Samsung WB850F £329.99
16th Jul 2012 | 09:13
Smarter than the average camera
The 16.2MP Samsung WB850F is part of Samsung's Smart Camera range of compact cameras that have built-in Wi-Fi to enable images to be shared direct from the camera.
With a 21x zoom Schneider-Kreuznach Varioplan lens offering a focal length range equivalent to 23-483mm, the Samsung WB850F is aimed at travellers and those who need a versatile camera that can be slipped into a pocket.
Wandering photographers may also appreciate the Samsung WB850F's built-in GPS technology with Live Landmark tech that enables you to access information about points of interest in front of you.
It's also possible to download maps (via a computer connection and copied to the SD card in the camera) and use the camera's on-screen MapView to navigate. There's even a digital compass so you can be sure you're facing in the right direction.
Although it's not entirely new to cameras, the feature that Samsung is most excited about in the WB850F is its Wi-Fi capability. This enables the camera to connect to Wi-Fi networks, even those that are password-protected, and to share images by uploading them to Facebook, Picasa and Photobucket or by emailing them straight from the camera.
Videos can also be uploaded directly to YouTube and files can be wirelessly backed up to the Cloud or your PC.
Since it combines automatic, semi-automatic and manual shooting modes the Samsung WB850F has options to suit most levels of photographic experience and a range of situations.
Given the amount of technology squeezed into the small body, it's perhaps a surprise that the screen isn't touch-sensitive and that all adjustments and password entries have to be made using physical buttons and dials.
In fairness, however, the screen is a 3-inch 614,000-dot AMOLED display, which should ensure a decent view in bright light.
Build and handling
It may not be the smallest compact camera available, but the Samsung WB850F is small enough to slip into a jacket pocket or small handbag without any difficulty. It also feels fairly durable and nicely put together.
A pronounced ridge on the front of the camera serves as an effective, while stylish looking grip that provides just enough purchase. However, the smooth surface of much of the Samsung WB850F means it is advisable to attach the supplied wrist strap.
All the basic functions of the Samsung WB850F are easy to get to grips with. The shooting mode, for example, is selected via the mode dial on the top of the camera in conjunction with the navigation controls and on-screen display.
Like many compact cameras, the navigation buttons on the back of the Samsung WB850F also provide shortcuts to a few features. However, Samsung has chosen to assign two of them to the non-photographic features - Live Landmark and the compass.
This means that aspects such as the focus and flash modes must be accessed and adjusted via the function menu, which is accessed by pressing the Fn button. This takes a little more time than using a direct button.
We also found the video activation button a little fiddly to use and it seems to require a press with the thumbnail to get things going.
Although the GPS system works straight from the box (once the battery is charged) the map data needs to be uploaded from a computer before it can be used. This requires installing the Samsung software on a computer from the supplied CD and is straightforward enough using a step-by-step wizard.
Like most compact cameras, the Samsung WB850F doesn't have a viewfinder and images are composed on the 3-inch 614,000-dot AMOLED screen. We found that this provides a clear, contrasty view in most lighting conditions, and even in direct sunlight it remains usable. Reflections are an issue, but it is still possible to see an image.
Low sensitivity images straight from the Samsung WB850F are punchy and vibrant. In its default settings, however, it is prone to over-saturating some colours. It also seems to struggle to reproduce the full tonal range of some red subjects, which can end up looking rather uniform in tone and sometimes a little too pink or cherry red.
On most occasions we found that the automatic white balance system did a good job during our test shoots, but we have one sequence of two shots where one has an inexplicable shift in colour.
Even at the highest sensitivity setting (ISO 3200), noise isn't a major issue in images from the Samsung WB850F, but the impact of its removal is noticeable at 100 per cent on the screen (actual pixels). At this magnification, ISO 3200 images have a stippled texture and some details are smudged. As usual, these issues are most noticeable in shadow areas.
However, the images make acceptable prints provided that they are kept below around A4 (around US letter) size. Images taken in the range ISO 100-800, though, can be used to make decent A3 (16.5 x 11.7-inch) prints.
The Panasonic TZ30 also has a slight edge at higher sensitivity settings, but the shadows don't bear close scrutiny in images from both cameras at ISO 3200.
We also found that the Samsung WB850F's GPS often takes longer to get a satellite signal than the Panasonic TZ30's, and this eats into the battery life – we only got 169 images in a short period of time from one charge when it was on most of the time.
The Wi-Fi connectivity, however, works well, and we were able to email images and upload them to Facebook without any fuss once we had connected to local Wi-Fi hotspot.
On the whole the autofocus system works well, but it starts to struggle when subjects get quite close. Subjects closer than 80cm require the macro focusing setting, and annoyingly this is set via the Fn menu.
As part of our image quality testing for the Samsung WB850F, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Samsung WB850F is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please read the full article.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
Signal to noise ratio
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
A dynamic range measurement in excess of 10EV is impressive for a compact camera, it indicates that the Samsung WB850F is capable of recording tonal gradations in the shadows and highlight areas.
There's no shortage of detail in this shot
Macro focus was required to get this poppy sharp. The camera's wide dynamic range has enabled teh detail of the clouds and the flower centre to be captured.
Colours are natural and life-like here.
The red of these buses is over-saturated and too cherry-red.
Shooting at the end of the telephoto setting with a fairly close subject enables depth of field to be restricted a little
This was taken within a second or two of the previous image using the same settings, but the white balance is very different.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
With a 21x zoom lens that covers the equivalent of 23-483mm, the Samsung WB850F is a versatile camera capable of capturing wide views and picking out distant details.
The ability to upload images to Facebook or email them direct from the camera is a really nice touch, and it will be popular with travellers who want to keep friends and family up-to-date with their goings on.
The GPS technology, however, is less useful, and the need for maps to be stored on the SD card seems short-sighted, since formatting the card deletes the data.
The wide-ranging zoom lens is versatile, and the Wi-Fi connectivity is great for sharing images straight from the camera when you are in a Wi-Fi hotspot.
GPS technology is a secondary feature in a camera and we would prefer that the button controls are reserved for more photographic features such as exposure compensation and focus mode.
The GPS system in the Samsung WB850F is a fun addition for tagging your images with their shooting location, but the mapping isn't as easy to use or as effective as the Maps app on the iPhone. This plus the additional battery drain means it is likely to be turned off for much of the time.
Smartphone users are used to uploading and emailing images as and when they like. The Wi-Fi capability in the Samsung WB850F makes this more-or-less possible with a decent dedicated camera, and we think it will prove a big hit.
While the Samsung WB850F wouldn't be our camera of choice for shooting in low light, it turns out good quality images in normal lighting conditions. In some cases the images really leap out from the screen, but in others, reds can look a little over-cooked.