Samsung calls its S-series cameras point-and-shoots, but these slim snappers offer controls that could help them break away from the usual crop of mindless auto-only cameras. Before you get your hopes up, however, we have to warn you that the Digimax S600's image quality leaves quite a bit to be desired. You'd be better served stepping up to Samsung's Digimax L60, which delivered significantly better image quality and a touch more style, for only a slight increase in price.
Measuring 97mm by 61mm by 25mm and weighing just 136g, the Samsung Digimax S600 fits nicely in a jacket pocket, and its curved grip makes it easy to hold. The sparse, silver-and-grey look won't turn any heads, but isn't ugly either. Its 3x optical, 35mm-to-105mm (35mm equivalent), f/2.8-to-f/4.9 zoom lens extends outwards from the camera front when powered up and retracts when turned off.
The power button, the mode dial and the shutter release reside on top of the camera, while the zoom rocker, a four-way-plus-menu/OK control pad and three other control buttons occupy the right side of the camera back next to the 61mm (2.4-inch) LCD. The zoom rocker sits about 6mm too far to the right for comfort, though the curved indent underneath it provides a perfect spot for your thumb. The three control buttons let you enter play mode and adjust exposure compensation, not to mention access settings such as ISO, white balance and RGB intensity. They also let you access other options, such as colour modes, photoframe overlays, stitch-assist modes and framing guides to help you line up your subjects. This last button is labelled with an 'E' for 'effects', while the exposure compensation button is labelled with plus and minus symbols.
The problem is that most manufacturers place options such as white balance and ISO in the regular menu. Not only that, since the camera defaults to show current settings on the LCD (a good thing), including ISO, it's hard to notice that the exposure compensation button gives you access to adjust this and other settings. Furthermore, when in full manual mode you have to press exposure compensation twice to access these settings -- again, not very intuitive.
We were happy to see a full manual exposure mode. Not many point-and-shoot cameras let you select both aperture and shutter speed. Strangely, the S600 doesn't offer shutter- or aperture-priority modes, though it does include program and full auto modes, as well as ten scene presets. While not as many as some of its competitors, this Samsung covers all the basics, such as portrait, night, landscape and sunset, and even includes one called dawn in case you end up partying all night after shooting that sunset.
Exposure compensation covers a range of plus or minus 2EV in 1/2-stop increments. Most cameras offer 1/3-stop increments for a finer degree of control. Similarly, the S600's manual shutter and aperture adjustments use 1/2-stop steps, though again, that's still more control than most cameras in this price range. If you really want to be safe, you can set the S600 to automatically bracket exposures, in which case it will shoot three shots in succession -- one normally exposed, one at plus 0.5EV and one at minus 0.5 EV. Metering options include multi, which averages readings from throughout the image area with an emphasis on the middle, and spot, which measures only the centre of the image.