We got our hands on this so-called Smart camera for a while at CES. It won't grab many headlines this year—there are much more interesting and useful cameras in Samsung's lineup. But if you happen to care, or at least want to see why the WB850F is worth the extra money, read on for our first impressions.
The WB150F looks like last year's WB750—an oversized point-and-shoot with a small grip and not many defining features. It does come in a few shades, white and red among them, which helps it stand out a bit. It's part metal, so it feels solid, but mostly plastic.
The menu system is typical of a mid-range point-and-shoot: pretty clunky. We know Samsung can do better than this, especially looking at the NX-inspired menu on the WB850F.
The WB150F is designed primarily for easy automatic use. When it's set to Smart Auto mode, it's a simple point and shoot. Program opens up more shooting options, and truly manual aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual exposure modes are available, too. Basically, hands-on control is there for those who want it, but it isn't as nimble as manual shooters need.
The WiFi features seem easy enough to use once they've been set up, but we didn't get a chance to dive into the interface on the showroom floor. It seems like it'll be most effective as a backup system: the photos in the camera will automatically upload themselves to a home PC every night. Uploading on the go is contingent on having WiFi access, and most folks with a mobile data plan will probably just end up using their smartphones to shoot and share, since the sharing process is much more reliable and straightforward.
The design is just about the same as last year's WB750 portable, but a bit too small for comfortable handling. The part-metal construction gives it a nice in-hand heft, though it's mostly plastic.
Shooting modes are almost exactly the same as on the WB850F. There are two auto modes, PASM modes, scene presets, a video mode, and a WiFi menu. The only difference is that there is no GPS mode to fiddle with.
Smart and regular auto modes are very similar. Regular offers control over a few more functions, but either way, it's just a simple, straightforward point-and-shoot affair.
Video tops out at 720p/30fps. Optical zoom is available, though otherwise user control is pretty light.
Samsung has not yet provided specs on burst mode. It's based around a slow CCD sensor, so we don't expect a fast rate—usually around 1 frame per second with this type of chip.
Playback mode is straightforward, but with a WiFi twist. The zoom tilter controls playback zoom and multi-photo grid view. Shots can be tagged for upload or printing, lightly edited, and deleted or protected.
WiFi integration is the feature that really sets it apart from most playback interfaces. We didn't get a chance to test it out ourselves on the showroom floor, but the demonstrations we saw looked promising. Shots can be uploaded instantly to cloud services and social networks. Auto PC Backup is very handy, like a cord-free, no-brain-required upload.
Resolution maxes out at 14.2 megapixels in a 4:3 aspect ratio. A few other sizes are available in that standard ratio as well as a wide format (16:9). No RAW shots here, just JPEG.
A sweep panorama mode is available.
Autofocus and manual focus are both available, but AF is clearly the better choice. A few AF modes are available, including single and continuous, as well as a few framing options and a macro mode. Since there's no command dial, lens ring, or viewfinder, manual focus is very difficult to use, especially on the low-res (though very vibrant) AMOLED screen.
There's no complete spec sheet for the WB150F available yet, and we didn’t note the full range of aperture and shutter speeds available in our time with the camera. The maximum aperture is a middling f/3.2 at the wide angle and f/5.8 at the telephoto setting. Experience tells us that the minimum aperture will be around f/11 or so. There's plenty of user control over the aperture—several stops, rather than just "open" or "closed" like some mid-range compacts. Plenty of shutter options are available, too. Exposure compensation is selectable in increments of 1/3EV to +/-2 stops. Metering is adjustable as well, with spot, multi, and center-weighted options.
The native sensitivity stops at a conservative ISO 1600, which is average for CCD cameras, but can boost to ISO 3200, which experience tells us will be a sloppy, near-unusable mess.
Auto and custom white balance settings are available, as are presets like sunlight, incandescent, and other common options.
The WB150F has optical image stabilization.
Like any travel zoom, the WB150F's centerpiece is an 18x (24-432mm equivalent) Schneider-Kreuznach f/3.2-5.8 branded lens. It appears to be the same lens that was in last year's WB750. It's covered by an automatic lens cap when turned off.
The sensor is a 16-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CCD with 14.2 effective megapixels.
The WB150F includes a 3-inch AMOLED screen. Its vibrant colors and smooth motion are excellent, but the VGA-quality resolution is much lower-res than most consumers are used to these days. In our opinion, it's a fair tradeoff.
The flash is tucked under the shutter release, where wandering fingers tend to block the bulb. There are no official specs about the effective range, but we'll go out on a limb and guess that it's about as ineffective as the flash on last year's WB750.
The WB150F has a single port, which appears to be a proprietary USB connection. There is no HDMI port.
A rechargeable lithium-ion battery powers the WB150F. No word on how many shots it's supposed to take per charge.
The WB150F uses regular SD/SDHC cards—not microSD cards like many other cameras in Samsung's digicam lineup.
Samsung made a big to-do about their new WiFi cameras—any camera with an "F" tagged to the end of the model number. Samsung claims the updated WiFi system is vastly improved over their first-gen implementation. This time around, users will be able to easily sign in at public and password-protected WiFi hotspots, thanks to a proprietary log-in browser. Remote viewfinder with Android phones will be supported (with an iOS version on the way, we’re told). Users can enable Microsoft Sky Drive cloud storage and PC Auto Backup, and all the typical sharing features—Facebook, YouTube, Picasa, and email—are included.
Even as the lesser of Samsung's two new superzooms, the WB150F holds a certain appeal. When the dust settles on the announcement season, we'll bet that at $229, it's the year's cheapest compact with such a long zoom. Then there's the Smart WiFi system, which looks like the most appealing in-camera wireless setup we've seen yet.
On the downside, it's built around a pokey CCD sensor, which means slow shot-to-shot times and glacial burst shooting, no full HD video, and combined with the f/3.2 lens, what will probably turn out to be poor low-light image quality. WiFi still hasn't proven to be a popular feature in cameras so far, either; smartphones get used for snapshots and easy sharing, and dedicated cameras still have a place thanks to huge zooms and much better image quality. It can't hurt to try mixing the two, we guess, but we're skeptical that this feature can prop up an otherwise mediocre camera.
In any case, we'll see how the WB150F does when it hits our labs. We can't say that we expect great image quality, but we love to be surprised. Make your arguments for in-camera WiFi in the comments section, if you dare.
Meet the tester
Liam F McCabe
Managing Editor, News & Features@liamfmccabe
Liam manages features and news coverage for Reviewed.com. Formerly the editor of the DigitalAdvisor network, he's covered cameras, TVs, personal electronics, and (recently) appliances. He's a native Bostonian and has played in metal bands you've never heard of.
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