Samsung released the PL120 in January 2011 adding to their range of compact cameras with screens on both the front and the rear of the camera. The camera is one of the cheapest Samsung cameras available with dual screens, and is available in pink, purple, and silver (shown here). Nb. Due to similarities in the cameras, parts of this review are based on the Samsung PL170 review.
Samsung PL120: Features
Despite the ultra compact size, on the rear of the camera is a 2.7inch LCD screen, and another 1.5inch LCD screen on the front making it easy to take self-portraits. There is a button on the top which easily switches the front screen on. When taking pictures of children the front screen can show a video designed to capture their attention, ensuring their best smiles (it also works for adults!).
Jump Shot is another feature than utilises the front screen - select this and the display shows a count down so your subject knows the right time to perform an action, such as jumping! The camera will take three shots so you can choose the best action shot.
The lens is a wide angle 5x optical zoom which is the equivalent to 26 - 130mm in 35mm terms, ideal for wide landscape pictures and zooming in to distant subjects.
Picture taking is made easy by Smart Auto and Auto modes as well as Night Shot, Beauty Shot and a large range of scene modes: Magic Frame, Object Highlight (Object highlight is designed to blur the background, increasing the appearance of depth-of-field and produce DSLR style images), Landscape, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight and Beach & Snow.
Features designed to make shooting easy are Object Tracking, Smart Face Recognition and Perfect Portrait System. There are several "magic" filters to choose from: Miniature, Vignetting, Soft Focus, Old Film 1, Old Film 2, Half Tone Dot, Sketch, Fish-eye, Defog, Classic, Retro and Negative. Some of these filters can be used when shooting videos. Videos can be shot at 720p HD at 30fps and the camera also allows the use of the 5x optical zoom during recording.
The camera feels and looks good in the hand with the buttons well laid out and easy to press, although there isn't much grip at the front of back, so using the provided wrist strap is highly recommended. Instead of the usual mode dial, there is simply a mode button to switch between the various camera modes. Further settings within each mode are easily accessed via the fn button, also placed on the rear, although unfortunately to access additional photo functions you have to go into the menu, where you can also adjust contrast, sharpness, and saturation.
The rear screen works well indoor and outdoors, however, the front screen can be difficult to see in bright sunlight due to the bright chrome effect on the front of the camera (the other colours may be better). The menus are quite well laid out and easy to navigate. The camera is ready to take pictures within a couple of seconds of switching on and is quick to focus. Without the flash the camera takes around three seconds from shot to shot, with it taking about five seconds when charging the flash. Samsung do not state the CIPA test results for the battery but during testing the battery appeared to be capable of plenty of shots as I was able to take 220+ photos before the battery went flat.
Samsung PL120: Performance
Wide-angle shots retain more detail towards the centre of images, but look blurry around the edges when viewing at full size, particularly in the corners. In bright sky there is some chromatic aberration in the trees and a hint of purple fringing in places. At telephoto, detail is consistent throughout the image.
Full optical zoom
Full optical zoom with cropped zoom, 3mp
Flowers (original image used for playback filters)
At ISO80 noise is unnoticeable, but at ISO100 the images are not as sharp as at ISO80. Noise slowly gets worse through ISO200 and ISO400, but good images are still produced. At ISO800 significant amounts of detail is lost, again worsening at ISO1600. There is plenty of noise at ISO3200. Images produced at ISO1600 and ISO3200 are likely to be best suited for small prints and for use on the web.
ISO3200 (at 3mp)
The PL120 produces well exposed images with excellent colour reproduction. Despite only being able to focus up to 5cm, pleasant macro shots are possible. Thanks to the cameras Beauty Shot mode, portrait shots are easy to take with pleasing skin tones. Using the Perfect Portrait System, you can change the Face Retouch and Face Tone levels, although the sharpness of images suffer.
Portrait with flash
The PL120's auto white-balance performance was good and proved perfectly capable under our fluorescent and incandescent studio lights. Using the fluorescent preset under the fluorescent lights gives a slight green cast in the image, the AWB preset does a much better job.
Auto White Balance - Incandescent Lighting
Preset Incandescent WB - Incandescent Light
Auto White Balance - Fluorescent Light
Fluorescent White Balance - Fluorescent Light
Magic Frames (Photo mode) There are a large number of frames available while taking photos, some of them better than others, the range is shown below:
Smart Filters (Photo mode)
Below are example shots taken using each of the filters, the fish-eye mode being particularly interesting as it appears to be showing the raw image from the sensor / lens, including real vignetting, and distortion, giving an even wider view than the specifications suggest.
Original (No Filter)
Half Tone Dot
Smart Filters (Playback editing)
There are even more magic filters available in playback mode, again, some of them are better than others.
Old film 1
Old film 2
Half Tone Dot
Videos can be recorded at 1280 x 720 (30/15fps), 640 x 480 and 320 x 240. There are also a large number of filters available when recording videos, these include: Palette effect, 1, 2, 3 and 4, Miniature, Vignetting, Fish-eye, Defog, Classic, Retro, Negative and Custom RGB.
The Samsung PL120 is ultra compact, features two screens, and offers very good value for money, however, even when scoring highly for value for money, it's simply not enough to bring the overall rating higher than 3/5, as the rest of the camera is mostly average. Sure it's a nice little camera, and looks good, but the image quality disappoints. If you just upload to facebook and other social sites, then you may not be too concerned the the dual screen is ideal for indoor self-shots of you and your friends. The abundant filters, frames, and other easy modes could be appealing too.
Samsung PL120: Pros
Very compact design
Screens on front and rear
Good colour reproduction
Good value for money - cheapest camera with dual screens
Optical zoom available when recording videos
Samsung PL120: Cons
Some purple fringing and chromatic aberration at times
Images lack detail, especially in corners
Quite high noise at ISO800+