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The Samsung TL34HD comes in three colors: silver with a red top and accents; bronze with a black top and lens; and black as the devil's soul. Naturally, our review model was the last of these. The body is made of lightweight metal, and feels like it can take a bit of a beating. Thankfully, the body is mostly matte, which helps prevent the entire camera from being a smear of fingerprints (we're looking at you, Nikon Coolpix S710). Overall, the TL34HD has an attractive curved aesthetic that is also functional, and we warmed to it quickly.
The front of the TL34HD is a sleek little number, with a curved accent along the upper left corner made of smoother plastic that morphs into a wrist-strap hole. Apart from this little area and a small section on the lens, the rest of the camera's front is made of a matte black plastic that appears to be pretty resistant to fingerprints. There's a slight projecting ridge, which acts as a grip. To the upper left of the lens are two small glass circles, the left one an IR receiver for the optional wireless remote and the one on the right for the auto focus assist lamp. The lens itself is set forward from the base by a smooth curve of about 4mm, and is ringed by a small strip of blue, and concentrically engraved rings on the metal. The right side of the body gracefully curves away around to the back.
The grip on the left adds a touch of stability.
As one would hope from a touch-screen camera, the main feature of the TL34HD's rear is the three-inch, 460,000 pixel LCD. Thankfully, Samsung haven't completely lost their mind and gone entirely touch based, instead keeping a column of four buttons along the right. The top two are conjoined and used for zooming in and out, and the two lower lozenge-shaped buttons are used for accessing the menu or switching to playback.
The back of the TL34HD is mostly rectangular, but the top right corner curves away to reveal the wrist-strap eyelet, and the mode dial poking out the top.
The LCD is large and easy to use.
Left Side* (5.00) *The TL34HD's left side is almost completely bare, with a small seam running the vertical length of the body. Near the top are two clusters of three dots which cover the microphone. This entire side of the camera is curved in a perfect half-cylinder.
You can just see the microphone holes at the top.
The right side of the camera offers us a little visual flair when compared to the left. Mostly comprised of smooth curves, the two halves of the case gracefully arch inwards to meet the protruding wristlet-strap. Above this, you can see the mode dial, projecting slightly to make it easier to reach.
*That spiky bit is where the lanyard loops.
The top is the repository of controls for the TL34. On the far right is the always essential Mode Dial, which lets you choose between Auto, Program, Manual, Dual Image Stabilization, Night, Beauty Shot, Scene Mode and Movie. Next to the left is the silver shutter control, which has a depression in the middle and is engraved with concentric rings, which makes it easy to identify by touch. Further left, and set back a little, is the power button. This is slightly recessed into the body so you don't push it accidentally, and glows blue like a souped-up Honda Civic while powered up. In an arc around this button are a series of small holes which cover the speaker. Finally, on the far left is the flash, which is hinged towards the rear, and springs upwards when the situation demands it. We're glad to see that Samsung have removed the vaguely useless Photo Style Selector Dial that we saw on the NV40, whose features are now accessed through the menu.
The business end of the controls
Flush on the left side of the camera botom is the housing for the battery and memory card. While the door guarding them won't stop a concerted assault, it feels like it will stand up to everyday use. Contrarily, we have some issues with the durability of the proprietary port on the camera's bottom. The issue isn't whether it's tough enough, but rather that it's completely exposed to the elements, with the working parts flush with the surface of the camera. This just screams for sand, water, mud and potentially damaging objects (like keys) to get pushed into it and ruin its functionality. Seeing as this is the only included way to hook your camera up to your computer or charge the battery, it would be a bit of a problem to work around if it broke. We did like having the tripod mount lens-centered, which makes framing your shots a little easier.
Exposed ports are a bad move
Color and Resolution
Of course, the ultimate criteria when evaluating a camera boils down to 'how well does it shoot?' We rigorously tested the TL34HD across a number of conditions to see how well it can capture the world around you.
We test the cameras ability to accurately record color by photographing the standard GretagMacbeth chart. The resulting images are run through Imatest, a program designed to analyze photographs, and tell us how close to the known color the camera captures. This is a measure of accuracy, so a camera that records bright and bombastic hues will score worse than one that shows a subdued but more accurate result. You can see the results in the chart below, where the outer ring of color is what the camera captured, the inner square is the ideal color corrected for light levels, and the small inset is the original chart color.
The TL34 captured purples and greens well*
This information can also be expressed in the chart below. In this version, the ideal color is represented by the square, the captured color is the circle, and the hue and saturation difference is expressed by the direction and length of the line between them, with a short line representing a close value. The TL34HD slightly under-saturated the image, but captured greens, purples, flesh tones and some dark blues very well.
*Flesh tones (numbered 1 and 2) are quite accurately captured
As you can see from the comparisons, this was a decent, if not amazing result from the Samsung. It's not quite up to the level of the Sony and Canon cameras, but it's nothing to scoff at.
Samsung TL34HD Color Scores
While the Samsung does boast an impressive 14.7-megapixel image size, resolution is more than just pixel count. We test resolution to assess the sharpness of the final image, which is affected by sensor, processing, optics and other factors. Once again, we rely on an industry standard chart and Imatest to analyze these results. The resolution is calculated as line widths per pixel height (lw/ph), which is a measure of the number of alternating black and white lines over a known area.
A full sized section of our resolution chart as shot by the TL34HD
The TL34HD grabbed 2162 lw/ph horizontally, and 2127 lw/ph vertically, with some slight under-sharpening. This is a good score, one which indicates that the Samsung will be able to capture a large amount of information in each photo. While it didn't do quite as well as the NV40 or Fujifilm F60fd, it handily outperformed both the Sony and Canon that we're comparing it to.
Samsung TL34HD Resolution Scores
A camera's dynamic range is a measure of how well it can reproduce areas of both white and black in a single image without making either one look gray. A camera with a high dynamic range will keep both areas, and the transition in-between, at their appropriate hue. A poor result, on the other hand, will make them murky. To test this we shoot a backlit chart with a series of tabs running from black to white, and run it through Imatest to see how many of the tabs the camera can distinguish at every available ISO.
It's normal to see a gradual decrease in dynamic range as ISOs increase, but the TL34HD behaved oddly, in that it started with a very high score at ISO 80, dropped dramatically at ISO 100, and then leveled out. With these results, the implication is that if you're shooting at the low end of the ISO scale, you'll get fantastic dynamic range, but there's no major performance drop between ISO 400 and ISO 1600.
Samsung TL34HD Dynamic Range Scores
One of the many problems that a camera has to deal with is that different light sources cast different hues of illumination. It's something our brains compensate for automatically: we don't have to think about the fact that incandescent lights make things look a little yellow and fluorescent bulbs make them seem blue. A camera can deal with these situations by either trying to evaluate the lighting, and automatically set itself, or have the user choose from a series of presets based on the different types of lighting. We test these two methods by photographing under the appropriate light source and checking the images for color accuracy. Keep in mind, the example illustrations produced by Imatest shown below are highly exaggerated, and you would not see this much difference when actually shooting with the camera.
The camera scored astonishingly well in this section because of its performance under flash and fluorescent illumination. In both cases, the TL34HD compensated admirably for the light, which bumped up its overall score. In indirect sunlight and tungsten light, the camera scored less well, especially struggling in the latter. However, the sunlight score was on par with most other cameras, and shows that this model has a very competent method of judging lighting, except perhaps under incandescent bulbs.
*Unfortunately, the TL34HD didn't fare quite as well using presets, and didn't offer one for flash illumination. Under every light source except tungsten, the TL34HD did better just being left on auto. Even with the tungsten lights, the results were barely average when compared to other cameras. This is clearly a camera that can be just left to its own devices under different lighting conditions.
The Samsung's exemplary performance while left on automatic puts the TL34HD considerably beyond the competition for white balance.
Samsung TL34HD White Balance Scores
Noise and Video
**If you've ever tried taking photos at a range of ISOs, you know that increased light sensitivity comes at a cost of static that appears across your images. This static, known as noise, hits at every ISO, it just becomes far more noticeable at higher settings. We test how prevalent this occurrence is with the camera by shooting at a range of ISOs, and looking at the amount of noise present in each.
Noise – Manual ISO*(10.89)*
For the TL34HD, there was no way to manually control noise reduction, though it undoubtedly has it. You can see in the graph below that the noise increases steadily from ISO 80 to 400, then drops at 800 before increasing again to 1600. The reason for this dip is most likely that high ISO noise reduction kick in at ISO 400, thus lowering the overall occurrence of the insidious static.
The TL34HD keeps noise levels below at 1% at ISO 200, and only gets to 1.5% noise at ISO 1600. That's an eminently respectable result, putting it among the better point-and-shoot cameras.
Samsung TL34HD Manual Noise Scores
The second half of our noise testing basically judges how smart and adaptive the camera is. We shoot a brightly lit chart with the camera set to auto ISO, and see what setting it chooses. In some situations, we've had cameras default to as high as ISO 800, which accounts for the occasional abysmal result, as higher ISO translates to higher nois. The Samsung outdid itself, shooting at ISO 200, where it already has a low noise level. These two factors combined give it a high score in the noise section.
Samsung TL34HD Auto Noise Scores
**Low Light ***(6.13)*
Whether it's at a bar or a birthday party, there are times when you're going to be using your camera in less than ideal lighting. A camera flash, while good for some things, is liable to send any candid subjects running in terror, and has a habit of making them look vampiric under the unflattering light of the strobe. To see how the camera handles without a flash in these low light conditions, we run two tests.
The first involves photographing the GretagMacbeth chart at a range of light levels, from 60 lux (standard indoor nighttime illumination) to 5 lux (the brightness of a single candle) and running the resulting images through Imatest to look at color accuracy and noise levels.
The TL34HD struggled a little at the higher end of this scale, having relatively low color accuracy at 60 and 30 lux. However, once the light levels were lowered even further, to 15 and 5 lux, the amount of noise was lowered and the color accuracy increased. The TL34HD showed itself to be competent in these low light conditions, if not amazing.
The second half of the low light test is based on long exposure performance. We put the lights down to a sultry 30 lux, set the camera on ISO 400, and try and coax it into taking exposures ranging from 1 second to 30 seconds. Unfortunately, with the TL34HD, any setting above five seconds completely over-exposed our color chart, thus rendering our tests incomparable to previous cameras. However, for the one and five second exposures, the noise levels were average but color accuracy was quite low.
In the low light tests, the Samsung did surprisingly well at the very low light levels, 15 and 5 lux, but only average for levels above that and in our long exposure test.
Samsung TL34HD Low Light Scores
To show you the effect shooting at different ISOs can have, we've taken a number of images of Rosie the riveter and her friends as well as our loving couple at every available setting. The lighting is standard fluorescents with a bit of incandescent for good luck, the camera set to Auto. Click on any image below to see it full size. It may take a long time to download, though, as they're large files.
**Video Performance ***(4.79)*
One of the key selling points of the TL34HD is its video performance: in fact, the HD in the title refers to high definition. Our laboratory testing procedure, though, calls for standard-definition tests of both color accuracy, image noise and resolution. We first film our color chart at 3000 and 30 lux, and the resolution chart at 3000 lux. From these videos we extract a number of frames, and run them through Imatest to look at color accuracy and resolution.
*Bright Indoor Light - *3000 Lux
The TL34HD did very well under bright lights. While the colors came out slightly over-saturated, the color error was minimal, and noise levels were kept about 0.6%. As you can see from the graph below, flesh tones and greens were kept very close to their ideal.
***Low Light - *30 Lux
Alas, the camera didn't handle low light videography quite as well. Noise levels bumped up to around 4%, and the color accuracy was low. Unfortunately, videos taken with the lights turned low might not look quite as good as you would like.
Things start to fall apart for the Samsung video in the resolution section. Like with still photography, we measure resolution as line widths per pixel height (lw/ph). The TL34HD managed a paltry 260 lw/ph horizontally and 267 lw/ph vertically. To put it bluntly, this is a horrible result, and it shows. When you record video, on either hi-def or normal, there's major compression artifacting, blurring and just a generally unclear look.
Like resolution, the camera struggled with our basic motion tests. While not quite as scientific as some of our other trials, this involves us recording speeding cars on the streets of Boston. The TL34HD had trouble focusing on moving objects, and they appeared blurred in freeze frames. Alas, even with good color accuracy in bright light, the camera just doesn't take very good videos.
Speed and Timing
**Much like a spaghetti western, in photography speed can be everything. It doesn't matter if you're pulling the camera from your pocket, or trying to grab a perfect shot in the middle of a sports game, speed is your ally. We tested to see just how snappy a performer the Samsung TL34HD is, in a number of different facets. Startup to First Shot ***(8.10)*
This is a measure of how long it takes the camera to go from being completely off, to turning on and taking the first photo. With repeated trials, the TL34HD averaged 1.9 seconds, which is pretty speedy for a relatively inexpensive point-and-shoot camera.
Samsung claims that burst mode can get three shots taken per two seconds. In our testing, we grabbed 1.3 frames per second, which is within a scientific margin of error from what Samsung claims. This isn't a great speed, 1.5 frames per second isn't likely to be much help in a situation where you need to take a large number of photos as fast as possible.
In previous generations of digital cameras, there used to be a palpable delay between pressing the shutter button on a camera and the picture actually being taken. This delay has all but disappeared with processor improvements, but we test for it anyway. The TL34HD showed no measurable delay between activating the button and the event occurring.
Often photo opportunities arise in rapid sequence, so you want your camera to be done processing the first and ready for the next as quickly as possible. To check the TL34HD's processing speed, we timed how long it took to display a captured image on the LCD after pressing the shutter. The TL34HD took, on average, 1.4 seconds, which is a good result. It's not the fastest camera on the block, but it won't be like your prom date, and leave you hanging for the entire night.
As with most point-and-shoot cameras, the TL34HD has no viewfinder.
Being a touch-screen camera, you'd expect a lot from the LCD of the TL34HD, and it doesn't disappoint. It's three inches large diagonally, with a resolution of 460,000 pixels. While this isn't quite up to the specs of some of the 900,000+ pixel LCDs we've seen, we found the Samsung's screen to be accurate, bright and easy to control. Some other touch-screen cameras, notable the Sony Cyber-shot T700, failed to impress us because the touch-screen felt imprecise. The TL34HD, on the other hand, was very responsive even if it doesn't have quite as many pixels. While there was some solarization of the screen, this only occurred at the most extreme of angles.
The LCD is one of the more accurate we've seen on a touch screen
As this is a touch-screen based system, there's no button for changing information while shooting or during playback. Rather, a small icon near the bottom left of the screen takes care of this function. Pressing on it allows you to change between three settings. The first shows complete shooting information and control icons constantly. The second will hide this information if it doesn't detect anything touching the screen for three seconds. The third pops up a little guide to each setting when you touch it so you know what you're dealing with. In playback, you have similar choices. Full information; only editing controls; and hide all information after three seconds of no activity.
The different options for display mode.
The flash is placed on the top right of the body, where it springs upward when needed. This has the advantage of putting it a bit further from the lens, which helps reduce red-eye a little. The problem with the placement, though, is the way it's positioned right where you'd normally hold the camera. This makes it extremely easy to accidentally stop it from popping up, or to block it with your fingers. On the positive side, it's very bright, and recycles quickly, so you can shoot again with a minimal delay. The flash modes available are Off, Auto, Red Eye, Fill in, Slow Sync, Red Eye Fix, and it is rated by Samsung at 1' to 17' (0.3m to 5.4m) wide and 1.6' to 8.9' (0.5m to 2.7m) tele on Auto ISO. If you're setting the ISO yourself, actual mileage may vary.
The flash has a tendency to get blocked by your fingers.
The lens offers 3.6x zoom, with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 28mm to 102mm. It's a good zoom ratio for such a small camera, and is wide-angle enough that group shots should be a breeze. Fully zoomed out, the aperture range is f/2.8 to f/7.3, and zoomed in all the way this changes to f/5.9 to f/15. The maximum aperture of f/2.8 is quite speedy for a point-and-shoot, and makes low light shooting just that little bit easier.
A nice combination of a good zoom and wide angle.
Design / Layout
Model Design / Appearance*(7.00)*
The Samsung TL34HD is functional and sleek. Its combinations of curves and straight lines is easy on the eyes and in the hands. While not quite so obvious on our review unit, some of the other available color schemes have quite pleasant visual accents along the top and lens of the camera. We appreciated most of the body being composed of matte metal, so as not to get quite so smeared with fingerprints. Unfortunately, this doesn't extend to the top of the camera, where you'll rest your fingers most of the time, which is shiny and easily smeared. Likewise, this is an unavoidable problem with a touch-screen, as running your fingers over it constantly leaves you with an oil-streaked surface.
Size / Portability*(6.00)*
The camera is 3.7' x 2.3' x 0.8' (94.9 x 59.5 x 19.9 mm) and weighs 4.9 oz (138 grams). For comparison, that's about the same size as a packet of cigarettes. While it isn't quite as small as the Samsung NV40, the grip ridge on the front is less prominent, and it will easily fit into all but the tightest of pockets, and will have no trouble in any sort of bag, satchel, purse or other holding device. It's small, light and easy to lug around. One problem we did find, is that due to Samsung's decision to make the Playback button turn the camera on, it's very easy for that button to get accidentally pushed in your pocket, which can kill your battery life.
There are two easy ways to grip the TL34HD, and unfortunately both cause problems. You can hold it by its corners, like our hand model has in the images below. This gives you stability and easy access to the controls. However, holding it this way, your fingers cover the flash, blocking it from extending when needed. The other options is to hold only the right side, using the grip strip to give a bit more stability. From this position, it's a bit difficult to reliably hit the zoom controls, and navigating the touch menus can be problematic.
It's small, but not problematically so.
**Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size ***(8.50)*
Seeing as the TL34HD is a touch-screen camera, most of the controls are accessed via the LCD. Wisely, Samsung decided to keep a few physical buttons, which makes handling the camera a little easier. These buttons seem quite robust, and can take quite a beating. One problem we encountered is with the placement of the zoom controls. If you're using the camera one-handed, the zoom is hard to control accurately. As mentioned above, we also noticed that pressing the Play button will turn on the camera, which can cause problems with battery life.
The touch-screen serves to control most facets of your shooting, and does so admirably. The TL34HD uses a capacitive method of detecting your fingers, much like an iPhone, which means it's more accurate, but you can't use a stylus or your fingernails on it. This additional accuracy is great, as it eliminates the difficulty we felt with some other cameras (like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700). Coupled with large icons and a straightforward interface, the TL34HD does touch-screen right. Of course, no system is without problems, and we didn't particularly like the way you have to swipe your finger across the screen to adjust some settings, rather than just tap on the level you want. For instance, when altering the shutter speed, you have to drag your finger repeatedly along a continuum rather than just tap on the desired speed.
Those zoom controls can be a bit
hard to hit right sometimes.
The menu system is set up in four tabs (plus PLAYBACK while in that mode), each with a maximum of two pages of settings. Each of these pages can only hold five options, as each one is set up to be large and easy to press with even the biggest of fingers, making them easy to browse through and alter. That said, for all its understated ease of use, the menus are actually incredibly scanty. There are very few options you can control, and most of them are basic.
PLAYBACK SETTING mode lets you delete, protect and mark images for printing.
SOUND SETTING alters volume, shutter noises, button presses and the like
DISPLAY SETTING lets you tweak LCD brightness, language, date and time, and quick view.
CAMERA SETTING gives you some scanty control over file naming, imprinting and card formatting
CONNECTION SETTING only changes video output controls
While shooting the camera, the majority of controls are set using a series of on-screen buttons. While fully in manual, you can change ISO, shutter speed, aperture, photo style, white balance, auto-contrast balance (a type of dynamic range optimization), on screen information, focus mode, flash, image size, face recognition, focus area, burst, metering, image quality, timer, microphone, optical image stabilization, color, sharpness, contrast and saturation.
Ease of Use (6.00)
The TL34HD is very easy to use, especially when thrown into Auto mode. The on-screen controls are just tapped to bring up sub-menus, there are help guides if you don't understand what settings do, and the camera seems to deal with most situations intelligently. While people yearning for a bit more control may be frustrated with the lack of settings for some relatively standard features (like noise reduction), it's otherwise a straightforward point-and-shoot.
The Samsung TL34HD has both an Auto and Program mode, depending on the level of control you're comfortable with. The latter lets you change focus mode, flash, resolution, face detection, focus area, image quality, timing, microphone, image stabilization and photo style selector (for options such as vivid, soft of forest). Flipping over to program adds a few more controls, such as ISO, exposure compensation, white balance, dynamic range optimization, drive, metering, color, brightness, saturation and sharpness.
While the Auto mode isn't as hands-off as we've seen in some other point-and-shoot cameras, you can get away without fiddling the settings, and still get a good photo.
As noted in our video testing section, the TL34HD doesn't shoot particularly high quality video, which is a shame. At the very least it gives you a decent amount of control over the process. You can alter exposure compensation, white balance, focus, resolution, frame rate, metering, timer, sound (off, on, or off while zooming), image stabilization and color.
You can shoot at 1280 x 720 (both high quality and normal, though the difference is never explained), 640 x 480 and 320 x 240. All resolutions can be filmed at 15 or 30fps, and the lowest can also squeeze in 60fps. The TL34HD uses MP4 (H.264(MPEG4.AVC)) as its compression method of choice. If you're having trouble running the files, we suggest using Apple's Quicktime.
Drive / Burst Mode*(7.00)*
The TL34HD has a number of burst modes, though none are mind-blowing. At full resolution, you can take a single image per press, or shoot on continuous mode to keep the photographs coming as long as the shutter button remains held down. High speed mode takes three shots every two seconds, a number more or less confirmed in our testing. If you need ultra-fast images and don't mind taking a resolution hit, Motion Capture will take 15 photos every two seconds, but at a measly one-megapixel resolution. Finally, there is auto-exposure bracketing, which has no controls, but brackets at the unusual ±0.5 steps..
For timers, there are the usual culprits. 10 seconds, 2 seconds, double (one picture taken after 10 seconds, another 2 seconds later) and remote. Unfortunately, the wireless remote isn't included, and was not on sale at the time of this review.
**Playback Mode ***(7.00)*
The playback mode on the camera is competent, if not amazing. You can scroll through images using two arrows at the bottom left and bottom right of the screen. The camera insists on using a sliding animation between each file, which makes comparing images difficult. You can view slideshows with five different transitions, three music types and a variety of intervals between pictures.
The editing controls are minimal. First of all, there's the basic resizing and rotating, which are nothing new. You can change the color of the image to negative, green, red, blue, sepia and black and white. Special effects add filters and distortions to your picture: add noise speckles your image; elegant softens and brightens it; shaded creates vignetting (shadows towards the corners) and color filter will turn everything that isn't in the foreground into black and white. You can also fix red-eye and tweak saturation, brightness and contrast. Finally, there face retouch, which adds a soft blur over facial photos to help cover the skin imperfections.
The editing controls in playback.
When browsing through your images, you can zoom in up to 13.7x times, and scroll around with your fingers. You also have the option to press the Trim icon, and the image will be cropped to whatever's on screen presently. Zooming out to thumbnail versions shows nine thumbnails at a time, but unfortunately you can't zoom out further to show more.
Custom Image Presets*(8.00)*
The first two scene presets are placed on the Mode dial, the rest are accessed via Scene Mode.
-Beauty Shot (lightens faces and smooths skin flaws)
-Beach & Snow
Manual Control Options
The TL34HD has an odd hodgepodge of manual controls, giving you a lot of control in some situations, but very little in others. On the positive, you have a Manual mode where you can set aperture and shutter speed, custom white balancing is available, and you at least have some control over focus modes and metering. However, at the same time it's missing some controls we would have liked to have seen, like the level of noise reduction. Also, the aperture is only every able to be set at two levels, maximum and minimum.
Auto Focus (8.75)
There are three auto focus options available.. You can focus on the dead center of your image, use multi auto focus, or else tap the screen on the region you want to be the center of attention. This is quite common with touch-screen cameras, and lets you precisely focus on just the area you want, anywhere within the camera's frame. Face detection mode can handle up ten faces, and has a couple of variants to help allay common problems. Smile shot works to snap the picture whenever the person grins, and blink detection will take three photos rapidly if it realizes that your subjec's eyes are closed in the shot. If you're feeling a touch narcissistic (and frankly, you are awesome) there's also a self-portrait mode, where the camera will beep at you when your face is in frame and in focus.
The ISO range on the TL34HD is a respectable ISO 80 to ISO 1600, with ISO 3200 available at reduced 3-megapixel resolution.
As with ISO, there's a good range of white balance presets. As always, we're happy to see a custom white balance choice (allowing the user to manually set the white balance by shooting a neutral white or gray card), and the auto white balance showed itself to be highly accurate in our tests . There are also presets for daylight, cloudy, fluorescent H, fluorescent L and tungsten. Shade and flash would have been nice additions, but their absence isn't a deal breaker.
The TL34HD has exposure compensation in Program and Manual modes, and can be set at ±2 EV in 1/3 steps. It has some degree of auto exposure bracketing; you can't control it, and it shoots at the slightly odd ±0.5 steps in either direction.
For metering, you can set the TL34HD to spot, multi, or center-weighted according to your whims.
The shutter speed can be set from 16 to 1/2000 of a second, an impressive spread, especially at the longer end of the scale. One annoyance we encountered: setting the shutter speed involves repeatedly sweeping your finger across the screen, rather than just jabbing at the appropriate spot. It felt slow, and was awkward to manage when trying to change a setting quickly.
Aperture controls are distinctly lacking on the TL34HD, a problem we also noticed on the NV40, also from Samsung. While it's nice of them to let you at least alter the f-stop, you can only set it at either the largest or smallest aperture, and nowhere in-between, which is ultimately frustrating if you're trying to fine-tune a photograph.
Picture Quality / Size Options*(9.90)*
The Samsung TL34HD has quite an array of image size choices:
4384x3288 (14M), 4384x2920 (13M), 4384x2464 (10M), 3264x2448 (8M), 2592x1944 (5M), 1920x1080 (2M) and 1024x768 (1M). All can be taken at superfine, fine or normal quality.
Picture Effects Mode*(7.00)*
The picture effects on the TL34HD are far less hideous than some others we've seen, and at least save you the humiliation and disrepute of ugly virtual image frames. First of all, there's the photo style selector, which has a number of different shooting modes. There's soft, vivid, forest, retro, cool, calm and classic. Alas, none of these are fully described, so you'll have to fiddle to get a proper idea of what they do. While shooting, you also have access to a number of color filters: negative, green, red, blue, sepia and black and white.
In playback there are a few more interesting choices to play with your photographs. The effects available are Add Noise (puts speckling in your image), Elegant (soften the focus and brightens the images), Shaded (darkens the corners of the image), Color Filter (only keeps the color of objects in focus, creating a Sin City style effect), and finally Face Retouch (smooths out faces by up to three levels).
Connectivity / Extras
Samsung's included Samsung Master is a relatively basic image editor for the PC only (boo!) It's clunky, unintuitive, and has graphical effects that remind us of mid-nineties clip art. At the very least, it can handle most of your basic editing needs - cropping, resizing, tweaking brightness and the like, it's just not the greatest interface we've encountered.
Jacks, ports, plugs*(2.00)*
We dislike the port setup on the TL34HD for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's a proprietary port, which requires expensive cables to replace, and is the only included way of charging your batteries. Secondly, even though the camera is touted as being HD, there's no HDMI output unless you buy an additional docking station (which we've only seen listed on European websites for €39, which is about $50). Finally, the plug is completely exposed, without any sort of protection, which is just asking for keys, mud, sand and anything else to get stuck in there and damage it.
We're not big fans of proprietary ports.
Direct Print Options*(6.00)*
The TL34HD handles both major forms of direct print options. Firstly, there's PictBridge, which lets you plug your camera directly into a printer and control the number of prints, their size layout and quality. Secondly, there's DPOF (direct print order form) which lets you add digital tags to the pictures on your memory card, so you can hand it directly to a printing service and they can print off what you need.
The battery lasted well on a full charge, considering this is a touch-screen camera, and is rated by Samsung at approximately 100 minutes or 200 photographs. We would have liked an external battery charger, though, as opposed to charging the battery inside the camera. This is especially problematic if you want to charge a spare battery while you're busy shooting. *Memory**(4.00)*
The TL34HD has 40MB of internal memory, and takes MMC, SD, and SDHC cards. These are the most common form of memory card for point-and-shoot cameras; they're inexpensive, and available just about everywhere.
The battery and memory card share the camera's nethers.
Image Stabilization- Much like the Samsung NV40, the TL34HD offers two types 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 types of stabilization.
The TL34HD strikes us as pretty good value, overall. It's not the least expensive camera you'll find, but at less than $300, it probably won't break the bank. It takes excellent photos, and the touch-screen fixes the severe interface problem we experienced with the other Samsung we recently reviewed, NV40. All in all, it's an excellent, hardy camera at a reasonable price.
**Samsung NV40 – **The Samsung NV40 was one of the best cameras we've reviewed this year, with one problem: it had a horrible interface. The TL34HD takes everything we loved about the NV40, the handsome body, the solid construction and the excellent test results, and makes the interface work far better with a touch-screen. The NV40 has a list price of $300, but can currently be found for less than $200 if you look in the right place. It scored better than the TL34HD in our resolution and dynamic range tests. That said, the touch-screen model has a higher resoluiton, a better zoom and wide-angle lens, and is far easier to use.
***Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700 *– **The Sony costs $399, and to its credit has a robust body, which is sexy and slim, and has an incredible 4GB internal memory. However, apart from that we can't find much to recommend it. The touch-screen worked far less effectively than the Samsung's, and it scored worse in every test we run, bar color accuracy. It's a great stylish camera for impressing onlookers, but the T700 is a definite case of style over substance.
Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS**–**Consider the SD1100 a recession special; you can track one down on Amazon for approximately $160. It doesn't have a touch-screen, and it only shoots 8MP. It didn't score quite as well as the Samsung in our tests, but it is a solid, affordable camera. If you don't want to break the pocketbook on your purchase, this might be worth considering.
Fujifilm FinePix F60fd** –**This Fujifilm camera retails at the same level as the TL34HD, at $299. However, the Fuji is larger, lacks a touch-screen, shoots at 12MP compared to the Samsung's 14.7MP, and scored worse on every test bar resolution. It did have some better controls, including better aperture adjustment, and the Natural plus Flash tool, which is good for trying shots both with and without your flash.
Who It’s For ***
Point-and-Shooters* – While lacking the simple auto mode of some other cameras, the TL34HD is highly competent while left in auto. If you just let it do its own thing, the camera takes very good photos, and we were especially impressed with the excellent white balance results. This great result in auto mode makes it perfect for point-and-shooters, who can then work their way into more in-depth controls via Program then Manual modes if they choose.
Budget Consumers – At $300, this is probably just a little high for budget-minded folk. It's a very good deal at this price, but it's still not the least expensive camera that you can find. That said, wait a couple of months and the price may drop considerably.
Gadget Freaks – The TL34HD does have a touch-screen, and we think it's quite handsome, but this camera probably isn't quite ultra-sleek and ultra-sexy enough for your average gadget addict.
Manual Control Freaks – Technically, the camera does have a manual mode, but true control freaks will chafe against the limited aperture settings and overall automatic nature of this camera.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists – Pro and serious hobbyists would most likely gravitate more towards a high-end point-and-shoot with a large amount of control, like the Canon G series. That said, the TL34HD costs less, has some manual controls, and takes very good photos. If they're looking for an inexpensive, throw-in-the-purse point-and-shoot, it's a possibility.
Samsung is showing itself to be a major up-and-comer with this and the NV40. We found the TL34HD a pleasure to use. Its interface was excellent, the touch-screen functioned far better than most of the competition, and it scored very well in the majority of our tests, especially white balance. Retailing at $299 makes it quite a bargain for a touch-screen camera. Of course, it isn't without its down sides. There are some design problems, like the difficult-to-reach zoom control, the propensity for the flash unit to get blocked, the proprietary port, and the very poor video result. However, even taking these into consideration, we give this camera our thumbs up.
Click on any of the images below to view the full-sized origional image. However, please note that some of the images are extremely large (up to several megabytes) and could take a long time to download. **
Specs / Ratings