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Featuring a design that can only be classified as unusual, the Samsung NV7 is stylish yet strange. Duncan Evans is just strange, so he checks it out.
There's always been a market for a lightweight compact that was stuffed with exciting features, and in the NV7 Samsung has taken that on board. The smooth and lovely black, metal body features a touch-sensitive button control system on the back, but in a totally bizarre move, has wedged a huge fixed lens shape on the front that's almost twice the thickness of the body itself.
- 7.2Mp resolution
- 7x optical zoom
- 2.5” LCD monitor
- Mechanical shake reduction
- 1cm Macro
- Voice recording
- VGA movies
- 19Mb internal memory
- Weighs 245.2g
With 7.2Mp, the NV7 isn't going up against the 10Mp compact boys as such, but it is aiming for quality in terms of feel and image quality. Nearest competitors are cameras like the Canon PowerShot A710 IS.
The dial on the top right of the body contains all the shooting options, including Program, ASM, Advanced Shake Reduction, Effects mode, Scene mode, Video, Auto and slideshow playback. The ASM allows selection of aperture or shutter priority mode or manual. The aperture selection runs from f/2.8 to f/7.3, which is a slightly smaller range than is normal on a compact. With the 7x optical zoom at the telephoto end, this range changes to f/4.0-f/10.1. As far as shutter speed goes, what is available depends on the mode being used. Auto for example only uses up to 1sec, Fireworks mode uses 4secs, Night time mode 6secs and manual or shutter priority mode a more useful and handy 15secs. The maximum shooting speed is only 1/1500secs though, which makes it harder to use wide open apertures – suitable for portraits – on a very bright day.
The ISO range runs from 100 up to 800 and then tags an ISO1000 option on the end. This will help make shots easier to get in darker conditions, though the Advanced Shake Reduction system, which is a system compensation feature, should be considered as well. There is also the OPS system, which is the optical, moving sensor technology to counter camera shake.
The video system records up to 640x480 resolution at either 15fps or 25fps and there is the option to use voice recording or add voice comments to pictures. A19Mb store of internal memory is there for emergencies and to back up the SD/MMC card.
Like almost all the actual menu-orientated functions, Exposure compensation (a +/-2EV range isn't huge), White balance and Focus mode are easy to select from the 2.5” LCD screen. The Focus mode has options for manual, macro and super macro. This latter option is hugely impressive allowing the camera lens to get right up next to whatever is being photographed.
The scene modes cover the usual subjects, but as each one is selected on the LCD, a vignette image of that mode appears along with a description. The use of the screen modes ties in specific photo processing functions, so that for portraits, tones are healthy and not over-done while for sunsets extra red and yellow is added to make even more dramatic.
There are also the usual three metering modes – spot, centre weighted and zone, effects and sharpness options that can be applied.
It has something of an industrial feel to it, but in a nice way, with a really solid, matte black metal body and a sharp ridge on the front for the hand grip. This works quite well so the camera is good to hold. The mode dial has a very firm feel to it and while the zoom rocker doesn't move that far, it has a positive feedback to it. What is of course, totally mad, is that the lens appears glued to the front. Obviously it isn't, but the use of different finish metal and the size of it, gives that impression. When activated, the lens then protudes further from its housing, by another camera-width. The advantage of having this, disproportionately large, Schneider-Kreuznach lens is that the image quality should be notably better than if a small lens built into the body was used. There's also a ridge on the back, onto which the lens cap can be attached, but it does help with handling as well.
One of the main points about the NV7 is how the menu system is accessed. Instead of single buttons and menus to navigate, everything is displayed around the edges of the LCD and the numerous buttons then select and adjust it. These are both touch (to select) and pressure (to activate) sensitive. When changing some settings, the slender buttons need to be caressed either left or right, to go up or down the settings. This is very different from normal cameras, but works very well and makes all those common features extremely easy to access and swift to locate. You can pick the camera up and alter settings within seconds. However, they are quite small and those with sausage fingers might find it difficult to change settings accurately.
The built-in flash is all you get with this compact. It pops up when required and offers auto, red eye reduction, fill-in flash, slow sync and off. The range is 0.2m to 5.8m at the wide angle end and 0.6m to 4m at the telephoto end. While this isn't a great deal of power, it is better than cameras like the Canon Powershot A710 IS which has a range of only 3.5m at the wide angle end.
It takes around three seconds from pressing the on button to having the lens emerge and be ready for firing. This is fairly typical. While the maximum shooting speed isn't super-fast, it should be good enough for most situations. Autofocus is pretty fast, but if an object is just within the range that it can operate in, the NV7 sometimes struggles until it has been moved further back or the zoom retracted a little further. A red spotting beam comes on in dark conditions.
The shutter speed range isn't great and may struggle on bright days, but to be honest, this really isn't a big deal. The key factors about the camera are the handling with the unique function selection system and the image quality because of that great big lens on the front. The handling is good and makes it much easier to change settings than going through a menu system would entail. However, when we come to image quality, the result is rather variable. For portraits and scene modes, the NV7 does a good job, but noise becomes very evident far too quickly. Basically, at ISO400 plain areas are covered in coloured noise while the detail starts to go and the colour is slightly darker. Even ISO200 has noise, but it isn't enough to detract from the picture. At ISO800 however, the background deteriorates rapidly becoming very messy while the colour has significantly shifted and detail disappears under a blur of random pixels. ISO1000 is virtually the same, but both have to be questioned for their usefulness in colour, with so much noise going on.
That said, some of the processing options produce good results, so using the Scene modes can be recommended. Also, sharpness is generally good, from the wide angle to the telephoto end.
The touch-sensitive buttons make accessing the menus very easy and controlling aperture by rubbing a finger left or right is a curious, but immediate and quick method of changing the setting. However, with the buttons being so small, it's quite easy to select the wrong function. That though, is a small price to pay for a system which makes picking up and using the camera incredibly easy, with no recourse to the manual required. It's pleasant and a real pleasure to use, which is a key point for a compact camera.
Finally, macro functions are a staple diet of compacts and the N7 is no exception, with a Super Macro mode that cover 1cm-10cm. This means that the lens is effectively right up against the subject, which enables very creative photos to be taken, though care must be taken as the lens starts to block out light at such close range.
One of the Scene modes is for sunsets, which means that the camera adds extra red and yellow to make the picture more dramatic, as can be seen here.
There is noise evident in even the ISO100 test shot, with dark blue artefacts appearing across the grey card. At ISO200 this is more noticeable and the red petals of the flower appear more bitty. It's still acceptable though, but when ISO400 is selected the noise becomes significant with a very noisy area of the grey card and image deterioration in the petal areas. At ISO800 and 1000 the image deteriorates considerably, affecting both the colour of the petals and the tones of the grey card. Overall, this is worse than rival cameras.
Handling and overall control is superb, but that lens does make it awkward to just slip into a pocket. The benefit of the lens is that images are nice and sharp throughout, but image quality really is not great, with noticable variations and artefacts even at ISO100. That said, flash produces very nice tones in portraits, the macro function is brilliant and the button-LCD system enables the camera to be used without ever reading the manual. The NV7 has a real quality look and feel. If handling and looks are more important than outright image quality, then this is a unique and spectacular compact camera. If you are intending to print your images large though, this is perhaps not the camera for you.
Unique menu-free feature system
Excellent build quality
Dramatic and different look
7x optical zoom is sharp
Macro function is fantastic
Scene modes effective
Image quality is mediocre
Buttons are very small
Lens makes shape awkward
Blue colours not that accurate
Image noise a problem at ISO400
Only sRGB, no AdobeRGB