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The Samsung NV40 looks great on paper: manual control, smart touch and decent specs. And despite being less than a year old, this 10.5-megapixel snapper has fallen in price to an astonishingly good value of £110. But how does it stack up in practice?
Like the rest of the NV range, it's good looking, though the silver colour scheme is slightly bland. Thankfully it also comes in black. The sleek lines, blue lens ring, and dual shoulder dials look great, but the ridge on the front sacrifices effective grip for aesthetic appeal.
At the top of the NV40 there are two control wheels. On the right is the usual scene mode wheel, while on the left is a wheel for colour options, giving quick access to settings like retro, forest, cool, calm and classic. These are a bit frivolous; if a second wheel is going begging we'd have preferred exposure compensation or something more useful.
At the back there's a 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen. Screen size is limited by the positioning of the smart touch controls. A series of buttons runs along the bottom and right side of the screen, allowing you to call up either a horizontal or vertical list of shooting options, then pressing a button on the other axis to select the setting you want. This is a clever, intuitive and fun method of controlling the camera, even if it seems at first glance to be intimidating.
Another clever touch is the NV40's USB plug. The USB cable for transferring pictures to your computer also connects to the plug to charge the camera from the mains. This makes it easy to charge even when you don't have the charger, but it is a proprietary USB connection on the camera so you can't use generic USB leads.
The 37mm wideangle, equivalent to a 35mm film camera, isn't anything to write home about, but it does boast a longer-than-average 5x zoom lens. It also boasts optical image stabilisation, which ensures that hand-held shooting produces sharper images and allows for slower shutter speeds.
For darker conditions, the NV40 goes up to a maximum of ISO 3,200. Flash options include red-eye reduction or slow sync. This fires the flash but also uses a slower shutter speed, which means your subjects aren't as harshly lit and don't appear bleached out.
The buttons on the back of the camera are also touch-sensitive, giving access to our favourite aspect of smart touch: sliders. Altering exposure, for example, involves running your finger along the row of buttons to move a slider. It's possibly even more intuitive than the thumbwheels on dSLRs, and the neat finishing touch is that moving the slider makes the icon gets sharper or blurrier to represent faster or slower shutter speeds.
You don't get as much control over aperture, sadly, but we find that in most casual snapping situations control of shutter speed is more useful anyway.
Face detection is also included. Movie mode shoots bog-standard 640x480 VGA clips at 30 frames per second.
We enjoyed using the NV40, and had high hopes for the images produced. Pictures are crisp enough, although we got best results by increasing the sharpening applied in-camera. The lens showed no trace of vignetting, with only the slightest hint of distortion at the left side of the frame. It's barely noticeable except on-screen, however.
We had two complaints about the pictures, however. Image noise is always a problem with compact cameras, as smaller sensors struggle with higher resolutions. The NV40 has actually seen a drop in resolution from its predecessor, but still suffers from noise at ISO speeds as slow as ISO 200. At ISO 400 and 800 there is a loss of detail as well as speckly texture in the image.
Secondly, there is also more purple fringing than we'd like. Again, we're used to compact cameras suffering, in this context producing a purple halo around the borders between light areas and very dark areas in an image, like a tree or building silhouetted against a bright sky. But the NV40 showed purple marks even where the contrast wasn't so great.
Noise and purple fringing issues aside, the Samsung NV40 is a worthy investment for the premium features and clever smart touch interface. At this price, it would simply be rude not to give it some consideration.
Edited by Marian Smith