The 15X-optical-zoom Samsung HZ35W ($350 as of June 1, 2010) had the best overall performance score and feature set of any camera in our latest pocket megazooms test group, but our hands-on tests of the camera exposed a few things to think about before you rush out to buy it.
Let's start with the laundry list of positives. The HZ35W's 15X lens (24mm to 360mm) offers the largest optical-zoom range of any compact camera currently available, and this model's dual stabilization feature proves amazingly effective in correcting everything but the most severe shaking. To play back images and frame shots, you use the camera's 3-inch-diagonal AMOLED screen, which is impressively sharp and easy on the eyes.
The geotagging feature works well, going a step further than the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V--you don't need to install software on your computer and offload images to see the GPS features in their full glory. Navteq's mapping service is installed on the HZ35W, letting you view your photos on a map on the AMOLED screen. It also displays the city name when you're viewing your geotagged images on the camera, rather than just a number-soup of coordinates.
The HZ35W also takes one heck of a picture. It logged the best overall performance scores in PCWorld Labs subjective tests, thanks to the sharpest images in our pocket megazooms test group, excellent color accuracy, and good exposure quality. Overall image quality earned a score of Very Good.
No CIPA battery-life rating is available for the HZ35W, so we can't judge it in that respect.
So where can such a high-performance, full-featured camera go wrong? For one thing, the HZ35W's video performance was among the worst of the cameras we tested, and the camera didn't pick up clear audio from its microphone. Here are sample clips that we shot in bright indoor lighting and in low light with the HZ35W. For the highest-quality clips, select 720p from the drop-down menu in the lower-right corner of each player.
An even bigger drawback is the menu system, which is complex and hard to navigate. Some settings are buried a few too many button presses deep, and some are categorized unintuitively. For example, you get fun in-camera effects that mimic a tilt-shift lens, a fish-eye lens, and sketch drawing, but they're hidden deep in the menus under the Smart Filter header; most users would probably look for them in the scene-mode offerings. And even though the camera's manual settings include aperture- and shutter-priority modes, you can't adjust those settings while you're framing a shot; you have to dive one layer into the menus to do so.
What's more, the camera's excellent dual-stabilization mode is available only via a dedicated selection on the mode dial; you don't have access to its image-stabilizing powers in any of the manual modes or other settings.
Last on the list of drawbacks is the camera's bulky size and somewhat slippery body. It's a bit chunkier and deeper than the other pocket megazoom cameras in our latest test group, and the body doesn't offer much of a raised handgrip. A grooved thumb rest is below the shutter button on the back of the camera, but it doesn't give you much traction. This camera might get slippery with sweaty or wet hands.
The Samsung HZ35W is an excellent camera with tons of options, but you may spend a lot of time searching for settings in the menus. We love its image quality and its GPS interface, but you'll need more than intuition to get the hang of this camera.
This story, "Samsung's HZ35W Pocket Megazoom Excels With Photos, Disappoints With Video" was originally published by PCWorld.
The GPS-enabled HZ35W produces some of the sharpest, highest-quality stills we’ve seen this side of a DSLR, but its confusing menu system and poor video quality knock it down a peg. Read the full review