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Samsung’s digital compacts have, in the past, been a mishmash of oddball designs and undistinguished cameras. Strange for a company whose film point-and-shoots have such sharp looks and sharper optics.

This year, Samsung dumped its entire digital lineup, brought in top consultants, and began anew. And the flagship of the new Digimax line, the 4-megapixel V4, is a fine and fun new start.

Equipped with a 3X Schneider zoom, the V4 has almost everything now expected from a digital compact-movie clip (up to the capacity of the card; 32MB=about three minutes), audio clip plus independent voice recording (two hours), image resizing, and a near-dizzying array of shooting modes.

But what about picture quality? The V4 delivered high quality in our lab tests and colorful snaps in field shooting. We liked that the V4 could provide zippy contrast while maintaining good shadow and highlight detail.

It also has lots of real photographer stuff-manual metering, aperture- and shutter-priority auto, a TIFF storage option, and menuless exposure comp. The camera has seven shooting modes, plus three My Set memories that let you custom-tailor settings. Unfortunately, there is no way to maintain the last flash setting.

Another V4 claim to fame is battery versatility, with six power options and the ability to mix and match: a CRV3 lithium pack, two AAs, two rechargeable AAs, a proprietary Li-ion rechargeable, a proprietary rechargeable NiMH AA pack, or an external rechargeable Li-ion pack. Chances are good you can find batteries just about anywhere.

The camera is small (it’s thick but fits in a shirt pocket) and the shutter button and zoomer are well-placed. What a collection of dials and buttons on the back! But they’re logically positioned and easy to operate. Finally, Samsung’s got a contender.

Samsung Digimax V4
Resolution: High (V1110xH1110xD1195)
Color accuracy: Extremely high (Avg. Delta E: 9.70)
Highlight/shadow detail: Very good
Contrast: Normal
Noise: Low at ISO 100, high at ISO 400
Image quality: High
AF speed: Moderate

Vital statistics: 4MP (2272×1704), 3X optical zoom (38-114mm 35mm equivalent) f/2.7-4.9 lens, 4X digital zoom, 1.5-inch LCD screen, SD/MMC card slot, 2 AA cells, optional proprietary Li-ion rechargeable ($99, kit), 3.7×1.9×1.3 inches, 7.3 ounces with card/batteries.
Street price: $400.
In the box: Wrist strap, CRV3 lithium battery, AV and USB cables, 32MB SD card, soft pouch, Digimax Viewer (browser) and MGI PhotoSuite III SE (image editing) software.
For info:; 800-726-7864

Hot! Uses all sorts of batteries. Lots of manual options. Controls can be operated by normal-sized fingers.
Not! No rechargeable battery with the standard kit. Forgets flash settings. Messy menus. No quick-pic delete.

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