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There are certainly plenty of compact megazooms to pick from these days, but the Samsung WB850F stands out for a few reasons.
Its 21x zoom lens starts at f2.8 23mm, making it the brightest and widest lens currently available on this type of camera. It has a brilliant 3-inch high-res AMOLED display, which works well even in bright sun, and Samsung's Smart Panel user interface (also found on its higher-end ILC cameras) letting you quickly change important camera settings from one screen. And then there's the Wi-Fi.
The camera's built-in 802.11n wireless can be used to connect to your Wi-Fi network for automatic backups to a Windows computer or Microsoft SkyDrive, viewing photos and movie clips on DLNA-equipped devices, or sending them by e-mail; to connect to other Samsung Wi-Fi cameras for direct sharing between cameras; to connect to hot spots or wirelessly tether to a smartphone; and to connect directly to an Android or iOS device.
That last option can be used to send photos to your phone for viewing or uploading to sharing sites, but it will also allow you to control the camera remotely. (Samsung only guarantees these features to work on Samsung Galaxy devices, but I was able to use them on other Android devices as well as an iPad 2.)
There are a few shortcomings, though, such as mediocre battery life, and the camera is more about filters and effects than producing great-quality photos and movies. But, hey, they're plenty good for online use and there's really nothing wrong with that, especially considering its shoot-and-share capabilities.
The Samsung WB850F's picture quality is very good for its class. Like many point-and-shoots, the more light you have, the better your photos will be. If you're considering this for daylight shooting, you'll likely be very satisfied with the results.
Subjects do get noticeably softer as you increase ISO, which means with less light you'll lose sharpness and fine details, and things start to look flat. (They definitely benefit from some light post-shoot sharpening.) On the other hand, the f2.8 lens and the back-illuminated CMOS sensor keeps the camera from immediately ratcheting up ISO, so you can take low-light photos (at least at the wide end of the lens) with better results than some competing models.
Basically, if you're considering this for its online-sharing capabilities and don't typically make large prints above 8x10s, regularly enlarge and heavily crop pictures, or view them at large sizes on screen, it's a fine choice. You can read more about picture quality and shooting features in the slideshow above.
Movie quality is about the same as its photos. Shoot in good lighting and you'll get decent sharpness and detail (though the camera's dynamic range limitations are more pronounced), but the less light you have, the softer things look and artifacts are more noticeable.
The zoom lens does function while shooting. It can be heard moving while recording, but Samsung includes an option to damp the audio when you zoom. The continuous autofocus can be slow to adjust and may pulse in and out of focus, so it might be best to zoom in first and then start shooting; you can always pause the recording (yes, the camera lets you pause) and zoom out and start capturing again. Also, though Samsung is able to correct for barrel distortion in photos, it doesn't for video.
Going by my lab tests, the WB850F is neither exceptionally fast or slow for its class. From off to first shot took on average 2.4 seconds, and you're waiting roughly the same amount of time from shot to shot. Using the flash doubled the wait to 4.8 seconds. Shutter lag -- the time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is reasonably low in bright lighting at 0.4 second, slowing down to 0.7 second in low light.
The camera has a maximum burst shooting speed of 10 frames per second at full resolution for up to eight frames, which it was able to hit. However, that's with focus and exposure set at the first shot, so if you have a fast-moving subject, it might not be in focus for all of those.
Out of the lab, the camera's speed is a little less reliable. For example, if I tried to take too many shots in a row, the camera would stop responding for a few seconds. That's likely because it was busy processing images, but it can definitely cause you to miss the next shot.
Like many megazooms, the WB850F's AF slows down some with the lens extended, which is particularly noticeable in low light, and the camera seems to lock the zoom lens for several seconds after taking a picture, meaning that you can immediately zoom in or out. Also, while the burst capabilities are good for catching an action shot, once you release the shutter, you're stuck waiting for about 2 seconds per photo before you can shoot again.
Lastly, battery performance is fairly mediocre. It's CIPA rated for 200 photos. That isn't good to begin with, but using the zoom lens, recording video, burst shooting, or turning on the Wi-Fi or GPS, can really cut into that shot count. If you regularly go out for a full day of shooting, you'll want to get an extra battery, and probably an external charger, too, since the battery is charged in the camera.
Design and features
There is a lot to like about the WB850F's design. The metal chassis gives it a nice look and feel and although the knurled lens surround doesn't actually move, it does give you something to grip.
The shooting mode dial on top lets you quickly get to what you want, including Wi-Fi and GPS options. And the spring-loaded switch around the one-touch video record button makes it easy to access both burst shooting options and frame-rate speeds for movies.
For people who like to actually take control away from the camera, Samsung includes its Smart Panel user interface. Press the Fn button and up pops all your available options. Use the control pad or surrounding dial to select what you want to change and use the zoom control to cycle through the available options.
It's fast and efficient, but it can take time to adjust to, especially if you're already familiar with another camera maker's UI. Also, Samsung includes the same shooting options laid out in a regular vertical menu system when you press the Menu button, which is unnecessary and potentially confusing. And there are two ways to select options with the Smart Panel UI, which can add to the confusion. So, thumbs up for the Smart Panel UI, thumbs down for the learning curve.
There are a couple other things that could be improved, too. While I appreciate having buttons to view the electronic compass and information about the nearest POI, they're not entirely necessary and a little too easy to accidentally launch when you're first learning the camera. With the flash up, there's very little room behind it for gripping the camera. Plus, the flash has to be manually popped up, and while that's not necessarily bad, the camera doesn't tell you when you may need to use it.
|Key specs||Samsung WB850F|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.3 inches by 2.4 inches by 1 inch|
|Weight (with battery and media)||6.8 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS|
|Display size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch AMOLED, 614K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||21x, f2.8-5.9, 23-483mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,608x3,456 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 200 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||Yes; Micro-USB cable, wall adapter supplied|
|Bundled software||Intelli-studio, PC Auto Backup, Map Download Manager (Windows)|
The wireless features in general are easy to set up and use, though without a touch screen entering usernames and passwords can take some time. Thanks to a built-in minibrowser, Wi-Fi networks that require you to agree to terms and conditions before you can connect -- such as those at hotels and airports -- will work with this camera.
You can upload directly to Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, and Photobucket. Up to 20 files at a time can be sent with the total size being 10MB or less. The catch is that photos must be 2 megapixels or smaller and video is limited to 30-second clips recorded at 320x240-pixel resolution. Photos shot at higher resolutions will automatically resize while uploading, but movies will not. Photos can be sent by e-mail directly from the camera, too, but have the same restrictions.
Two apps are available for iOS and Android that work with the camera. The MobileLink app lets you send photos and videos straight to a smartphone for sharing when you don't have Wi-Fi. Then there's the Remote Viewfinder app that gives you control over the camera using your smartphone's screen from about 20 feet away. You can control flash, timer, resolution (2 or 10 megapixels), zoom, and the shutter release.
Once you snap a photo it's stored on the camera, but you'll also see a small version on your phone screen. Tap it and you'll see a larger version that can be saved to your smartphone resized to VGA (640x480 pixels) quality. It's pretty cool, but its overall usefulness is debatable. It's good for setting up self-portraits and group shots, but because there's a significant lag between tapping your smartphone's screen and the camera responding you have to remain fairly still to get the shot you want.
|General shooting options||Samsung WB850F|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|Photo Filter)||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent H, Fluorescent L, Tungsten, Custom, Color Temp|
|Recording modes||Smart Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Scene, Magic Plus (Panorama (Live, Action, 3D), Magic Frame, Split Shot, Picture in Picture, Artistic Brush, HDR, 3D photo, Creative Movie Maker), Movie|
|Focus modes||Center AF, Multi AF, Tracking AF, Face Detection AF, Face Recognition AF, Selection AF, Manual Focus|
|Macro||3.9 inches (Wide); 4.9 feet (Tele)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Spot, Center-weighted, Face Detection AE|
|Color effects||Multiple photo and movie filters|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Eight|
For a point-and-shoot, Samsung includes a fair amount of manual control over settings including manual and semimanual shooting modes. At the wide end, there are 10 available apertures from f2.8-8.0; at the telephoto end there are four from f5.9-8.5. Shutter speeds go from 1/2,000 second to 16 seconds.
But, if a reliable auto mode is equally or more important to you, well, it's got that, too. Its Smart Auto uses scene recognition to choose the appropriate settings based on 20 scene types, including ones for backlit subjects.
The WB850F also has a big selection of photo filters, many of which are available for movies, too. They can be used before or after you take a photo (the camera actually has more editing options in playback than most point-and-shoots), and Samsung gives you a live view of the effects when you shoot. Depending on the effect, images are either captured at full resolution or 5 megapixels, which is plenty for Web sharing or small prints. You can read more about its many shooting options in the sample photo slideshow.
If you're looking for a compact megazoom as a companion to a smartphone camera, the WB850F is one of the best options you're going to find. The Sony Cyber-shot HX30V, has better shooting performance and photo quality, but for some users the differences will be slight and Samsung delivers a better Wi-Fi experience. For snapshooters looking to enter the world of connected cameras, the WB850F is a good place to start.
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
|Typical continuous-shooting speed|