Samsung's attractive, small and cheap ST90 may well appeal to those seeking a fuss-free compact camera. But is this £100 snapper a case of 'buy cheap and pay dear'?
Floats like a butterfly...
The ST90 is unlikely to walk away with any design-innovation awards, but it's certainly a good-looking device. It's only 17mm thick, with width and height measurements similar to those of a credit card. It's also very light, weighing just 105g.
For those who like to stand out in a crowd, there are several bright shades to choose from, namely red, purple and pink. Traditionalists can be reassured that the camera comes in good old black and silver versions, too.
At first glance, the ST90 seems very similar to its cousin, the ST95. The most immediate difference is that the ST90 costs around £30 less. It also has a 14.2-megapixel image sensor, compared to the ST95's 16.1-megapixel chip, and, while you can control the ST95 using a snazzy touchscreen interface, the ST90 comes with a cheaper, non-touch-sensitive screen and traditional buttons for navigation. The display is smaller too, at 2.7 inches, rather than 3 inches.
Individually, none of these compromises seems too crippling but, together, they have the effect of making the ST90 seem significantly less appealing than some of its more feature-filled stablemates, including the ST95 and the Wi-Fi-enabled SH100. Neither of these cost that much more, so it's definitely worth weighing up your options before you buy the ST90.
The movie mode lets you shoot in 720p at 30 frames per second but footage doesn't look much better than that which you can get from an average smart phone. The camera doesn't provide an HDMI socket, either, so you can't watch your footage directly on an HD Ready television.
As with Samsung's other recent cameras, the ST90 only accepts microSD cards. That means you won't be able to use any standard-sized SD cards you already own. You may have to factor the price of a microSD card into the overall cost of your purchase.
...stings like a turnip
The ST90 is unnecessarily complicated to use. The camera's functions are effectively split between three completely separate but similar-looking interfaces. Press the 'mode' button, for example, and you can scroll up or down through the camera's chief shooting options, choosing between smart-auto, program, movie and scene modes. Press the 'menu' button and you'll be faced with a lengthy, multi-page selection of camera settings. Finally, the Fn button overlays a scrollable list of settings over your image preview, but many of the options here are also presented in the menu screens.
The ST90's performance is hit and miss. Colours are certainly bold enough and there's no lack of punch in areas of bright contrast. But, in auto mode, the ST90 has an annoying habit of underexposing or overexposing your shots. We found that several of the test photos we took in bright sunlight turned out oddly murky and dark. On other occasions, images seemed very washed-out and overly bright.
The rather ineffectual digital image stabiliser frequently fails to keep the camera steady, resulting in a higher-than-average number of shots spoiled by blurring. Further blurring is exhibited around the edges of the frame, particularly when you're shooting at the wide (26mm equivalent) end of the 5x optical zoom.
Picture noise is an issue too, even when you're shooting in daylight -- just look at the pinkish dots in the grey areas of the first image above. Indoors at higher ISO settings, noise is even worse, and we wouldn't recommend using the ST90 in low light without relying on the built-in flash.
As a cheaper, simpler alternative to the ST95, we'd expected the Samsung ST90 to have fewer features, but we were surprised at how badly the camera compares to the next model up in terms of image quality. Not only that, but the ST90's confusing interface will probably also put you off using it in anything other than smart-auto mode. If you're seeking an easy-to-use, inexpensive point-and-shoot camera, we recommend looking a little further up Samsung's snapper hierarchy.
Edited by Charles Kloet