Camera Test: Samsung L74 Wide

The L74's wide-angle lens, 3-inch touchscreen interface, and unique Tour Guide feature set it apart from competitors, but photographers who demand first-rate image quality will likely be disappointed.

Camera-Test-Samsung-L74-Wide

Camera-Test-Samsung-L74-Wide

The gunmetal grey Samsung L74 Wide (street, $240) is a slim 7.2-megapixel digital camera with a true wide angle 28-101mm f/2.8-5.6 (35 mm equivalent) lens, cool styling, and an easy-to-operate touchscreen interface. Throw in some fun extras and an entertaining (if not always 100% accurate) built-in Tour Guide and you've got the ultimate class-trip camera.

Aimed at the youth market, the L74 Wide's build is solid and stylish. But with a look that's both modern and retro, the camera should appeal to both old school film shooters and the Web-savvy youths. Throw in a true 28mm equivalent wide angle lens and you've got the potential for a serious pocket-sized vacation camera.

About that wide angle lens: it folds back, if not flush, into the body, and it's a Samsung NV optic, not Schneider-Kreuznach optics like some of its siblings. The circular lens bump is a nice design element that extends from the body about as much as the finger grip's vertical rubber strip.

RETRO DESIGN, BUT THOROUGHLY MODERN FEATURES

This is definitely a camera for the gadget-obsessed generation of photographers who have grown up with instant and always available Internet access. The L74 Wide connects to a computer from the same dock interface that can be hooked to a power outlet, allowing you to charge from an outlet or via the USB 2.0 connection (a convention shared by most MP3 players). And like an MP3 player, the Samsung L74 Wide is one of the few digicams we've seen that include a truly usable amount of internal memory -- close to half a gigabyte!

So what does that half a gig get you? For starters, more than nine minutes of VGA-quality video (640x480 pixels at 30 frames per second). On many other digital point-and-shoots, even those costing hundreds of dollars more, the internal memory is only big enough to store about half a minute of video. In other words, if you fill your card and want to keep shooting, you've got room to save a couple hundred photos, not just 10 or 20 like most other competitive cameras out there. This extra internal memory means you don't have to delete in the field. Just remove your card and keep shooting. In our opinion this feature adds a lot to the value of the L74 Wide.

But there is one drawback to this: it's easy to lose track of what you've shot on the internal memory. When you do get around to popping in a CF card, all the internally saved data goes walkabout. It's still in there, but you can't call it up, and it can cause panic.

We found this out after messing around with the camera's internal Tour Guide feature, which describes points of interest in tourist spots all over the world. A problem we encountered was that the feature would always launch but wouldn't consistently dive down to specific locations(e.g.Europe>France>Paris). This little quirk was driving us nuts until we realized that the data must be saved to the hidden-away internal memory. Then it all made sense.

The Tour Guide addition is an interesting development in the point-and-shoot class, but hopefully it's a bit more accurate in Korean than it is in English. That's not to say it isn't useful, but take the info with a grain of salt. For instance, Radio City Music Hall isn't an outdoor amphitheatre, and Saratoga Springs is not a major attraction in New York City but it is a major tourist spot in upstate New York (that'd be one heck of a subway ride!).

The L74 Wide has 12 scene modes, but not nearly as deep a stock of pre-sets as we've seen on many other compacts. This seems a bit of an oversight on a camera that's touted as a vacation camera! There are also "Fun effects" such as cartoon bubbles for making silly snaps wherever on earth you are -- but these work only in Program mode. On the playback side, the camera offers fun little "stickers" and frames that can be put atop images as well as hand-scrawled doodles.

We'll start with the good news. Color accuracy is excellent, and the Samsung L74 Wide controls noise well up to ISO 400. However, resolution isn't the greatest for its megapixel class (Very High/1550 at ISO 80, dropping to Acceptable/1200 at ISO 1600), and there is visible barrel distortion at the 28mm wide angle setting (.54%). At 60mm pincushion distortion is imperceptible (.09%), but it creeps up to slight pincushion distortion at 101mm (.14%)
More than that, though, the camera has a very limited dynamic range, which means that it has a really tough time holding details in shadows and highlights simultaneously. Get ready for bald skies, or muddy shadows, and sometimes even both in the same image. And it can drive you crazy with it, too. One shot will lock onto the sky, giving good blues and puffy clouds and harshly blocked up shadows, but the next will lock onto the shaded areas, giving good exposures here, but totally blowing out the highlights.

That's not the only problem, however. There's a "Self Shot" scene mode, but it doesn't activate Face Detection, and doesn't use flash -- not even for fill, so it might not yield the best results unless the sun is positioned perfectly. Why "Self-Shot" wouldn't incorporate the Face Detection technology makes little sense to us!

The camera has a good burst rate -- 2.0fps for a long, indeterminate amount of time -- but it only makes an electronic "snap" for the first frame. This makes it easy to forget that the camera is still firing away!

Playback, as we've mentioned, has some fun extras, such as doodling, stickers, a canned-music slideshow, composites, cartoon bubbles, silly frames, and a strange "add noise" function. The latter really degrades the image, giving it a cheap cell-phone camera feel, which is nice if that's what you're going for.

On the video side, the L74 Wide will record at 640 x 480 px (VGA) at 30 frames per second, or 800 x 592 (SVGA) at 20 frames per second. Samsung also touts the ability to zoom while recording video. Unfortunately, sound capture is halted during zooming, so the audio just goes totally blank. We'd rather hear a bit of motor noise than nothing at all if a camera is going to allow zoom while recording!

THE BOTTOM LINE

Samsung's got a pretty good thing going in the L74 Wide. They've made a great-looking camera with a cool 3-inch touchscreen interface, a unique Tour Guide feature, and some fun extras that are sure to be a hit with the younger crowd. But more experienced photographers who demand first-rate image quality -- even in a compact pocket camera -- will likely be disappointed with the limited dynamic range and metering issues, the serious wide angle distortion, and a few other cut corners that make the good-looking Samsung L74 Wide more a toy for the tweens than a serious vacation camera.

Samsung-L74-Wide-Notice-the-nice-shadow-detail-he

Samsung-L74-Wide-Notice-the-nice-shadow-detail-he

Notice the nice shadow detail here, but the totally blown out side of the building and sky and even the asphalt? Get used to it. We saw a lot of shots like this from the Samsung L74 Wide.Photo By Jack Howard
Samsung-L74-Wide-There-s-a-lot-of-tourists-in-Tim

Samsung-L74-Wide-There-s-a-lot-of-tourists-in-Tim

There's a lot of tourists in Times Square on this nice summer day, and there's OK shadow detail, but at the expense of totally blown high-midtones and highlights.Photo By Jack Howard
Samsung-L74-Wide-Again-there-s-great-shadow-deta

Samsung-L74-Wide-Again-there-s-great-shadow-deta

Again, there's great shadow detail, as close to 90% of this scene is shaded -- but it doesn't always work out like this. There's usually a broader dynamic range, especially in outdoor, touristy type scenes.Photo By Jack Howard
Samsung-L74-Wide-We-exposure-locked-on-the-clouds

Samsung-L74-Wide-We-exposure-locked-on-the-clouds

We exposure-locked on the clouds, to try to pull them in a bit, but even they are a bit blown out. The shaded area detail is just too muddy.Photo By Jack Howard
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Samsung-L74-Wide-Don-t-get-us-wrong-it-s-not-a

Don't get us wrong -- it's not all bad! Here, in this late afternoon scene, there is great detail in the shadows as a crowd watches this street artist make quick spray-paint paintings.Photo By Jack Howard
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Samsung-L74-Wide-In-scenes-that-don-t-have-a-wide

In scenes that don't have a wide range of EVs, the L74 Wide performs well.Photo By Jack Howard
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Samsung-L74-Wide-Variations-on-a-scene.-Moments-a

Variations on a scene. Moments apart, the L74 Wide metered for the shadows and lost detail in the sky. Next frame meters off the sky, turning everything else to mud.Photo By Jack Howard
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Samsung-L74-Wide-This-was-shot-in-Self-Shot-mode

This was shot in Self-Shot mode. I'm out of focus and overly dark. Neither face detection nor flash work in Self-Shot mode.Photo By Jack Howard
Samsung-L74-Wide-Again-seconds-apart-two-totall

Samsung-L74-Wide-Again-seconds-apart-two-totall

Again, seconds apart, two totally different takes on the scene. Check and double-check challenging exposures!Photo By Jack Howard
Samsung-L74-Wide-Here-s-half-a-photo!-Again-the

Samsung-L74-Wide-Here-s-half-a-photo!-Again-the

Here's half a photo! Again, the L74 Wide struggles with lighting situations that many tourists are likely to encounter.Photo By Jack Howard
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Samsung-L74-Wide-The-Samsung-L74-Wide-does-a-pret

The Samsung L74 Wide does a pretty good job with this scene, but there is no detail whatsoever in the shirt of the person in the foreground. If this was you and your friends outside the Letterman show, you'd probably get similar results!Photo By Jack Howard
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