Cameras

Samsung EX2F Digital Camera Review

Samsung joins the war with a wide-aperture compact of its very own, boasting excellent image quality.

Credit:

Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.

Introduction

What a year this has been for advanced compacts. Canon's dominance in the category has been usurped, as the Sony RX100 redefined what the world can expect from a pocket-sized camera. The rest of the industry kept plugging along as usual, offering noteworthy but predictably safe updates of their existing models, including the Panasonic LX7, Nikon P7700, Olympus XZ-2, and Canon G15, S110, and G1 X (the last of which is a bit of an anomaly, with great test results but little commercial success).

Samsung has likewise re-entered the fray with the EX2F, a substantial upgrade over the EX1, with yet another fast lens. It looks and feels like a Canon G-series model, but adds a swiveling AMOLED monitor and WiFi connectivity (no viewfinder, though).

The EX2F hit stores last week for $499 which, wisely, is a little bit cheaper than Samsung originally announced. It is available in black.

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

• Samsung EX2F digital camera

• lens cap

• neck strap

• lens cap strap

• USB cable

• AC / USB adapter

• Quick Start Guide

• warranty information

• software CD-ROM

Lens & Sensor

The EX2F's lens is a sturdy, Schneider Kreuznach model that extends to only 3.3x optical zoom. Action of the motor is slow and a bit loud. Also note the knurled ring around the base of the barrel is ergonomic only, this is not a manual control ring like the ones found on the S100 or the RX100.

The lens does not have an automatic lens cap, which is pretty inconvenient for a compact, and powering up the camera before removing the cap will cause a jam, necessitating another power cycle.

Samsung went with a 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor for this camera, and like the Canon S100, this is going to be the chief downfall of the EX2F relative to the Sony RX100. Despite a slightly slower lens, the RX100's one-inch sensor creates far more appealing images than a smaller sensor can. For the next generation of compacts to compete, they'll need to start squeezing in bigger chips.

Related content

Display(s)

The absence of a viewfinder is another disappointment, but instead we get a beautiful 3.0-inch AMOLED monitor to work with. The panel has full swiveling capabilities, so it's possible to shoot straight-on from just about any angle. The screen is very bright, with an excellent viewing angle, but--like Samsung's TV's--reflectivity is a problem.

Flash

The flash bulb pops up via a mechanical release on the left side of the top panel. This is sort of an inconvenient spot, since your left pointer finger wants to come to rest on top of it, but we got used to it quickly. The flash is effective out to over 25 feet, making it fairly powerful for a compact camera. Recycle time is average.

Flash Photo

The flash bulb pops up forcefully from the body.

Connectivity

On the right panel, behind a plastic door, you'll find the main connectivity terminals. There's a microUSB port here, as well as a microHDMI output.

The EX2F is also equipped with a hot shoe mount, found on the top panel, which is useful for powering accessories like microphones or supplemental flash.

Battery

The included SLB-10A battery is rated to only 240 shots with this camera, making it a relatively weak performer in this price range. Charging is always accomplished in-camera via USB, either from a computer or using the included wall socket adapter.

Battery Photo

The battery is rated to only 240 shots.

Memory

The EX2F is compatible with SD, SDHC, and fast SDXC memory cards. A tiny amount on internal memory is also available, but only enough for one RAW or maximum quality JPEG image.

Media Photo

The media slot is adjacent to the battery slot.

Image Quality

Overall image quality is just shy of the Sony RX100, with attractive depth of field and very impressive resolution. We're put off by how much of that resolution is faked by software, and dynamic range could use improvement, but the EX2F captures shots worthy of its expensive price tag.

Sharpness

We're calling shenanigans on the EX2F's sharpness.

The vast majority of compact cameras employ edge enhancement to make their shots seem sharper. This is a way of faking performance using software, which manifests itself as black lines and white halos along high-contrast edges, and doesn't represent the true performance of the lens. This is sort of an unfortunate truth when it comes to compact cameras, and we've learned to live with it, as long as overshapening doesn't exceed 5% or so.

But never before have we seen a camera use such overwhelmingly drastic software enhancement. For photo geeks, we recorded the EX2F at as much as a 9% undershoot and 40% overshoot, meaning edges appear almost 50% sharper than they actually are. If you don't care about the numbers, what this means is that all your fine details and clean edges will be surrounded by an unnatural glowing halo that's very bright and extends about five pixels wide.

It's a shame, because we have a feeling the EX2F does have a legitimately sharp lens, just nowhere near the performance suggested by the software. More on how we test sharpness.

Science Section 4 Images

Image Stabilization

The EX2F features optical image stabilization, however the functionality is rather irrelevant, since maximum zoom is only 3.3x and the aperture opens up to F1.4. Still, we left stabilization turned on when we weren't testing, and couldn't detect any drop in image quality.

Color

Color accuracy came in with an uncorrected error value of 2.90, which makes the EX2F an above-average performer, but only by a slim margin. In fact, we've come to expect at least slightly better performance from cameras in this price range, and although you may not notice a difference, this score was a bit disappointing for us. We also detected nearly 10% oversaturation, which is a tad too high. More on how we test color.

Looking over the color spectrum, reds, yellows, and blues seem to be responsible for the most severe inaccuracies. Blue is expected because consumers like bright skies, however those errors and red and yellow will cause human subjects to be rendered slightly unnaturally, and that's a major reason why color accuracy is so important.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Unfortunately, many high-end compacts struggle in this test. Our EX2F scored better than the mighty Sony RX100, as well as the Canon S100. Panasonic's LX7, another F1.4 camera, is the best performer of this group.

White Balance

The EX2F’s handling of white balance is excellent. The automatic algorithm comes up with adequate color temperatures under both daylight and fluorescents, and reacts instantaneously to changing conditions. Incandescent light is typically most challenging source, and while that’s true here, the EX2F is only off by an average of less than 600 Kelvin, which isn’t so bad.

For sticklers, or those that need to use incandescent lighting, performing a custom white balance with the EX2F will always give you better results. Using this method, errors under daylight are reduced to around 60 Kelvin, and both incandescent and fluorescent sources are treated to errors of only 35 Kelvin, which is barely perceptible.

White Balance Options

The easy-to-use white balance interface has only five preset options, but also has an option for direct Kelvin entry. White balance bracketing is possible, but this requires use of both the drive mode dial and the main menu.

Noise Reduction

The EX2F has no user-definable noise reduction settings, so you're stuck with the default profile. This distribution isn't bad, but noise does start off rather high, all the way up at 0.87% image noise at ISO 80. Noise remains flat for awhile though, and artifacting rates don't cross 1.00% until ISO 400. By ISO 800, noise averages 1.21% and becomes visually distracting at this point. More on how we test noise.

Science Section 2 Images_2

ISO Options

ISO sensitivity extends from 80 to 3200 by default, but can be extended to include 6400 and 12800 as well. Note that only ISO 12800 causes a forced drop in resolution.

Dynamic Range

Dynamic range is steady, but narrow. The EX2F's sensor is only ever capable of around 5 stops of "high quality" dynamic range, maxing out at 5.78 stops at ISO 800 (due to noise reduction being ramped up). What's impressive is that this average extends from ISO 80 all the way to 1600. So at least users can expect decent dynamic range at most times, even in tricky lighting that requires extra sensitivity.

D-range drops to 4.46 stops at ISO 3200, and then 3.41 stops at 6400, as the noise reduction algorithm loses its ability to fully compensate for image noise. We did not test the maximum extended setting, equivalent to ISO 12800, for dynamic range. More on how we test dynamic range.

Chromatic Aberration

Our tests recorded rather average chromatic aberration scores, however fringing didn't appear to be a problem in the majority of our sample photos. The EX2F's chromatic aberration will sometimes manifest as very dim blue or orange areas against edges, but these usually occur on the darker side of the edge, so they aren't as noticeable.

Distortion

Radial distortion can be pronounced in shots captured with the EX2F, more so than most competitive cameras. The worst barrel distortion occurs at the widest focal length, where we recorded 1.55%, while the middle of the focal range has only 0.80%. We were surprised to see such a low score from such a modest lens.

Motion

Video clips are free of trailing, however we noticed moderate compression artifacting, as well as a general lack of smoothness that's hard to avoid when shooting 30 frames per second. For the most part, frequency interference is not a problem, and only manifests as small jaggies against moving edges. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video Sharpness

The EX2F's sharpness results are marred by extremely distracting moire patterns that show up every time the camera records fine repeating detail. The effect is highly noticeable, but if you can look past it, you'll find a sharp video camera underneath. The EX2F is capable of resolving 675 lw/ph horizontally and 650 vertically. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Under low light (60 lux), the camera's sharpness performance barely drops off at all, coming in at 650 lw/ph both vertically and horizontally. The reason why this happens is a matter of low light sensitivity....

Low Light Sensitivity

The EX2F is highly sensitive during low light video, and this is clearly by virtue of its wide aperture, which lets in far more light than the average compact camera. In fact, this model requires only 5 lux of ambient illumination to gather 50 IRE of image data, a figure that's on par with some of the best camcorders on the market.

Usability

The EX2F offers much for both the beginner and the enthusiast, including a Smart Auto mode that's actually smart, and deep manual controls for those who want them. We only wish physically handling the camera wasn't so cumbersome.

Automatic Features

We spent most of our time in Program Auto, which unfortunately lacks program shift functionality, however most beginners will stick to Smart Auto, a scene-detecting automatic mode that adjusts camera settings based on your subject. This can be handy since the camera becomes capable of swapping in and out of macro focus mode on its own, but a few unlocked options might be confusing for newbies, such as the neutral density filter. The camera is also incapable of deploying the flash on its own, and will not prompt the user to do so unless they press the appropriate key.

Buttons & Dials

The rear button layout is fairly traditional. There's a combination directional pad / rotating dial, with shortcuts at all four directions and a central "OK" key. This is flanked by four additional shortcut buttons for the main menu, function menu, playback menu, and delete. Above that, you'll find a dedicated video record button, as well as a handy exposure lock button too.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

Many of Samsung's cameras have some of the best picture effects around, including this one. Whether they're appealing on an enthusiast camera is debatable, but they're in there if you want them. Our favorites include Cartoon and Sketch, as well as the ever-popular Magic Frame mode.

Samsung's main menu is a high-contrast, vertical list-based system that is operated chiefly with the directional pad. Settings are divided into three tabs, which can be selected either by navigating over to them or by moving the control dial on the front panel. The lists themselves are quite long, so a much faster option is the quick Function menu, accessed by a button directly beside the main menu button. This is a familiar single-screen interface, which can be used to change the most common shooting options via a combination of the directional pad and front control dial. We like this interface, and found it useful in the field when reaction time was important.

Instruction Manual

The camera ships with a useless Quick Start Guide, and you'll really want to copy a digital version of the full manual from the included CD-ROM. This document still lacks important information, but was at least far more helpful than the printed guide.

Handling

In terms of physically handling the EX2F, we found the front control dial to be at once the camera's best control feature, and its most obnoxious ergonomic feature. This dial is great for choosing options quickly, but it gets in the way of the right middle finger and, since it's so loose, moving or depressing it accidentally happens all the time.

Handling Photo 1

It's difficult to prevent your finger from moving the front dial.

On the rear panel, we get a resting area for the thumb, but while this surface appears rubberized in pictures, it is in fact merely textured, and doesn't have any grip to it. The same is true of the large textured area on the front panel. True this will make the camera easy to slide in or out of a pocket, but the entire body is almost too large for that anyway, and all this adds up to an overall handling experience that is fairly clumsy.

Handling Photo 2

The magnesium alloy body is sturdy but light.

Buttons & Dials

The rear button layout is fairly traditional. There's a combination directional pad / rotating dial, with shortcuts at all four directions and a central "OK" key. This is flanked by four additional shortcut buttons for the main menu, function menu, playback menu, and delete. Above that, you'll find a dedicated video record button, as well as a handy exposure lock button too.

Buttons Photo 1

Full view of all top panel controls, plus the control dial on the front.

On the top panel, the control scheme is nearly identical to the EX1. Two function dials, one for shooting modes and one for drive modes, are within reach of the thumb. The shutter release is shallow, but easy to use.

Most importantly, on the front panel, molded into the right hand grip, is a rotating control dial. It's a bit loose, and does get in the way of your grip to a certain extent. The dial also has a secondary click function, used by pushing the whole dial straight back into the body.

Buttons Photo 2

The rear control panel, including the handy AEL button.

Display(s)

The absence of a viewfinder is another disappointment, but instead we get a beautiful 3.0-inch AMOLED monitor to work with. The panel has full swiveling capabilities, so it's possible to shoot straight-on from just about any angle. The screen is very bright, with an excellent viewing angle, but--like Samsung's TV's--reflectivity is a problem.

Image Stabilization

The EX2F features optical image stabilization, however the functionality is rather irrelevant, since maximum zoom is only 3.3x and the aperture opens up to F1.4. Still, we left stabilization turned on when we weren't testing, and couldn't detect any drop in image quality.

Shooting Modes

The EX2F has a full mode dial, with all four "PASM" settings, as well as dedicated modes for WiFi, picture effects, and video.

Manual Controls

Remember, the knurled area surrounding the lens is not a control ring, like the ones found on the Canon S100 and Sony RX100. Instead, you'll be using the control wheel on the front panel to make similar adjustments.

Recording Options

Nine total resolution options of varying size are available, including choices for 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1 aspect ratios. JPEG compression may be set to Normal, Fine, or Super Fine, and lossless RAW encoding is also available, along with simultaneous capture of RAW plus any JPEG compression level.

Speed and Timing

Continuous shooting gets a position of special prominence on the EX2F, thanks to the manual drive mode dial adjacent to the shutter release. Here you'll find options for self-timer, bracketing, pre-shot burst, and three different levels of continuous burst. The self-timer comes in only two varieties: 10-second and 2-second, while bracketing can be used for either white balance or exposure (+/- 2 stops, 3 shots).

In our timing test, we found performance adhered precisely to Samsung's claim. The highest speed burst clocked in at exactly 10 frames per second, however the buffer does max out after only 10 shots, even at slower settings. RAW burst is unfortunately not supported, again, even at slower speeds.

Features

WiFi just won't go away this year, but we have to admit, this camera's implementation is one of the strongest yet. Other than that, Samsung's internal picture effects are reliably amusing, and some extra video features set the camera apart from its considerable competition.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

Many of Samsung's cameras have some of the best picture effects around, including this one. Whether they're appealing on an enthusiast camera is debatable, but they're in there if you want them. Our favorites include Cartoon and Sketch, as well as the ever-popular Magic Frame mode.

Other Features

WiFi Connectivity

Like many late Samsung cameras, even high-end models, the EX2F supports WiFi connectivity. But this camera did mark an important "first" for us: it's the first time we've got in-camera WiFi working on the first try. Samsung has also included some smart features to make WiFi a little less painful, such as memory for access key settings, etc. We're still not sold on this year's WiFi craze, but the EX2F seems to have one of the market's best implementations so far.

Recording Options

The EX2F is capable of recording videos in 1080p, 720p, 480p, and 240p for online sharing, each at 30 frames per second. All videos are encoded in H.264. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

Most settings available for still photography are also unlocked for videos, and this does include extras like Smart Filter effects and control of the neutral density filter.

Auto Controls

At default settings, most features will react automatically, so the camera will adapt to changing light, color temperature, and focus distance, even while a recording is in progress. There's even an option for Smart Scene Detection, which will cause the camera to react to your subject, just like it does for stills using Smart Auto mode.

Zoom

Zoom control is unlocked while a recording is in progress, but like many cameras, the speed of the motor is reduced to cut down on mechanical noise. We rarely found ourselves using zoom anyway, since the lens is capable of only 3.3x, so this isn't a problem.

Focus

The EX2F is not only capable of specifying single or continuous autofocus during video, but this option can be toggled while a recording is in progress. Simply press down on the directional pad, and the camera will swap between the two instantly.

Exposure Controls

Adjustment of exposure during video is limited to exposure compensation, however the Function menu is not available while a recording is in progress, so you'll need to specify your desired EV before starting a clip.

Other Controls

The EX2F has a unique "pause" option during video capture. It stops the recording but doesn't trigger the write to memory, so you can instantly unpause and your clip will contain a jump-cut at that moment.

Audio Features

Two stereo microphones reside at the top of the EX2F. In the absence of a wind cut feature or levels display, the only available audio setting is Samsung's "Sound Alive," a digital enhancement.

Conclusion

When Sony introduced the Cyber-shot RX100 earlier this year, it was so far ahead of the competition that much of the existing market was instantly invalidated. It was, and still is, the high-end compact for discerning photographers who need portability, and any new review necessitates a comparison. We do think there's space for the EX2F and the RX100 to coexist in the same market, but only a little.

Speaking purely of image quality, and at least until we test Canon's G15, we'd place the EX2F directly behind the RX100 and directly in front of Pansonic's LX7. While the LX7 and the EX2F share an f/1.4 lens, images captured with the Samsung don't look as flat as they do with the Panasonic (admittedly, this could be an artificial effect), yet with just a 1/1.7-inch sensor, they don't have the attractive depth of the RX100 either.

Problems with the EX2F's image include oversharpening and a lack of dynamic range. We've never seen a camera use such aggressive sharpness enhancement, which is a shame because seemed sharp enough already, without the addition of side-effects like haloing. Worse is camera's low dynamic range, a result of the sensor's inability to keep noise in check. This is a limitation we noticed right away, and it meant many of our outdoor test shots weren't all they could've been.

We also had some difficulty handling the camera. We liked the fast menu system and the convenient exposure lock button, but the front dial is in a tough spot. The result is more accidentally changed settings than we prefer...zero, that is. The body also falls into the category of "_almost_ pocket-friendly:" It might fit, but it won't be comfortable.

As of right now, the Samsung EX2F seems to be the best compact option at $500, which used to be the average price in this category. We draw a lot of comparisons to the Sony RX100, but it's easy to forget that model costs $150 more than most of the competition. Of course it remains to be seen how many consumers are willing to pay "only" $500, which is already expensive by compact standards, and pony up the extra 30 percent for the RX100, which is clearly a better camera.

And since we haven't tested the Canon S110 or G15, or Nikon P7700, we're still not sure how the EX2F really compares within this class. Even if those yet-to-be-tested cameras change our perspective, the Samsung EX2F is certainly a sturdy, fun camera, and we do recommend it. The only question is how it stacks up against those very recent announcements.

Up next