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Samsung TL34HD review: Samsung TL34HD

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It's not surprising that the 14.7-megapixel Samsung TL34HD's most noteworthy attribute is its design. The electronics manufacturer generally has some of the better-looking products on the market across the many categories it's involved in. This camera's touch-screen interface is also one of the best around--at least when it comes to shooting control. Its modest features include an optically stabilized but kind of short 3.5x f2.8-5.9 28-102mm-equivalent lens and 720p movie capture. Now if only Samsung could get the photo quality right.

OVR
7.0

Samsung TL34HD

The Good

Very good touch-screen shooting controls; many settings to experiment with; well designed.

The Bad

Middling photo quality; touch-screen frustrating to use in menu system.

The Bottom Line

An excellent touch-screen interface--at least for shooting photos--and decent feature set don't make the Samsung TL34HD's photo quality better than OK.

Samsung squeezed just the right amount of physical controls onto the TL34HD's slight chassis. The camera is 3.7 inches wide with most of the back covered by a 3-inch LCD. The remaining area to the right of the display has a vertical zoom rocker set where your thumb falls naturally, while Menu and Play buttons follow below. At the top right, set into the edge, is a mode dial--it's no bigger than the 0.8-inch width of the camera and blends with the rounded sides. To the left of the dial is the shutter release and power button. A loop juts out from the all-metal body for attaching a wrist strap and fits into the curve of your index finger, and the front has a just-big-enough bump for a handgrip. It's a thoughtful design, all in all, and at 2.3 inches high and 5.8 ounces, it's perfectly pocketable.

The touch-screen interface is largely excellent. For starters, though the screen size is smaller than Sony's T500 and T700 models and Nikon's S60 by 0.5 inch, Samsung gives you the full 3 inches to frame shots by overlaying the touch controls on the screen image. In contrast, Nikon and Sony black out the sections of their screens that they use for controls. With the exception of icons at the screen's top, which alert you about battery life and whether a feature is active, you can tap on everything. Changing settings--from ISO sensitivity and white balance to resolution and image quality--can be done very fast. Tap on an icon, and instantaneously a tray of options slides out. Then tap on your selection, the tray quickly slides away, and you're back to shooting. It's particularly great in Program and Manual modes where you have access to many more shooting choices like color saturation, contrast, aperture value, and shutter speed.

The interface falls apart in the camera's Menu system, however. Not only is it fairly bland-looking, but it's slow and frustrating. Taps aren't accurate; it frequently misselects options and there's no way to calibrate the display to fix it. Luckily, these are settings you probably won't touch often, such as beep volume, date and time, and other general operational features--nothing that would cause you to miss a shot.

As hinted at earlier, the TL34HD goes beyond the typical point-and-shoot, though you'll still find Auto and the ubiquitous scene modes. There are also face-, smile-, and blink-detection options and Samsung's brand of dynamic range compensation to help bring out shadow detail that would otherwise be hidden in darkness. You can apply it before or after a shot is taken; I recommend after. Slip into Program or Manual modes and you get all manner of extra picture controls--everything from using one of eight color modes to custom white balance to metering and exposure. And again, it's all quickly changeable with a few finger taps rather than endless menu navigation.

The Samsung TL34HD, on the whole, performs on par with other cameras in its class. The time to power up and take a shot is 1.3 seconds, and it takes another 1.7 seconds to fire off another. Using the flash adds about another second to the shot-to-shot time. Shutter lag is a satisfactory 0.4 second in well-lit conditions and 0.8 in dim lighting. The only place the TL34HD shows a notable drop in performance is in its burst rate. The camera has a few continuous shooting options, including a high-speed mode that promises two frames per second. CNET Labs tested with the regular Continuous mode, which hit only 1fps.

If there's one aspect in which the TL34HD really underwhelms, it's photo quality. The camera renders relatively accurate color and exposure, though highlights show blooming. Detail looks good at ISO 200 and below, however photos do look soft and over-processed. This really stands out at ISO 400 where details start getting obscured and at ISO 800 where scenes take on an oil-painting appearance. It also displays more purple fringing than usual for its class, especially in outdoor shots. All of this might not matter if you're only viewing photos online or on a small digital photo frame. But if that's the case, why bother with a 14.7-megapixel sensor in a camera this size? If you want the extra resolution for cropping, these problems will only become more noticeable.

Finally, if you're buying the TL34HD for its 720p video, don't. The MPEG-4 video it produces, while better than the typical 640x480 and actually watchable on a 52-inch LCD HDTV, is so loaded with noise that you likely won't notice the detailed images it hides. I'm not saying it's not a nice extra--video looks good on small screens, the files are smaller than 720p motion JPEGs, and the zoom lens and optical image stabilizer work in movie mode. I just wouldn't let it influence a purchasing decision too much.

The Samsung TL34HD isn't as sexy as other touch-screen models I've tested, but it has a solid design and definitely makes the most of the technology while retaining just enough physical controls. Not having to dig through menus for changing even the most advanced features is definitely a boon and will likely encourage more photo experimentation. Performance is overall very good, too. Now if Samsung can fix the photo quality--or at least make that 14.7-megapixel resolution worth having--it would be a more attractive package.

Shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
1.2 
3.2 
1.9 
0.8 
0.4 
Samsung TL34HD
1.3 
2.5 
1.7 
0.8 
0.4 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700
1.7 
2.4 
1.8 
0.9 
0.4 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T300
1.9 
2.2 
1.7 
1 
0.5 
Nikon CoolPix S60
2.4 
2.2 
2 
1 
0.6 

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

OVR
7.0

Samsung TL34HD

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Image quality 5