The 12-megapixel Samsung WB600 has the longest, widest zoom range of any compact superzoom. Its 15x zoom goes from a super-wide 24mm right up to 360mm, and you get 720p high-definition movies and manual exposure control too.
You might expect the WB600 to cost a fortune then. But you'd be wrong. Just £210 is all it costs to get a compact camera that will give even a standard superzoom a run for its money.
It just so happens that the WB600 arrived in our testing laboratory at just the same time as Nikon's Coolpix S8000 superzoom with a 10x zoom. The differences between them are striking. You might expect that the WB600's longer zoom range would mean greater compromises in terms of quality, but it's actually the other way round. The WB600's lens is sharper, and produces good detail even at full zoom. It's sharp up to the edges of the frame and doesn't suffer from any significant chromatic aberration.
The WB600 only has 12 megapixels to the S8000's 14.2, but they're put to much better use. It looks like Samsung has cut back on the smoothing software, so there's slightly more noise, but there's also more detail. The WB600's pictures are crisp, clear and natural-looking, which is something of a result for any camera with a high-resolution, 1/2.3-inch sensor.
It's a pleasant camera to use too. The 76mm (3-inch) LCD display is big, bright and clear. A 'Fn' button displays all the major adjustments, like white balance, ISO and so on, in a quick-access menu running down the side of the screen. There's also a good selection of creative photo styles and 'smart filters' to jazz up your pics.
You can get more hands-on with the aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual modes, and you can shoot 720p movies in which (unlike with the S8000) the zoom and autofocus continue to work. The sound quality is rather good too -- except when it cuts out unexpectedly.
Silence is not golden
Actually, the sound cuts aren't unexpected all -- they're a feature rather than a fault. Operational noise can be a problem if you zoom during a movie clip, so Samsung's found a crude but effective solution -- cutting the mic until the zooming stops. But surely it's better to put up with occasional mechanical noise than it is to lose the sound entirely? You can disable this 'zoom mute' function somewhere deep in the set-up menus, but not everyone's going to find it.
In any event, the WB600's movies aren't that sharp, and there's some hefty H.264 compression going on -- now and again it produces some smudging effects. The movies are okay for a stills camera, but they're not one of the WB600's strong points.
There are some sources of minor confusion, too, including the 'smart auto' mode, which draws on a different set of scene modes to those you can select manually. Why? Also, the smile-detection mode should be renamed 'jaw-busting cheesy-grin mode', and the anti-blink mode can't seem to make up its mind whether it needs to take an extra shot or not. But these are just quibbles -- not serious issues.
Compact superzooms are extremely versatile cameras, but they're not always terribly good. The Samsung WB600, however, most certainly is. It's not the slickest-looking camera out there, and its HD movie mode is only so-so, but everything else about it is spot-on. You get a great lens, consistently good image quality and high-end manual controls -- and it's still cheaper than its rivals.
Edited by Charles Kloet