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The Samsung DigiMax i7 harkens back to the gloomy dawn of digital when every low-res, Christmas-cracker type digital camera came with a built-in MP3 player, but only enough memory to play half a song. Fortunately, this is the new-Millenium, so the i7 comes in sexy, shiny black, with a whopping 3in. LCD screen and more internal memory than a room full of Mensa members.
- Sensor: CCD - 7.2 Million pixels
- Image Size: 3072 x 2304
- Lens: 38-114mm f/3.5-4.5 (3x Zoom)
- Shutter speed: 2-1/2000sec normal, 15-1/2000sec night mode
- Focus: TTL Auto
- Macro: 5cm normal, 1cm Super Macro
- Exposure: Program AE
- Metering: Multi, Spot, CW
- Flash range: 3.4m at wide angle
- Monitor: 3.0in. TFT LCD (230k pixels)
- ISO range: 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
- Movie Mode: Yes
- Storage: 512Mb Internal, MMC/SD
- Batteries: Li-ion Battery
- AC Adaptor: Included
- Video Output: Yes
- Size/Weight: 100x60x22mm - 186g
- Transfer: USB
The camera features of 3x optical zoom and 7Mp resolution, combined with a street price of £229, would make it more expensive than similar spec cameras so the multimedia and MP3 players aspects have to be considered as well. This narrows the competitors down - Samsung has the NV3 at £164 but others are thin on the ground.
Samsung i7 Modes and features
There are some cameras that promise a lot but when you get them home with the curtains drawn, it's all rather a disappointment. Not so this smooth, dark beauty. For a start, it's three things in one - camera with 7Mp res and 3x optical zoom, MP3 player and video player. And it comes with a whopping 3in. screen that rotates into three positions that represent each of the functions. And you don't even have to press the on button - just rotating the screen turns it on automatically. What's strange is that the MP3 player position also lets you switch into camera mode as well, but considering that the camera zoom and mode buttons are then hidden this is a little strange to have as an option. As it transpires, the camera mode available, when the screen is in MP3 player position, is Auto, with little user ability to change settings. The spirit of interchangeability extends to the .SDC format movie player mode. Press the menu button here and switch to the MP3 player, a text reader or the built-in Tour Guide to 2600 regions in 30 countries. To be honest, this latter item is of very dubious value as it contains little more than one or two sentences, with no pictures or directions.
The top of the camera only houses three buttons. The power button, the fire button and one for locking the focus point when face detection is used. Even in camera mode, the i7 keeps things simple by having two zoom buttons, a mode button, a screen information toggle and a playback button. So, how have Samsung managed to streamline things to this degree? Well, in line with their other radical designs, they have incorporated touch screen technology so that all the features and settings are selected by pressing on the large screen.
Here, the four main modes are Auto, Program, ASR and Movie. Scene modes are a section below this and cover usual things like landscapes, portraits, macro, dawn, backlighting, and self-shots but also cover whacky stuff like cafes and food. What's surprising is that there are only 14 scene modes, but they cover the things you are most likely to use. The Auto mode is largely automatic - and, as mentioned, can be accessed in MP3 mode. The Program mode allows access to focus, flash, timer, metering, white balance, ISO, drive mode and exposure compensation adjustments. Not many of these are accessible when going into the scene modes and the inability to change the exposure compensation when in landscape mode is pretty daft.
One of the headline features of the i7 is that it comes with a decent 512Mb of internal memory, as well as the SD slot. This will let you store quite a few albums of MP3 songs and around 90+ high res, superfine quality photos. It will fill up rapidly with .SDC format movie files though, as this format is roughly twice as space-gobbling as DiVx format movie files. That's the playback format of the movie mode - when in camera mode you can record AVI-format video clips at up to 640*480 in 30fps and play them back there. Having a large internal memory does mean that it will be used for general picture taking, so thankfully getting at them is easy enough, especially as there's no function to copy from internal memory to the SD card. Once the camera is plugged into the PC, it becomes available as an external drive and pictures, AVIs, movie and MP3 files can be drag and dropped in either direction.
On the music front, the player itself is pretty crude, not supporting album artwork, or offering playlists, but there is a graphic equaliser, and albums or songs can be repeated or the music files played at random. There are two skins for the interface, but to call them that is a little generous as they are simply backgrounds, and bizarrely, any pictures already taken and in memory can't be used. Perhaps the cleverest thing is that a slideshow of all the pictures can be set running while the music plays. For audio output, there's a little speaker and a 2.5mm jack headphone socket. Headphones are supplied which is a nice touch.
Samsung i7 Build quality
There's a slick, black plastic finish, sheathing a solid metal framework, that you'll be polishing finger smudges off all day long. It isn't much thicker than a normal compact, but that rotating LCD screen is hefty and nice quality. Combined with the blue LED effects under controls, the silver rings and finishes, this camera is a winner in the looks stakes. There's also a big loop on one end for a carry strap. The controls, such as they are because there aren't many of them, are nice and solid, and the camera oozes quality. If you want a flashy multimedia camera, this is it.
Samsung i7 Flash options
There's the usual range of flash options from Auto, red-eye, fill-flash, slow sync, flash off and red-eye fix, so most bases are covered here. What's perhaps not as impressive is that the flash range is 3.4m at wide angle and 2.7m at telephoto which is down in the lower end of flash output from a compact.
Samsung i7 Performance
It's about four seconds from flipping the LCD screen round to the screen icons all coming up, which is par for the course. Turning the camera off is fast though - less than a second for the shutter to close and the LCD to go off. For the continuous shooting test, the i7 captured nine frames in the 10 second test, which is right up at the top of what you might expect.
Focussing is okay, it picks things up where there is reasonable contrast, and in plain areas where there is a single item to lock onto. It can find enough contrast in dark walls and carpets, though not on white ceilings. What isn't good is the zoom. It's only 3x optical, which is like many offerings, but it's very slow, trawling up and down the focal length range like a tractor.
Colour rendition is pretty lively, with not only bright blues as you'd expect from a compact, but an enthusiastic red as well. This resulted in healthy skin tones in our portrait test shots, despite the fact that the AWB managed to give the background a blue cast.
As with other Samsung cameras, the i7 has a great macro mode, with SuperMacro getting right in the face of the subject at just 1cm. With lively colours, this means that it's particularly good for flower shots. Where it starts to fall down is in distance shots as the lens doesn't control chromatic aberration well and detail in the mid-ground tends to disappear into mush.
Samsung i7 Noise test
Things start at ISO80 with the i7, and this gives a good, clean result, though small artefacts are just visible. At ISO100 they are slightly more noticeable, though it has to be said there's not as much detail in the petals as you might get from other cameras. At ISO200 some of the petal and central yellow detail disappears, noise is clearly evident in the grey and black card areas. This isn't great, but you'll still get usable pictures. At ISO400 the noise control kicks in to keep because while the card areas aren't a lot worse - they do have colour in the noise patterns now, almost all the detail has vanished from the flower - really, this is appalling. At ISO800, noise is more colourful and evident everywhere, but it's still under some kind of control. The payoff is that the flower now loses sharpness as well as all the detail. In an act of masochism, there's an ISO1600 mode, where the colour shifts, there's significant noise, and in the flower there are large patches of purple.
Samsung i7 Verdict
There's not much point in including multimedia features in a camera if they can't stand up on their own so that's the first question - if you have an i7, will you leave your MP3 player at home. The answer is that the audio quality is good enough, there is a basic graphic equalizer to optimise the sound, and it does have just about enough internal memory to make it worth while at 512Mb. There's also the storage card of course, but you are likely to be recording pictures onto that. The functions of the MP3 player are crude, but serviceable so yes, you'll be able to use it for that purpose. Though it makes a pretty big player in that case. The video function is worthwhile, even though the supplied Samsung software has to be used to convert files to the .SDC format. That 3in. screen will show off clips, though it's perhaps too small to sit and watch films on.
And that brings us to the camera itself. Well, it's a sexy beast and no mistake, with the rotating, touch-enabled screen adding even more style. Build quality is high and it looks great. It's very easy to use with that large, touch-sensitive screen. Performance wise, it's pretty average and you don't have to go far before the frailties start to show. The ISO performance is poor and detail resolution for landscapes is indifferent at best. Where the camera does shine is in rendering portraits, and as it does have a very good burst mode feature, it means you can capture batches of shots of people at a time. Stick to people and macro shots and you'll be fine, try much else and it'll end in tears.
So, as a package, it isn't spectacular in any department, except looks, but it does do a good enough job at all three functions to make it worthy of purchasing if you want a camera that can make a song and dance about its pictures.
Samsung i7 Minus points:
Noise performance past ISO200
Rendering detail in mid-distance
MP3 player a bit basic
Have to convert movies
The Samsung DigiMax i7 costs around £229 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.