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The 14.2-megapixel ST100 is the latest entry in Samsung's range of dual-screen compact cameras. There's one screen on the back, as usual, and one on the front, which is useful for taking self-portraits and keeping the kids amused while you're taking their mug shots. Samsung is currently unique in offering this type of camera.
You'll pay a premium for the twin screens and glossy finish, though. The ST100 is on sale for around £260, which is towards the top end of the price scale for a snapshot model.
The ST100's dimensions are a slender 100 by 60 by 20mm, and it weighs a pocketable 135g without a battery or memory card inserted. Disappointingly, you'll need to use a small and fiddly microSD or microSDHC card, rather than the more commonly used SD or SDHC formats.
Like some other compacts from Samsung, the ST100's lens sits at a slight angle in the body, pointing upwards. According to Samsung, this allows you to obtain a more natural, tighter grip on the camera. Although, despite its glossy finish, the ST100 doesn't feel like it will suddenly slip out of your grasp, there's actually nothing resembling a hand grip on this model. Its front-facing screen is situated where your fingers would normally snake around the face plate, with the screen surround the only thing that you can try and dig your thumb into at the back.
Consequently, camera shake is a problem, despite Samsung providing both optical and digital anti-shake options. We found it quite tricky to get a sharply focused shot when taking snaps indoors without a flash, even in apparently well-lit situations.
In keeping with the times, both of the ST100's monitors are touch-sensitive. You tap the one on the front a couple of times to activate it, and prod the one on the back to select and implement common settings and functions. There's also a dedicated top-mounted button for turning the front screen on and off.
The ST100 is noteworthy for being Samsung's first 'dual view' camera to feature an internally stacked optical zoom. It boasts a 5x reach, equivalent to 35mm to 175mm in 35mm film terms. It's handy when you'd like to pull a subject slightly closer without simply taking a few steps forward -- so it's perfect for shooting skittish wildfowl and pets. A nudge of the zoom lever and the camera takes 3 seconds to travel smoothly through the entirety of its optical focal range. Any operational noise is almost imperceptible. This means the optical zoom can be deployed when shooting 720p video clips, which is a bonus.
While the ST100's back screen measures an impressive 3.5 inches, with a 16:9 aspect ratio and a high resolution of 1,152,000 pixels, the screen on the front is pokey by comparison, at 1.8 inches. The rear LCD screen basically forms the entire back plate. There are no other controls alongside it, so the camera retains its fuss-free appearance both on the front and back, at least when the camera is inactive.
The camera does have some physical controls, though. On its top are a shutter-release button, a zoom rocker switch, a power button and a button for illuminating the front LCD display. There's also a useful playback button, which means you don't have to tap the rear screen a couple of times to see your images.
When shooting still images in the default 4:3 aspect ratio, black bands appear on the left and right of the rear display. These disappear if you opt for one of the video modes, which utilise the full width of the screen.
Several virtual shooting modes can be selected with a finger tap. These include a standard auto mode, a program auto mode with a more extensive array of options, a scene mode that provides 12 pre-optimised settings for different situations, a dual anti-shake mode, and a video mode. The ST100's features and functionality are easily navigated, as a rule.
The ST100's auto mode works whether you're shooting stills or video, allowing you to disengage your brain and just point and shoot. This mode can recognise certain types of scene and subject, and can also track a subject as they move around. The ST100 can detect and remember up to 20 faces in a frame too.
The camera's light sensitivity stretches from ISO 80 to ISO 3,200. Macro close-ups are offered down to 50mm from your subject. Video is shot at a 720p high-definition resolution, at either 30 frames per second or 15fps.
The ST100's lithium-ion battery is charged within the camera. You can charge the camera up via the mains or plug it into your laptop via USB. That's convenient, but it does mean you won't be able to use the camera while it's charging.
The ST100 powers up swiftly, in just over a second, and commits a full-resolution JPEG to memory in just over a second too.
We found the ST100's image quality to be very similar to that of the cheaper Samsung PL90. Colours are warm and vibrant when there's plenty of light, and detail is generally acceptable, although we did experience occasional softening, particularly at the maximum telephoto setting or when the light dipped.
Although the lens doesn't go particularly wide, maxing out at a 35mm equivalent, there's some slight barrel distortion at the maximum wide-angle setting that results in leaning verticals. Pixel fringing, a bugbear of nearly all digital cameras, is also present, although the effect isn't as pronounced as we've witnessed on some compacts recently. In the case of a £150 camera, these issues would be minor gripes, but they're slightly more serious at the ST100's price.
The Samsung ST100's dual screens are a relative novelty, but they have their practical uses too, particularly when it comes to taking self-portraits or keeping children's attention while you try to take their picture. But strip away the fancy screens and the ST100 is very much your average point-and-shoot camera. Whilst the ST100 is fun to use, it could do with being more affordable.
Edited by Charles Kloet