 seconds under low light. Between shots, the camera requires an irritating 1.8 seconds before it can shoot again--and that's with the flash turned off. With the onboard flash enabled, the wait extended to 2.6 seconds. Continuous-shooting mode yielded an average of 0.9 frame per second when capturing 7-megapixel JPEGs and 1fps when capturing VGA-size JPEGs.
For a budget camera, the L700 produces decent enough photos, though close inspection reveals some image-quality flaws. While the camera's meter does a good job of determining exposures, even in some tough scenes, we saw image artifacts in all of our test shots. Text and hair often appeared fuzzy , and extremely fine details such as threads and wood grain sometimes completely disappeared into an indistinguishable blur.