Samsung's twin LCD displays, first seen on the ST500 and ST550, have made their way to the company's top point-and-shoot cameras, including the 12.4-megapixel PL150. In addition to a front- and rear-mounted display, the PL150 offers a 5x wide-angle zoom, which makes the £150 asking price seem more than reasonable.
At first glance, you might wonder whether there actually is a front-mounted screen. It only comes to life when you press a button on the top of the camera. Otherwise, it's completely invisible, disguised by the PL150's transparent wrap-around front panel and an all-black surround.
The display quickly proves itself useful for self-portraits, group shots and filming sessions in which you want to speak directly to the camera. All of these things become so much easier when you can see what the camera sees. There's also a 'children' mode that plays an animation of a clown, complete with attention-grabbing sound effects, to distract hyperactive infants for long enough for you to grab a picture.
That's not all the P150 can do. It has an unusually versatile 5x 27-135mm equivalent zoom, optical image stabilisation, automatic scene detection and smart face recognition, which can automatically register the faces you shoot most often and give them priority. Plus it has a blink-detection mode that takes three shots rather than one if the camera thinks your subject's blinked.
The front LCD display comes in useful again in self-timer mode, displaying a visual countdown. There's also a 'jump timer' mode that tells you when to jump for the camera. Okay, maybe there was too much Asti Spumante flowing in Samsung's design department that afternoon, but there's no shortage of ideas here.
Zoom of doom
It's a pity that Samsung couldn't have spent more time on the image quality then. It's the 5x zoom that's the problem and, oddly enough, it's exactly the same issue as that which afflicts the PL80 (we'll have a review of that camera shortly). Is it the same lens? It's hard to say, because the quoted focal lengths are very slightly different, as are the two cameras' sensor sizes. Nevertheless, the PL150's zoom showed just the same loss of quality at full zoom as the PL80's. It's more than just a slight degradation. It's enough to make you think the camera's broken and needs to go back to the shop. But, no, it's the same on both cameras, so that's just how it is.
Otherwise, the PL150's picture quality isn't bad at all for a 12.4-megapixel compact. There's very little distortion or chromatic aberration, and the detail is quite sharp even at the edges of the picture. It's just the PL150's zoom performance that lets it down.
The Samsung PL150's front-mounted LCD display is much more than just a novelty. It's actually very useful when taking photos of yourself, group shots or any other type of informal portrait. The camera itself is also comfortable to handle, pleasant to use and feels well-made. It's just a shame about that zoom.
Edited by Charles Kloet