Just about every camera manufacturer has a point-and-shoot with a zoom lens that’s longer than the 3x you’ll find on entry-level models, but shorter than bulkier and more expensive 10x zoom models. They’re in-betweeners if you will, and Samsung’s PL200 is one. They typically don’t offer anything special in the way of shooting options or speedy performance. Their features, like the PL200′s, are a little better than basic with the main benefit being the extra zoom range in a pocket-friendly body.
They tend to be less than $200, too, which makes them very attractive; the PL200 starts at $180, but can easily be found for much less. The thing is, Samsung didn’t really do much to differentiate this model from its competition, so it ends up looking like just another pocket camera that happens to have a slightly longer lens than smaller, less expensive models. It’s not a bad camera by any means, but not a standout either.
Overall, the photo quality is very good from the Samsung PL200. There isn’t a noticeable shift in quality until ISO 400, where subjects get visibly softer even at smaller sizes. In Smart Auto or if you have the camera set to Auto ISO, the PL200 seems to use ISO 400 as its ceiling, which is good for getting the best possible photo, but bad if you’re shooting indoors or in low light; the PL200 will go with increasingly slower shutter speeds instead of raising the ISO, which means you need steady hands and still subjects to get blur-free photos. ISO 800 is somewhat usable for small prints and Web use, but colors look off. I don’t recommend using ISO 1600 or 3200 as there are just too many problems with color, noise, and noise reduction to make photos worthwhile.
There is some slight barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. There’s no significant distortion when the lens is extended, though. Center sharpness is very good on this Samsung, and it’s consistent from edge to edge, except for maybe the very edges. There is visible softness in the corners that can make subjects look smeary when viewed at larger sizes.
Color is very good: bright, pleasing, and fairly accurate. Smart Auto seems to have punchier color than in Program mode, but that could have more to do with Samsung’s settings for individual scene types. White balance is good, but its presets were better than the auto white balance, and taking a quick manual reading is preferable to either. Exposure is generally correct, though I did occasionally get shots that were overexposed. Clipped highlights are pretty common, too.
Video quality is OK, on par with good DVD video, which is disappointing considering its 720p HD resolution. Panning the camera too quickly or shooting moving subjects will result in a lot of judder, but that is typical for point-and-shoot cameras. Also, the AV output is composite only and requires a proprietary cable that’s not included.
Though the PL200 does offer some extra shooting options beyond basic point-and-shoot use, it’s primarily designed for those who don’t stray from auto modes. The Smart Auto mode automatically chooses the appropriate camera settings based on 16 scene types–everything from Portrait and Landscape to Macro Text and Action. If you want to take some of the guesswork out of the process there are 13 scene-shooting settings, including a Frame Guide option that lets you compose a shot, capture part of the precomposed scene on screen, and then hand the camera off to someone else to take the picture while you get in the shot. Switching to Program adds control over exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, and metering, along with a few other things like face and smile detection and color effects. Although there isn’t full control over shutter speed and aperture, there is a Night mode that lets you set the shutter speed and aperture for long exposures using a tripod (up to 8 seconds).
Also in the Mode menu is Dual IS, which uses the camera’s optical image stabilization along with electronic image stabilization. Most manufacturers make this a menu option, so why Samsung continues to make this a full mode you have to enter is beyond me. The spot could be better filled with a user-selectable scene mode or custom shooting settings.
If you like taking close-ups, the PL200 does pretty well in Macro mode. It’s able to focus as close as 2 inches from a subject. Macro can be entered automatically in Smart Auto mode or set to it in Program mode. And as long as you can keep the ISO low, you’ll get reasonably sharp results with good fine detail. If you like things even sharper, there’s an in-camera slider for bumping it up as well as contrast and saturation.
Lastly, there is a Movie mode capable of recording at resolutions up to 720p HD quality at 30 or 15 frames per second. You can also capture at 320×240-pixel resolution at 60fps. You do get use of the zoom lens while recording, but in completely quiet surroundings you will hear the movement of the lens and autofocus. If it bothers you, there is a menu option to shut off the mic while zooming.
The PL200′s shooting performance didn’t feel particularly fast and, well, it isn’t. It’s not bad, though more or less average for its class. It goes from off to first shot in 1.7 seconds and is up and ready to go again in 2.4 seconds; using the flash adds a second to that wait time. This time gets longer if additional image processing needs to be done, such as in Beauty Shot mode, which adjusts skin tone and fixes blemishes. Shutter lag–the time from pressing the shutter release to capture–is 0.5 second in bright lighting and 0.9 second in dim (though it occasionally felt longer). Trying to capture the shot you want of kids and pets or anything moving might not be easy, mostly because of the shutter lag. But this, again, is average for its class.
The camera does have a continuous shooting option that shoots at 1.4fps for as long as you have your finger on the shutter release. It sets focus and exposure with the first shot, so it’s better for slow or still subjects. There’s a Motion Capture option that shoots up to 30 photos at approximately 5fps, but at VGA resolution; the results are not good, making them of limited use. What is nice is the inclusion of an auto exposure bracketing (AEB) setting that’ll take three shots with different exposures: normal, underexposed, and overexposed.
As for the design of the PL200, it reminds me a lot of Panasonic’s Lumix FH20: slim, simple, and straightforward to use. The Panasonic has the Samsung beat with its lens, which is more versatile, but otherwise the two are fairly similar. On top are the power button, shutter release and zoom control, and a button for quickly switching to Samsung’s scene-recognition Smart Auto mode. This allows you to jump back and forth between it and another shooting mode. For example, it lets you quickly switch from Smart Auto to Program mode just by pushing the button. However, it doesn’t work going from Smart Auto to Movie mode because movies get their own Smart Auto option.
The rest of the controls are pretty self-explanatory right out of the box, though they can be difficult to read, as the buttons on the back are silver with silver markings. The only clearly labeled buttons are for Menu, Mode, and Delete. The 3-inch LCD is nice to find and it gets bright, too, so that shooting in direct sun isn’t much of a problem (though all LCDs can be tough to see in full sun).
On the right side of the body is a small door concealing the only output: a proprietary USB/AV port. The battery and memory card slots are on the bottom, protected by a locking door. Battery life is short, CIPA-rated for 160 shots; using the zoom and shooting video will put dents in that life, so you’ll probably want to invest in a spare battery. Also, the battery is charged in camera with a wall adapter, so you’ll need to buy an external charger if you want to freshen up a battery while you use another.
The Samsung PL200 won’t blow you away with features or shooting performance. That actually goes for much of its competition, too, which offer essentially the same things. The PL200 is a very good choice if you want a simple ultracompact with a long lens and decent photo quality at a reasonable price. The only thing keeping me from a full recommendation is that its lens isn’t as long or as wide as similar models from Panasonic and Kodak.
Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
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