There are currently two main thrusts of digital camera development, both of which are designed to counter the looming threat of multi-megapixel mobile phones. One is the increasing number of impressive digital SLR cameras, such as the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 and the Nikon D80, the other is the ever more stylish selection of slim compact cameras available.
The NV3 is firmly located in the latter camp, but it's not lacking in features. It boasts a very healthy 7 megapixels, which is about all you could really want on this kind of camera, plus the host of natty extras that is often the trademark of Samsung's devices.
There are quite a few slimline cameras out there -- see the entire Casio range, for example -- but this is one of the better looking ones. It has a lot in common with the Fujifilm FinePix Z1, in that it's compact and classy with a touch of retro about it that's thankfully more to do with timeless elegance than any ill-conceived idea of reintroducing Art Nouveau to the digital age.
The NV3 is a very modern device with a touch of old-school quality about it -- something that Samsung has tried in the recent past with the likes of the chunky Digimax L85, but does a better job of it here. The majority of the camera is dressed in smart matte black, with some silver on the bottom and top edges, but it's the curvaceous finish that grabs your attention. There are a couple of areas where you feel Samsung has gone slightly over the top, in particularly the two circles on the top edge which cover the speakers, but apart from that there's little to complain about.
The controls are well laid out, too, with most of the options being selected by a smart dial that sits slap-bang in the centre. The other important controls are located on the back of the device, and include a standard five-way selector switch and a zoom control that needs a vertical movement to move in and out rather than the horizontal system on many compacts.
The 64mm (2.5-inch) screen is impressive, well capable of allowing good framing and playback of images even in direct sunlight. Storage is courtesy of SD cards -- although you don't get one in the box, so you'll need to budget for your card separately. Charging is via Samsung's rather annoying proprietary connection, as is data transfer to your computer or printer.
The whole package is very neat and does a great job of treading the fine line between a compact design and being too small to use, and between solidity and unnecessary weight.
The headline feature here is the 7-megapixel resolution. There may be some new 10-megapixel cameras appearing, but 7 megapixels offers amazing levels of detail and the ability to print your images out extra large. At the same time it is straying into the area where digital noise becomes a problem because of the increased number of pixels on the incredibly small CCD.
The lens is less impressive, at least on paper, as it offers fairly standard 3x optical zoom range, which is fair enough considering the dimensions. It operates smoothly though, and the thumb control is easy to locate and activate. The ASR shake reduction also proves invaluable, and in conjunction with the ability to ramp the ISO up to 1000 -- the equivalent of putting fast film in a film camera -- it allows you to shoot in relatively low light without having to resort to using the flash.
There's the usual horde of scene modes on offer, some of which are useful, some of which will never see the light of day. The night shot and the sunset modes could come in handy if you are away on holiday, although the auto and the program options will be the most popular. The latter enables you to adjust the exposure and change settings such as white balance, so you can be a little more creative with your shots.
Samsung has thrown in some extra features for good measure, including an MP3 player. This may sound excessive, but with a decent sized SD card on board -- such as the 1GB card we reviewed it with -- it's not a bad extra. The more music you have on there, the less room you have for images, but even shooting at the maximum resolution, you'll be hard pushed to shoot more than 512MB of images in a weekend away, so you can fill the rest with music for the journey. You can also play videos on the NV3's LCD, although they need to be converted into a modified XviD MPEG-4 file format.
The NV3 doesn't disappoint on the image front. The high resolution proves itself capable of capturing amazing levels of detail, and the images can happily be blown up considerably larger than the standard 100x150mm (4x6-inch) size and retain the fine detail and the bright natural colours this camera excels at. There's also little in the way of digital noise, although as you up the ISO this becomes more of a problem, especially as the flash is weak and doesn't have much range.
The lens may be small, but it does a great job of avoiding unsightly barrelling or purple fringing that are the bugbears of some smaller cameras. In fact, as a point-and-shoot camera we only have one real problem with the Samsung: the pre-set white balances, which tend towards green. Using the evaluative setting is simple though (just get some white paper in front of the camera and press the shutter release), and produces much improved results. These gripes aside, image quality is first rate, and if you like your photos bright and colourful then you won't be disappointed.
It's the complete package we like -- great images, good build quality, fast reaction times and a price that won't break the bank. It looks like Samsung is finally understands what we want from a digital camera.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield