So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Samsung WB250F Smart camera
This camera has integrated Wi-Fi that allows you to easily transfer images to a smartphone
- Clear image quality
- Lots of zoom
- Built-in sharing services aren't great
- Menu a little sluggish
- Battery life with Wi-Fi on
Samsung's WB250F can capture clear and vibrant images, and it gives you the bonus feature of Wi-Fi, with which you can transfer pictures from the camera to a smartphone. It has good credentials as a camera, and the Wi-Fi stuff can be useful, even though battery life takes a hit and even though some of the sharing features can be frustrating to use.
Price$ 279.00 (AUD)
Samsung's WB250F is a compact camera with built-in Wi-Fi that's designed to appeal to users who want to share high quality photos while on the go. It's a camera that can capture 14-megapixel images with very good clarity and these images can then be wirelessly transferred to a smartphone or computer, and in turn shared on your favourite sites. But there are rough edges in the implementation of the camera's wireless functions, which can make it somewhat frustrating to use.
Before we describe the wireless features, let's establish how good this camera is at taking pictures. After all, that is its primary function. The sensor is 14 megapixels in size and it's based on back-illuminated CMOS technology. This technology theoretically allows more light to be captured by the sensor than a typical CMOS sensor, and that's because the light has to pass through fewer layers before it is captured, which leads to less light being reflected. The light comes in through an 18x optical zoom lens that has a focal length of 24-432mm, so there is plenty of reach. It has a maximum aperture size of f/3.2 at the widest angle of the lens, and this stops down when you zoom in. The electronic zoom has large steps though (for example, it goes from 7x to 12x in one hit).
You can use this camera effectively for a wide range of photography, from landscape to macros. It has the ability to capture photos at a high quality considering the price you're paying and this means you can easily make large prints of your work (up to A3 at least). With 14 megapixels to play with, there is also plenty of scope for cropping photos and retaining plenty of detail on the screen. You can realistically crop a photo down to about three megapixels and it will still look good.
We used the WB250F primarily in auto mode. It is a compact camera after all, which means that playing with manual settings can be awkward, but you do still get the ability to use a manual or semi-manual mode and take control of the aperture and shutter. But if you have no intention of controlling the camera, then auto is what you'll most likely leave it on, and the good news is that it's fairly decent in this mode. However, we did notice some over-exposure when trying to capture photos with a wide range of light, and the camera did tend to blow out highlights. But when the light was consistent across a scene, the results were pleasing.
Using auto mode, the camera will pump up the ISO speed in dim lighting conditions, but this won't have too much effect on the overall quality of the images that are captured. We observed decent results even at ISO 800, and a lack of definition and some colour degradation was only visible when we scrutinised the photos at large sizes on the screen.
The combination of decent high ISO performance, an f/3.2 maximum aperture and built-in optical image stabilisation means that you can take quite clear photos in less-than-ideal lighting conditions without using the flash or a tripod — to use the flash you have to pop it up manually. We had good results with a shutter speed as slow as 1/8th of a second during our tests, but how good your photos will look at this speed (or even slightly faster) does depend primarily on how still you can hold the camera. A tripod will still be needed for most dimly-lit shots.
A lot of detail can be captured by this compact camera, especially when you use it in macro mode. You can get about 2cm away from your subject when using a wide angle. We took many shots from relatively close distances and found the overall clarity of the pictures to be very good. Importantly, the colours looked good, too, with most pictures coming out looking natural and not overly rich or pale. Basically, if you don't want to play with any settings in order to get good results, this camera should please you. As we mentioned earlier, the only difficulties come when the light in a scene is highly contrasted.
For more sample images, see our image gallery of the Samsung WB250F.
Apart from auto and manual modes, the WB250F comes with a slew of scene modes, too, and it has specific ones such as 'waterfall' and 'silhouette', along with more common ones such as 'landscape' and 'action'. There is also a useful 'panorama' mode that shows the result of your panorama as you pan the camera, as well as a line to indicate how straight your panning motion is. The image quality of the panorama isn't great, but it's still good fun to use.
Video mode is also supported at up to Full HD resolutions, and the quality is crisp and rich when you hold the camera steady while shooting.
Focusing performance was quick for the most part (even in dim lighting conditions), as was shot-to-shot performance (as long as the shutter was fast and the camera didn't have to spend time processing the image). The menu was sluggish though and could stand to be a little more responsive when changing settings in manual mode, for example. There is a touchscreen on the back of the camera that allows you to focus or even take a picture just by tapping on any point on the screen, and it also allows you to change a few settings. It worked well enough in our tests, but there were times when it was sluggish to respond.
The wireless modes that are built in to the WB250F are useful for when you want to upload photos from the camera while you are out and about. The way it works best is to transfer photos from the camera to your smartphone and then upload them from your phone to your favourite site.
This method works by creating a direct wireless connection between the camera and the phone (you'll need to find and connect to the camera as if it were a wireless access point or hotspot — NFC support in the camera would have been good for this), and you'll also need to make sure that you have Samsung's Smart Camera app installed. It's available for Android phones running version 2.3.3 or better. After the initial connection between the phone and the camera, the camera's network details will be remembered so you won't have to select it manually to connect to it again. All you'll have to do for subsequent connections is start the app on your phone and switch the camera to Mobile Link mode (after putting the mode dial on Wi-Fi).
Our favourite way of transferring photos from the camera to our phone (a Galaxy Note II) was using the Wi-Fi Direct mode. There is a button dedicated to this mode on the camera and it also works in conjunction with the Smart Camera app. When the connection between the camera and phone has been made, any time you take a photo it will be beamed automatically to your phone and available to view in your Gallery. It's very convenient. In this mode and in the previous direct connection mode, the photos are transferred to the phone at their native resolution.
If you have Dropbox or a similar service set up to transfer photos from your phone to your Dropbox account automatically, then this is a good way to get photos onto your PC or notebook without using wires or taking the SD card out of the camera.
The camera also has some built-in sharing services, but these are the weak link in the feature-set. The ability to share directly to Twitter, Instagram or Flickr from the phone is missing, and you're only able to upload 1600x1200-pixel versions of your photos to Facebook, Picasa, SkyDrive and email.
To use these services, you have to connect the camera to a wireless network, which can be your home network, a cafe's hotspot, or even your phone if it's in hotspot mode. It can be slow going to upload photos from the camera in this way — even uploading one downscaled photo to SkyDrive took a good few minutes over a fast ADSL2+ Internet connection. The easiest way to share directly off the camera is to use the email function, which only requires you to enter your recipient's email address and select a file to share, rather than entering credentials and authorising apps.
A wireless viewfinder feature is available, too, which is handy to use in situations when you want to capture weird angles, for example, and there is also an Auto Backup app that is supposed to wirelessly transfer photos from the camera to your laptop or desktop. We couldn't get this to work during our tests as the camera could never detect the software running on the laptop.
DLNA is also supported, and we had no problems using this feature to beam pictures to a big-screen TV — on which they looked fantastic. We didn't have a good experience showing video over DLNA though — the Full HD video stalled many times and was basically not enjoyable to watch.
A drawback of all this wireless activity is that the camera's battery can drain very quickly. You'll have to be prudent in the way you use it so that you're not wasting energy on unused wireless connections.
Samsung's WB250F is a good camera in its own right and the added wireless features make it a very interesting product. It's in no way perfect though, and the lack of many built-in sharing services (Twitter, Flickr) is a disappointment, as is the performance of the services that are built in (SkyDrive). The best way to use this camera is with a direct connection to a phone, which makes it much easier to share photos once you've transferred them to your phone's image gallery.
At $279, it's not an expensive camera, especially considering the good image quality that you can get out of it, and we think you'll have fun experimenting with its wireless features. Just keep an eye on that battery life.
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