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The NV40 is a svelte compact camera packaged in sturdy, if slightly miscolored, matte plastic. It's the perfect size to be thrown in a bag or a pocket for a day on the beach or a night out. The large front ridge and thumb pad both help with firmly holding the camera, and the LCD, while not large, is bright and viewable from just about any angle. The shiny top makes a nice accent, but attracts fingerprints and smears more than the rest of the camera body.
The front of the Samsung NV40 is crafted of smooth, purple-tinged plastic. The matte face of the camera is dominated by the large two-tiered extending lens on the right side, and by a stabilizing ridge on the left. The ridge is designed to give you something to grasp onto while holding the NV40, and to facilitate this, it has a thin rubber strip running most of its height to give it that little extra grip. Seated directly above the rubber strip is the infrared receiver for use with a wireless remote control. The lens takes up more than half of the camera width, sitting on a raised platform even when fully retracted. The outer edge of the lens is ringed with a thin line of blue metal, offering a contrast to the purple-black body and shiny black lens. In curved writing around the base of the lens are the details pertinent to its crafter; "Schneider-KREUZNACH" is written in white above the lens, and "VARIOPLAN ZOOM 6.2-18.6mm" below. Above the lens plateau, and slightly to the right, Samsung's logo appears in chromed letters. Directly below that, and at about 1 o'clock from the lens is the auto focus assist lamp. To the upper left of the lens is the flash, and at 7 o'clock is the rather small title "NV40".
At the outermost top right and left corners, the otherwise straight-edged case has small openings to allow the two control wheels to rotate fully.
The front of the camera is dominated by the lens and grip
On the back of the NV40 is the 2.5', 230,000 pixel LCD screen. It takes up the majority of the rear of the camera, and is flanked on the bottom and right by a row of blank buttons. These buttons are the key component of the NV40's unique control system, which will be described in more detail later. It's a system unlike anything else that we've seen, and an interesting one, though overly sensitive at times, and difficult to navigate. Where the row and column meet is the Play button for switching to playback mode. The LCD screen and these buttons are in an area of brushed rather than matte plastic. This striation-covered zone is slightly raised above the rest of the back of the camera. Centered and at the top of this side is the off-white Samsung logo, and to its right, directly in line with the vertical buttons, is the processing activity light.
To the right of the raised section sits a thumb rest of matte black plastic, which is also occupied by the zoom controls. This allows for your thumb to stabilize and control zooming in and out without having to adjust your hand or move your fingers.
Only two of the buttons on the rear of the camera are labeled, the Play button and a small label for a button that controls both Optical Image Stabilization and navigating backward in menus.
The two lines of buttons are the key to navigating the NV40's unique
Left Side* (5.50) The sides of the NV40 are curved, perfect half-cylinders, in contrast to the otherwise square build of the camera. The top of the left side houses the Photo Style control dial. A thin seam runs down the length of the left side with four screws holding the case together. Three quarters of the way down is the proprietary data out/power port. This plugs into your computer, printer, TV or, with the included USB adapter, a wall socket, and is protected by a plastic tag.
The proprietary port is the only major feature on the left side.*
The right side of the NV40 is mostly featureless, and nearly identical to the left. Once again, one of the control dials sits at the top, this time the Mode Control, and a plastic joint splits the entire side. However, on the right there is no data port, and the raised thumb rest is visible with the strap eyelet clearly presented.
*The thumb rest allows the body of the camera to be held securely.
The top of the NV40 is crafted from shiny black plastic in direct contrast to the matte plastic of the rest of the body. Unfortunately, this means that the top picks up fingerprints and smudges very easily. Bookending the top are two control dials. The left is for Photo Style, and the right is the slightly more traditional Mode dial, the larger of the two. Both are metal with black plastic spokes to aid in rotation. The tops of the dials are slightly beveled and stained dark, with the labels written in white (or green in the case of Auto). All the buttons and dials on the top of the camera are covered in small concentric rings. To the left of the Mode dial is the shutter button. The plastic smoothly rises to meet the button, which is in turn beveled with a small depression in the middle, where there's a small blue dot.
Continuing to the left is the power button. Set in a smooth depression, the diminutive button incorporates a small blue LED that illuminates when the camera is powered up. This button is labeled, with 'Power' written in small letters towards the rear of the top. After that are three small holes that cover the microphone. Left of the microphone is a small label informing us that the camera shoots at 10.5 megapixels. Finally, before the second control dial, is a series of seven dots arranged hexagonally in a small depression that protect the speaker.
The reflective plastic of the top is a magnet for fingerprints**
The hatch for the battery and memory card dominates the bottom of the NV40. The latch has a strong spring, and opens easily, but feels slightly fragile . The battery is a very thin rechargeable from Samsung, and is about two inches long and an inch and a half wide. The battery is held in place by a small blue tab, and shares a compartment with the memory card slot, that accepts SD, SDHC and MMC cards. To the right of the battery latch cover is the tripod mount. Strangely, the mount is neither camera-centered nor lens-centered, and when using a tripod this makes fine directional adjustments difficult. In our review sample, when looking at the bottom of the camera, there is a discernible difference in color between the front and back halves.
The memory card and battery share a housing*
The NV40 did very well across our entire testing schedule, particularly in manual noise and automatic white balance tests. The color result was good, but not amazing, and the resolution, low light, video and dynamic range results were all superior to the cameras we used for comparison purposes. However, the time from starting the camera to the first shot wasn't as fast as it could be, and in general the speed of the camera was average.
One of the most important features of a camera is how well it captures the color of the world around you, so the sky is the right blue, and the grass comes out that proper shade of green. To test this, we shoot the standardized Gretag Macbeth color chart under very strictly controlled lighting conditions. The captured image is then run through Imatest, an application designed to analyze a number of image parameters, including comparing known color values to the color of a test photograph. This measures the difference between what the camera captures, and what the actual color is. The image below shows this result, where the outer square is the captured color, the inner square is that color with the luminance value corrected by Imatest, and the small rectangle on the right is the ideal color.
The Imatest software also produces a second graph, which shows the difference between the captured and ideal colors as a vector. The squares represent the ideal value, and the circles what was actually captured, with a longer line equating to less accurate colors.
*Short lines equate to good colors
The NV40 performed well in this section, especially with skin tones, which are important for capturing accurate portraits. It outperformed both the Pentax Optio Z10 and Olympus Stylus 830. There were some small problems in the blues and browns, but these were relatively minor, especially considering the price the camera. Cheap point-and-shoot models can sometimes fare poorly in this test, but the NV40 showed good color fidelity.
Samsung NV40 Color Scores
The megapixel rating is often misunderstood to equal image resolution. Actually, final image resolution depends not just on the image sensor’s megapixels, but the lens quality, digital processing and much more. To assess the true detail-capturing performance of a camera, we shoot an industry-standard resolution chart under specific lighting conditions to create a series of test images, which are then analyzed by Imatest to produce a resolution value measured in line widths per pixel height (lw/ph), which is a count of the number of alternating black and white lines the camera can capture horizontally and vertically.
The NV40 captured an impressive amount of detail**
The NV40 produced a top score of a horizontal resolution of 2288 lw/ph horizontal and 2055 lw/ph vertical. This is an impressive result; putting the NV40 well above the cameras we're comparing it with. For a $280 camera, the NV40 produced a clear image, with only minor over-sharpening. This means that your photos will contain a large amount of detail, and allow you to zoom and crop your picture while still retaining image quality.
Samsung NV40 Resolution Scores
When cameras shift to a higher ISO to take photos in low light conditions, noise becomes more apparent. Noise is a staticky effect that forms in an image when high light sensitivity settings are used, and areas of the image can appear mottled. To test the level of noise on the NV40 we used Imatest to analyze images taken for the full range of ISOs. The NV40 goes from ISO 80 to ISO 1600 at full resolution. ISO 3200 is available but only with reduced 3-megapixel image size, which falls outside our test parameters.
Nearly every digital camera incorporates some type of noise reduction processing, though the manufacturer doesn’t always make the inner workings clear. Samsung takes this black-box approach: the NV40 does not offer any user control over the level of noise reduction. You can see the noise increases steadily up until ISO 400, after which point the noise reduction software is activated, and the noise levels lower. However, even without the software, the noise levels barely pass 2%, an impressive result. This is better than any of our comparison cameras, and one of the best noise results for a compact point-and-shoot camera that we've seen. This means that even while shooting in low light conditions and at high ISOs, your photos will come out looking clean.
Samsung NV40 Manual Noise Scores
The auto noise test is undertaken by setting the camera to Auto ISO and letting it decide what is the best setting to shoot a well-lit scene. Keep in mind that to minimize noise, the camera should try and shoot at the lowest ISO possible. The NV40 settled on ISO 200, even though the scene was bright enough for ISO 100. That said, the overall excellent noise levels with this camera means that even at a slightly higher ISO than absolutely necessary it still manages to score better than many others, especially the Pentax Optio Z10, so when shooting in automatic mode the NV40 will produce an image without much noise.
Samsung NV40 Auto Noise Scores
A camera's white balance score is a measure of how well it can compensate for the altered hues cast by different light sources. It needs to be able to recognize a white object under the yellow cast of an incandescent bulb or the light of the sun. Users can let the camera adjust for lighting conditions automatically, set it to various presets, take a manual white balance reading by shooting a white card or paper, or, with some cameras, enter the Kelvin value that matches the lighting environment. The NV40 doesn't offer this last option, but has a decent number of white balance settings along with manual setting, which is good to see on a relatively cheap point-and-shoot camera. We test the white balance levels of the camera by shooting under the appropriate light sources with both automatic and preset modes. This result is shown below in an exaggerated form – you will not see discrepancies to this level while actually using the NV40.
The NV40 has excellent automatic white balancing. The only area with any problem is the flash white balance, as you can see from the images below. The auto fluorescent and tungsten settings were both impressive, capturing a color remarkably close to its actual value. The tungsten result is particularly pleasing, as many cameras have trouble with tungsten lighting, which is the setting that is used for incandescent lights that are found in most homes. These fine results across the board mean that the hue of your image will be very accurate, regardless of lighting conditions. This result easily bettered the comparison cameras: the Pentax Optio Z10, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8, Olympus Stylus 830, even the Canon Powershot SD1100 IS which also did very well in this section.
*Unfortunately, the NV40 did not fare as well when using preset white balance settings. While the score it received is not terrible, it was not at the same level as the automatic setting. This camera fared worse on this test than the Powershot SD1100 IS and Stylus 830. Because of this, we would recommend leaving the camera on automatic white balance while shooting, as it produces excellent color accuracy.
Samsung NV40 White Balance Scores
To allow an easy visual comparison between cameras, we shoot two standard scenes under everyday fluorescent lights: our happily married couple and a still life starring Rosie the Riveter. Each of these images was shot at every available ISO on automatic settings. Click on the images below to view full size versions, but this may take some time as they are large files.
**Low Light **(6.39)
We tested the NV40’s low light performance in two stages. First, we shoot the Gretag Macbeth chart at light levels that correspond to commonly occurring brightnesses. 60 lux is about as bright as a room lit by two small lamps, 30 lux corresponds to a room lit by a single 40 watt bulb, 15 lux is the light provided by computer monitor or television screen, and 5 lux equates to a single candle in a dark room. All shots were taken at ISO 400.
The NV40 had some trouble in this stage, and the color accuracy dropped noticeably at 30 lux and below. If you're shooting in very dark conditions, you may notice that the color in your shots doesn't come out particularly well. However, in the second half of our low light testing, the NV40 fared much better. This latter test involves taking long exposures, and running the resulting images through Imatest. Normally, we test from one second to 30 seconds, but we were unable to produce reliable results for exposures longer than 10 seconds, given the limited manual controls offered by the NV40. However, at the exposures we did test, the NV40 performed above average with minimal noise and good color accuracy.
**Dynamic Range** (8.27)
Dynamic range measures how accurately a camera can reproduce the complete spectrum, from white to black, differentiating between the very dark and very light in a single shot. This is most important in high-contrast scenes, to make sure that blacks stay black and the whites stay white in the photo. To test this we photograph a backlit Stouffer chart at all ISOs, which shows a series of tabs running from bright white to pure black. The more tabs the camera can distinguish, the higher the dynamic range score.
Samsung NV40 Low Light Scores
Once again, the NV40 performed well, and was consistently able to capture a wide range of grays. We expect to see a certain amount of loss at the higher ISOs, and while the NV40 is no exception, it did better than most other compact point-and-shoots. Once again, it has managed to outperform our comparison cameras.
Samsung NV40 Dynamic Range Scores
**Digital camera speeds have improved dramatically over the last few years, but the time between shots, or the time from startup to first being able to take a photo can still make all the difference when trying to grab that perfect shot.
Startup to First Shot **(7.20)
The NV40 took, on average, 2.76 seconds to go from being completely powered off to taking the first shot. This is a mediocre result, and slower than many other cameras, and will make a difference if you are trying to grab the camera quickly for a picture.
The NV40 has two shooting modes to capture quickly occurring action. The fastest option is Motion Capture, which will take 7 shots per second, but only at a resolution of 1024x768, and a maximum of 20 shots. At full image size, there's High Speed, which takes 3 images in quick succession. The manual says this mode shoots 2.5 frames per second, but our tests only showed a shooting speed of 1.75 frames per second, a significant difference. What the manual doesn't mention is that High Speed mode is only available at ISO 400 or lower.
The time from the moment you press the button to the moment a shot was taken used to be a major problem with point-and-shoot cameras. With the NV40, the delay is so small as to be immeasurable, less than 0.2 seconds.
This test measure the time from when a full resolution photo is taken until it appears as a preview on the LCD screen. The NV40 averaged a time of 1.78 seconds, which is quite fast. It's not as speedy as the Canon Powershot SD1100 or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8, but it is faster than the Pentax Optio Z10 and Olympus Stylus 830.
Video Performance (6.58)
The NV40 shoots video at two sizes, 640x480 (VGA) and 320x240, both at either 30 or 15 fps. It stores the movies in MPEG 4 (.avi) format, which is known for taking up only small amounts of storage space. We tested the NV40 at full resolution and highest frame rate to see just how well it performed.
Bright indoor light – 3000 Lux
We illuminate our test charts to a very bright 3000 lux and stabilize the camera on a tripod to simulate optimal recording conditions. Frames from the resulting video are exported and run through Imatest to judge color accuracy. The NV40 scored slightly above average for this test, but not exceedingly well.
Low light – 30 Lux
Just because the sun goes down doesn’t mean you want to stop recording, so we test the color fidelity at 30 lux too. Most point-and-shoot cameras struggle a bit when it comes to recording videos in the darkness, and there is a noticeable quality drop with the NV40. It’s an average result, similar to what we saw on the Canon SD1100, but better than the Lumix DMC-LZ8.
We also tested the resolution of the captured video from the NV40, which gave an above average performance in this test. It captured 618 lw/ph horizontal and 583 lw/ph vertical, which is better than the Powershot SD1100 IS, Optio Z10 and Stylus 830. It’s not fantastic resolution, but low scores are par for the course in this test, as compact point-and-shoot cameras are simply not on the same level as camcorders.
Samsung NV40 Video Scores
We took the NV40 into the streets of Boston to shoot fast-moving cars, and see how well the camera captures speeding objects. The results were good, as colors came out bright, and there was minimal blurring and noise, and no stuttering. While a decent result for a compact camera, don’t expect the video to look good on an HDTV, as it’s still quite low resolution.
It would be a rare sight these days to find a small, point-and-shoot digital camera with a viewfinder. Often, there's just not room for it in the camera, as space can be a valuable commodity with cameras this small. The NV40 LCD screen handles viewfinder duties, and has a sufficiently fast refresh rate to do so without any trouble. We do prefer cameras with an optical viewfinder, though, because they are easier to see in direct sunlight versus an LCD screen, offer additional stability when holding a camera to your eye, and save battery power.
The LCD screen of the NV40 measures 2.5 inches across and has a 230,000 pixel resolution. This is fairly standard for a point-and-shoot camera, though many go a step larger to 2.7 inches (like the Nikon S700), or even 3 inches, such as the Canon PowerShot SD750. That said, the LCD on the NV40 is very bright, and is viewable from almost any angle. There is some solarization when viewing from extreme vertical angles, but even this is minimal. Three levels of LCD brightness are available; dark, normal and bright. When using auto LCD brightness, the screen adjusts itself based on shooting conditions.
The screen is very reflective, so it suffers from glare. The advantage to having a screen this shiny is that it makes the image look razor sharp, but reflectivity can be a problem, especially if you're shooting under bright lights or direct sun.
There is no way to change screen mode, so no histograms, shooting grids or other such niceties are available.
The LCD is 2.5', an average size for a compact point-and-shoot camera**
*The flash is placed centrally on the camera, to the left of the lens. It's protected against errant fingers by a stabilizing ridge, which is rather handy, as it prevents you from accidentally blocking the light with your fingers. The flash is plenty powerful, though a bit uneven, with the center better illuminated than the periphery.
The flash range, according to Samsung, is 1.6 - 14.8 feet (0.5m - 4.5m) at the widest angle and 1.6 - 8.2 feet (0.5m-2.5m) for the maximum telephoto setting with ISO on auto. If you're shooting at a low ISO, you may find that the effective range of the flash is reduced.
The available flash modes are fairly standard. The flash is highly automated, even with camera modes designed around offering greater user control. First, there is Fill In, which will fire even in bright light, but the intensity is automatically controlled. There are two methods of dealing with Red Eye on this camera, as there's a Red Eye Reduction and Red Eye Fix. The former fires two flashes consecutively in order to prevent the subjects of your photos from having crimson pupils. Red Eye is caused by light reflecting off the blood vessels in the back of your eyes. By firing two flashes, the first causes the pupil to contract, which minimizes the reflected light. This method seems to take an unusual amount of time, averaging approximately 1.5 seconds between the two flashes. The problem this causes is that your subjects may think you've taken the picture with the first flash and start moving away only to be caught unawares by the actual shot. Red Eye Fix detects if there's Red Eye in the photo, and removes it digitally. If you are not shooting in Red Eye Fix mode, it is possible to correct red eye by editing the photo in playback mode. There is also a slow synchro flash setting that uses a slower shutter speed to capture more background detail in nighttime or dark shots.
The flash is powerful, but uneven
The NV40 has a 3x optical zoom lens, with a focal length of 6.2 - 18.6mm, which is equivalent to 34 - 102mm in 35mm photography. The lens is made by Schneider-Kreuznach (who also supply lenses to Kodak), and offers an aperture range of f/2.8 - f/7.0 when at its widest and f/5.2 - f/13.2 at maximum telephoto.
Fully extended, the two-tiered lens raises about an inch from the body of the camera. The zoom is controlled by a small but wide switch that your thumb rests on while holding the camera. It's responsive, but not overly sensitive, which is good. The 3x zoom is definitely a modest telephoto. And while this is bolstered by a 5x digital zoom, using digital zoom rapidly reduces image quality, and so we recommend avoiding it if at all possible.
You can use the zoom while filming a movie, which isn't always the case with point-and-shoot cameras. Zoom level is indicated on the LCD by a sliding bar, with a vertical line representing the boundary between optical and digital zoom. Once you cross that threshold, the digital zoom level is also indicated numerically.
The NV40 has both optical and digital stabilization, the combination of which should allow for better protection against camera shake. Optical stabilization is activated by a button on the back of the camera, and is usable regardless of the image mode you're in. The digital stabilization, on the other hand, only turns on when the camera is set to Dual Stabilization mode, and doing so turns off the digital zoom. Optical image stabilization works by using an internal gyroscope to help steady the lens while you're shooting. The digital image stabilization uses color and shape data gathered from the image to try and minimize blurring in your shot. In our informal tests, we did not see a great improvement in using both stabilizers.
The Schneider-Kreuznach lens offers a 3x zoom.
Design / Layout
Model Design / Appearance*(6.00)*
The NV40 is well proportioned and shaped. It takes up about as much space as a tin of Altoids mints, though it is admittedly rather heavier. The inclusion of the ridge on the front and thumb rest on the back serves to break up an otherwise plain body and provide better handling stability. The two long stretches of buttons on the reverse of the camera are intriguing, though baffling without reading the manual. The dials on the top of the NV40 create a rather nice sense of symmetry. It is strange that Samsung devoted one of these dials to the Photo Style controls. Most users probably won’t use these options often, and the space would likely be better devoted to a more practical setting, such as ISO or shutter speed.
While the camera literature says it's black, the sample we received had a distinct purplish tint. When asked, a Samsung spokesperson said the camera is 'not a standard 'black.''
Size / Portability (8.00)
The NV40 is quite small, and will comfortably fit in the front pocket of a pair of jeans. It measures 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.7 inches and 4.6 oz. sans battery and memory card. That's 9.45 x 5.5 x 1.8 cm and 133 g for those who are metrically inclined. Of course, this measure is taken from its smallest point, and doesn't take into account the rather prominent ridge on the front to aid gripping. It's not the smallest cameras on the market, but it is compact and easily transportable. One caveat for those who are fans of wearing tight trousers: you may find the grip ridge on the front of the body slightly uncomfortable when pressed against your leg. However, the rear of the camera is perfectly smooth, so it sits well that way round.
The wrist strap affixes through an eyelet on the thumb rest situated on the right side of the camera. Threading the strap can be fiddly and annoying in some cameras, but on the NV40 it was easy and fast. We were able to attach the strap in less than 30 seconds, which is a lesson other manufacturers could learn from.
The NV40 is small, light and compact, with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with such a body. It is easily wielded in one hand, and light enough to bring to bear in an instant. The lightness is both a blessing and a curse, as it falls prey to camera shake readily. Using a second hand to steady the shot can help, as does image stabilization.
One of the problems that can hit these tiny point-and-shoots is that fingers can easily stray over lens/flash/important buttons. The NV40 institutes some rather cunning ergonomic features to combat this. The thumb of your right hand is kept from wandering about the back of the camera by a well-placed platform that functions as a place to grip and keep your thumb stationary. The zoom controls are also placed there, so there's is no need to move the thumb from its stabilizing position.
On the front of the camera, there is a prominently placed stabilizing ridge, with a strip of rubberized material. It creates a natural place for the fingers to rest, support the camera, and stop them from getting in the way of the flash and lens. This is also aided by the lens being placed on the left side of the camera, further away from errant fingers. However, if you're shooting with two hands, there's definitely a chance of your left knuckles making their way into frame.
Thumb pad and raised grip make the NV40 easy to hold
**Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size **(5.25)
The small size of the NV40 necessitates equally Lilliputian controls and small buttons. A great example of this is the power button, which is tiny. Thankfully, it is located in a small indentation, making it easy to find with the tips of your fingers. Like all the buttons and dials on the top of the camera, it's made of metal, which bodes well for long-term durability. When the camera is turned on, the power button is illuminated by a blue LED, which is handy since the LCD and lens both turn off while the camera is on standby. The LED lets you know whether your camera is still powered on at a glance.
Directly to the right of the power button is the shutter control. Set into a raised platform, and with a small well in the center, it has a unique feel under your fingers, which makes it easy to find in a hurry. It's a very sensitive button, and doesn't take much to depress. Luckily, the division between half-pressed and fully-pressed is sufficient to prevent accidental shooting. We felt the shutter button was on the small side, but those with delicate fingers may find it more to their tastes.
There are two control dials on the top of the camera. On the left, the Photo Style controller, which applies one of seven filter options to the photograph. The choices are Normal, Classic (black and white), Calm, Cool, Retro, Forest, Vivid and Soft. These styles are not explained on screen or in the manual, but appear to be hue and saturation adjustments. As you rotate the controller, the selected option appears on the screen, but for less than a second, which makes reading the descriptions problematic. The second control dial is slightly larger than the first, and located on the right side of the camera. It controls the shooting mode, and there are quite a few options available. There's Auto, Program, Manual, Dual Image Stabilization, Night Scene, Portrait, Scene (which houses 12 scene modes that will be discussed later in this review), and Movie Mode. The dials feel well constructed and firm. This firmness can be a bit of a problem with a camera this small and light, and applying sufficient force to change modes can change the framing of your shot considerably, both when using a tripod and when hand-holding. Attempting to change modes with the same hand as holding the camera is not recommended for stability.
The controls system of the Samsung NV40 is easily one of the most unique we've encountered, eschewing traditional navigation for something completely different. The menu system will be discussed in detail in the next section, but the method of navigating deserves some mention here. Along the bottom edge of the LCD screen is a row of seven ridged buttons, and along the right edge of the screen is a column of six of the same. These buttons are small, and touch-sensitive. This means they can read when your finger is resting on them, and when you press them. This becomes important when browsing menus, as the camera can highlight the appropriate section based on where your finger is. The buttons are very small, and close together. This leads to a problem, since it's very easy to slightly touch two buttons at once, which can make accurately selecting menu items difficult. This rears its ugly head when selecting photos in playback, for example, where it's almost impossible to accurately choose the image you want without accidentally flipping to the next in order. The advantage to this button-based system over a touch screen is that the screen can be smaller and is less prone to smears. It also gives Samsung something to differentiate itself from the other digital cameras on the market.
The controls are dynamic, shifting according to context, which necessitates a lack of printed labels.
As mentioned, the menu system is complex, and unlike anything we've seen before. It's based around a row of seven buttons along the bottom of the LCD screen, and a column of six to the right. When shooting, various icons appear in-line with these buttons, and pressing one extends a line of options from that icon. These options are then navigated by the set of buttons perpendicular to the original. For instance, the third button along the bottom is the resolution control. Pressing it brings up a white vertical line of different picture size options. Each of these corresponds to a button along the right side of the screen (along with the dedicated 'Back' button). As you rest your finger on a button, the corresponding option becomes highlighted on-screen, and pressing the button fully activates it. For some menus, however, there's more involved than pressing buttons. Instead, you're presented with a bar that you scroll along by swiping your finger in the appropriate direction. An example of this is the shutter speed menu. Rather than giving each speed a button and having to scroll slowly through the options one at a time, the screen presents a scroll bar that you move around by swiping your finger along the bottom row of buttons. The problem with this whole system is that it is grossly inaccurate. The touch-sensitive nature of the buttons means that if you so much as lean your finger too far in one direction, you'll brush the neighboring button and accidentally move the selection. Trying to quickly change any setting is an exercise in futility, especially when using the scroll bar.
Also annoying is the fact that the options available change between modes. Entire menu options can be removed when shifting between modes such as Program and Auto. This becomes annoying when moving between shooting modes, and the controls are not always were you expect them to be. Strangely, certain settings that can be used in automatic modes can't be used in manual, like red-eye reduction.
Voice recording is a nice addition that allows you to either record an audio file, or else attach memos to photos after you take them. There are also more self-timer options than we usually see. In addition to the choice of a basic 2-second or 10-second self-timer, there's double timer, which takes one photo after 10 seconds, and another 2 seconds after that. There's also Motion Timer, which gives you six seconds to get everyone into the shot, and after that will take a picture as soon as they’re all still. Unfortunately, the timer mode resets to normal if the camera enters playback or sleep mode, a frustrating feature if you're trying to organize a group of people for a shot and the camera hibernates.
The menu system offers detailed but complex controls
Ease of Use (3.75)
If you're just using the NV40 for basic point-and-shoot functions, and not changing any settings manually, the camera is incredibly easy to use. The shutter button is easily differentiated from the rest of the camera, the camera is comfortable to hold and the auto focus works well. However, as soon as you try and change any of the settings, you hit the brick wall of a highly complex and counter-intuitive user interface. While it is certainly a surmountable problem, it requires nimble fingers and a significant time investment to get fully versed in the system. Handing this camera to a friend or stranger to take a picture might be problematic if they have to change any settings. The system is so esoteric as to be completely foreign to someone just picking it up. There are some nice visual effects in the menu system, and we can see the direction Samsung is trying to go with the controls, but the system is imprecise and confusing.
Auto Mode (6.75)
The NV40's auto mode offers the bare minimum of controls to the user. Flash settings, self-timer, focus area, focus mode, image size and compression are the only options you can control in this mode. Thankfully, the NV40 has excellent auto ISO and auto white balance, as can be seen in our testing section. So if you are shooting in automatic mode, your photos will probably come out very well.
**Movie Mode **(8.25)
The camera records .avi files at 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 resolution, and at frame rates of either 30 or 15 fps, and is accessed via the right control dial.
The NV40 offers a variety of controls for movie mode. The full range of white balance settings can be used, as can exposure compensation, metering modes and image stabilization. There's even a selection of image effects that work in movie mode, so you can shoot in negative or with a blue tint if you want. The full 3x optical zoom can be used when shooting movies, but digital zooming is disallowed in this mode. Even so, at 3x zoom expect a fair amount of image shake due to the lightness of the camera.
The only limit to the length of the movie shot is the size of your memory card.
There are very minor editing tools for videos in camera. The only options you have are trimming the length of the movie, and grabbing a still frame as an image.
Drive / Burst Mode*(7.30)*
There are three options to increase the speed at which you can take photos. The first is continuous mode, which simply allows the camera to keep taking pictures if the shutter button remains depressed. The speed for this will vary on your camera settings, especially resolution and flash. Motion Capture takes seven shots per second up to a maximum of 20 photos, but limited to 1024x768 resolution. This is great if you're only taking images to share over email or the Internet, or aren't planning on printing the resulting pictures. There is also a full- resolution High Speed mode, which takes three shots in quick succession, at 1.75 frames per second. This is only available at ISO 400 or lower, a fact not relayed in the manual. None of these modes is usable when shooting in Auto mode.
**Playback Mode ***(5.75)*
The playback mode on the NV40 suffers most noticeably from the awkward control scheme associated with the two perpendicular lines of buttons. Swiping a single finger along the bottom row controls browsing pictures, which is imprecise, especially when going through a large number of images. Alternatively, you can use one of two scroll buttons on either end of the row. These are not permanently designated for this task, and only control scrolling when in playback mode. Images can also be sorted by date.
The zoom control allows you to magnify an image and crop the picture down to the area viewed on screen. Zooming out brings up a thumbnail view, which is locked at 9 images at a time. Usually, one of the advantages to using a thumbnail view is being able to select multiple images at a time for deletion or locking. However, in this mode you have to use the button swipe to scroll through the images, then tap one button to select the photo you want. Unfortunately, the buttons are so small that when selecting an image, it's very easy to accidentally bump a neighboring button, which the camera interprets as a scroll command. Consequently, selecting multiple images can be an exercise in frustration. We did find using your pinky finger was marginally more successful than using your index, just due to size. Users with delicate hands may suffer less from these problems.
The limited editing controls in playback mode let you rotate an image, or resize it down to 7 megapixels, 5 megapixels, 3 megapixels or 1 megapixel. There are three sets of image effects. The first, in the Effect menu, alters the color of the image. These will convert the picture to black and white, sepia, blue tone, red tone, green tone or negative. Special Color adds a few more options on top of this. You can add noise, use the Elegant function (which brightens colors and raises saturation), Shaded (which brightens the center and darkens the outer edges) and Color Filter (removes all but the brightest colors from an image). Finally there's the Image Adjustment mode, which will let you alter saturation, contrast or brightness, Auto Contrast Balance (which adjusts backlit images to improve the foreground exposure) and Red Eye Fix.
Custom Image Presets*(7.33)*
The NV40 only has two presets on the control dial; nighttime and portrait, but a scene tab on the control dial provides access to another twelve. There is no sports mode to catch fast action, which is unusual for a point-and-shoot, but it does has a self-portrait mode that will inform you when your face is on screen and in focus by beeping in different tones. The image presets available are: Night, Portrait, Café, Food, Self Shot, Beach & Snow, Fireworks, Backlight, Dawn, Sunset, Text, Closeup, Landscape and Children.
Manual Control Options
The NV40 offers a middling amount of manual control for a point-and-shoot camera, but is once again marred by a difficult user interface. There are 46 different shutter speeds, from 1/1500 of a second to a maximum of 16 seconds. However, there is no exposure compensation in manual mode, so to adjust exposure levels you have to change the shutter speed. The exposure compensation menu is available, but not in manual mode. Swiping your finger across the bottom row of buttons controls shutter speed, which is imprecise when trying to set a specific speed. Once again, we recommend using your pinky finger if you have any but the most delicate of digits. The ISO speeds range from ISO 80 to 3200, but this final level is at a reduced 3-megapixel resolution. There are also seven settings for white balance, including auto and manual white balance. You are given control over the aperture, but only two steps. There is no aperture or shutter priority mode.
Oddly, there are fewer flash controls in Manual mode than in Program or Auto. The only option you can change in Manual mode is Flash Off or Fill In. When in other shooting modes, you have access to two Red Eye Reduction modes, auto flash and Slow Sync mode as well.
All told, when in Manual mode, you lose access to four flash settings, auto exposure bracketing, auto contrast balance and exposure compensation, which are all available in Program mode. It is highly irregular to see options available in Program mode but not in Manual
Settings for auto focus mode, focal area, image size, shooting mode (continuous, high speed, motion capture and auto exposure bracketing) metering, image quality and compression are available. More advance controls are included as well, with contrast, saturation and sharpness all on hand.
Auto Focus (8.50)
The NV40 has 9 auto focus points, and emits two beeps when focus is achieved. It has Multi AF, Center AF, Self Portrait and Face Detection. The Face Detection mode can recognize up to 9 faces at a time, and will focus on the nearest of these and automatically adjust for exposure. Self Portrait mode combines Face Detection with audible cues to let you know if your face is in frame and will make a different noise when you are centered, allowing you to take the best MySpace shots possible.
The auto focus assist lamp is situated above and to the left of the lens, and is bright enough to help with focusing even in very dark conditions.
In Macro mode, the focus has a range from 1.97 inches to 31.5 inches (5 cm - 80 cm), and in normal mode this stretches from 31.5 inches to infinity (80 cm to infinity).
The auto focus is quite fast, and refocuses rapidly, which is important if you're trying to capture a speedy subject, or are changing your framing quickly. Focusing in low light is often a problem for point-and-shoot cameras, and the NV40 delivers about average performance in these situations. With the help of the auto focus assist lamp and a bit of light, ir generally manages to focus on the right subject.
Manual Focus (0)
The NV40 does not offer Manual Focus.
The NV40 has full resolution ISOs from ISO 80 to ISO 1600, and ISO 3200 at a reduced 3- megapixel resolution. The advantage to using a higher ISO is that it provides increased light sensitivity, allowing you to take photos in darker conditions. The downside is that the higher the ISO, the more noise, or digital static, in your photo. The NV40 has a very low noise rate, so while we recommend always shooting at the lowest ISO possible, the NV40 will be more forgiving than many other cameras.
The noise reduction system with the NV40 is completely automatic, and appears to kick in above ISO 400, though this is not documented in the user manual. It does a good job, contributing to the camera's excellent noise reduction score in our performance testing.
White Balance (7.75)
The white balance for the NV40 also scored very well in our tests, but, surprisingly, the automatic mode was where most of the camera's high scores were recorded. The NV40 offers white balance presets for incandescent/tungsten, two levels of fluorescent, shade and sun, as well as automatic and manual white balance. This last lets you aim the camera at a white object (say a sheet of printer paper) and make the camera recognize that as ‘white’, then adjust the relative white balance appropriately. As with most controls, these are accessed and controlled via the buttons along the right and bottom of the LCD screen. However, since this is a situation where each level of white balance is afforded a button, rather than using the finger swipe controls, the menu system is slightly more precise than in other cases.
Unfortunately, there is no exposure compensation control in Manual mode, so any attempts to fix the exposure in your photos must be done by altering the aperture or shutter speed directly. In Program and Dual Image Stabilization modes, exposure compensation control activates and can change ±2 at 1/3 EV increments, but it appears to do so by altering the shutter speed.
As with many point-and-shoots, the NV40 offers Center Weighted, Spot and Multi meter modes, but the choice isn’t available in automatic mode.
Shutter Speed (6.00)
In manual mode, the NV40 can use shutter speeds from 1/1500 of a second to a maximum of 16 seconds, but only up to 1 second in automatic mode. The NV40 fared well in our long exposure tests, which paired with its low noise performance makes this a particularly good camera to play with if you're interested in trying long exposure and low light photography.
The NV40 only offers two selectable aperture choices, f/2.8 and f/7.0, and when the 3x lens is fully zoomed in, this shrinks to f/5.2 and f/13.5. This range is not unusual for a compact camera, and in this case is only adjustable in manual mode.
Picture Quality / Size Options (9.33)
The NV40 shoots primarily at 4:3 ratio, the same as most point-and-shoot cameras, but offers 3:2 and 16:9 ratio settings for two image sizes, the latter of which is designed for widescreen televisions. The highest megapixel count setting is 10 megapixel, 3648 x 2736, which would print a 12' x 9' photo at 300 ppi. Unusually, the NV40 doesn't offer VGA size shooting (640 x 480), a useful size for sending small email snapshots.
The camera doesn’t offer RAW formatted pictures, and can only shoot JPEGs. The NV40 has normal, fine and super-fine compression.
Picture Effects Mode (7.75)
The majority of the picture effects for the Samsung NV40 are based around shifting the color of the image. To start with, the secondary control dial on the top of the body controls the Photo Style, which alters the color settings of your photo. First there's Classic (black and white), then Calm, Cool, Retro, Forest, Vivid and Soft. Unfortunately, none of these is ever explained in the manual except in obtuse phrasing such as 'Vivid style is applied'.
A number of more intense color adjustments are accessible through the menu system while shooting. These are Black & White, Sepia, Blue, Red, Green and Negative. The contrast and saturation can also be adjusted through the menu. Finally, Sharpening can be set to Soft, Soft +, Vivid or Vivid +.
The color effects listed above are also available in Playback mode as are saturation and contrast adjustments, with additional controls for brightness, and Red Eye Fix as well as ACB (auto contrast balance), which attempts to fix images that are overly backlit. There are basic editing controls as well, such as rotation and resizing, and some more color effects. These additional color effects are in a Special Color menu, and are Add Noise, Elegant, Shaded and Color Filter. The nature of these effects is covered in more detail in the Playback section of this review.
Connectivity / Extras
The NV40 comes bundled with Samsung Master, a basic image viewer and editor. The application is quite limited, and allows you to crop, edit and retouch your photos. The user interface is unintuitive, and the tools are minimal. It also functions as a simple movie editor for movie files taken with the camera.
Unfortunately this program is PC only. If you're using a Mac, though, there's a good chance you use iPhoto which provides the majority of functions found in Samsung Master with a far better user interface.
Jacks, ports, plugs (2.00)
The NV40 eschews the traditional mini USB or composite video-out port for a dual-purpose proprietary port. This is an increasing trend in digital cameras as a space-saving measure, and with a camera as small as the NV40, real estate is at a premium. However, this necessitates carrying camera-specific cables and paying dearly if they're lost.
Direct Print Options (6.00)
The NV40 offers both PictBridge and DPOF technologies. The former allows the camera to connect directly to a compatible printer via USB, without using a computer. The latter lets you create a print order indicating file selection, print size and quantity, so you can give your memory card directly to a commercial print service. Once again, this avoids the need for a computer, and can be a time saver when traveling. However, the DPOF controls are once again marred by the difficult navigation system of the camera.
The NV40's battery lasted about a day of solid use during our intensive shooting tests. The rechargeable 3.7 volt, 1100mAh required recharging three times over the course of four days of relatively heavy use. While this isn't a problem when you have access to a ready power source, it is something to keep in mind if you plan on traveling to locations where you might be away from wall sockets for an extended time.
The NV40's battery is housed beneath the camera *Memory* (3.00)
The NV40 has 20MB of built in memory, and can take SD and SDHC memory cards. While SDHC cards are available at much higher capacities, Samsung only guarantees the NV40 up to 8GB. The memory card slot is flush against the battery, both of which are blocked when using a tripod.
Other features (2.00)
The NV40 offers two levels of image stabilization, both optical and digital, the latter of which is only available in a Dual Stabilization mode. Optical image stabilization uses a gyroscope to steady the lens, and according to Samsung, the NV40's digital image stabilization system 'uses proprietary algorithms to produce a final image using the extracted color data and shape information from a captured image'. In our informal testing, we did not find any benefit to using both levels of stabilization.
If you can get past the difficult user interface, the NV40 is a solid value due to its excellent shooting ability. It performed very well in all our tests, especially for shots taken in automatic mode. If you like just being able to turn on your camera and get good-looking shots, the NV40 is worth the price.
**Canon Powershot SD1100 IS – **The SD100 IS outperformed the Samsung in color accuracy testing and some speed tests. However, the noise level performance with the NV40 was superior, as was the low light performance. The NV40 also has more extensive editing modes during playback and more extensive manual controls. In its favor, the Canon does have a stitch mode, which allows you to make panoramic images. The SD1100 debuted at a price of $250, and is now available for $195.
**Pentax Optio Z10 – **When the Optio Z10 was launched for Christmas 2007, it had a price tag of $250, which has since dropped to an affordable $140, almost $100 cheaper than the NV40. While the Pentax resolution maxes out at 8 megapixels versus 10 for the Samsung, that is enough for most situations, and it has an impressive 7x optical zoom compared to 3x for the NV40. The Z10 has a wider array of editing tools in the camera, including more image effects and the ability to add borders to your images. It can also recognize 15 faces in facial recognition mode, but has a slower auto focus than the NV40. While the NV40 beat the Z10 in all the performance tests we run, the Pentax did score well in dynamic range, but poorly in image noise testing. The primary advantage to the Z10 at this point is its considerably lower price, and the 7x optical zoom.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8** – The Lumix DMC-LZ8 is a budget-friendly point-and-shoot from Panasonic that can be found for about $150. It has a 5x optical zoom, and outperformed the NV40 on the color, ISO and low light tests. The Lumix also has aperture and shutter priority in addition to manual and auto modes, as well as scene detection, which will automatically choose the most appropriate preset mode. However, the resolution, at 8 megapixels, is lower than the NV40, and testing results for resolution, timing and dynamic range were unimpressive.
Olympus Stylus 830**–**The Stylus 830 offers a weatherproof body and a 5x zoom, both of which are improvements over the NV40, especially in less than ideal conditions. The Stylus was introduced at $330 but is now available for $180, and boasts a more diverse set of editing and playback options than the Samsung. Of the cameras we chose for comparison purposes, the Olympus had the best auto noise and low light scores. It has a larger number of scene modes than the Samsung, but the image quality from the NV40 far surpassed the Olympus.
Who It’s For ***
Point-and-Shooters* – Like most compact cameras, the NV40 is aimed squarely at point-and-shooters. It photographs very well in automatic mode, especially the white balance performance, making it an excellent choice if you don't want to fiddle with settings too much. It offers a decent amount of control if you do want to explore manual options. If you can get past the hurdle of an unintuitive and imprecise control scheme, then this is a perfect camera to chuck in your pocket or purse.
Budget Consumers – The Samsung NV40 isn't the cheapest compact camera you can find, nor the most expensive. It sits in the middle of the $250-$300 price range, where you'll find the majority of this type of camera. However, it performs very well for this price point, as is shown in our performance testing. For the price, you'll be hard pressed to find a camera with better white balance, noise and resolution performance.
Gadget Freaks – If you absolutely have to have the smallest, sleekest pocket sized camera with the largest LCD imaginable, the NV40 probably isn't for you. It's small, but there are smaller cameras, such as the Sony DSC-T77. Touch-screen cameras like the Sony DSC-T700 offer a more intuitive user interface and larger LCDs. The unique Samsung user interface may tempt some of the gadget crowd, as it's like nothing else on the market. Uniqueness alone is no benefit, though, and we found the interface particularly difficult to use.
Manual Control Freaks – While the NV40 offers more control than many point-and-shoot cameras, it's not exactly a bastion of customizability. The option to manually set white balance, or fully control shutter speed is a nice addition, but if you're serious about manually controlling a digital camera, this probably isn't the right camera class for you.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists – The NV40 does offer very good image quality for a compact, and is certainly an option as a secondary camera. However, the troublesome menu system and lack of shutter and aperture priority will not endear it to this crowd.
While we are not huge fans of the user interface of the NV40, the camera’s laboratory test scores impressed us. The manual noise and white balance performances, in particular were excellent, as were the resolution and dynamic range scores. This is a camera that shoots accurate photos in automatic mode in adverse conditions, which is perfect for a compact point-and-shoot camera
There is the hurdle of the oddball menu and button control system, though. It's difficult to use, and has quite a learning curve if you're used to a more traditional menu system. This isn't a camera you'll be able to give someone to take your photo and expect them to tweak the settings. Thankfully the robust auto mode handles most situations well. The self-portrait mode is also a nice touch.
If you can get past the awkward controls, or have the fingers of a safe cracker, the NV40 takes excellent photos in an attractive, slim housing for a reasonable price.
Click on any of the images below to view the full-sized original image. However, please note that some of the images are extremely large (up to several megabytes) and could take a long time to download. **
********You can browse photos taken with the Samsung NV40 at the following photo hosting sites.
Specs / Ratings
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