Samsung L210 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 10/10/08
The Samsung L210 features a 10.2-megapixel image sensor, a Samsung-branded 3x optical zoom lens with 34 to 102mm equivalent focal length, and a 2.5-inch LCD display with above average 230,000 pixel resolution.
Other Samsung L210 features include ISO sensitivity ranging from 80 to 1,600, shutter speeds from 8 to 1/1,500 seconds, three metering modes (multi, spot, and face detection), as well as 10 scene modes: Night scene, Children, Landscape, Close-up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, and Beach & Snow. The Samsung L210 also offers Dual Image Stabilization, which combines Samsung's Optical Image Stabilization with Digital Image Stabilization.
The Samsung L210 has the ability to record movies at SVGA resolution (800 x 592), at a maximum frame rate of 20 frames per second, and supports optical zoom while recording MPEG-4 videos. Additional Samsung L210 features include Face Detection, Self Portrait, and Auto Red-Eye Fix modes. Images are stored on SD, SDHC, or MMC cards, plus 20MB of built-in memory, and the Samsung L210 derives its power from a custom lithium-ion battery pack. The Samsung L210 ships from March 2008 priced at U.S. $269.
Samsung L210 User Report
by Mike Pasini
Under its own label Samsung has produced some very attractive compact digicams. The company's problem, though, has been that those cameras weren't quite as good as the competition.
We wouldn't say that about the Samsung L210, though. When Samsung says its L-Series is designed for family events it has higher aspirations. "Style slimmed to perfection," the box says. And we have to agree that Samsung has dramatically improved image quality in this stylish camera whose sophisticated design extends to its menu system.
And yet, there's more to making a great camera than that. Much as I liked the design of the Samsung L210 and improved image quality, it disappointed me on a number of occasions.
Perfection? Not yet. But for the money, it's not bad, either.
Look and Feel. Samsung really has a knack for designing digicams. They make some of the most attractive black boxes we've ever seen. And the Samsung L210 comes in red and silver, too. It's a small box not much bigger than a business card, although you can't really call it slim. Still, the Samsung L210 is a light camera that fits in any pocket or purse.
Samsung's sense of design doesn't stop with the camera body. The Samsung L210's menu system uses a simple blue and white color scheme whose highlighted options are clearly distinguished (unlike some color schemes) and whose text is clear and sharp, if a bit too small for older eyes.
The only significant user interface complaint I have is that highlighted options with submenus require the use of the Right arrow. Press the Samsung L210's OK button and you're out of the menu, which makes no sense.
Because the camera is light, it's easy to hold in one hand, your thumb resting under the zoom control. Samsung probably thought it was easier to press your thumb up or down rather than left to right to zoom, but they didn't talk to my thumb about it. I found zooming with an up or down motion awkward.
Controls. There are just four tiny buttons on the Samsung L210's back panel and they take some getting used to because they don't do the standard things buttons on the back of a camera do.
The E button is the Effects button. It displays a Color option (Normal, Black and White, Sepia, Red, Green, Blue, Negative, Custom) and, depending on the shooting mode, an Image Adjust option (Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation). None of these options really require the immediacy of a button to change. They could easily have been left in the LCD menu system and the buttons used for more common adjustments like exposure compensation.
There's also a Function/Delete button. And that's where the real action is, bringing up the Samsung L210's shooting menu. In Program mode, the options include Image Size, Quality, Metering, Drive (shutter mode), ISO, White Balance, and EV. The options appear tucked along the right side of the screen, are navigated by pressing the Down arrow, and changed with the Right and Left arrows. A second press of the Function button dismisses the Samsung L210's menu, but the full information display shows the settings in the same location on the right side of the screen (a very nice touch).
In Manual mode there's a bit of a twist in the system. The first press of the Samsung L210's Function button displays the f-stop and shutter speed settings. You adjust the f-stop with Up/Down buttons and the shutter with the Right/Left button. A second press shows you the more customary display described above.
There are two other buttons just below the Samsung L210's navigator. On the left is the Playback/Print button. On the right is the Optical Image Stabilization button. That's another waste of a button. I can't think of a reason to turn off OIS (the reason is to use a tripod and I can't think of a reason to use a tripod with OIS). So the function is so seldom required it should be on an LCD menu. It seems like the button's real purpose is to advertise that the Samsung L210 has OIS.
Despite its small size, the Samsung L210's 2.5-inch LCD is quite sharp and easy to use in sunlight. It seems to have the tempered glass of dSLR LCDs, too, so it didn't smudge easily and was easy to clean. That's a nice touch.
The lens is only a 3x optical zoom so it really needs digital zoom to get anywhere and the Samsung L210 does include a generous 5x digital zoom. The problem is that it isn't a very good digital zoom, losing a great deal of detail to reach the full image size.
Modes. The Mode dial on top has eight options. When you dial in a new one, a very brief screen animation spins a virtual Mode dial to your new setting. It's really too brief to be any use, but it's cute.
Auto lets the Samsung L210 make most of the decisions. Only Color effects are available on the E button and only image size and quality on the Function button.
Program offers both Color and Image Adjust options on the E button and the full range of options of the Function button.
Manual offers the same options as Program but adds f-stop and shutter speed adjustments to the Function button, as explained above.
The Dual IS option enables both the Samsung L210's optical image stabilization and digital image stabilization. Samsung doesn't disclose even generally what its digital image stabilization does.
Photo Help Guide is an intriguing option that doesn't actually let you take a picture. Say you take a picture and it just looks lousy. Slip into this mode and let the Samsung L210 tell you what your options are. It evaluates the scene and displays a set of options like "Features to use when the images is out of focus." You select one and it offers several approaches as menu items. Pick one and get a little illustrated lesson in a page or two. It's very nicely done and even includes a practice option after the lesson so you can try out what you learned without actually changing anything on the Samsung L210. To get out of the Guide, you have to select a different mode.
Portrait mode looks a lot like Auto mode as far as options go. It activates Face Detection focusing and enabled the Samsung L210 to pick out a face in very dim light.
Scene mode enables Scene modes in the Recording menu. I can't fault the Samsung L210 for offering just 10 Scene modes. I suspect most of us never touch any Scene modes anyway. What Scene modes it does offer are basic and helpful. Night scene, Children, Landscape, Close-up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, and Beach & Snow.
Movie mode has three options. 800 x 592 captures motion at 20 frames per second. 640 x 480 captures motion at 30 or 15 fps. 320 x 240 captures motion at 30 or 15 fps, too. You can adjust metering, white balance, and EV. You can also toggle the Samsung L210's stabilizer from the Function menu. Only Color options are available on the E menu.
Storage and Battery. Samsung doesn't use CIPA standards to test battery performance. Its own testing uses a fully charged battery, Auto mode, 10-megapixel image size, and Fine quality, changing zoom after every shot and using the flash on every second shot. The camera is used continually in five-minute spurts separated by one minute with the power off.
That's pretty close to CIPA standards and, like CIPA, far more taxing than I actually am in using the Samsung L210 (where the flash is barely bothered). Although when I use an Eye-Fi card (as I did with the Samsung L210), I disable any power saving feature so the camera won't shut off while the card is sending images to my computer. That can be taxing.
Samsung reports 220 shots or 110 minutes (still or video) of used under those conditions. That's not much capacity these days, but it's more than enough for my needs.
But let's have a nice round of applause for the simple combination AC adapter/charger Samsung has included. It plugs into the wall and sends AC power to the Samsung L210 via the included USB cable to power the camera directly or just charge the battery. You don't even have to use the adapter: the Samsung L210 will charge from most any computer's standard USB port.
Using SD format memory cards, you can store about 50 10-megapixel, Super Fine images in 256MB. In Movie mode, you can get about 8 minutes 48 seconds at 800 x 592, 9:02 at 640 x 480, and 36:36 at 320 x 240.
With an Eye-Fi SD card in the Samsung L210 (neither included nor supplied by Samsung), it became a WiFi camera, transferring images to my computer wirelessly. The only drawback was that the WiFi card is too slow to capture movies. For that I had to swap cards.
Samsung L210 Performance
The Samsung L210 was a winner in the design department, but its performance figures were not as impressive.
Both startup and shutdown times were only average. The 2.8 second startup time was a noticeable annoyance and the 2.0 second shutdown time was no comfort either. Coupled with a flush Power button that gives little feedback, it was hard to tell if I'd actually turned the camera off, as the blue power light surrounding the button remains on even after the lens is retracted.
The autofocus timings were a bit odd. Combined autofocus was above average at 0.63 seconds, partly because the 3x optical doesn't show much difference between wide angle and telephoto focusing. At the equivalent of 102mm, the Samsung L210 doesn't take much longer to focus than at wide angle.
But here's the odd part. The Samsung L210's prefocus lag was a slow 0.25s, at the very poor end of average. We're seeing a lot of cameras that significantly outperform the Samsung L210 in prefocus lag, which is how I usually shoot, half-pressing the shutter button to see what the camera is focusing on.
Cycle time was slower than average, but flash recycling was average. Download speeds through the USB 2.0 Hi-Speed port were above average at 4,308.5 Kb/s.
While its weight scored well (it is indeed a small camera, if not a particularly thin one), the Samsung L210's 2.5-inch LCD and 3x optical zoom are just average. It's such a small camera you might not mind the 2.5-inch LCD -- until you see a 3.0 inch one.
Shooting. As the performance notes hint, startup and shutdown on the Samsung L210 were a problem. They scored average for an entry-level camera, but I'm spoiled by those above-average digital cameras. Coupled with the small, difficult to use Power button, I found myself continually wondering if the Samsung L210's lens was going to go back in or if I had to hit the Power button again. It's that sluggish.
Then there was the trouble I had with the Samsung L210's zoom control, a small lever you press up to move toward the telephoto end of the range and down to go wide angle. The convention is a control that moves left (wide angle) to right (telephoto). I often pressed up when I wanted to go down and vice versa, something that never happens with a standard zoom toggle or zoom ring.
The touch -- or lack of it -- on the zoom control also made it difficult to precisely compose an image. Travel is very short and the lens pauses first, then zooms very quickly. You end up trying to nudge the lens into the right crop, and it can take a long time to get the framing you want.
And that took a lot of the fun out of Movie mode. In fact, I can't recommend zooming in the Samsung L210's Movie mode at all because the camera takes a while to find focus again. I've never seen out-of-focus zooms like this before, but the sample movie illustrates the problem. And that clip represents one of the better jobs the camera did. Expect delays, as the clip says.
The other problem in the field was reading the legends on the small, shiny chrome buttons. You just can't make them out. Take some (blue) paint and fill them in so you can tell what they do.
The Samsung L210's Continuous mode also doesn't make a shutter sound, so you don't know when each image has been captured. It can shoot six frames a second for up to five seconds, but only at VGA (640 x 480) resolution.
Low-light focusing and the autofocus assist light were also problems, not performing as well as we're used to seeing.
The Samsung L210 beeped green telling me it was in focus but the LCD showed a blurred subject for those doll pictures. I let go of the Shutter button, shook my head, and pressed the Shutter button halfway down again several times before it figured it out -- often moving the composition slightly to help it find something with sufficient contrast.
There is a Manual mode on the Samsung L210, which delighted me. But my delight was short lived. I was only able to access two f-stops: f/2.8 and f/7.0 at wide angle and f/5.2 and f/12.9 at telephoto. That's open all the way or stopped down all the way. Our gallery shots in Program mode ranged from f/2.8 to f/9.1 with all sorts of stops in between. Why aren't they available in Manual mode?
Even worse, though, there's no exposure indication in the Samsung L210's Manual mode. You can't tell if you're properly exposing, overexposing, underexposing, not to mention by how much. That's just ridiculous.
Normally, I'd look that up in the manual to make sure I'm not just overlooking the obvious (like a color change in the indicators). But the only printed manual is the Quick Start Guide; the actual user manual is located on the install disk that comes with the Samsung L210. I'm not fond of those. Having to find a disk and run a program when you want to look up one simple item is too much trouble. Software manuals are also very difficult to bring along in a camera bag.
Image Quality. Attractive as Samsung cameras have been, their image quality has been a disappointment. Image quality in a JPEG-producing digicam is affected by lens quality, sensor resolution, and the image processor itself. In the past, Samsung didn't score very high in any of those events. The L210, however, uses a Samsung-branded lens, a 10-megapixel sensor and a Samsung image processor that produces results quite a bit better than its Samsung predecessors.
But can the images compete with other 10-megapixel cameras?
In the Samsung L210 image, color looks natural and evenly weighted throughout the spectrum, although reds are a bit orange. Highlights lack detail in the yarns and there is a distinct blue bleeding from the dark cup into the white cloth under it. The proportion wheel also lacks detail that the Sony shot captures, and the type is softer and grayer with more of that blue artifacting.
The white Samuel Smith label also bleeds blue into the dark glass and the "Pure Brewed" type shows no detail compared to the Sony shot. The Hellas label does show some detail in the mosaic pattern but it's muted and lower contrast than the Sony shot.
The Multi Target shot looks very sharp in the corners with just a bit of chromatic aberration. Resolution extends to about 1,500 lines. Corners are sharper but resolution slightly less than the W170 Multi Target shot. Both images are 3,648 x 2,736 pixels.
On the street, these test results are repeated in the gallery shot of the fire alarm, which is a bit more orange than it should be, and in the hydrant shot. The hydrant shot does show some blue fringing at the top of the white hydrant but it's actually pretty well contained compared to some cameras I've tested. I'd give it a passing grade on the hydrant shot, in fact.
The most impressive image of the group is the bike glove, a macro shot in white the threads along the edge of the glove can be clearly seen against the dark background. There is good highlight detail in the white threads, as well. The Samsung L210 can shoot macro at 1.82 x 1.37 inches.
But the more distant shots were disappointments, particularly when I had to tap into digital zoom. The zoom range shots have a peculiar paint-by-the-numbers look to them, as if the image processer had worked overtime on them. Note the closest trees in the wide angle shot. It's hard to believe that's noise suppression at ISO 80, but that's what it resembles.
The Samsung L210's High ISO shots, where you do expect noise suppression to kick in, were interesting. The doll shot at ISO 1,600 actually had better color than the ones at ISO 800 and 400. The 1,600 shot had very good detail, too, making it one of the better ISO 1,600 shots I've seen, although the L210 did have trouble finding focus in the dim light.
Another disappointment was the Samsung L210's slow shutter speed shots. I left optical image stabilization on all the time (though you can't tell from the Exif header) but didn't use digital image stabilization (Dual IS mode). But I got blurry shots at 1/4 and 1/8 second (note the stick shift and the measuring tape shots).
So how did the Samsung L210 do overall? Well, not bad (with even some high scores for ISO 1,600 and the hydrant shot) but not quite in the medals thanks to the fringing issue, the noise reduction at low ISO, and poor digital zoom.
Printed results actually redeem the camera quite a bit. We're used to looking at all of these camera images at 100% onscreen, but that's not how most people will look at the images from a camera like the Samsung L210. They'll either look at them online at a very small size, or they'll print them out. The Samsung L210's images are actually quite smooth printed, with very little detectable noise. The sensor produces plenty of noise, make no mistake, but the algorithm in the Samsung L210 smooths and sharpens strategically to make the best printed image it can.
Pixel peepers will not like the Samsung L210's onscreen performance, but those who print will be quite happy with prints up to 11x14 inches in size up to ISO 200. And even ISO 1,600 makes a slightly soft, but usable 4x6; so by that more traditional measurement, the Samsung L210 does very well. Note that while other 10-megapixel point and shoots can manage 13x19-inch prints, they don't come at the low price that the Samsung L210 allows.
Appraisal. The Samsung L210 is a very attractive design with a pleasing LCD menu in a compact package, but I was disappointed with its lack of detail in distant shots and inability to hold the image steady at slow shutter speeds with image stabilization on. Still, the printed results actually do a lot to resurrect the Samsung L210's respectability. If you can get over the slow startup time and odd zoom arrangement, the Samsung L210 makes a decent little bargain digital camera that has one of the smartest recharge methods going: USB.
Samsung L210 Basic Features
- 10.2-megapixel 1/2.33-inch sensor
- 3.00x optical zoom lens (34-102mm eq.)
- 5x digital zoom
- 2.5-inch LCD
- ISO range from 80 to 1,600
- Shutter speeds from 8 to 1/1,500 seconds
- Max Aperture: f/2.8
- SDHC/SD/MMC memory card support
- Custom lithium-ion battery
- Included AC adapter/charger
Samsung L210 Special Features
- 10 Scene modes: Night scene, Children, Landscape, Close-up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, Beach & Snow
- Dual Image Stabilization (both lens-shift optical and digital)
- Photo Help Guide mode
- Manual mode
- SVGA Movie mode (800x592)
- Face Detection
- Self Portrait mode
- Auto Red Eye Fix mode
- 20MB built-in memory
- Voice memo recording
In the Box
The Samsung L210 ships with the following items in the box:
- The Samsung L210 camera
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (SLB-10A)
- Camera strap
- AC Adapter/Charger (SAC-47)
- USB cable (SUC-C3)
- AV cable
- User manual, warranty card
- Software CD
- Large capacity SD/SDHC memory card. These days, 2 to 4GB is a good trade-off between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
Samsung L210 Conclusion
The Samsung L210 is a beautiful little camera with a very nicely designed menu system. It takes very good images at ISO 1,600 and it held highlights pretty well, too. I really liked the combination charger/adapter, which was also quite compact.
In terms of speed, the user experience was at best average, with annoyingly slow startup and shutdown times and a slow prefocus shutter lag. Optical image stabilization didn't seem to help at slow shutter speeds and digital zoom looked like a paint-by-numbers canvas. Still, the lens is of pretty good quality, and the printed images portray the Samsung L210 in a pretty good light: They're smooth, have good color, and detail holds up well to an 11x14-inch enlargement. Not bad for a camera currently selling for under $200.