A few years ago, a pocketable camera loaded with this many features would impossible to find. The Samsung WB850F compact camera boasts a 21X-optical-zoom lens, Wi-Fi sharing capabilities, GPS with in-camera mapping, and a 10-fps burst mode at a 16-megapixel resolution. It's practically a poster child for the latest in-camera tech of 2012. See also: Group test: what's the best compact camera?
The Samsung WB850F is notable because, first and foremost, it's a solid camera. Unlike previous Wi-Fi-enabled cameras, it makes its wireless-sharing capabilities secondary to several other key features: an impressive zoom lens, manual controls, good performance, and forward-thinking controls that give you quick access to most of the camera's settings. That said, the WB850F did have a few shortcomings. See also: Learn to take better photos with an online simulator.
The Samsung WB850F tended to lag (or even freeze up) when I switched between shooting modes, and its stabilization system became less effective at the telephoto end of the zoom--which is precisely where a user needs it most. Normally, it takes good-looking photos that you would want to share wirelessly. But it does have trouble shooting sharp photos at full zoom.
Samsung WB850F: Performance, Image Quality, and Video Quality
In our subjective evaluations of image quality, our panel of judges awarded the Samsung WB850F scores of Good or better in all of our testing categories. The camera's strongest suit is sharpness, where it earned a score of Superior; we noted just a bit of discoloured fringing in the finer details of our target resolution chart.
The Samsung WB850F also performed very well on colour accuracy and lack of distortion, with scores of Very Good in each of those categories. Exposure quality was rated as Good, due to a slightly underexposed image in our still-life test.
The Samsung WB850F didn't do as well in our video-quality tests. Overall, the camera earned a score of Fair for video quality and Very Good for audio quality, but its lower-than-average video score is attributable to its performance in low-light situations. In our bright-light tests, the camera's 1080p footage shot at 30 frames per second looked okay; but footage shot in dimmer conditions looked noticeably noisy and snowy.
The Samsung WB850F's low-light footage did compare favorably with that of many other cameras in its class. Low-light video may be noisy, but you can see what's going on in the clip, and the motion looks smooth.
Strangely, no industry-standard CIPA battery rating is available for the Samsung WB850F. Not surprisingly, the camera battery didn't last too long in my hands-on tests when I used its Wi-Fi and GPS features; it delivered about a day's worth of juice before I had to recharge. Even when I wasn't using Wi-Fi and GPS, the battery indicator dipped from full bars to battery empty in about a day and a half, and I wasn't using it nonstop. From my hands-on tests and my experience with other cameras' battery longevity, I'd put this camera's battery life in our "Fair" range of 160 to 200 shots per charge.
Samsung WB850F: Shooting Modes and Features
Like many of today's other pocket megazooms in the same price range, the Samsung WB850F includes shooting modes that offer a little something for everyone: manual exposure controls, traditional scene modes, newfangled effects filters, and a "Smart" auto mode that automatically detects the correct scene presets to use.
You'll find a lot of choices in the camera's menus, too, but Samsung has done a nice job of keeping confusion and bloat to a minimum. You don't need to scroll through pages of screens in each mode to uncover more pages of arcane options; each mode's selections are limited to a single screen - a welcome touch.
The camera's manual exposure controls are accessed via a single A/S/M selection on the mode dial; once you've selected that mode, you can choose between aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual mode on the ensuing screen. Though it's not a huge deal, that multipurpose manual mode adds a step compared to cameras that have dedicated aperture- and shutter-priority selections on the mode dial.
You can adjust shutter speeds (across a range from 1/2000 second to 16 seconds) and aperture values (a maximum of F2.8 at wide angle or F5.9 at the telephoto end) with the camera's scroll wheel. Pressing the Function button in A/S/M mode yields a wide range of adjustment options, including ISO (100 to 3200), white balance, manual/autofocus, and image size, among others.
In the manual and program auto modes, pressing the Function button brings up a list of creative filters--such as a miniature mode, a cartoon filter, and a paintlike overlay - that you can apply in real time. For shots taken in Auto mode or in one of the scene modes, you can apply the same filters during image playback by pressing the Menu button and selecting 'Smart Filters' from the menu.
The camera's scene modes are fairly basic, with eight options that cover the basics (a long-shutter night mode, a backlight mode, a Beauty Shot mode for portraits, and sunset and dawn modes, among others). Another spot on the mode dial gives you access to creative special effects, such as an HDR mode, a motion-controlled panorama mode, 3D shooting, and several frame modes that let you overlay photos on preset backgrounds or place photos side-by-side.
Despite the many shooting options here, the camera's reaction time sometimes lags a bit when you try to select them. When you switch from mode to mode or save a sequence of burst shots, the WB850F tends to hang for a few seconds. When you select on-screen options within a shooting mode, however, the camera reacts more quickly.
The Samsung WB850F did well in our lab tests, which involve mounting the camera on a tripod in a controlled lighting environment, but I found that the camera had a few shortcomings for handheld shooting. At the telephoto end of the zoom, I had trouble capturing a crisp shot; that's a challenge for any long-zoom camera, but the WB850F seemed more problematic than most. It did a serviceable job in low-light settings, but blur is a factor in the dark, as well.
On a more positive note, the camera's macro performance is well above average. The WB850F has a minumum focus distance that practically lets you touch the lens to a subject--in well-lit situations, at least. When you're shooting in less-than-optimal lighting conditions, the camera's autofocus system has trouble locking in on a subject, but that's true of virtually every camera in its class.