Samsung's cameras are starting to look increasingly similar, and while some might say that suggests the company is running out of ideas, I'd argue that it actually points to a design team that's found a winning formula on which to build.
Sit the WB250F beside the Samsung Galaxy Camera and the similarities are obvious, with a white body (also available in blue, grey or red), nigh-on identical lens housing and a gently bulging grip. Even the recently released Samsung NX300 compact interchangeable lens system camera shares some design cues -- albeit on a grander scale -- with this budget, entry-level snapper.
Where they differ, though, is that the WB250F's lower price is reflected in its build quality. It's light and very obviously encased in smooth plastic, but once you look beyond its outward appearance, it still offers plenty of impressive features.
For a start, the screen is touch-sensitive, so you can navigate menus by prods and swipes, and tap to focus (if you don't get on with touch navigation, you can also use the regular hardware buttons to the side of the screen).
It's available online for around £179.
The WB250F has a 14.2-megapixel sensor putting out 4,320x3,240 pixel JPEGs (there's no option for saving raw files at this level) behind an 18x zoom lens equivalent to 24-432mm on a 35mm camera. That's a great range, with the longest end well suited to shooting wildlife, or getting close the action on a sports pitch while you're safely ensconced in the stands.
At wide angle, the maximum aperture is f/3.2, while at full telephoto it's a still respectable f/5.8, so you'll get some decent shallow depths of field at either end of the zoom.
So far, so impressive, but it's been necessary to make some compromises elsewhere. Sensitivity tops out at ISO 3,200, and compensation runs only two stops in either direction, in 1/3EV steps. Moreover, maximum shutter speed is just 1/8 second in auto mode and one second in programme. Switch to full manual and you can push it to 16 seconds, which is better, and should be enough for satisfying night-time cityscape photography, allowing you to stick with lower sensitivities to reduce possible noise in the result.
Controls and layout
There's a fully featured mode dial on the top plate, which is a welcome alternative to the software mode selectors implemented in some rivals. This lets you directly access programme, auto and scene modes without touching the display, but the ASM modes have been clustered onto a single selector position, so you'll still need to pick between them on the screen.
Fortunately the on-screen controls are extremely well thought out and easy to work with. Picking shutter or aperture priority mode presents you with a gauge for each parameter, while in manual they're presented one above the other. You can simply drag them to whichever value you need directly by sliding your finger across them on the screen.
The screen itself is a fairly standard 3 inches (75mm) from corner to corner, and is a regular TFT, so the angle of view is a little sharper than on the AMOLED screens used in some other Samsung cameras. It's not articulated, either, so doesn't fold out from the back of the case.
Finally, as far as the hardware is concerned, it's got Wi-Fi built in, so you can share your images directly, back them up automatically or use your smart phone as a remote viewfinder.
Colour reproduction was good throughout my tests, with the WB250F accurately reproducing a good balance of realistic tones in natural environments. Grass, skies and plants were consistently true to the originals.
It consistently focused in around one second when making small adjustments to the framing, but could approach double that after significant changes to the level of zoom.
At the centre of the frame, the results were well focused, but there was a noticeable fall off towards the corners where the lens has to bend the incoming light to a more extreme degree to focus it on the sensor.
There is also some lack of clarity across the frame where fine detail is concerned, most likely because the photosites are fairly tightly packed onto the 1/2.33in sensor. Areas of complex texture, such as dry grass, were a little fudged, and although they were convincing enough when zoomed out, enlarging the image to 100 per cent revealed that they weren't as clear as it initially appeared.
Minimum focusing distance at wide angle is a fairly chunky 80cm, which extends to 350cm at full zoom. Macro mode, however, cuts it to a more respectable 5cm, at which point it produces a satisfying shallow depth of field with a quick fall off in the level of focus, exactly as you'd want.
Still life test
The still life test is performed with the camera set to full auto so that the camera can make all of its own decisions about focus and exposure.
Under studio lighting, the WB250F exposed the set-up for 1/180 second at f/3.6, which naturally meant that it had a fairly shallow depth of field. Objects close to the lens were therefore softened, but colour reproduction was good.
It stuck with the same aperture setting for the ambient light and flash-lit tests, too. However, while the flash-lit image also saw it stick with a sensitivity of ISO 100, under ambient light it increased it to ISO 240, with no discernible change in the level of grain.
While the results under ambient light had a cooler feel than those shot using the studio lights, the flash-lit result was a little too dark overall. Heavy shadows appeared behind objects in the arrangement and there was a significant difference between the level of illumination of the foreground and background of the image.
The WB250F shoots Full HD video at 1,920x1,080, 30fps, with options for 1,280x720, 640x480 and 320x240 at the same frame rates up to a maximum recording time of 20 minutes per shot.
Colours remain accurate and it copes well with changes in the level of incoming light. It doesn't stumble over shooting towards the sun, and detail is good on the whole.
The soundtrack is a highlight, being clean and extremely clear, with carefully controlled wind noise. The sound does dip slightly when you use the optical zoom, the full 18x range of which remains available when shooting movies. It quickly finds its focus again at the furthest end of the zoom, although there is a slight bounce and softening as it finds the correct position.
You can pick up the WB250F for as little as £179, which is nothing short of a bargain considering its specs -- the long zoom, touchscreen display and built-in Wi-Fi in particular.
Image quality wasn't perfect when examined in close detail, and it might have done better with fewer pixels on the sensor, but for casual photography it's certainly up to the job. Colours are good, and the resolution is high enough that when examined full screen, rather than zoomed, you won't notice the compromises.
If you're looking for a good-quality compact, this easy-to-use all-rounder is a decent option worth adding to the shortlist. If you're pretty sure you're going to be sticking to auto mode, also check out the similarly priced Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ9.