Samsung ST50 says it with pictures … and words

Using “feature-rich” as a descriptor for the Samsung ST50 digital camera seems almost like an understatement.

It will take you a long time to familiarize yourself with everything this slim form-factor device can do.

A few of its features you’re hardly ever likely to use, such as AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) – which allows you to take pictures in a series with three different exposures: standard, short and over exposure.

At the other end of the scale are a bunch of functions so simple, even beginners can use them, but that can significantly improve picture quality.

Here I’d include the “Smart mode” feature, which we discuss later in this review.

Sound and substance

Somewhere in between are features that aren’t core to the picture-taking experience but add value to your projects, if you use them well. I’d include the ST50’s “voice memo” capability here.

It allows you to add a 10-second sound byte over a stored still image. With the stored picture on the LCD screen, you go to File Options and Voice Memo and turn the function on.

When the voice memo indicator is displayed on the LCD, the setting is completed. To start the voice recording, press the shutter down, and to stop it press the shutter again.

Seems almost too simplistic – yet in projects involving hundreds of pictures, attaching a voice memo may be a good way to record and recall details about an image you would otherwise forget.

See related story: Digital photography tips and tricks from an expert

What’s in the box

The Samsung ST50 digital camera comes along with a rechargeable battery, the AC adapter/USB cable, an AV cable, a camera strap, and a CD containing the user manual and Samsung Master software, that allows you to use the browser, viewer, image and video editor functions.

The ST50’s slim design (16.6 mm form factor) is a strong point, and one that Samsung promotes – with the tag line “Style slimmed to perfection” printed on the box cover.

I did find this a useful feature, as it allows the camera to be easily carried around, in a shirt pocket, for instance.  

This stainless steel camera comes in four colours – black, red, silver and blue.

The SD/SDHC memory card has to be purchased separately, which I found disappointing. At a price point of $249.99 (at BestBuy.ca), surely a memory card could be thrown in.

The battery and memory card chambers are flush against one another at the bottom of the camera and are accessed by opening a single cover. That’s how Samsung has managed to economize on space.

Navigating the features

While billed as a “point-and-shoot” device, the ST50 has several complex features, and mastering them all — flash modes, self-timer options, face detection, quality and frame rate, focus area, metering and much, much more can take a long time.

But those willing to expend the time and trouble will significantly enhance the quality, variety and richness of their pictures.

Even with something as basic as the flash – the ST50 has a whole lot of more options than your typical digital camera.

For instance, you can choose from “Auto Flash” (which fires automatically if the subject or background is dark) to “Auto and Red Eye Reduction” to “Fill in Flash” (where the flash fires regardless of available light – but its intensity is automatically controlled to suit prevailing conditions).

Another interesting option is “Slow synchro” which when selected lets the flash operate with a slow shutter speed to offer a more balanced exposure.

In poor lighting conditions, the camera shake warning indicator will display on the LCD monitor, and you may want to use a tripod.

To understand what functions are active at any given time it’s useful to turn the camera’s display on by pressing the Display tab on the “5-function button.”

When you do that a bunch of useful information appears on the LCD screen.

For instance, an icon to the corner left of your screen tells you whether you are in picture or video recording mode, so you can shift the mode selection switch, if needed, to the right option.

Other information includes: number of shots available — so you don’t miss those vital pictures, how much battery power is left, and which flash option has been selected.

Timing it right

The self-timer is one of the strongest features of the ST50, and here you have at least four options:

  • The 10-second motion timer – when selected, the picture is taken 10 seconds after you depress the shutter button giving you enough time to join a group picture, for instance.
  • If you’re one of those really quick movers you may want to use the 2-second self-timer instead.
  • A double self-timer option can be selected – and when you do, a picture will be taken after 10 seconds, and a second picture two seconds after the first one. This is useful if you want to try out a different pose or change your facial expression, for instance.
  • Use the Motion Timer if you have some fidgety folk in the group. The camera detects the subject’s movement 6 seconds after pressing the Shutter button, and the picture is taken when the movement has stopped.

While the most obvious aim of all these self-timer options is to get the photographer in the picture as well, they can serve another useful purpose … optimizing picture quality.

For instance, I obtained some fabulous results when using the slow synchro function (where the flash operates with a really slow shutter speed), along with the 10-second timer option. I also used a tripod for these shots.

The longer exposure of a slow synchro shoot-out lets you capture all the nuances of your subject. But the subject has to be very still or you get blurry pictures. What’s more the camera should be held very still too.

Here using a tripod – along with the self-timer – helped me ensure the camera was perfectly still when the picture was taken, and I was satisfied with the results.

Reviewing pics awkward

Reviewing pictures on the ST50 is rather complex and awkward.

You press the “play mode” button – at the back of the camera, adjacent to the LCD screen – to bring up the first picture.

Then you need to press the “5-function button” over the Flash (left) symbol (to view the previous picture) or the Self Timer (right) symbol to move to the next picture.

But the button isn’t well designed, and doesn’t work as it should.

Quite often I had to press a couple of times before the LCD screen displayed the previous or next picture. This lack of touch sensitivity is unusual for a camera at this price range.

Picture quality

The native resolution of the ST50 is 12.6 mega pixels. As mentioned you are likely to get the best results when you manually select and combine the various camera functions yourself.

But for those who don’t have the time, inclination or ability to do that the camera comes with a few functions that dumb down the picture-taking process, while still offering you decent results.

For instance, the ST50 has a Smart mode button that allows users to take acceptable pictures quite easily, without messing around with any of the more complex functions, so even beginners can operate it.

Likewise, instead of changing the White Balance each time to match the outside light conditions, you can choose Auto WB to let the camera automatically select appropriate white balance settings.

The “Beauty Shot” is another one of these user/subject friendly features, enabling you to take flattering pictures that conceal facial imperfections.

Not always “smart”

Using the “Smart mode” saves you the time.

In terms of picture quality, however, I had a varied experience when shooting with this mode turned on.

Outdoor shots all turned out well – sharp, with vivid colours, well defined lines, and a lot of detail.  

Indoors was more of a disappointment, especially when the ambient lighting was low, or the subject moved slightly.

In these conditions I sometimes got washed out, blurry pictures – though Smart Mode was activated.

And though in theory the Flash should automatically fire in low light when Smart Mode is selected this didn’t always happen.  For a high-end 12.2 mega pixel camera, I found some of the indoor shots disappointing.

Bottomline

All in all the Samsung ST50 digital camera is a good buy – but to tap into the potential of this device you need to invest the time and energy to get familiar with its laundry list of features.

Samsung would also do well to throw in the memory card with the device – and redesign the “5-function button” – which is too small and awkward to handle, especially for someone with thicker fingers.

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