Samsung MV800 review

Pros

  • Low price
  • Folding monitor
  • Fun features

Cons

  • Touchscreen
  • Image noise
  • Poor battery life

Although I spend a lot of my time trying out various DSLRs, CSCs and other bits of high-end camera kit, I do also like to take a camera with me when I go out for the evening. Obviously, it would be inappropriate and inconvenient to take a bulky DSLR to a restaurant or nightclub, so for those occasions I, like most other people, usually take a small pocket compact.

Most cameras of this type are designed with exactly this type of use in mind; social snapshot photography. We've all done it, balancing a camera on top of a wine bottle and taking a self-timer shot of a group of friends around a table all saying "cheese!". The main difficulty with this type of shot is that it can take several attempts to get one with everyone in the frame, by which time people's grins are starting to look a little forced and the waiter is probably starting to lose his patience.

Fortunately, Samsung has come to the rescue with the MV800, which features a clever hinged monitor that can flip up and over the top of the camera so that the screen is visible from in front of the camera. That way everyone can instantly see who's in or out of shot, and move or pull silly faces accordingly.

Features

Articulated monitors are nothing new. Many high-spec compacts, super-zooms and DSLRs have had this feature for several years, but this is the first time I can recall seeing one on a camera this small. The MV800 is a true pocket compact, measuring 92.1 x 56.2 x 21.9mm and weighing just 141g including battery and memory card, small and light enough to slip into a shirt pocket or purse. It's not the slimmest camera on the market (that's still the Casio EX-S10) but it's within a few millimetres, which makes the engineering of that folding monitor even more impressive. It's a decent sized monitor too, with a 3in TFT LCD screen and 288,000 dots.

The screen doesn't just fold; it's also touch-sensitive and forms the camera's main control interface. Apart from the on/off and shutter buttons the MV800 has only two other buttons - a "home" button to bring up the main mode menu, and a playback button to review your pictures. The zoom control is a rotary bezel around the shutter button.

I've never been a big fan of touchscreen controls on cameras. They're fine on phones, but on cameras they just make you plaster the screen with even more grubby finger marks than usual. On a camera, the monitor screen is essential to its use, and a dirty screen can make it difficult to take good pictures. Furthermore, I've never found a touchscreen interface that was as quick or as easy to use as a well-designed menu and D-pad, but the smartphone generation expect touchscreen controls so I guess we're stuck with them.

The main mode screen on the MV800 is clearly influenced by smartphone design, with the various shooting modes represented by square icons that look a lot like the app icons on a phone screen, and it even has a choice of wallpaper. Like a smartphone you can swipe through several pages of options, but most of them are fairly frivolous, with things like "magic frames", funny face effects, the apparently now obligatory photo effect filters including miniature photo and retro camera, and a synthesised stereoscopic 3D mode, which of course you'll need a Samsung 3D TV to appreciate. There are more useful options such as background blur, night shot, close-up and an automatic portrait zoom function, as well as themed albums and basic in-camera photo editing in playback mode, but on the whole the MV800 is clearly designed more for entertainment than it is for photography.

Apart from its touchscreen interface and fun features the MV800 is a fairly basic compact camera, sharing most of the components of the lacklustre Samsung ST93, which is available for around £90. It has a 16.1-megapixel sensor, a 5x zoom lens equivalent to 26-130mm, and can shoot 720p video in 20-minute clips, with optical zoom available while recording, although both the zoom motor and the click of the zoom control are audible on the mono soundtrack. It has both optical and digital image stabilisation that appears to work reasonably well, and multi-point, spot or centre-weighted metering. ISO sensitivity ranges from 80 ISO to 3200 ISO, but as we'll see later that's not something to get excited about.

Like a lot of Samsung's line-up, the MV800 is a fairly cheap camera, although the price does vary wildly depending on where you shop. Most of the reputable camera shops seem to be selling it for around £149.99, but I've seen it for as little as £106 and as much as £199.99, so do look around.

Performance

As I mentioned the MV800 shares most of its features with a low-end budget compact, and that goes for the performance as well. It's not really bad though, just...average. It starts up in approximately three seconds, and has a shot-to-shot time of approximately 1.8 seconds, which isn't too bad at all. However, it has no continuous shooting or burst mode, so that's as fast as it'll go.

The autofocus system is also average for the class. It works very well in good light, focusing in about half a second under most circumstances, and in low light it has a good AF assist lamp with a range of about three metres, which is also roughly the effective range of the flash. At longer ranges it does struggle in low light, but that's not really what it was designed for.

One major concern is battery life. The MV800 is powered by a rather small 740mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which has to power that big screen and touch-sensing electronics. Samsung makes no particular claims for the battery duration, but in my testing, which consisted of using it over a couple of weeks to take snapshots, many with flash, and shoot some short video clips, I found it would only take about 120 shots on a full charge, which is pretty disappointing performance .

Image quality

As with the performance, the MV800's image quality is about what you'd expect from a cheap pocket compact. In good light, it can turn in a decent snapshot with accurate exposure and good colour reproduction, which is as much as most people want. However if you look a little more closely you'll notice that the lens quality is very poor. It suffers from a lot of blurring and distortion at wide angle, significant chromatic aberration at the telephoto end, and generally lacks contrast.

Images are also heavily processed, presumably to try and reduce sensor noise and correct some of the lens problems, but the result looks artificial. It's not quite as bad as the Pentax Optio VS20 I looked at a couple of months ago, but it's not got anything to brag about either. It crams its 16.1 megapixels onto a tiny 1/2.3in sensor and, as usual, pays the price with extremely limited dynamic range, poor low-light image quality and major noise problems even at the lowest ISO settings. I suppose one can't expect much better for the price, but there are budget compacts out there that can take decent pictures. The MV800, sadly, isn't one of them.

Verdict

The MV800 is unquestionably a fun camera to use, and at the price it would make a good gift for a teen. The clever fold-up monitor and the range of amusing filters and effects are ideal for those who would otherwise take pictures with their mobile phones, but if you're looking for a camera to take good quality pictures, or to use in difficult conditions then you should really look elsewhere. The poor battery life is a major drawback, and that touchscreen interface really doesn't add anything that a menu and D-pad couldn't do quicker and better.

Here's the full-frame picture at 80 ISO. Download the full-size version. These pictures were all shot using tungsten studio lights and auto white balance, each at a higher ISO sensitivity than the last. The crops were then taken from the full-size original files.

f/4.4, 1/6th sec, 80 ISO. Even at the lowest ISO setting there is slight noise, and the image looks over-sharpened.

f/4.4, 1/8th sec, 100 ISO. Unsurprisingly there's not much difference at 100 ISO.

f/4.4, 1/15th sec, 200 ISO. More noise is visible at 200 ISO, and there's some peculiar banding in the image, particularly in the green areas.

f/4.4, 1/30th sec, 400 ISO. Noise is significantly worse at 400 ISO, and colour saturation is starting to fade. The banding is still visible too.

f/4.4, 1/60th sec, 800 ISO. Image quality is getting very poor at 800 ISO, with lots of noise, poor colour and more of that odd banding.

f/4.4, 1/125th sec, 1600 ISO. At 1600 ISO the image quality is very poor. Green has almost faded completely, there's a lot of noise and very little detail.

f/4.4, 1/250th sec, 3200 ISO. One again we have to ask why manufacturers bother including high ISO settings that are basically unusable.

The MV800's lens is pretty terrible. The optical distortion is corrected digitally, but the left side of the frame is very blurred, as are the corners.

Centre sharpness is actually pretty good, but there is still that oversharpening.

The corner of the frame at wide angle is badly blurred and distorted.

Here's my new standard detail shot, which you will be able to compare with other cameras. It's the 15th century carved door of 10 Cathedral Close, Exeter. Download the full size version.

The 16.1MP sensor records a decent amount of detail in good light, but again it's over-processed and over-sharpened, reducing the overall quality.

Dynamic range is typical of a small overcrowded sensor. There is no detail in either highlight or shadow areas.

In good light the colour reproduction in default mode is very good. Download the full-size version.

In low light conditions without the flash the camera struggles to record any shadow detail, and colours are muted. Download the full-size version.

Outdoor flash range is about three metres, about average for a pocket compact.

The wide angle end of the zoom is equivalent to 26mm. Note the blurring on the left of the frame, and the over-sharpened details. Download the full-size version.

The telephoto end is equivalent to 130mm. Optical quality is better zoomed in, but there is chromatic aberration. Download the full-size version.

Macro focusing in close-up mode is accurate. Download the full-size version.

Manufacturer and model

Samsung MV800

Image sensor

1/2.3in CCD, 16.15 megapixels

Max. resolution

4,608 x 3,456 pixels

Zoom

5x optical, 5x digital

Focal length (35mm)

26-130mm (35mm equiv.)

Maximum aperture

f/3.3 - f/5.9

Shutter speeds

16 - 1/2000sec

Auto-Focus

TTL contrast detection

Manual focus

N/A

Exposure control

Program AE

Exposure metering

Centre Weighted / Multi / Spot / Face Detection

Image stabilisation

Optical and digital

ISO range

80 - 3200

LCD monitor

7.62mm (3.0in) 288,000 dots

Viewfinder

N/A

Flash

Wide: 0.2 - 3.2m, Tele: 0.5 - 1.8m (ISO Auto)

Drive modes

Single shot only

Image formats

JPEG

Video

1,280 x 720, 30fps, 20mins.

Memory card slot

microSD

Supplied memory

Approx. 10MB internal

Battery

740mAh li-ion

Ports

USB 2.0 hi-speed, Mini HDMI

Dimensions (W x H x D)

92.1 x 56.2 x 21.9mm

Weight (body only)

141g inc. battery and card

Accessories

Cables, battery charger

Software

Built-in PC suite

Warranty

12 months