Samsung TL34HD Point-and-Shoot Digital Camera
At a Glance
Samsung TL34 HD
A beautiful touch-sensitive screen is the major draw of this feature-packed camera.
If you often find that your friends wander off, birds take flight, or the sun dips below the horizon before you can press the shutter or adjust settings accordingly, the Samsung TL34HD ($300 as of 3/16/09) might be a good point-and-shoot camera option for you. The TL34HD eliminates a lot of the menu-diving that other feature-heavy digital cameras require.
The TL34HD's 3-inch touchscreen makes the camera a cinch to operate, and the icons that border the screen give an instant view of all your settings. Tapping each icon with your finger pops up a menu of alternatives. If you can't remember what each icon means, holding your finger on it for a moment brings up a written description.
The screen itself is a beauty, too. Though 230,000-pixel displays are now common on digital cameras, the TL34HD ups the ante with a beautiful 460,000-pixel LCD. It renders images sharply, offers plenty of contrast in bright light, and lends a sophisticated look to the icons, text, and user-interface animations. The camera has just a few physical buttons--power, shutter release, zoom control, menu, and playback--plus a mode-selector dial.
While the touchscreen is a major draw, the TL34HD doesn't skimp on photographic features, either. The 3.6X-optical-zoom lens has a 28mm wide angle that works perfectly for expansive landscape shots, and the camera's optical stabilization reduces the effects of shaky hands. Automatic face detection sets the focus and optimizes the exposure for portraits, and the additional smile and blink modes delay the shutter until your subjects look their best.
The single manual mode is a bit limited, but it's nice to have: You can set the exposure time, and you have a choice of two aperture settings at each zoom level. The TL34HD's built-in flash pops up from the top of the camera, giving it a little extra distance from the lens and reducing the chance of red-eye in your portraits. Should you catch the dreaded red-eye anyway, the camera's automatic red-eye removal function works well, too.
I took the camera to the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco to put it through its paces. For most shots, the camera performed with no discernable shutter lag. Sometimes, however, I saw 'capturing' and 'processing' messages on the screen for tough low-light and macro shots of small plants and animals, so in such cases the shot-to-shot times could suffer. I loved the ability to touch the screen to select the focus point, but my experiments with the manual mode often led me to set the depth of field too narrow. Fortunately, the high-resolution screen made zooming into the image and spotting my mistakes easy.
In my hands-on, informal tests, photos looked sharp with accurate colors. The densely packed sensor produced some noise in my low-light shots, but it has enough resolution that you're less likely to blow your photos up so much that you'll notice.
The camera scored well across the board in the more-formal PC World Test Center jury evaluations. It earned especially high marks for its low levels of distortion, which indicates a good match between the optics and the resolution of the sensor. On the other hand, it performed poorly in our battery tests, requiring a recharge of its lithium ion cell on average after just 195 shots--well short of the counts of 400-plus shots per charge that we've seen from many other point-and-shoots.
The camera's 14.7-megapixel resolution may seem like overkill, but if you're starting to use the HDTV in your living room for more than just watching TV, it could make sense. In addition to offering plenty of resolution for editing, cropped shots, and big prints, the 10-megapixel widescreen mode captures images that fit an HDTV just right.
If you don't have an SD Card media slot on your TV, Samsung's optional docking cradle may appeal to you, despite its $70 price tag. It comes with a tiny remote control (recent Samsung HDTV remotes also operate the docking cradle) for browsing your images, setting up slide shows, and watching videos directly from the camera. The cradle also charges the battery, and the dock's included HDMI cable means you'll get a top-quality connection. The TL34HD captures 720p video at up to 30 frames per second, which is plenty for most home movies. Unfortunately, automatic face detection isn't an option during video capture.
The Samsung TL34HD has a sturdy metal body that comes in your choice of all-black, silver and black, or an eye-catching silver and red. The touchscreen controls make it a good choice for anyone who wants to adjust quickly for each shot. It's also a good complement to your HDTV if you elect to fork over the $70 for the docking cradle.