Samsung says the ST50 is 'ultra slim, ultra clever'. It's slim alright, with a stainless-steel body just 17mm thick, and its 'smart auto' mode does look pretty clever, selecting the right scene mode automatically without you having to lift a finger. But the 3x optical zoom and 12-megapixel sensor are very run-of-the-mill, so can it really be worth the average £180 asking price?
The ST50 is small but weighty. The stainless-steel finish is smart, and it's got a real air of quality about it. It starts up fast, the shutter button is big and easy to find with your finger, and the LCD is good too. The screen might not be big, but it's sharp, bright and the colours are saturated.
If you want to give your brain a rest, you can press the 'smart' button on the top and the camera goes into full auto mode, setting landscape mode, close-up mode, backlight mode or whatever else it thinks necessary, depending on what you're pointing it at. Or, if you want more control, you can press the smart button again to go back to the standard program AE mode. In this mode, you can press the menu button to fiddle with the ISO, white balance, EV compensation, photo style (black and white, sepia and so on) or whatever else you fancy.
Face detection comes as standard, together with smile and blink detection and a beauty-shot mode designed to smooth over those wrinkles. The ST50's movie mode isn't high-definition, but it does offer slightly higher resolution than normal, at 800x592 pixels, and uses the MPEG-4 format for more efficient compression.
Like other super-slim cameras, the ST50 gets knocked over very easily. For safety, you'll need to lay it down flat, not stand it up. You also have to watch where you put your fingers when holding the camera to stop them covering up the flash, and, although this is one of the slimmest cameras around, its lens extends in use, so you have to switch it off every time you want to slide it into your pocket.
The smart auto mode seemed to come up with some odd decisions too, deciding that a pet pooch five feet away was an outdoor landscape, and firing the flash in broad daylight at a scene too far away for the flash to make any difference. The pictures always came out okay, but you have to wonder how much of this is just technical showmanship. It's not really doing anything that the ordinary program AE mode couldn't do just as effectively without all the fuss.
The picture quality is pretty lacklustre too. It's bad enough to be restricted to a 3x zoom (and not even a wideangle zoom), but the lens suffers from barrel distortion at the wideangle end, soft edge detail and deterioration in sharpness at maximum zoom. It's not bad by the standards of compact zoom lenses, but it's not good either. You have to make do with digital image stabilisation too -- no substitute for the optical sort.
The Samsung ST50 is pretty and very slim. But, once you get past all its clever features, it's really rather basic. The zoom range is modest, the image quality is mediocre and, while the styling and build quality are good, you could say the same about a dozen largely indistinguishable rivals.
Edited by Charles Kloet