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Samsung L700 vs Pentax Optio M30 Digital Camera Review

Samsung L700 vs Pentax Optio M30 Digital Camera Review - Duncan Evans takes two 7Mp compacts with 3x optical zooms, puts them in a ring and shouts, fight!

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Samsung L700 vs Pentax Optio M30 in Compact Cameras

Specification (L700 / M30)

  • Sensor: 1/2.5in. 7.4Mp CCD / 1/2.5in. 7.38Mp CD
  • Image Size: 3072 x 2304 / 3072 x 2304
  • Lens: 35-105mm equiv. f/2.8 / 38-114mm equiv. f/3.1
  • Exposure: Auto, Program, Scene (11), Voice recording / Auto, Program, Scene (11), voice recording
  • Metering: Multi-pattern and spot / zone, centre-weighted, spot
  • Monitor: 2.5in. LCD (230k pixels) / 2.5in. LCD (115k pixels)
  • Movie Mode: 640x480, 30fps / 640x480, 30fps
  • ISO range: ISO50-1600 / ISO64-3200
  • Macro mode: 5cm / 5cm
  • Flash range (ISO100): 3m / 5.5m
  • Shutter speed: 1-1/2000sec normal, 15sec night mode / 4-1/2000sec
  • Storage: 20Mb internal, SD/MMC / 22Mb internal, SD/SDHC
  • Size/Weight: 9.69 x 5.68 x 2.05cm - 130g / 9.7 x 5.7 x 1.8cm - 120g

The reason why we're pitching these two cameras together in a fight to the death is that they both sport 7Mp resolutions, have a 3x optical zoom and are in the well-built, natty compact market. And they're silver, like my car. The Pentax M30 costs around £149 and the Samsung L700 comes in slightly cheaper at £129.99

 L700 front left
 M30 front left
Modes and features
Although they have a slightly different look and feel, the two cameras are very similar in terms of specifications and control layout. On the top of both there is only a power button and the fire button, each being the same size as the other camera, though the L700 fire button is slightly broader. Around the back the M30 has three buttons, a zoom rocker and a joypad, compared to the L700's four button and combined thumbgrip/camera strap slot. The zoom is the same on both - 3x optical - but where the main difference comes is in what the buttons are used for. The M30 has playback, menu and custom/delete buttons, which makes it simpler to use. The L700 has mode, effect, exposure compensation and playback buttons. The menu button on the L700 is in the centre of the joypad. This effectively means that that the L700 has more buttons for control, saving trips into the menu. The M30 though, allows one from a number of functions to be assigned to its green button. This defaults as a green, or simple mode, but then can be assigned to something more sensible like exposure compensation which is very important on compact cameras that lack AP and SP shooting modes.

The shooting modes consist of Program, Auto, Movie and the scene modes, of which both cameras have the same number. The Pentax menu system though, is a lot easier to go through compared to the rather strange horizontal layout of the Samsung camera. Also, a number of important features are hidden on the L700. Pressing the exposure compensation button brings that feature up, but it is also possible to navigate upwards to include the white balance settings, tinker with the primary colours and critically, change the ISO rating. Now, it's okay when you know where this is, but otherwise it takes some finding.

 L700 left
 M30 left
One of the big claims for the M30 is that it has a high sensitity mode that allows up to ISO3200, which beats the L700's ISO1600 on paper. However, the L700's range starts with ISO50, whereas the M30 is ISO64. In general shooting modes, the M30 has a longer shutter speed option at 4secs compared to the L700s 1sec, but, in night exposure mode, the L700 can capture a 15sec exposure which is much more impressive.

The macro mode on both cameras is the same at a respectable 5cm, each being activated via the joypad. The L700 has a choice of metering systems - multi or spot, being accessible through the menu system. The M30 features zone, centre-weighted and spot metering, but you can't access any of them, so it would appear they are reserved for specific modes, such as CW or spot being used with the portrait mode. However, the M30 has more features like panning focus and a tracking focus mode, although this is a little gimmicky as it wanders off target very easily.

Build and handling
The build quality of both cameras is good, especially at these kind of prices, with either dull and burnished metal (L700) or shiny and mottled metal (M30). Handling is very similar as they both have thumbgrips in the same place. The nodules on the M30 are more raised, but the L700 combines its thumbgrip with a holder for the strap. Physically, they are almost identical in terms of height and length, the real difference coming in the thickness. The M30 is a lot more slender and with the gentle, concave front, has a more elegant look. The menu system of the M30 is generally easier to follow, though the L700s is hardly a challenge. The buttons and controls are all a similar size, though they appear a little nicer on the M30, with those on the L700 looking and feeling like they were done by engineering students. The battery and card flap on the M30 is a little cheaper and more flimsy than the L700s though. Finally, though most people won't bother attaching the L700 to a tripod, those that do might have problems. The screw thread in the base was too shallow for our tripod release plate, so it wobbled about.

Flash options
The M30 has a brace of options so that the flash can be forced off, or forced on, with or without red eye reduction. Or it can be put into normal auto mode, or auto with red-eye removal. Handily, it also has a soft flash option for more subtle, fill-flash style results. The L700 has one fewer option in that it puts the flash into auto, forced on, a single red eye mode or slow sync flash, which is actually much more creative, as it takes in the background ambient light. However, what wins the round for the M30 is that it pumps out the power, offering a 5.5m range at ISO100, compared to the standard 3m of the L700. This puts the M30 to the top of what you can expect from a small compact.

L700 LCD 
 M30 LCD
The L700 has the edge in terms of starting up, managing to get the lens out and be ready for shooting in around 4secs, which is fairly standard, compared to the M30s more leisurely 5secs. The performance of the zooms are similar, as the L700 starts going quicker, but the M30 moves faster, both finishing at the top end of the 3x zoom at the same time. Putting the cameras into burst mode, the L700 manages a decent five shots in a 10 second burst, but it's 20secs before it has finished saving them and frees up the camera. The first three plod out at roughly a second each, but the last two really strain to get out in the 10sec test. The M30 also manages five shots in the 10secs, but shoots them quicker and is ready to shoot again after about 16secs.

There's an interesting result from the colour chart test in that the results are so similar there's a high probability that they are using the same sensor. In actual terms, the primary blue is lighter, the skin tone is redder than it should be, but primary red is very good and green is fairly close to what it should be. On the mixtures, the blue sky colour is lighter and the bluish-green combo is more cyan. Also, the orange-yellow combination is certainly dingier and more orange - that extra red coming into play again.

The portrait test shows two different approaches by the cameras. Portrait mode was used on both, and the M30 used face detection to lock on, but the results from it were softer and more yellow than the L700 which gave a sharp result and more ruddy complexion. Strangely, even though the L700s shot is sharper, the M30 shows poorer image quality and noise. Taking this on to the landscape test, using landscape mode, the focus point for both shots was the same - about a third of the way into the scene. The L700 is much sharper in the foreground, but the background is soft, whereas the M30 is softer in the foreground, but much sharper in the background. However, what wins this test for the L700 is that the M30 has both noise - though it might be closer to the truth to say the image quality is simply poorer - and significant colour fringing on verticals, and around the bridge area. The L700 keeps this under far better control.

The M30 does score a point by being able to use exposure compensation in landscape mode - the L700, like most of the other Samsung compacts, turns this off when landscape mode is selected. The ability to mix and match settings continues with the macro mode. This is a specific mode on the L700, and again, turns off other controls. On the M30 not only can exposure compensation be used, but macro can be used with other modes like the flower mode. The results from that test showed colour fringing from both cameras, but only at the top of the image on the L700, whereas it was throughout the M30 image. The L700 was also sharper and had better image quality.

 L700 colour chart
The L700 shows good red and green accuracy though the orange-yellow mixture is more orange, and the blue-green is cyan.

 M30 colour chart
The M30 colour chart is virtually identical to the L700, the only differences coming from a slightly different exposure.

 L700 portrait
The L700 portrait test shows sharpness, detail, good tones and a more ruddy complexion than the M30.

M30 portrait test
The M30 portrait test is soft, has poor image quality and has come up with yellowish skin tones.

 L700 landscape
The L700 landscape is exposed for the foreground where it is sharp. Colour fringing is well controlled and there is no noise.

M30 landscape 
The M30 is sharp in the background, but soft at the front. However, it also has significant colour fringing and noise.

 L700 macro
The L700 macro shot shows some fringing at the top, but is sharp and detailed with no noise.

 M30 macro
The M30 macro shot has colour fringing throughout, along with a soft picture full of noise.

Noise tests
At the lowest setting for both cameras the L700 is pretty smooth but the M30 shows purple dots in the grey card, which is disappointing at this low a setting. Rather than actual noise, this is more down to the fact that the M30's image are more bitty - ie, poorly processed than the L700s. Jumping up to ISO200, the M30 noise is slightly worse, whereas the L700 is still pretty smooth with just a slight colour variation. ISO400 is normally the crucial test, and on the L700 it's now visible, more so in the shadows, but it's not a problem. The M30 is worse, particularly in the shadows and overall isn't a great result at this setting. Up to ISO800 and the L700 is now clearly noisy, particularly on the black card and in the shadows, but this isn't too bad for this setting. Now, at this point I was expecting the M30 to be a disaster, but though it's noisier than the L700, it isn't catastrophic. However, there is certainly less detail in the petals. At ISO1600 you can't expect much and indeed, the M30 is a riot of bitty noise of different colours. The L700 is also noisy, but it's markedly better than the M30 and gives one of the better performances we've seen from compact cameras at this setting. Given that the M30 has been worse all the way through, it's perverse that it features an ISO3200 mode. Needless to say this isn't very good, and now features red noise as well as purple, all over the petals and yellow area. The colour has shifted, detail has disappeared under the blizzard of noise, but the shapes are still visible. If forced to use this mode, you wouldn't want to print the images very large.

 L700 ISO50
L700 ISO50 test.

 M30 ISO64
M30 ISO64 test.

 L700 ISO100 test.
L700 ISO100 test.

 M30 ISO100
M30 ISO100 test.

 L700 ISO200
L700 ISO200 test.

 M30 ISO200
M30 ISO200 test.

 L700 ISO400
L700 ISO400 test.

 M30 ISO400
M30 ISO400 test.

 L700 ISO800
L700 ISO800 test.

 M30 ISO800
M30 ISO800 test.

 L700 ISO1600
L700 ISO1600 test.

 M30 ISO1600
M30 ISO1600 test.

 M30 ISO3200
M30 ISO3200 test.

The Pentax Optio M30 scores on the looks stakes by being significantly thinner than the L700 which looks chunkier and blander in comparison. However, the L700 has a far better LCD screen with double the resolution so, when zooming in to view results, the L700 will show more detail. That said, the M30 has a live histogram feature that makes getter accurate exposures much more easily. The exposure compensation is easy to use on the L700 as it has a dedicated button, but the M30 has a function button that this can be assigned to as well.

The L700 has a slightly wider viewpoint at 35mm compared to the more claustrophobic 38mm of the M30, but the flipside of this is that when the zoom is used, the M30 has a longer reach by 9mm. Also, at the wide angle end, the L700 has a slightly better performing lens at f/2.8 whereas the M30 is f3.1 but, overall, the differences here are marginal.

When it comes to flash output, the M30 is a clear winner in terms of power, though the L700 has a nice creative option. The M30 has a shortcoming in that there are three metering modes, but you can't set them yourself. Also, because the M30 is slimmer, it uses a smaller capacity Li-ion battery (740mAh v 860mAh), which, combined with the higher flash output, will make it tend to go flat slightly quicker than the L700.

So far, so M30, but this is all turned around when we get to actually shooting images. Despite the fact that the colour chart tests were virtually identical, how the processing engines work is markedly different. The L700 is sharper in most tests, it has better colour fringing control and the image quality is markedly better with less noise and bittiness throughout, all the way through the ISO range. So, the M30 is nicer looking, handles better, but the L700 makes up for the more industrial approach with image quality that whups the M30's shiny metal ass. The winner of this head to head, is therefore, the Samsung L700.

L700 vs M30Samsung L700

Plus points:
Longer exposures
Faster startup
Slightly better wide-angle
More buttons
Better image quality
Lower noise
Less colour fringing

Minus points:
Fatter design
Average flash
Awkward menus

Pentax Optio M30

Plus points:
Great ISO range
Slim design
Slightly longer zoom
More powerful flash
Tracking and panning focus
Better menus

 L700 winner
And the winner is... the Samsung L700.

Minus points:

Slightly more limited lens
Slower startup
Can't change metering mode
Worse images
Colour fringing
More noise


The Samsung L700 costs around £129.99 while the Pentax M30 costs around £149 and can be purchased from the ePHOTOzine shop here.


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