Samsung's NV7 OPS simply confounds me: for a company to clearly have spent a lot of time working on a novel but quite usable new interface, but implement it in a sluggish camera that produces noisy, overprocessed photos just seems, well, wrong. Granted, it's rather inexpensive given its specs, which include a 7-megapixel CCD with sensor-shift mechanical image stabilization, a broad set of semimanual controls, and an f/2.8-4.0 38mm-270mm 7X zoom lens.
Visually, the NV7 OPS stands out in a crowd. It juxtaposes an ultracompact-slim body with a bulbous shiny black lens that adds about an inch and three quarters to the camera's profile while retracted and another three quarters of an inch when extended. The camera, with its all-metal body, feels like a little tank. It provides a traditional dial for selecting your shooting mode: the NV7's includes automatic, program, ASM (aperture priority/shutter priority/manual), ASR (automatic shake reduction, a high ISO setting mode), Effects, Scene program, movie capture, and movie playback.
But the NV7's novelty lies in its setting navigation scheme. Thirteen so-called Smart Buttons--seven horizontal and six vertical--line the sides of the 2.5-inch LCD, putting any menu option in the crosshairs of a button matrix. This technique, in addition to simply looking cool, allows you to quickly select any shooting setting with no more than two button presses. (To see what I mean, check out these photos.) As a group, the Smart Buttons function as a slider sensor; you slide your finger up or down the row as you would operate a slider on a touch screen. This is less effective, as the buttons don't seem sensitive enough. Furthermore, though it's useful for newbies to see the shutter speeds on a scale labeled from Slower to Faster, it would be faster to pick them via the options matrix rather than using the slider. In fact, it can be quite frustrating to use, especially for manually focusing.
The LCD is a bigger problem for manual focus, though, because it's relatively low-resolution--230,000 pixels is typical for its class, however--and despite a Bright setting, it tends to wash out in sunlight. Furthermore, you really need to view it straight-on; it has a fairly narrow viewing angle.
Amateurs would be happy with the NV7 OPS' feature set. Though misnamed--the Optical Picture Stabilizer in fact uses a CCD-shift mechanism--the image stabilization seems to work relatively well. In addition to the manual- and priority-exposure modes, you can tweak performance and exposure with Multi, Spot, and Center metering; exposure bracketing; high- and standard-speed continuous shooting; shutter speeds between 15 and 1/1500 sec and apertures between 2.8 and 7.3; three selectable sharpness levels; and manual and white balance presets plus selectable color temperatures between 3300K and 10000K. A handful of scene modes-- Night, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Text, Close-up, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, and Beach and Snow--complete the well-rounded feature set.