Samsung categorises its S-series cameras as point-and-shoots on its Web site, but with the controls included in these models they have the potential to reach beyond the majority of simple snapshot cameras.
Unfortunately, a not-so-intuitive set of menus and less than stellar image quality keep the 8.1-megapixel Samsung Digimax S800 from reaching its potential.
Measuring 99 by 61 by 28mm and weighing just 170g, the Digimax S800 should fit comfortably 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/5.1 zoom lens extends outward from the camera's front when powered up and retracts when turned off.
The power button, the mode dial and the shutter release reside atop 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's back next to the 61mm (2.4-inch) LCD. The zoom rocker sits about 5mm 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, adjust exposure compensation and access settings such as ISO, white balance and RGB intensity, and 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 standard 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.
Still, 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 Samsung Digimax S800 doesn't offer shutter- or aperture-priority modes, though it includes program and full auto modes as well as ten scene presets. While it doesn't cover quite as many as some of its competitors, this Samsung takes care of all the basic modes, such as portrait, night, landscape and sunset. There's even 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 Digimax S800'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 S800 to automatically bracket exposures, in which case it will shoot three shots in succession: one normally exposed, one at 0.5EV and one at minus 0.5EV. 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.
Perfomance was mixed in our tests. The camera took a quite fast 2.3 seconds to power up and capture its first image, but once it started up, it took 2.4 seconds between shots without flash and 3.3 seconds with the flash turned on. The shutter lag was a speedy 0.6 seconds in high-contrast situations and 1.1 seconds in low-contrast lighting. Continuous shooting was sluggish, capturing 28 VGA-size JPEGs in 30.4 seconds for an average of 0.92 frames per second, and 27 8-megapixel JPEGs in 32.1 seconds for an average of 0.84fps.