Samsung NV3 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 11/05/06
The Samsung NV3 combines a 7.2 megapixel CCD sensor with a Samsung SHD-branded 3x optical zoom lens with a fairly standard 38 to 114mm equivalent focal range. To compose shots, the slim NV3 skips any optical viewfinder in favor of its large 2.5 inch LCD display. Images are stored on Secure Digital/MultiMediaCards, or in 16MB of internal memory.
But the Samsung NV3 is more than a camera. It can play movies and MP3 files, too via Samsung's exclusive Digimax Converter software. This desktop application converts MPEG, AVI, MOV, WMV, and ASF files for viewing on the NV3. For music on-the-go, it also plays MP3 and WAV audio files. And it allows you to view subtitles, adjust the screen size, and crop and stretch the image to fit the screen as desired. You can listen to your entertainment using the included ear buds, or on the dual stereo speakers discreetly located on the top panel of the camera. You can even listen to music while taking photos (though you are limited to 3 megapixel images).
When you do take pictures in either a normal 4:3 or 16:9 wide aspect ratio, the Samsung NV3 has 11 Scene modes to master difficult situations without mastering the intricacies of photography.
The Samsung NV3 also includes Advanced Shake Reduction technology with a clever Wise Shot option that gives you the choice of two images, the anti-shake version and a fill-flash version.
The Samsung NV3 also offers a Movie mode, capturing clips at up to 720 x 480 resolution with audio, at a frame rate of up to 30 frames per second using MPEG4 compression, which offers higher quality, and better compression than the Motion JPEG compression used in most cameras.
You can make a USB cable connection between the camera and your computer using the included USB cable or the optional dock. The Samsung NV3 can print directly to any PictBridge compatible printer using its USB cable. Power is supplied by a proprietary Lithium Ion rechargeable battery. List pricing for the Samsung NV3 is set at $349.99.
Samsung NV3 User Report
Intro. I confess, it had me from hello. The Samsung NV3 looks like the love child of a Leica and an iPod nano, educated in all the best schools; and, man, can she dance. I just couldn't get the NV3 out of my mind.
It takes pictures, sure, but it's also an MP3 player. Kind of a no-brainer when you think about it. But Samsung took that a little further, making the Samsung NV3 a Media Player and Text file reader, too. In fact, you can listen to music while shooting 3 megapixel pictures or reading text on the NV3 -- or playing a slide show.
Design. It's a very simple -- and very elegant -- design. The black aluminum shell simply makes a 180 turn at each end, wrapping all around the camera. The silver top and bottom panels are both flat (you can even stand it on its head). And, with the exception of the zoom lever, all the buttons on the Samsung NV3 are round like the lens.
The navigator button was very smooth (and not the cheap four-button device some digicams use) and all the controls were easily reached with my right thumb. The Zoom lever has to be disengaged to change direction, but once you figure that out, it's no big deal.
It has just the right amount of heft to be stable when you press the generous, raised shutter button. But I didn't go far without the wrist strap attached. The Samsung NV3 is easy to grip, but it's still small enough that you want to be careful.
On the right side where the wrist strap attaches, a small cover hides the ear bud outlet. It's smaller than the standard size, so stick with the included buds. The Samsung NV3's volume control is the zoom toggle, and the built-in speakers are decent enough for the suggestion of stereo separation, but only in a very quiet room. Stereo becomes more apparent when holding the NV3 and watching a movie in the PMP mode.
Performance. Most aspects of the Samsung NV3's performance -- whether it was starting up, shutting down, or capturing an image -- were snappy. It didn't leave me waiting very often.
The Zoom was a little less than responsive, however, stepping slowly and methodically through its range rather than zooming smoothly. I'm not a fan of Zoom levers that go up and down, rather than left and right. But that wasn't the problem. If you're zooming in and want to zoom back out to adjust the composition, you have to wait for the Samsung NV3 to stop zooming in before you can change direction. So instead of just switching direction, you move the lever from zoom in to stop, wait a beat, and then move to zoom out. You do the same thing when you move past optical zoom, which is only 3x, into digital zoom, which takes you out to 5x.
Shot-to-shot performance was a little strange. In Single shot mode, the Samsung NV3 isn't snappy, taking 1.78 seconds before it's ready to fire again. That's not a big deal because you usually want to see what you got anyway.But in Continuous mode, it takes an odd little shortcut, speeding things up by not refreshing the LCD between shots. A barely audible "shick-shick" indicates a capture, and it's nothing like the shutter sound you get in Single-shot mode. The Samsung NV3 returns to Single-shot mode after you power it off and back on, always an annoying tendency.
I find Scene modes a little confusing because they never tell you exactly what they are doing for you. "Trust me! Really!" they seem to say. Sure, they work (I tried Macro and Night Scene), but I can do fine without them.
If I'm lazy I just set the camera to Auto and let it do all the work. If I don't like the results, I can slip into Program and use EV compensation to improve things.
The Samsung NV3's flash performance was a pleasant surprise. The tiny flash cycles in about six seconds, average for this class of camera, but can light up a room. And even at close distances, it didn't blow out the scene.
Image quality was mixed bag, though. We did get some great shots. But half the shots were disappointing for one reason or another. Resolution was generally good, especially close up, but tonal range was the weak point, with blown highlights common. And digital zoom seemed more like cellphone shot than a digicam shot. Unfortunately video quality seemed to mimic digital zoom. Take a look at the gallery shots and the Still Life and Multi Target test shots above to see for yourself.
Navigation using the few control buttons and the clear LCD menus was pretty straightforward except for Program mode. For a good while, I was confused why White Balance, ISO, and Color options weren't listed on the LCD menus accessed from the Menu OK button along with Image Size, Quality, Metering, Shooting, Sharpness, Auto Focus, Display, Setup, and MyCam Preferences.
It turns out that in Program mode, pressing the +/- button, which gets you EV compensation, also accesses White Balance and Color control. When you press the button, the NV3's Left and Right keys change the EV setting. But if you press the Up/Down keys, you move from EV to White Balance, ISO, and then Color. The Left/Right keys modify those settings when each mode is set.
Auto White Balance did a good job even under fluorescent lighting, and tungsten lighting was surprisingly excellent; very few cameras perform as well as the Samsung NV3. Specific White Balance settings, including Custom, also did a good job of rendering variously lit scenes naturally.
Shooting. The Samsung NV3 is a very easy camera to shoot with and would make a nice upgrade from a cellphone. It's easy to slip into a pocket, the battery lasts a long time and it can play music, movies, and scroll text, too. It just can't make phone calls.
There are a few features for the more advanced amateur, like those White Balance, ISO, and RGB color settings. And being able to shoot in a 16:9 aspect ratio is a delight, too. But I suspect the advanced amateur isn't going to be very happy with the Samsung NV3's image quality.
One large nuisance was the Rotate feature. It only rotates the image in the LCD display. It doesn't rotate the image file itself. So as soon as you scroll on to the next image, the rotation is lost.
In the Box
The Samsung NV3 ships with the following items in the box:
- Samsung NV3 digicam
- Camera strap
- Software CD
- Rechargeable battery SLB-0837
- AD adapter SAC-45 with USB cable SUC-C2 for proprietary NV3 port
- AV cable
- Larger capacity SD/MMC card. These days, a 512MB or 1GB card is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection.
Samsung has designed a striking digicam that evokes both the retro look of a Leica rangefinder and the modernism of an iPod nano. They've packed the Samsung NV3 with an MP3 player that can playback multimedia and text files, too. And they've put all that fun into an easily navigated menu system that relies on just a few buttons.
The Samsung NV3's image and video quality were a disappointment, though. And the proprietary connector on the bottom of the camera made battery charging and AV playback awkward. Same problem transferring images with the USB cable attached to the connector on the bottom.
In short, the Samsung NV3 is a stunning camera design with only average photographic performance. We wish more cameras were designed with this kind of elegance and style, but until the NV-series can deliver images of the quality suggested by that gorgeous exterior, we'll reserve Dave's Pick status for the cameras with imaging beauty on the inside as well as outside. Still, if you're looking for timeless design in an MP3/multimedia player that isn't an Apple iPod, then the Samsung NV3 might just be for you. After all, an iPod can't actually capture pictures and video, and it doesn't come with built-in speakers. So while the Samsung NV3 doesn't get a Dave's Pick for its average image quality, it is a seriously cool gadget whose design belongs in the Smithsonian.