Sunday, January 10, 2010

Samsung DualView TL225 Review

Samsung DualView TL225 Review

Is it all about the image created, or the unique features of a camera? That's often a question I ask myself when reviewing a new camera. The new Samsung DualView TL225 is by no means short on innovative features, including a dual LCD system that consists of a 3.5 inch touch screen on the back and a 1.5 inch LCD on the front for taking self-portraits, haptic feedback that causes the rear LCD to vibrate when you change settings, and 720p HD video capture.

The concern here is that some of these features are gimmicks instead of tools designed to help a consumer who wants to take great pictures. The Samsung TL225 takes away the mode dials and almost all physical controls except the shutter and power buttons, replacing them with said 3.5 inch touch screen. A full slate of neat features is only useful if they are implemented well.

The TL225 also comes packed with a 12.2 megapixel CCD image sensor, a Schneider-KREUZNACH 4.6x optical zoom lens, face detection, dual image stabilization via digital and optical means, and a Smart Auto shooting mode that analyzes your composition and automatically selects the optimal settings for you. Taking it all in at first glance, the TL225 comes across as a camera that is stylish, sleek, and obviously unique. Let's see if these new features are just a gimmick or if they add up to a unique shooting experience.

When I first took out the DualView TL225 I was instantly impressed by its attractive build and small form factor - then I turned it over to find the expansive touch screen. Though the prospect of shooting with almost no physical buttons seemed daunting, once I turned on the camera and used it for a while those feelings changed.

I'll admit that I was immediately drawn to the slick design and build quality of the camera. Its metal and hard plastic construction, tiny size (no bigger in height, weight and depth than a pack of playing cards), and purple trimming (also available in blue, red and orange) are by no means dull to the eye. It has a retractable lens, the aforementioned small 1.5 inch LCD on the front, which is nearly invisible if you don't activate it, and a small flash and assist lamp. The camera is built very well and feels sturdy in your hands, meriting a thumbs-up.

Ergonomics and Controls
The TL225 is a small camera, no question, measuring 3.93x2.35x0.73 inches and weighing only 5.8 ounces. The slim build makes two-handed shooting feel like a must to avoid accidental contact with the front and rear LCDs.

That's not the case though, shooting with one hand worked as well. I tested it with my big claws to see if placing my thumb on the back and three fingers on the front would disrupt shooting, and it didn't. It looks like Samsung hashed out that very problem before it went to market. But as with most any touch panel, the oil from your fingers leaves traces all over the camera's LCDs.

The buttons (a grand total of four) are all placed on top of the camera. The power button, sunken in slightly to avoid accidental activation, is a bit tricky to press on and off. You really have to push your fingernail down in to start the camera. The other buttons include playback to initiate image review, a small zoom lever, and a shutter button, which is the largest analog button on the TL225. Overall, buttons are placed where you'd expect them to be, though they could be a bit too small for some users. Sacrifices must be made for such a large LCD.

The retractable lens completely shrinks into the camera body. The flash is small and stays out of your fingers' way. There's not much room for your hands and fingers when all is said and done, relegating your hand to the outer rim of the camera since most of the real estate of the TL225 is dedicated to the DualView LCD system.

Menus and Modes
Samsung's TL225 touch screen menu system uses haptic response to confirm your selections. A press of the tab icon along the bottom of the screen pulls up settings for AF, image quality settings, white balance, EV scale, metering, and picture styles. Another mainframe button on the touch screen is the Menu button in the lower right portion of the LCD - by pressing it you can get into the real nuts and bolts of the TL225 - everything from haptic strength to changing the language.

You keep reading the term haptic about this touch screen system. Essentially, this feature gives you a tangible feeling when you select something on the touch screen by vibrating it to confirm your selection. This is similar to some other devices like a joystick controller on a video gaming system that shakes when you are in game play, or a cell phone, and is in the same vein here, except it gives you a tangible vibration to confirm your selection. This is nice, because it makes the touch screen feel more like a real button system. The menu system is intuitive and easy to understand, especially the GUI and menu system. It looks modern and refined, and at 1,152,000 dot resolution, it's the sharpest LCD we've seen on a compact camera to date.

There are five shooting modes for the TL225, including Smart Auto, Automatic, Program, Scene Modes (13 individual scenes) and Dual Image Stabilization that enacts both forms of IS.

Here's a rundown of the shooting and scene modes:

* Smart Auto: The TL225 automatically chooses all of the camera settings (the only thing you can change is resolution).
* Automatic: Similar to Smart Auto, except you can change the AF area, IS, face detection, picture style and a few other things.
* Program: The setting with the most manual control of all shooting modes. You're given control over exposure value, white balance, ISO sensitivity, focus area, face detection, resolution, size, metering, and drive mode. Additionally, you are able to adjust contrast, sharpness and brightness. Various picture styles can be applied in this shooting mode.
* Dual: Enables digital and optical image stabilization, and gives you control over exposure, white balance, AF, face detection, resolution, size and metering.
* Movie: Shoots 1280x720 HD video, allowing you to choose between 15 fps or 30 fps, video quality, WB, exposure, and metering.
* Scene Modes: User chooses from 13 different shooting modes. They include Beauty Shot, Frame Guide, Night, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Close Up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, and Beach & Snow.

Depending on which display you're speaking of, the front or the back, they are both pretty cool. The DualView system that the TL225 utilizes is the most unique feature of the entire camera. Let's first talk a little bit about the front, or the self-portrait LCD. It has a resolution of 61,000 dots, and is enacted when you simply press it, giving you a view of exactly what your self-portrait looks like. Other functions of the LCD include a numeric countdown in self-timer mode, and when you are in baby mode, the front of the camera displays a clown animation that will help the infant or toddler to focus.

The rear LCD is big and bright, and takes up the entire back panel. Just like an iPhone, when in playback with the TL225 you can swipe back and forth to move images in succession, also by making an "X" with your finger you can delete an image you don't want. The haptic touch, the easy and intuitive menu system, and the sheer size of the LCD make it far superior to any touch screen device or camera I've used. Not to mention that the front LCD is a unique feature that will intrigue all the self-portrait artists out there.

Samsung's TL225 is a tiny camera that I really enjoyed shooting with on different occasions. It was light enough to lug around constantly, it was easy to put in my pocket, and was discrete when I didn't feel like drawing attention to my shooting of local parks and other places with people present. It has a few quirks that were undesirable, like when using the zoom lever, which only works when you have everything selected from the menu (it won't zoom in and out unless the camera screen is clear), a slow image buffer when it's processing images and saving them to your memory card, and probably one of the biggest pet peeves was that it only records to MicroSD cards, which can be easily lost because of their tiny size.

Speed-wise, the TL225 is a pretty middle-of-the-road performer, with just above bottom performance timings. But lab tests aren't everything - in the field, the TL225 worked quite well for what I needed, which was nothing more than a good picture in a reasonable amount of time.

Shooting Performance
The camera fires up pretty fast and has a shutter lag of 0.04 seconds. That places it toward the bottom of the pile, but it's not something to bat your eyes at. The camera finds focus fast in good light. In the field the TL225 had varied auto focus performance, finding focus easily in lighted scenes, and though it still performed well in darker situations, in extreme low-light scenarios it was unable to find focus at all. AF acquisition during lab tests clocked in at 0.41 seconds, and the same results were found in the field tests.

Continuous shooting performance captured 1.0 fps until the camera hesitated to clear the buffer after 7 frames during the lab testing.

The Dual Image Stabilization system works quite well. I tested it in the field by turning off the IS function and slightly shaking the camera and snapping the shutter, producing a blurry frame as expected. I then enacted the Dual IS and did the same amount of shake and got a much clearer picture.

Battery life of the TL225 is CIPA rated at 180 shots during specific shooting conditions. The field testing I did without flash put me well over 400 shots, but when I tried the same settings as Samsung, I got just above 180 shots, lining up the actual battery life nicely with their specs.

Lens Performance
The focal range of the 4.6x TL225 is a 35mm equivalent of 27-124mm - a moderate wide-angle to small telephoto lens. The maximum aperture range is f/3.5 wide to f/5.9 telephoto - not ahead of the rest of the class, but not lagging behind.

There is some minor distortion at 27mm, which is sort of annoying, but often a problem at the wide-angle side of point-and-shoot cameras. Also if you want to push the camera past the 4.6x optical zoom, you can utilize a 5x digital zoom range that makes the image resolution smaller.

Video Quality
The HD video quality of the TL225 seemed a bit subpar for my taste. It captures 1280x720 (720p) HD video in either 15 fps or 30 fps. The results showed a pretty noisy video quality. I wasn't impressed with it, and I've captured more impressive video with point-and-shoots that capture standard def (640x480). I also found that when zooming in and out with the video capture, the sound turns off completely until you stop zooming.

Image Quality
Images straight out of the camera are in the normal (default) picture style, and are generally accurate, but can be changed with ten different styles including a cool color negative and retro look.

The default images processed are quite good and aren't filled with too many chromatic aberrations. There is also the RGB style that lets you choose on a sliding scale, whether you want to accentuate your frame with Red, Blue, or Green. With the different styles you can choose, there is an option for any sort of color or mood you want to achieve, which is one of the strong suits of the TL225. It really brings out fall colors with the Vivid or Forest settings.

You can control the level of sharpness with the TL225 with a slider bar. It also allows you to control brightness and contrast in-camera so you don't have to do it during post-processing. Overall, the image quality was right up there with the competition, adding plenty of options for in-camera editing.

Auto white balance worked very well in a few different lighting scenarios, but when shot indoors in 3200K incandescent lighting, it shot quite warm in the studio. There are three metering options including the default multi metering, which rendered the most accurate exposure.

The ISO performance of the TL225 is quite similar to most point-and-shoots, offering you a selectable scale from ISO 80 to 3200. At about ISO 200, noise starts to creep in to the equation. One would hope for better performance at this setting, and after 200, noise continues to increase almost to the point of unusable at 3200.

As camera makers rush to try and come up with the next big thing to move camera volume during these economic hardships, Samsung has engineered a new idea that will either turn on new customers or have them scratching their heads.

My first thoughts about the TL225 were a bit cynical to say the least. I opened up the package and saw that there was no printed out manual (relying on a CD-ROM once again), strike one, and started to inspect the camera body and the rest of the contents. I played with the camera and wondered how the touch screen would fare, then I opened the trap door on the bottom, squinting in search of a memory card slot, until I realized it takes the same kind my Blackberry takes (MicroSD) - another strike.

The DualView proved to be a great idea, and is not gimmicky; it provides people who have to rely on others to take the picture the freedom to shoot themselves without help. This camera is for the independent photographer who prizes self-reliance, for the mother who wants to keep the attention of their infant child staring up at the screen, and for that matter, any person who wants a stylish and small camera that makes and processes decent images.

The cost might be a little bit high with a retail price of $350, and may turn off more than a few consumers. But if you like what you read, I'd suggest you take a shot at the TL225. I enjoyed shooting with it and found very little wrong with it once I got past my cynicism. The Samsung TL225 really is a cool camera. It works exactly as it is marketed, and it's worth trying out.


* Unique DualView LCD technology
* Small and stylish form factor
* Haptic touch screen
* Good image quality
* Sharp lens


* ISO performance not great
* Uses MicroSD (Really?)
* Video quality subpar
* Slow image buffer