Samsung MV800 Review
An articulated LCD, smartphone-like interface and average images at a pretty steep price.
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The Samsung MV800 MultiView is an updated take on the company's DualView line. Rather than two LCDs—one on the back, one on the front—the MV800 has a single hinged display that can turn 180 degrees upward. Need a self portrait? Flip up the screen and see your beautiful mug smiling back at you. It also incorporates a smartphone-esque user interface, much like the one found on Samsung's Galaxy phones and tablets. Some shooting modes even behave like apps.
This fancy packaging will need fancy image quality to go with it in order to justify the MV800's $279 price tag, though. A trip to our lab will put this flashy camera to the test to find out whether this is all just smoke and mirrors.
Design & Usability
Touchscreens rarely work well—and this is one of those rare instances.
The MV800's flip-up screen and slick, trendy interface spice up the typical point-and-shoot experience, but at its core, this is still just a standard point-and-shoot. First and foremost, it was designed for a small pocket, not for a photographer's hands, so the body feels like it could be a leftover Samsung Alias 2 cell-phone chassis, re-purposed for a camera. Other writers in our office compared it to an old Motorola Sidekick text-messaging phone. That said, the 3-inch articulating screen opens up a bunch of new shooting angles. This display can flip up and face forward, so high and low angle shots are easier to capture. The downside is that this screen—from what we can tell—is also especially low-res. It's listed as WQVGA on the spec sheet. There's no standard resolution for WQVGA, but at most, it's only about 106k pixels—less than half the count of most low-end digicam LCDs.
There aren't many physical buttons to consider since most controls are operated via touchscreen. Thankfully, the MV800 has a capacitive style display, like most smartphones, rather than the cheapskate resistive panels found on most cameras. The screen is nice and responsive, and we ran into far fewer false-triggering problems than we typically do, but it does collect ugly fingerprints. The menu system is one of the most interesting aspects. Samsung is known more for its mobile phones than for its digital cameras, and the former's interfaces are generally excellent. Everything from the touch-based control, to the "home" button, to the app-like treatment of the shooting modes shouts "Samsung Galaxy." On a more serious camera, this feature would have bombed, but the MV800 is aimed squarely at casual users, so this gadget works.
Tech-heavy talk often dominates the Feature sections of these reviews, but today we give consideration to Funny Face mode.
A rich array of app-like options and the best effects mode we've ever seen come together well on this well integrated touchscreen. Most of the modes on the MV800 should look pretty familiar. To start, a bread-and-butter Smart Auto mode handles business as usual. Program mode offers adjustments to white balance, ISO, focus, metering, and the like. There's a sweep panorama mode and a gimmicky 3D-photo capture mode as well. The scene presets and effects are basic too, but a chunk of them work like apps on a smartphone. "Typical" scene modes are shaved down to a fair few, but some oddball additions are genuinely cool, such as Beauty Shot, which can smooth over blemishes—a little or a lot, thanks to adjustable parameters.
With a whopping 15 built-in effects, the MV800 has the most in-depth effects mode we've ever seen. Our scoring rubric doesn't even allow us to award as many points as we think this camera deserves for these fun extras. We've seen these effects before—Fish-Eye, Miniature, and the like—but we've never seen so many in one place, nor with this measure of adjustable control. The Vignetting mode is the crown jewel. It gets its own icon in the menu and acts like a mobile phone app, complete with pop-up adjustment levels. Funny Face mode uses the MV800's face detection to locate and then hilariously distort a subjects face. Among a half dozen presets is also a custom mode. Is all of this stuff necessary? Nope. Are these effects nevertheless fun to play with? Yep.
Next, we must admit that this is a slow camera. There is a continuous drive mode, but no burst mode to speak of—not even at a reduced resolution. The MV800's 5x zoom range is standard for the class: Long enough to be useful, too short to be noteworthy. Sure, a 2x digital zoom extends to 10x, but with a significant blow to quality. The MV800's movie mode is fine for a still camera, but not robust enough to replace a camcorder, so video enthusiasts will need to keep looking.
A fancy interface will only carry a camera so far.
Rest your eyes. You may be dazzled by all the flashy features, so just take a moment to re-adjust your attention to the question that matters most: Does this flashy camera have the kind of solid image quality it needs to live up to its price tag? Well, not exactly.
First of all, the MV800's lone color mode creates vibrant images, but not ones that are particularly true-to-life. Worse, spotty output and aggressive noise reduction combine for some sloppy-looking shots in the top half of the ISO range, which hurts indoor and low-light quality considerably. Base-level shots are clean enough, but noise reaches an uncomfortable level around ISO 400. By ISO 800, details are soft, and ISOs 1600 and 3200 are just a sloppy mess. Sharpness is excellent and there are few distortions, but this just doesn't cut it given the competition at this price range, and on top of all that, the 720p video is very hum-drum.
The MV800 is something like a smartphone...in a wheelchair.
As a tool for photography, the MV800 has almost no specs or features that stick out to us, the camera nerds that work for this website. Image quality is average at best—actually, it's pretty crummy in anything but bright lighting. Shot-to-shot times are sluggish, the zoom is an unremarkable 5x, and there is little manual control. For a $279 camera, those vital stats are weak.
But Samsung markets the MV800 as a picture-taking gadget for very casual photographers, and the gadget-y aspects of the design are actually pretty cool. The flip-up screen is genuinely useful—more comfortable for self-portraits than the front-facing LCDs on Samsung's DualView cameras, and handy for framing low-angle shots, too. The touchscreen is actually responsive, and the interface is as elegant as a smartphone's. And as frivolous as it might seem, the quantity and versatility of the effects is as awesome as we've seen on a point-and-shoot.
That brings up a relevant question for our time: Does anyone need a $280 camera that acts like a $200 smartphone? The MV800's image quality is only slightly better than a good smartphone's. Smartphones can download apps that mimic all of the effects and shooting modes on the MV800. Several phones have front and rear cameras, so they don't even need a hinged LCD to take a self portrait. Oh yeah, smartphones can also do everything else: make calls, access email, browse the web, run games, post photos and videos directly online, check box scores, weather, bus schedules, stock prices...the list goes on. The MV800 is a crippled, overpriced Samsung Galaxy phone that only does one thing, take pictures, and it doesn't even do that very well.
We can't find a good reason to recommend this camera to anyone. Sure, it has no monthly costs, but if money is an issue, you shouldn't be spending $280 on a mediocre point-and-shoot anyway. The MV800 does have a cool user interface, but that alone is no reason to choose a camera. There are tons of better cameras for an equal or better price. Spend your money on one of them.
The MV800's image quality is average at best. Colors are vibrant instead of lifelike, with no alternate modes on hand with which to adjust. Sharpness is about where it should be, but images are so noisy and messy that half the time it doesn't do much for a picture anyways. Video is HD, but quality is pretty ho-hum.
Spotty output and aggressive noise reduction combine for some sloppy-looking shots in the top half of the ISO range, which hurts indoor and low-light quality.
The MV800 earned middling scores in our noise tests. Across the ISO range and in both of our lighting setups, shots showed 1.35% noise on average. Base-level shots were clean enough, with ISO 80 and ISO 100 showing identical results. The signal-to-noise ratio hit an uncomfortable level around ISO 400, which is pretty early, but the shots were still decent, if a bit grainy. When the heavy noise reduction kicked in at ISO 800, details turned very soft, even though there was less actually noise than at ISO 400. ISO 1600 and 3200 were just a mess due to high noise levels and harsh noise reduction.
(We excluded ISO 100 from our average noise measurement, since it's an unnecessary, redundant setting that would lend too much weight to bottom end of the MV800's range, and result in a better score than the camera really deserves. For reference, most cameras shoot either ISO 80 or ISO 100, not both.)
On average, the MV800 performed equally in our 3000 lux (bright light) and 60 lux (low-light) tests, showing 1.35% and 1.34% noise, respectively. The higher ISO settings showed less noise in our 60 lux test due to extra noise reduction, while the lower ISO settings were cleaner at 3000 lux. However, the top ISO setting always looks ugly, no matter how things are lit.
Sharpness & Distortion
Here we saw a surprisingly strong performance, with minimal distortion and excellent sharpness.
The MV800 surprised us with its great resolution scores without too much software-based funny business.
All cameras show some distortion (warping at the edges and corners of the frame), but below a certain threshold, it's unnoticeable. The MV800 sits below that threshold, so it earns the top distortion score that we award (we've tested several cameras that have earned the top score). It shows 0.47% barrel distortion at the wide angle, 0.08% barrel at the middle focal length, and then pincushions to 0.28% at the telephoto setting. Unless you're actively looking for crooked lines, you won't find them easily.
Next, our empirical data tells us that the MV800 is a sharp-shooter, yet some photos look softer than you'd expect for such a great sharpness score. There are a few factors in play that might account for this. All other things being equal, cameras with more pixels earn higher sharpness scores. At 16.1 megapixels, the MV800 is about as high-res as a point-and-shoot gets, so that certainly helps the cause. On the flip side, a higher pixel count usually hurts performance at high ISOs, which seems to be the case here. This camera also applies obvious sharpening, especially at the wide angle. Some of our 4.5mm crops looked blurry, particularly on the right side of the frame, but the MV800 added a dark line where the sharp edge should have been, thereby artificially improving the contrast from a regular viewing distance and also fooling our image-testing software. To be fair, most cameras do this to a certain degree, and the MV800 is far from the most egregious example we've seen.
All that said, the MV800 does actually seem to have a decent lens on it. There's no way the sharpness score could've been this impressive if the optics were total junk. We'd love to see better clarity at the wide angle, but overall, this is a pretty nice showing for the class.
The MV800's lone color mode creates vibrant images, but they are not particularly true-to-life.
The Samsung MV800 takes vibrant pictures, but they're not particularly color-accurate. A good point-and-shoot should score a 3.0 or lower in our color error test, with saturation somewhere between 90% and 110%. The MV800 returned a plainly mediocre (or even borderline poor) 3.51 color error, and the 110.4% saturation result is a hair outside of our acceptable range.
Decent controls, 720p resolution, and the tilting screen don't quite compensate for hum-drum video quality.
The MV800's movie mode is fine for a still camera, but not robust enough to replace a camcorder (or at least a better digital camera or smartphone). It shoots 720p/30fps high-def video in the easily editable, YouTube-friendly h.264 format. Optical zoom works during filming. Autofocus locks at the beginning of each clip, which can be problematic while shooting action scenes. Most of the MV800's photo effects can be applied to videos as well, which is a fun extra feature.
Sharpness is acceptable, but by no means the best, and for a camera with such mediocre still-photo color accuracy, the MV800 is actually alright in terms of video color. On an absolute scale, it's nothing special, but compared to most point-and-shoots, it's quite good. It blows the video-oriented Casio Tryx out of the water, handily beats the Samsung PL120, and comes up behind the Canon ELPH 500 HS, which earned a solid accuracy score.
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