Samsung L700 Overview
by Michael R. Tomkins
Review Date: 10/31/2007
The Samsung L700 couples a 7.2-megapixel CCD image sensor to a Samsung NV-branded 3x optical zoom lens that offers a fairly standard 35 to 105mm equivalent focal range. The Samsung L700 forgoes any form of optical viewfinder, with shots instead framed on a large 2.5 inch LCD display that occupies almost three quarters of the camera's rear panel. Images are stored on Secure Digital or MultiMediaCards -- including the newer SDHC or "Secure Digital High Capacity" types -- or in 20MB of internal memory.
Despite its very reasonable price, the Samsung L700 packs in a fair range of features, although it does err on the side of keeping things approachable. Apertures and shutter speeds remain firmly in the camera's control at all times, but a variety of scene modes let photographers exercise some creative control, as do the ability to control variables such as ISO sensitivity (in a range from 50 to 1,600 equivalent), metering type, exposure compensation, and white balance. An RGB adjustment function lets users fine-tune their photos to get the desired look -- enhancing the warmth of a sunset, for example.
A dedicated button on the Samsung L700's rear provides access to several common visual effects such as "Sepia" or "Negative," as well as an unusual "Focus Frame" function which is rather curiously implemented; more on that later. In movie mode, this latter option is replaced by a software image stabilizer. This takes advantage of the vast difference between the Samsung L700's sensor resolution and the VGA-or-below of the final video to reduce the amount of camera shake visible. There's also an auto exposure bracketing function that captures three images with varied exposures in a single press of the Samsung L700's shutter button.
The Samsung L700 also offers a Movie mode, capturing clips at either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixel resolution, with or without audio at the user's preference. Movies are recorded at a frame rate of either 15 or 30 frames per second using MPEG4 compression, potentially offering higher quality and greater compression than the Motion JPEG-type compression used in most digital cameras. As well as the ability to disable audio recording, the Samsung L700 is unusual in that it allows you to pause recording of a clip briefly, then resume recording of the same clip. There's also a movie mode stabilizer that works by cropping the field of view somewhat, allowing the extra area to be used for correction of camera shake in software. This feature is useful to have in that shake is generally even more annoying in movies rather than still images, but does mean that you sacrifice some wide-angle movie capabilities when the function is enabled. Finally, you can also edit movies in-camera with the Samsung L700, to trim out just the sections you want, and can also save a single frame from a movie as a still image (with the same resolution as the original movie had, of course).
As well as the movie mode, the Samsung L700 has a simple voice recording function, allowing you to either tag images with an audio clip, or record a separate clip not connected to any image on the camera. The function is simple and easy to use, but lacks any kind of counter to let you know how much storage space is remaining. A slideshow function offers several different transition effects (or allows you to have the transition chosen randomly), and has several short music clips with which to accompany your photos. These "elevator music"-esque clips aren't completely seamless -- you can easily notice the repetition of each piece of music during the slideshow -- but they do serve to liven up the show somewhat, and can easily be disabled. The Samsung L700 also offers the ability to resize images in-camera to a smaller size (for example, if you want to make a copy of an image to email). A limitation of this function, though, is that the resized images can only be saved to the Samsung L700's internal memory, and only two images can be resized at a time.
You can connect the Samsung L700 directly to your computer using the included USB cable, which also can be used to print directly to any PictBridge compatible printer. An included AV cable allows connection to PAL or NTSC-format video equipment. Power comes courtesy of a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery, with an external charger included in the Samsung L700 product bundle. Battery life is rated at approximately 85 minutes or 170 shots - good for an afternoon's shooting. List pricing for the Samsung L700 is set at US$199.99.
Samsung L700 User Report
by Michael R. Tomkins
Intro. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but that didn't stop the engineers at Samsung from wrapping their entry-level L700 digital camera in a cover that gives a nice first impression. Pick it up and you'll find its all-aluminum body feels reassuringly sturdy in a market segment that's mostly populated by plastic bodies that seem to flex and creak at the lightest touch. The L700, by contrast, feels almost like it might be carved from a solid block of metal, and that gives a feeling of quality that you might not expect at under $200.
Beyond that initial impression though, the Samsung L700 is a bit of a mixed bag. In some areas, it will surprise you with features you might not expect in an entry-level camera. For example, the Samsung L700 has an unusually fine-grained ability to adjust the color balance of images with no less than 25 steps of adjustment each for red, green, and blue channels. Other design choices, like the lack of manual control over variables such as aperture, shutter speed, and focus, seem to pigeonhole the L700 as very much a camera for the snap-shooter or beginner.
Remind yourself of the $200 pricetag, though, and you realize that you still get quite a bit for your money with the Samsung L700. There's seven megapixels of resolution, plenty for sharp 11" x 17" prints, or for smaller prints with some cropping. There's a 3x optical zoom lens: about standard for a camera at this price point. Eleven different scene modes help tailor the camera's setup to specific shooting situations, and the camera's Auto mode is also configured nicely to ensure the best chance of getting a good shot without the need for a PhD in photography. ISO sensitivity stretches from a low of 50 to as high as ISO 1,600 equivalent and can be controlled manually.
An MPEG4 movie mode at VGA resolution lets the Samsung L700 stand in for your camcorder at short notice, and includes a software stabilizer function as well as basic editing and frame-grabbing abilities. There's also a five-mode flash strobe, an auto-exposure bracketing function, macro focusing down to just two inches, USB and video output connectivity, a bundled rechargeable battery, and more. For just under $200 in a camera that will easily fit in a pants pocket or purse, the Samsung L700 is a camera worthy of consideration by the cost-conscious.
Look and feel. The Samsung L700's front panel is simple and clean, offering a home only to the lens, flash, self-timer / AF assist lamp, and microphone. Flip it over, and you'll find the L700's rear panel dominated by the large, bright LCD display. Adjacent to the display are all but two of the buttons that serve to control the L700's various features. Button feel for these is fairly good, with a very definite "click" to each button as it is pressed in. Several of these buttons are quite small, but they're all fairly easy to reach and press with the tip of your thumb. The labeling, though, could definitely use some improvement -- the purpose of buttons with labels like "M" and "E" isn't exactly obvious until you try them (or read the manual).
The remaining controls are located on the top of the Samsung L700. The power button is nicely recessed to prevent accidental bumps, while the shutter button protrudes just slightly to make it easy to find with your fingertip by touch. Again, these buttons both have a good feel to them, with the shutter button offering a very clear difference between a half- and full-click. Also located on the top panel is the L700's six-hole speaker grille. The left side of the camera (as seen from the rear) is essentially featureless, while the right-hand panel holds only a shared USB / AV connector. Protected by a small plastic door that is connected to the camera to prevent accidental loss, this connector is adjacent to a silver trim piece that serves dual purpose as a thumb grip, and the eyelet for an included wrist strap.
Finally, the L700's bottom panel is smooth and featureless save for a tripod socket and battery / media card compartment. The tripod socket is mounted somewhere between the center of the camera body and the optical center of the lens, making the L700 less than ideal for panoramic photography. It is also located so close as to prevent opening the battery / media card door without first removing the camera from a tripod, something to be aware of if you plan on doing much shooting in the studio. The battery / media card door slides to the right to unlock before swinging open via a spring-loaded mechanism. Behind the door are both the SD card and battery slots, the latter featuring a small catch that prevents the battery from accidentally falling out when the compartment door is opened. Both the SD card and battery slots are spring-loaded to assist in removing these items from the camera body.
In all, the Samsung L700 offers a clean, attractive design that is pocket-friendly.
Display/Viewfinder. The sole method of framing or reviewing images, the Samsung L700's 2.5" LCD display has a good refresh rate, making it easy to follow moving subjects. It is also quite bright and colorful, but does wash out fairly easily under direct sunlight. Given that the L700 is nicely designed for single-handed shooting, it is usually fairly simple to shade the display with your free hand though, so it is generally not too difficult to get the shot even in harshly lit conditions. The lack of a histogram display is a shame, but understandable given the target market for the camera. You can display two levels of information on the LCD display: basic or full. Basic mode displays only the number of shots remaining, plus any variables changed since the display mode was last changed or the shutter button was last half-pressed. Full mode shows any changes from the camera's default setup, plus the current date and time, and an indication of the operating mode, zoom position, flash card status, battery life remaining, and the image dimensions and quality currently in use.
In record mode only, there's a useful a power-saving function that can turn the LCD off after 30 seconds of inactivity while leaving the rest of the camera powered up. Touch a button and the display is instantly switched back on, ready for the next shot. Using this function does require that full information is displayed on the LCD however; there's no way to combine the power saving mode with the camera's basic information display. In playback mode, the power saving function is replaced by a further option that lets you disable the information overlay altogether, allowing you to focus solely on the image being reviewed.
Performance. For the most part, the Samsung L700 is a fairly responsive camera, particularly given its affordable nature. Autofocus speed, while it won't necessarily win any awards, was certainly adequate for an entry-level digital camera. At wide angle, autofocusing takes about 0.73 seconds, which is just a little on the slower side of average for the category. Much the same could be said of shutter lag: At 0.157 seconds prefocused, the L700 takes rather longer to fire the shutter than we'd ideally like to see, but the performance is not dissimilar to sub-$200 cameras from many competitors.
Shooting in low-light conditions, the Samsung L700's autofocus becomes rather less consistent, however. As available light is reduced, the L700 often failed to find focus, or popped up the dreaded "Low Light!" warning message. When this happened, the camera was usually fairly close to having found the focus point -- and you can at least still take a photo when the camera refuses to achieve a focus lock -- but still, for a camera with no method of focusing manually I'd have liked to see better AF performance in difficult conditions. Surprisingly the L700's AF assist lamp frequently didn't seem to help much, even when trying to focus on nearby, high-contrast subjects that I would have expected the camera to focus on relatively easily.
The Samsung L700's lens was fairly responsive, but with just eight positions I felt it stepped rather too coarsely through its 35 - 105mm equivalent focal range. Usually, I could still achieve the framing I wanted by taking a few steps forward or backward, but it would be preferable to have a more accurate zoom. The L700's 5x digital zoom cannot be disabled, but if you hold the telephoto button down, the camera does require you to release the button and then press it a second time before the digital zoom kicks in. When the digital zoom is in use, its strength is shown on the LCD display as a red number to the right of the linear display of the zoom position, alerting you to the fact that (as with any digital zoom) the resulting image is likely to be of somewhat reduced image quality.
The L700's built-in flash is probably stronger than its tiny size might suggest, and recharges in a rather slow 8.4 seconds, which can seem like an eternity if you need to do a lot of flash photography. Flash range is about average for an entry-level point and shoot, rated at around ten feet at wide angle, or a little over six feet at telephoto.
Shot-to-shot performance was fairly decent, with the time between large / fine shots in standard mode barely straying from 2.3 seconds. In continuous mode, the L700 captures images at around 1.2-1.3 seconds; however, framing images in this mode can be awkward or impossible if your subject is moving, because the LCD shows only the most recent image taken, rather than returning to a live view between shots. The camera's shutter sound, which can be changed to one of three different choices, is only audible on the first frame. For subsequent frames the L700's continuous mode is silent save for the barely-audible sound of the actual shutter mechanism. When the L700 is powered off and back on, the continuous mode is automatically disabled; that's good for less experienced photographers who might forget what settings they changed, but possibly annoying if you use the mode frequently and power off the camera between bursts of shots.
Image Quality. Here, the Samsung L700 turned in a rather mixed performance. Resolution was good, and the lens quite sharp. Unfortunately, it also exhibited a lot of chromatic aberration, which extends unusually far into the frame. The lens was also prone to flare at wide angle, which tended to emphasise the chromatic aberration, resulting in a broad light fringe around dark objects framed against bright backgrounds. At telephoto the aberrations were less intrusive. A shame really, as distortion was perhaps controlled a little better than average, and the lens proved fairly sharp. White Balance was generally fairly accurate outdoors when set to auto, although I found the results under tungsten and fluorescent lighting to be rather mixed, with a tendency to leave color casts in some images.
Image noise -- and the results of attempts to suppress it -- were also somewhat of an Achilles heel for the L700. Even at lower ISO sensitivities the noise suppression had a tendency to obscure fine detail. As the ISO sensitivity ramps up, so does this tendency, along with overall noise. Nothing new, really. Still, such a performance is about par for the course among cameras at this price point, and most users won't likely notice any problems with prints of photos shot at ISO 400 or below. ISO 800 gets rather rougher, but should still provide decent 4" x 6" prints, with maybe an occasional 5" x 7" possible. At the maximum sensitivity of ISO 1,600, saturation falls and noise can get rather intrusive, although many consumers will probably still find it acceptable for 4 x 6-inch prints.
Battery. The 3.7 volt, 860 mAh battery included with the Samsung L700 is rated as good for about 170 shots or 85 minutes of shooting. In practice, this proves fine for a day trip or an afternoon's shooting, but a second battery would be a wise purchase that could help get you through a surprise photo opportunity, or a longer trip. A separate charger is included with the Samsung L700 -- an extra item to pack when travelling, but useful since it lets you leave one battery charging while you're using the camera with another battery. There are also a couple of nice touches that can save some power. First, in record mode there's an "LCD Save" function as mentioned previously, which allows you to save some energy by having the camera disable its LCD after a few seconds of inactivity. Touch a button, and the LCD image immediately reappears. You can also power the camera on in Playback mode without wasting any power on extending the lens, by pressing the playback button. A somewhat related feature is that if the button is held in, the camera will power on in what Samsung calls Manner Mode, muting all camera sounds -- great for venues like museums where you're conscious that you don't want to distract or annoy anybody around you with beeps or flash.
In use. Navigation is fairly simple for the most part, but given that the target user will most likely have limited photography experience, the user interface could take a little more polishing. Perhaps the most confusing point is that while some options such as metering mode are accessible only through the camera's menu system, others such as White Balance are hidden in a separate menu that's accessed by pressing the +/- button. If you're not familiar with the camera, you might expect this button only to deal with exposure compensation. It would seem to make more sense either to relabel the button, or to move the white balance, ISO sensitivity, and color options into the regular menu system instead. Similarly confusing is the purpose of the "M" and "E" buttons; hardly obvious if you're just looking at the labels. The "M" button switches the camera's operating mode, and can be configured either to switch straight between still and video modes, or to provide a menu from which the various operating modes (including scene modes) can be selected. When accessing the menu system, some items show a highlight of the current value for a specific setting, where others don't offer any indication - another inconsistency that could be off-putting to a beginner.
The "E" button provides access to special effects, including the Samsung L700's unusual "Highlight" mode. This overlays one of four different frames on the display, a rectangle, and several human outlines, either portrait or landscape frames for one person, or a landscape frame for two people. In all cases, the position of the frame can be adjusted onscreen. You then take your shot, framing your subject inside the highlight frame on the LCD. The Samsung L700 then blurs everything outside of the frame, calling attention to the subject -- in theory anyway. In practice, the effect generally just distracts from the photo, because the edge of the frame isn't feathered in any way, leaving a harsh edge between the area inside and outside the frame (which generally means that parts of the background around your subject aren't blurred, and parts of the subject that slipped outside of the frame are. This rather negates the purpose of the function, a shame because all that's needed for it to be an unusual, interesting feature for beginners would be to feather the frame edges so as to provide a subtle graduation between blurred and non-blurred areas of the image.
Shooting. The Samsung L700 is mostly an easy camera to shoot with despite some interface quirks, and offers fairly reasonable image quality unless you do a lot of low-light / high-ISO sensitivity shooting, shoot a lot of high-contrast subjects that highlight its chromatic aberration problems, or shoot many fast-moving subjects. It's pocket friendly, solidly built, and capable of a good afternoon's shooting on a single charge.
I spent an afternoon on foot in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, shooting exclusively with the Samsung L700 for the gallery section of this review. Blessed with a beautifully sunny, cloud-free day, the L700 had all the light it could want, meaning that I could keep the ISO sensitivity low to keep image noise under control. On the flip side, though, harsh sunlight can be a difficult test of a camera's exposure metering. As I walked around, I found that the L700 tended to overexpose images somewhat, frequently calling for me to use somewhere between a half and full stop of negative exposure compensation to keep things in check. That's not entirely unexpected in an entry-level camera though, and easy enough to work around.
I was somewhat surprised to find that even in pretty much ideal conditions, I still had a couple of shots where the L700 had failed to achieve a proper focus lock. Fortunately it was simple enough to confirm this fact on the camera's LCD and retake the photo. On the second attempt, I always managed to get correct focus; but that may not be an option if you've only a fleeting opportunity to capture your subject. In other informal shooting while reviewing the camera, I honestly found this to be the L700's biggest fault. In low light such as you might expect at a birthday party or candle-lit dinner, auto focusing becomes rather less reliable, or the camera simply refuses to focus altogether. Were there a manual focus option this would be less of an issue; honestly, I often felt that I would easily be able to manually focus on my subject if the camera would just let me do so. That's not an option for L700 owners though, and so the only answer is to find another subject at the same distance on which the camera will focus, or switch a light on. While it does have an AF assist light, the L700 doesn't seem to take advantage of this fact very well, frequently refusing to focus on high-contrast subjects just four or five feet from the camera even when using the assist light.
Almost as troublesome was that the Samsung L700's LCD display -- while bright and clear in most conditions -- washes out badly under direct sunlight. Given that there's no alternative method of framing images, this often lead me to shoot one-handed while cupping my other hand near the LCD to shade it from sunlight. Again, easily done, but you can look (and feel) a little bit silly squinting and waving your hand around as you try to see your subject so you can frame the shot how you want it. Couple this problem with a shot you want to take from an unusual angle, shooting above your head, for example, and you often find it easier to just point the camera and fire off a few shots in the hopes that one will be near enough to your desired framing, then switch to playback mode and discard the shots that failed to measure up.
With those provisos, shooting with the Samsung L700 can still be a fairly pleasant experience in the right conditions. A raft of scene modes make it possible to tailor the camera to a specific shooting situation, and negate the need for the photographer to understand subtleties like shutter speeds, apertures and the like. Effects options such as the ability to tweak color in a photo or select presets like Sepia can offer a little fun and artistic control as well. The interface quirks mentioned in this review can be somewhat off-putting initially, but you quickly get used to how the camera works upon reading the manual (or, occasionally, with a little experimentation -- in some parts the manual itself is poorly translated and the meanings intended by its authors can be difficult to fathom). Battery life won't win any awards, but it is easily enough to get the average photographer through an afternoon's shooting. I managed a hair under 150 shots in a period of three hours or so during my downtown Knoxville shoot, before the charge finally ran out and the L700 powered down.
If pricing and simplicity are your main goals in a camera and you don't do a lot of low-light shooting, the Samsung L700 could fit the bill. For quick daytime snapshots that aren't likely to be printed to large sizes, the results are generally quite acceptable. If you're looking to exercise much control over the final look of your images, or image quality is paramount in your decision however, then the Samsung L700 probably isn't the camera for you.
- 7.2 megapixel sensor
- 3x zoom, 35-105mm equivalent
- 2.5-inch LCD
- ISO 50-1,600
- Shutter speed of 15 seconds to 1/2,000
- Maximum aperture of f/2.8
- Uses SD and SDHC cards
- Lithium-ion battery
- 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.8 inches (97 x 57 x 21mm)
- 4.6 ounces (130g)
- Lightweight aluminum construction
- ISO 1,600
- 640 x 480 movie mode captures 30 fps
- MPEG4 movie compression
- Movie Stabilizer function
- Pause during movie recording
- In-camera movie editing
- Special Scene modes, including Night Scene, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, Close-up, Text, and Snow
- PictBridge compatibility
- USB 2.0
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Samsung L700 camera
- Wrist strap
- Proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery and charger
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Software CD
- User manuals and warranty / registration information
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity SD/SDHC/MMC memory card. (These days, 2GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
The Samsung L700 is a reasonably attractive, nicely built and affordable digital camera aimed at the entry level end of the market. Despite some quirks, the design is reasonably user-friendly, and image quality is fair at lower ISO sensitivities. Crank the sensitivity up a bit though, and the resulting images get rather soft and noisy. Add in an autofocus system that fails to achieve focus lock too often in low light, and you won't want to be shooting in those conditions too much. The lens design shows promise in terms of sharpness and has relatively minimal distortion, but needs smaller steps across the zoom range and does suffer from lens flare as well as chromatic aberration unusually far into the center of the image. If you're mostly planning on taking outdoors snapshots in good weather though, then the Samsung L700 could fit the bill as an affordable, pocket-friendly camera for day trips.