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Samsung EX2F review

CamerasReviews
7/10
, 23 Nov 2012Reviews
Samsung EX2F review

While most discerning photographers will use a digital SLR as their main camera, sometimes you just don’t want to have to carry around a heavy and cumbersome kit bag full of lenses and accessories. For those times many photographers will turn to an advanced compact camera, designed to provide superior image quality and a wide range of creative control in a portable and convenient package. Most of the main manufacturers have at least one such model in their range; a few weeks ago I reviewed one example, the Nikon Coolpix P7700. This week I’m trying out another; the Samsung EX2F. Compared to most other advanced compacts it’s something of a bargain, available from many retailers for less than £300.

Design and features

Samsung and Panasonic are rivals in many areas of business and industry, so it’s little surprise that their camera lines are also in close competition. The EX range was launched to compete directly with Panasonic’s acclaimed Lumix LX series, and the EX2F has many similarities to the new LX7. Like the Panasonic model, it features an advanced back-illuminated 1/1.7in sensor, but trumps the LX7’s 10.1-megapixel resolution with 12.4-megapixels. The LX7 has a Leica-branded, 3.8x zoom lens (24-90mm equiv.), with optical image stabilisation and a maximum aperture of f1.4-2.3; the EX2F matches this very closely with a Schneider-Kreuznach, 3.3x zoom lens (24-80mm equiv.), with optical image stabilisation and a maximum aperture of f/1.4-2.7.

The two cameras are also closely matched physically. The EX2F measures 112.1 x 62.4 x 45.8mm and weighs 306g including battery and memory card - all within a couple of millimetres and a few grams of the LX7. One feature, however, does distinguish the two cameras; the EX2F has a 3in fully articulated AMOLED VGA monitor with 614,000-dot resolution. It is a superb screen, incredibly sharp with excellent contrast and bright enough to use even in daylight. Like the LX7 and indeed most other compact cameras the EX2F doesn’t have an eyepiece viewfinder.

While Panasonic’s LX series has always been praised for its elegant good looks, the EX2F is never going to win any beauty contests. The design is uncompromisingly practical, with hard right-angled corners, flat surfaces and simple round buttons. It’s a very solidly made camera, with a strong all-metal body, and the pivot for the monitor screen looks very robust.

Despite its industrial looks it’s actually a very pleasant camera to use; the large textured handgrip and rear thumb rest provide secure and comfortable handling, and the controls are chunky but solidly mounted and accessible. It has two main dials on the top for exposure mode and drive mode, while an input wheel on the front of the handgrip and a rotary D-pad bezel allow quick adjustment of exposure settings and manual focusing. The graphical function menu provides quick access to main shooting settings such as ISO, exposure compensation, metering mode and focus mode. One slight puzzle, though, is the manual aperture control, which is calibrated with seemingly arbitrary aperture values rather than the traditional 1/3-stop intervals.

In common with just about every other electronic device on the planet, the EX2F can shoot full HD video, with stereo audio recorded via two built-in microphones on the top panel. Metering modes, white balance, neutral-density filter and smart filters can be used in video mode, as can full optical zoom, which slows down to reduce motor noise. However, it lacks some advanced features such as aperture control or slow motion. The microphones are also very prone to wind noise when shooting outdoors, as is frequently the case.

Like several other current Samsung cameras the EX2F features a number of Smart Wi-Fi functions designed to work with a smartphone or tablet. To use these features you have to download an app from either the Apple App Store or Google Play, install it, and then connect the phone to the camera via the EX2F’s built-in Wi-Fi portal. The Remote Viewfinder app allows you to take full control of the camera from the connected device, with the ability to change exposure settings, zoom in and out and take pictures, which can then be saved to the device.

There are other Wi-Fi features, including remote automatic backup, Microsoft SkyDrive cloud storage, social sharing via automatic upload to Facebook, Picasa, YouTube or Photobucket, and sending photos via email. Some of the features require software to be installed on a host PC via a USB connection from the camera. I did find that my HTC Sensation smartphone would not connect to the camera, but other Android devices linked up instantly. It’s also worth noting that there is no security password needed to connect to the camera, so potentially anyone with a smartphone and the app installed could take control of your camera and download pictures when it’s in Wi-Fi mode.

Performance

The EX2F is aimed at demanding enthusiasts for whom performance is a high priority, and it doesn’t disappoint. From a cold start it can start up, focus and take a picture in approximately two seconds, which is extremely fast for a compact camera. In single-shot super-fine JPEG mode it has a shot-to-shot time of approximately one second, while in Raw+JPEG mode it can maintain approximately one shot every three seconds, both of which are very impressive figures.

Samsung makes a big thing of the EX2F’s low-light shooting ability, so I tried it out at a bonfire party earlier this month. I was certainly impressed with the autofocus system, which focuses quickly and accurately even outdoors at night in near complete darkness. In good light it is even quicker; it’s certainly one of the most effective compact camera contrast-detection AF systems I’ve used.

Another highlight is the continuous shooting mode, or rather modes; the EX2F can shoot at full 12-megapixel resolution at three, five or 10 frames a second, although only for 10 frames, and it then takes as long as nine seconds before it finishes writing them all the memory card.

One question that I cannot fully answer is battery duration. The EX2F is powered by a decent-sized 1,030mAh li-ion rechargeable, but Samsung makes no particular claim for it. I found that on a full charge, a couple of weeks of shooting, playing with the Wi-Fi features and taking about 170 test shots it was down to one bar on the meter. I’d call that fairly average performance; I suspect that if you leave the Wi-Fi off it’ll be good for about 250 shots on a charge.

Image quality

As with all high-end compacts, image quality is the most important criterion. People buy this type of camera as a compact substitute for their DSLR, and they expect to see near-DSLR levels of image quality. Unfortunately, however, this is where the EX2F falls, and falls badly. Compared to its rivals such as the excellent Nikon P7700, and even to older models such as the Panasonic LX3 that I still use as my secondary camera, it just doesn’t hold up.

Unexpectedly, the prime culprit is the lens, which produces major barrel distortion at all focal lengths, as well as corner blurring and some mild blue-green chromatic aberration. Processing in JPEG modes corrects some of the distortion, but it can’t fix the blurring or the CA. The lens is also generally rather soft, even in the middle of the frame. It’s a shame, because the sophisticated sensor should be able to match the results of most of its neighbours.

Another disappointment is high-ISO noise control, especially considering how good many recent cameras have been in this respect. There is visible noise and some colour distortion from 400 ISO upwards, and noise reduction reduces fine detail from 800 ISO. Quality at 6400 ISO is very poor, and the reduced resolution extended 12,800 ISO setting is best avoided. That being said, overall exposure and colour balance remains good even at high settings, so if you don’t mind losing some detail the EX2F would be very good for low-light photography.

In some respects, the EX2F is very good. Dynamic range in raw mode is excellent, colour reproduction is very good in all lighting conditions, and exposure metering is reliably accurate. It’s just a pity that the overall results aren’t a little better.

Verdict

The EX2F is a good example of getting what you pay for. It’s the cheapest of the high-end advanced compacts, and while it does offers some excellent features, good overall performance and outstanding low-light results, it simply can’t match the image quality of its more expensive rivals. Nonetheless, it’s a decent camera, a pleasure to use and full of clever technology.

Here’s the full-frame shot taken at 80 ISO, the lowest setting. As always these test shots are taken using tungsten studio lighting and tungsten pre-set white balance, with +1EV exposure compensation. Download the original file.


f/6, 0.3 sec, 80 ISO. At the lowest ISO setting the picture quality is excellent, with smooth colour gradients and plenty of detail.


f/6, ¼ sec, 100 ISO. Unsurprisingly the results at 100 ISO are almost identical.


f/6, 1/8th sec, 200 ISO. At 200 ISO there are still no real problems, although a hint of colour mottling in the green area suggests problems to come.


f/6, 1/15th sec, 400 ISO. At 400 ISO those problems are more visible; there is distinct colour distortion in the green areas and some loss of shadow detail.


f/6, 1/30th, 800 ISO. At 800 ISO the noise reduction shifts up a gear, unfortunately erasing a lot of fine detail in the process. There are jagged diagonals, blotchy colour and sharpening artefacts plainly visible.


f/6, 1/60th sec, 1600 ISO. At 1600 ISO the noise reduction gets even heavier, further reducing image quality.


f/6, 1/125th sec, 3200 ISO. Many modern cameras can produce good results at 3200 ISO, but here the problems just get worse, with badly blurred detail and blotchy colour.


f/6, 1/180th, 6400 ISO. At the highest full-resolution setting the image quality is very poor, with most fine detail completely lost.


f/6, 1/350th, 12800 ISO. The image size is reduced to 3-megapixel for the top 12800 ISO setting, and image quality drops to webcam levels. Download the original file.

This is my usual detail comparison shot of the carved door of 10 Cathedral Close. It’s converted from raw mode, and you can see the severe lens distortion. That kerb is supposed to be straight. Download the original file.


Compare this shot with the Nikon P7700 that I reviewed a few weeks ago. There’s plenty of fine detail, but the image is a little soft.


Even with the automatic distortion correction in JPEG mode there is still plenty of barrel distortion in this wide-angle shot. Download the original file.


In this centre crop from the above image you can see that the picture just isn’t as sharp as it could be.


The corner of the frame is quite badly blurred, and there is also visible chromatic aberration.


In JPEG mode the dynamic range is good with both shadow and highlight detail, but it’s really no better than most comparable compacts.


Dynamic range in raw mode is excellent, pulling about two stops of shadow and a stop of highlight detail out of the big 30MB raw file.

Colour reproduction is excellent. Despite overcast conditions the colours here are rich and saturated. Download the original file.


The EX2F has superb low light focusing, and the fast lens allows faster shutter speeds. This was shot outdoors at night in early November. Download the original file.


The EX2F’s versatility encourages you to get a bit arty with your snaps. Download the original file.


The articulated monitor means you can get low angle shots like this without having to lie in a puddle. Download the original file.

Manufacturer and model

Samsung EX2F

Image sensor

1/1.7in BSI CMOS

Max. resolution

4,000 x 3,000

Zoom

3.3x optical

Focal length (35mm)

5.2-17.2mm (24-80mm equiv.)

Maximum aperture

f/1.4 – 2.7

Shutter speeds

30 secs – 1/4000th

Auto-Focus

TTL Contrast Detection

Manual focus

Yes

Exposure control

P, A, S, M, Smart Auto

Exposure metering

Multi, Spot, Centre-weighted, Face Detection AE

Image stabilisation

Optical and digital

ISO range

80 – 12,800

LCD monitor

3in AMOLED, 614k dots (VGA)

Viewfinder

N/A

Flash

Wide  0.9m-7.8m , Tele 0.8m-4.1m (ISO Auto)

Drive modes

Single, Pre-capture, 3/5/10fps continuous

Image formats

JPEG, Raw

Video

1080p Full HD, stereo audio

Memory card slot

SD, SDHC, SDXC

Supplied memory

N/A

Battery

1,030mAh Li-ion rechargeable

Ports

HDMI, USB 2.0

Dimensions (W x H x D)

112.1 x 62.4 x 45.8mm

Weight (body only)

309g inc. battery and card

Accessories

Lens cap, neck strap, charger, cables, software disk

Software

iLauncher, Samsung Raw Converter

Warranty

12 months

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