Usually, a big zoom means a big camera. It's only natural -- the larger a lens, the larger the body you need in which to put the lens. That's why Samsung's L77 surprised us. This slim little £175 camera sports a beefy 7x optical zoom that doesn't even pop out of its body.
At 21mm thick and just 156g with battery and SD card, the L77 is one of Samsung's lightest, most compact digital cameras. Despite its slim design, the L77 takes many design cues from larger cameras like Samsung's and of point-and-shoots.
Like its bigger brothers, the L77 sports an attractive matte black finish, a blocky outline and a slightly protruding, right-handed grip. Unlike the L74 Wide's touchscreen or the NV cameras' Smart Touch touch sensors, the L77 uses a conventional joypad and buttons to navigate its simple interface.
The L77's 38-266mm-equivalent lens stands out as its biggest feature while not actually standing out from the camera itself. While most powerful lenses tend to extend out noticeably from the camera body (the Samsung and come to mind), the L77's lens stays completely inside the camera at all times. Thanks to this internal mechanism, the camera stays nice and slim, even when you're zooming all the way in.
The zoom also works when recording 30 frames per second VGA video with the camera's movie mode, an important feature considering how many cameras with movie modes disable the optical zoom. Unfortunately, the camera doesn't use any sort of optical or mechanical stabilisation system. Instead, the L77 uses Samsung's Electronic Picture Stabilisation to measure camera shake and adjust the image in-camera.
If you want a camera with manual exposure controls, look elsewhere. While you can change basic settings like ISO sensitivity, white balance and exposure compensation, more advanced settings such as shutter speed and aperture are kept out of your reach. On the bright side, the camera does a pretty good job of handling those settings automatically, and its various scene presets can help tweak your shot in certain settings.
After 1.9 seconds from power-on to capturing its first shot, the L77 takes a slow 2.4 seconds between each additional shot, with the flash turned off. That wait increases to 3.1 seconds with the onboard flash turned on. Its shutter lagged a scant half-second with our high-contrast target, and a less respectable 1.6 seconds with our low-contrast target. Burst mode shot four 7-megapixel stills in 3.2 seconds for a rate of 1.3 fps.
Most impressively, the L77's 7x lens suffers from very little distortion. Shots taken at both the wide-angle and telephoto ends of the lens remain clear and accurate in shape and proportion. This is a difficult enough feat in any high-zoom lens, but in a completely internal compact mechanism like the L77's, this is downright impressive.