Samsung's 10.2-megapixel PL60 offers a tempting little package for anyone who wants a compact camera with some style, fancy tech and decent specs without putting too much of a dent in the old plastic. There are five PL models (the others are the PL50, PL55, PL65 and PL70), all of which are quite close in terms of specs. The PL60 falls pretty much in the middle, costing around £120.
The front of the PL60 has a smart, brushed-metal finish, available in a choice of colours. Around the back, a full-width plastic panel covers the 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD display and surrounds the mode dial, buttons and directional controller, giving a smooth, seamless look.
The controls work very well. You can spin the main mode dial with your thumb, but firm click-stops prevent it turning accidentally. While the four-way controller is on the small side, it has satisfying, positive 'click'. It's rather hard to make out the icons embossed on the black buttons, but you'll probably memorise them quickly enough for it not to matter.
You press a 'Fn' button on the bottom right to change routine stuff like EV compensation, white balance, face-detection mode, drive mode and picture style, or resort to the main menus for metering patterns, focus area, image size and quality, and more in-depth set-up options. It all looks good and works well.
The camera's pictures aren't bad, either. The PL60 makes light work of everyday photography, reliably producing accurate exposures, good colours and decent definition. There's some pretty obvious noise reduction even at low ISOs, though, and fine textures tend to get smoothed over.
Like other Samsung compacts, this one has a USB charging system. You can plug it into the mains with the supplied adaptor, or use the detachable USB lead to charge it from a powered USB port on a computer.
Samsung's pushing portrait shots particularly heavily with this camera. The face-detection system is supplemented by blink-detection (if the camera thinks your subject has blinked, it takes three shots, not one), smile-detection (it only shoots when it sees a smile), beauty-shot (it smoothes skintones) and frame-guide features. You use the latter when you're on holiday and you want a passer-by to take your picture. Instead of trusting their sense of composition, you can frame the shot, before handing over the camera with the framing you want indicated on the LCD.
The smart-auto mode works well, shooting with one of 11 different scene modes, depending on what the camera thinks it's looking at, and it uses these scene modes in a rather clever way. When you switch to playback mode, the camera can browse and categorise your pics according to the type of scene -- or the date or the colour for that matter.
This assumes you're going to keep your pictures stored on the memory card in the camera, though. You might do that while you're away on a trip, but it's not something that most people would ordinarily do. In fact, you might wish you could swap features like this and the smart-auto mode for something more useful, like a wideangle lens. For that, you'll have step up to the more expensive PL70.
Samsung makes five of these PL-series cameras. There are differences between them, but they're comparatively minor and you have to study the specs carefully to work out what they are and whether they matter. The PL60 has 10.2 megapixels -- not that this is a problem -- but the models above and below have 12-megapixel resolutions, and then it comes down to fiddly considerations like choosing between 2.7-inch and 3-inch LCDs.
You can't expect cutting-edge technology at this price, so it's all down to the balance between specs, build quality, handling and pictures, and the Samsung PL60 comes out pretty well in all four areas. Check out Panasonic's lower-end Lumix models and Sony's basic W-series cameras, though, because these are good too.
Edited by Charles Kloet