The front of the camera is dominated by the telescoping lens: a 5X optical zoom with a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 35mm to 105mm. Above and to the left of the lens is the small window for the active focus emitter and the flash. On the left is the hand grip, it is a sizeable grip that runs the entire depth of the camera.
The major feature of the back of the camera is the 2.5-inch LCD screen that has 230k pixels. To the left and below the LCD are the buttons that form the smart touch control system. You press the buttons to select options and run your finger over them to control sliders and dials. Below these buttons is the play button that puts the camera into playback mode. On the top right corner is the zoom control that pushes up to zoom in and down to zoom out. This is different than most cameras which often use a left-right motion for zooming.
The left side of the camera has no major functions or features, except for a couple of screws and the lanyard loop. The lanyard loop is a little larger than most cameras, but it didn’t stick into the hand.
**Much like the left side of the camera, the right side has no major features, although, this shot does afford a nice profile of the small protrusion on the front around the lens.
The top of the camera houses the power button that glows a cool-looking blue when the power is on. The mode dial is also present and has settings for Auto, program, Automatic Shake Reduction, Effect, Scene, Movie and Playback.
**On the bottom of the camera is a panel that covers the battery and memory card slots. The battery is held in with a clip. This is a useful feature that ensures the battery won’t fall out if you open the camera upside down by mistake. Above this is the port for the camera dock that wasn’t available for photography at the CES show. To the right is the tripod socket.
Like many current compact cameras, no viewfinder is present on the L73. Composition is done through the LCD screen.
The 2.5-inch LCD screen isn’t the largest we have seen, but with 230k pixels, it is a strong display. It’s impressively clear and sharp, allowing for plenty of detail in both live views and previews. On-screen menus also look clear and sharp. This is important with the Smart Touch menu system since none of the buttons are labeled. The only way to know what the buttons do is through the on-screen labels.
The flash is rather small and located close to the lens. We weren’t able to test the performance of the flash, but Samsung quotes a range of 3.5m (approx 11.4 feet) at the wide zoom setting, and 2.5m (approx 8.2 feet) at the telephoto end. That’s a respectable range, but we’ll have to wait for more testing before we can verify the truth of their claims. The usual selection of flash modes are supported: Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill-in flash, Slow sync and Flash off. A Red-eye Fix mode is also included that uses post-processing to remove the red-eye from images.
The Lens is a Samsung NV lens with a focal length of 5.8mm to 17.4mm. That works out to a 35mm camera equivalent of 35mm to 105mm; this is a common range for a compact camera. It isn’t particularly wide at the open end, but it’s adequate for most group shots. The zoom control is a little unusual. While most zoom controls go left and right to zoom in and out, the L73 has small paddle control that goes up and down. In macro mode, the zoom lens can focus down to 5cm from the front of the lens.
The L73 takes some obvious cues from Samsung’s high end NV cameras, with a similar matte black finish and blue highlights. That’s a good thing, because the design works well. It has a clean, stylish look that would go well with most of your outfits. The case is metal and feels well constructed; it should stand up to the knocks and whacks of everyday life without problems.
At just over 5 ounces and 0.8 inches thick, the L73 is a portable camera that would slide easily into a coat pocket. The lens protrudes very slightly from the front but not enough that it would get caught on anything.
Like most compact cameras, the L73 is a mixed bag. Although the raised grip on the front of the camera provides plenty of grip for the fingers of the right hand, I found that my fingertips sometimes slipped in front of the flash, that is located right next to and above the grip. Although apart from this, the camera handles well and generally feels comfortable in the hand.
Control Button/ Dial Positioning/ Size
The L73 takes a different approach to controls than most. Rather than dedicated buttons for controlling features like focus mode and ISO, it’s all done through the on-screen menu and the Smart Touch system. This does take a bit of getting used to. Instead of using buttons and control dials, you press the buttons to select an option and slide your fingers over the buttons to move sliders and scroll through menus. It’s a different approach to most, but it works well.
In the easy mode, you only get the following options from the on-screen menu:
The program mode provides a wider selection of options:
Ease Of Use
Although it takes some getting used to, the Smart Touch mode works well, providing access to a lot of features quickly without overwhelming the user. This is a camera that would benefit from some practice before shooting anything important, but it works surprisingly well.
The auto mode of the L73 automates most of the features of the camera. In auto mode, the only user-controllable options are the color mode, brightness, the auto focus mode, flash and the image size.
Movie clips can be recorded in a number of resolutions: 800 x 592, 720 x 480, 640 x 480 and 320 x 240. The frame rate ranges from 30 to 15 frames per second, but the two largest resolutions restricts the frame rate to 15 frames per second and 20 frames per second. The files are stored as MPEG-4 files, and the maximum length of the movie clip is only restricted by the amount of storage space. We weren’t able to test the quality of the video or audio that the L73 captured.
Samsung did not supply a figure for the number of frames per second that the L73 can capture, and the pre-production unit we tested couldn’t manage more than a frame a second. However, Samsung was quick to point out that it is a pre-production unit that wasn’t running the final software, so this figure could improve significantly on the final version. Modes for single image, continuous, auto bracketing and motion capture are offered. The latter will take an image when the camera detects motion in the frame. This is useful for capturing nocturnal animals or the midnight phantom cookie eater.
The playback mode is relatively straightforward, offering a single image view, 9-image thumbnail view and a slideshow view. Some basic image editing tools are also offered. Images can be trimmed, resized, rotated or have basic color effects (such as converting to black and white) applied. There are no options for adding music to slideshows or other fancy features, but most people won’t use these, so they are no great loss.
**Custom Image Presets
**A basic, but adequate, selection of scene modes are offered, including the usual suspects: Night, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Close-up, Text, Sunset , Dawn Backlight Fireworks and Beach and Snow are available from the scene setting of the mode dial. The Automatic Shock Reduction mode of the camera bumps up the ISO and shutter speed to try and minimize camera shake, but we weren’t able to test this feature at the CES show. The Wise Shot mode is also an interesting idea and much like Fuji's Available Light and With Flash mode. It takes one photo with ASR enabled, then another with the flash turned on, so you get both options with one press of the shutter. The user can then choose which image they want to keep.
Manual Control Options
The L73 provides some manual controls, but it’s really designed more as a point-and-shoot camera. Users cannot manually select shutter speed or aperture settings.
The auto focus on the L73 seemed reasonably good in our basic tests at the CES show; it quickly found the appropriate focus spots in less than half a second. We weren’t able to test it in very low light or other situations, but it did seem a little reluctant to focus in on some dark objects against dark backgrounds.
*Manual focus is present, but it is not particularly easy to use. You have to navigate through the on-screen menu and use the Smart Touch slider to change the focus point.
**The L73 has a wide ISO range of 50 to 1600, with stops at 100, 200, 400 and 800 on the way, plus a full automatic setting. That’s a good selection for a compact camera since most stop at an ISO setting of 800. We weren’t able to test what effect the higher ISO settings had on noise, but we would expect to see some at the higher settings. We’ll wait until we have a camera in our test lab before we can see how much there is.
The white balance options include the usual full auto mode, plus presets for Daylight, Cloudy, Florescent_H, Florescent_L, Tungsten and a custom preset. The custom preset is an evaluative mode, so you can’t set the white balance value directly.
Basic exposure compensation is provided, from two stops under to two stops over in 1/3 stop steps. In the auto mode, this is simplified to a slider that goes from dark to light.
The usual three metering modes are offered: multi (uses the entire image), spot (uses a small area at the center of the image) and Center Weighted.
The L73 has a wide shutter speed range, from 2 seconds right down to 1/2000 of a second. That’s a good range for a compact camera. We did notice some significant shutter lag, though, and the camera was somewhat slow to start up. But, like the drive mode, this may be explained by the pre-production state of the camera. We’ll have to wait for the final version to find out.
The Samsung NV lens has an aperture range of f2.8 at the widest to 4.9mm at the telephoto end. There is no way to manually set the aperture, though.
**Picture Quality / Size Options
Three levels of image quality are offered: Super fine, Fine and Normal. 6 options for image size are offered: 7-megapixel (3072x2304 pixels), 6-megapixels (3072 by 2048 pixels) 5-megapixels (2592 by 1944 pixels), 3-megapixels (2048 by 1536 pixels) and 1-megapixel. There is also one widescreen option of 5-megapixels at 3072 by 1728 pixels. Picture Effects Mode
**The L73 has a few special effects modes. These include photo frame which adds one of a selection of photo frames to an image. There is also an interesting RGB color effect that allows the user to change colors with sliders for the red, green and blue values. These look like they might produce interesting results, but they are really just gimmicks. More effective results can be produced with inexpensive image editing applications such as Photoshop Elements.
Samsung supplies their Digimax Master software with the camera. It is a basic image editing and cataloging program. This can also scan images taken in the camera’s text mode and try to convert them to raw text.
Jacks, Ports, Plugs
The camera itself doesn’t have any USB or video outputs. Instead, all of these are located in the camera dock that connects to the proprietary socket at the bottom of the camera. This wasn’t available for examination at CES, but Samsung claims it will have a USB 2.0 port, mono audio outputs and a composite video output that can be switched between the NTSC and PAL TV standards.
Direct Print Options
The PictBridge 1.0 standard is supported and allows the camera to connect directly to an appropriately equipped printer. Images can also be flagged for later printing using the DPOF standard. This is all pretty standard stuff.
*The small SLB-0837 battery holds 860 mAh of charge and can be charged in the camera. Samsung didn’t supply any figures for battery life, and we weren’t able to test this at the CES show.
SD Cards and HDSC cards with capacities of up to 4GB are supported. 20MB of memory is also built into the camera, and images can be copied between the two.
Voice recording – Audio clips of up to an hour can be captured through the built-in microphone.
Face Recognition AF & AE - The L73 includes a face recognition feature that gives preference to faces it detects in images, in theory ensuring that they are correctly focused and exposed. Samsung claims it can detect up to 9 faces in an image, but we weren’t able to test this feature beyond a couple of shots that were correctly focused and exposed.
At a MSRP of $299.99, the L73 is at the expensive end of the point and shoot camera range. There are similarly specified cameras like the Pentax Option M20 that are cheaper. However, the L73 provides a good selection of features for the price, and many users will find the excellent design and ease of use worth the extra cash.
**Who It’s For
***Point-and-Shooters* – Those looking for simple shooting will like the full auto mode and clear, bright screen.
Budget Consumers – There are better bargains out there for those who value finance over features.
Gadget Freaks – The Smart Touch control system provides a novel way of controlling the camera. This might appeal to gadget freaks, especially as it bears a resemblance to the flight controls of a Jumbo Jet.
Manual Control Freaks – Avoid this one, those of you who like to set your own shutter speed. The lack of a manual control will leave you frustrated at having a microprocessor making your decisions for you.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists – Although the resolution is reasonable, this camera won’t appeal to the pros. They either need a camera that has full manual control, or one that’s small enough to sneak into exclusive parties to get photos of drunk supermodels. The L73 is neither.
The Samsung L73 has an interesting selection of features, but there are a few missing that we would like to see at the price. There’s no proper image stabilization, and no manual control. Although many users won’t miss the latter, the lack of either electronic or optical image stabilization may be a deal breaker since many models include it (such as the Canon PowerShot SD800IS) costing just a few bucks more. But the L73 will appeal to those who value form as well as function. The Smart Touch system provides an interesting solution to the problem of providing users with the ability to control the camera without overwhelming them with options. We’ll see how the image quality stacks up when we get a finished camera to review
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