Samsung's NV7 OPS simply confounds us: for a company to clearly have spent a great deal of time working on a novel but quite usable new interface, but implement it in a sluggish camera that produces noisy, overprocessed photos just seems, well, wrong.
Granted, it's rather inexpensive given its specs, which include a 7-megapixel CCD with sensor-shift mechanical image stabilisation, a broad set of semi-manual controls and an f/2.8-4.0, 38mm-270mm, 7x zoom lens.
Visually, the NV7 OPS stands out in a crowd. It juxtaposes an ultracompact-slim body with a bulbous shiny black lens that adds about 45mm to the camera's profile while retracted and another 20mm when extended. The camera, with its all-metal body, feels like a little tank.
It provides a traditional dial for selecting your shooting mode: the NV7's includes automatic, program, ASM (aperture priority/shutter priority/manual), ASR (automatic shake reduction, a high ISO setting mode), Effects, Scene program, movie capture and movie playback.
But the NV7's novelty lies in its setting navigation scheme. Thirteen so-called Smart Buttons -- seven horizontal and six vertical -- line the sides of the 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD, putting any menu option in the crosshairs of a button matrix. This technique, in addition to simply looking cool, allows you to quickly select any shooting setting with no more than two button presses.
As a group, the Smart Buttons function as a slider sensor; you slide your finger up or down the row as you would operate a slider on a touchscreen. This is less effective, as the buttons don't seem sensitive enough. Furthermore, though it's useful for newbies to see the shutter speeds on a scale labelled from Slower to Faster, it would be faster to pick them via the options matrix rather than using the slider. In fact, it can be quite frustrating to use, especially for manual focusing.
The LCD is a bigger problem for manual focus, though, because its relatively low-resolution -- 230,000 pixels is typical for its class, however -- and despite a Bright setting, it tends to wash out in sunlight. Furthermore, you really need to view it straight-on; it has a fairly narrow viewing angle.
Amateurs would be happy with the NV7 OPS' feature set. Though misnamed -- the Optical Picture Stabiliser in fact uses a CCD-shift mechanism -- the image stabilisation seems to work relatively well.
In addition to the manual- and priority-exposure modes, you can tweak performance and exposure with Multi, Spot and Centre metering, exposure bracketing, high- and standard-speed continuous shooting, shutter speeds between 15 and 1/1500 sec and apertures between 2.8 and 7.3, three selectable sharpness levels, and manual and white balance presets plus selectable colour temperatures between 3,300K and 10,000K.
A handful of scene modes -- Night, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Text, Close-up, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, and Beach and Snow -- complete the well-rounded feature set.
The NV7 OPS' performance matches its image quality, delivering acceptable but not great speed for its class. Based on our, it wakes up and shoots in a longish 3.1 seconds, with a respectable shutter lag of 0.5 and 1.0 second in bright and dim light, respectively.