Samsung WB150F Review: A Pocket Megazoom With Built-In Wi-Fi
At a Glance
Samsung WB150F Compact Camera
The 18X-optical-zoom, Wi-Fi-enabled Samsung WB150F has a nice mix of creative modes for casual shooters, but its manual controls require a bit too much menu-diving.
One of three Wi-Fi-enabled Samsung cameras announced at this year's CES, the WB150F ($230 as of April 26, 2012) brings connected features into the realm of pocket megazooms with an 18X-optical-zoom lens that ranges from 24mm wide-angle to 432mm telephoto. Unlike many Wi-Fi-enabled models that we've seen before, the WB150F is a versatile camera outside its wireless features, with full manual controls, a generous array of postshot filters and editing tools, and that long zoom lens to go complement its ability to upload photos and video to social-networking sites and email content directly from the camera.
Unlike most current-generation cameras, the Samsung WB150F packs a CCD sensor, which means that its 14.2-megapixel imager tops out at 720p-resolution video capture and doesn't support high-speed burst modes and exposure-bracketing HDR and low-light modes, as its CMOS rivals do. Taken as a whole, the WB150F is a versatile pocket megazoom with a lot of shooting and sharing options, but with shortcomings when it comes to quick adjustments and performance.
Performance, Image Quality, and Video Quality
In PCWorld Labs' subjective tests for image and video quality, the Samsung WB150F earned an overall rating of Good, but our image-quality judges did find a few areas for concern.
Color accuracy was rated as Fair: Auto white balance looked noticeably gray, and reds and oranges had a "neon" tone that they lacked in real life. In other respects, the camera performed well but not outstandingly, earning scores of Good for exposure quality, sharpness, and lack of distortion.
The WB150F isn't in the top tier of cameras for video capture. In fact, the 720p MP4 video we recorded in both normal and low-light situations fell below average. Footage seemed a bit murky and soft in well-lit situations, with grayish whites and subtle contrast; and low-light video was pretty much pitch-black. The Samsung WB150F earned a score of Fair for video quality, but it does an adequate job in well-lit situations. Audio capture through the camera's built-in mono microphone is a bright spot, as the camera netted a score of Good in that test.
According to the CIPA standard rating for battery life, the Samsung WB150F shoots 270 shots per charge of its battery without all the Wi-Fi extras turned on. That's a bit shy of the 300-plus shots per charge we've seen from many point-and-shoot cameras, but it's still enough juice to earn a Very Good rating for battery longevity.
Shooting Modes and Features
The WB150F's range of in-camera features is impressive, but this model works best when managed through its selection of presets, scene modes, and filters. The implementation of its manual controls stumbles a bit, due to the absence of dedicated controls for adjusting manual settings. The sum of all the WB150F's parts is a camera that offers many automated and manual shooting modes, but has manual controls that feel a bit tacked-on.
The WB150F provides full manual controls over its aperture (F3.5 maximum at wide-angle and F5.8 maximum at telephoto) and shutter speed (1/2000 second to 16 seconds), along with aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes. Unlike with other manual-minded cameras, however, changing this model's aperture and shutter settings requires quite a few button presses, owing to the lack of a control wheel. After selecting 'A-S-M' from the WB150F's mode dial, you choose 'aperture-priority', 'shutter-priority', or 'manual exposure' from an onscreen menu; press the OK button; press the OK button again to adjust aperture or shutter settings; and use the up and down buttons on the camera's directional pad to tweak the settings. The whole process takes a few more steps than it would on a camera equipped with a control wheel and dedicated Av, Tv, and Manual settings on the mode dial--a factor worth considering if you hope to use its manual controls extensively.
Likewise, using the camera's manual focus controls entails a trip to the menus and a bit of finessing. After pressing the Menu button in A-S-M mode, you navigate to the Focus settings, select 'Manual Focus', and use the left and right portions of the directional pad to bring a magnified view of your scene into focus. Though it works, it requires a few more steps than similar cameras equipped with a dedicated focus-control button, a scroll wheel, or an adjustment ring around the lens.
The WB150F has an ample lineup of presets, filters, and image-editing features, all of which make the camera a better fit for novice users than people who want to use manual controls extensively. You can apply various filters to a copy of a photo in the camera's Photo Editor menu: tilt-shift and fisheye lens simulators; overlays that simulate paintings, cartoons, and newsprint; and scratchy film and vignette effects. On the more-conventional side of the editing fence, you can remove red-eye effects in the camera and adjust a saved photo's brightness, contrast, and saturation levels.
In addition to its postshot filters, the Samsung WB150F supplies a number of more-common scene modes (sunset, landscape, backlight, and the like) in its scene menu, as well as a Smart mode that automatically selects a scene preset depending on the shooting environment. Macro performance is a strong suit, as you can take a crisp shot of a subject that's about an inch away from the lens. The WB150F's front-mounted flash can be overpowering at distances of less than 6 feet; the sweet spot for the flash (especially in backlight mode) is about 6 to 8 feet away from your subject.
Like many newer cameras, the WB150F also has some interesting effects modes that you can arrange to apply in real time as you're shooting photos. Options include a motion-controlled panorama mode for capturing a 180-degree wide-angle scene by panning the camera from side to side; a selection of "Magic Frame" effects like the ones found in last year's Samsung SH100; picture-in-picture effects for combining multiple shots in a single image; and as-you-capture versions of the artistic filters found in the Photo Editor. Though the WB150F stumbles in its handling of manual controls, it excels with in-camera special effects.
Because of the camera's CCD sensor, video capture maxes out at 720p resolution at 30 frames per second (you can adjust the frame rate to 15 fps if you like). Despite offering lower-resolution capture than most current-generation point-and-shoots do, the WB150F has a nice range of exposure adjustments that you can make in video mode: Exposure compensation, white balance presets, metering modes, a macro video mode, and automatic scene detection.
The WB150F has about as many wireless-sharing features as I've seen in a stand-alone camera. In addition to its in-camera e-mailing and uploading capabilities via Wi-Fi, the Samsung WB150F works with two free mobile apps for iOS and Android: Samsung's MobileLink app, which lets you share content from the camera to the phone; and Samsung RemoteViewfinder, which lets you use a mobile phone as a remote control.
Unfortunately, though iOS versions of both those apps exist, I couldn't get them to work correctly on an iPhone 4S. I had much better luck using both apps with Android 4.0 (Samsung says that both apps work correctly on Android versions 2.2 and higher).
The MobileLink app is a fairly basic peer-to-peer interface for connecting the camera to a phone via an ad hoc Wi-Fi connection. You don't need to be within range of a Wi-Fi hotspot to make it work, and establishing a connection between the camera and the phone took roughly 5 seconds. After you select 'Wi-Fi' from the WB150F's mode dial and choose 'MobileLink' from the menu, you select the camera as an access point from within your phone's MobileLink app, and it pairs the devices. From there, you can send photos from your camera to your phone (but not vice versa); in my tests, wireless transfers took about 3 seconds per photo.
RemoteViewfinder is a completely separate app, which is a shame; it would have been more efficient to offer the image-transfer features within the same app. Once you pair the phone and the camera via a direct Wi-Fi connection, you can use a basic interface on the phone to snap photos, turn the WB150F's flash on and off, and operate its optical-zoom lens. It worked without a hitch in my tests, though I noticed about a second of delay between what the camera was capturing and what appeared on the phone screen. Within the app, you can view previews of every shot that the camera takes, but images aren't saved to the phone directly. Instead, they reside on the camera's SD/SDHC/SDXC card, so you have to leave the RemoteViewfinder app and fire up the MobileLink app to transfer copies to your phone.
The WB150F also has quite a few Wi-Fi sharing features that don't need any help from an app. You can e-mail images from the camera if you have a Wi-Fi access point and a bit of patience--depending on the length of your e-mail address and/or password, since entering either of those items involves selecting each letter via the camera's directional pad, which can take a while. The process works as advertised, however: Photos that I emailed from the camera showed up in my inbox after about a minute.
The camera's Wi-Fi menu also provides access to a few social-networking and sharing sites: Facebook, Photobucket, Picasa, and YouTube. When I tested direct photo uploads from the camera to Facebook and Photobucket, entering my login info again took the bulk of the time--around a minute--for each upload; but the photo uploads themselves were quite brisk, taking about 3 seconds apiece.
In connection with uploading video to Facebook or YouTube over Wi-Fi, a few limitations aren't clear until you try to upload clips wirelessly from the camera. Video uploads are limited to 320-by-240-resolution clips with a maximum duration of 30 seconds, and you can't modify or trim clips taken with the camera at 720p resolution or for longer than 30 seconds. To avoid running afoul of those limitations, you have to go into the video settings and set the resolution to 320 by 240 and the duration to 30 seconds maximum before you start filming. Again, entering my YouTube login took about a minute, but the 30-second clips uploaded in around 6 or 7 seconds.
Aside from its the social-networking tie-ins, the camera has three more wireless features: photo backup to Windows Live SkyDrive (SkyDrive backup isn't available for videos, however), wireless backup to a PC loaded with the i-Studio program embedded on the camera, and a TV Link feature that lets you play back photos and videos stored on the camera's SD Card on a compatible Samsung TV connected to the same home network.
Samsung has definitely gone all-in with the wireless features in this camera, and the ones I tested worked well despite the resolution and clip-length limitations of video uploads, and the slow-going interface for inputting social-networking logins and passwords. You have to enter those credentials just once, fortunately, since the camera saves the info for subsequent uploads. To scrub your login, password, and Wi-Fi access point settings, you must go into the WB150F's settings menu and reset the camera to its factory settings.
Hardware and Design
The Samsung WB150F's controls are straightforward and easy-to-use, but they seem a bit sparse in comparison to the camera's extensive feature set. For scene selections and quick access to flash controls and macro mode, they're fine; but when it comes to setting manual controls and entering logins and passwords for the camera's Wi-Fi options, you have to do quite a bit of menu diving and button mashing.
This is a pocketable camera, but only for larger-size pockets. It'll fit in a typical jacket pocket, but it would be a tight squeeze for any pair of pants. The camera is big enough to benefit from a raised handgrip to the left of its zoom lens; I found it very comfortable to operate with one hand.
The top has only three controls: a power button, the camera's mode dial, and the shutter/zoom control. On the back, to the right of a 3-inch-diagonal LCD screen, are five well-spaced buttons (a video record button, a menu button, a return key, a playback button, and a delete button), plus a circular directional pad that also permits one-press access to display options, flash settings, a self-timer, and macro mode. On the side of the handgrip, a well-constructed door covers a Micro USB-out port; and the bottom of the handgrip hosts the SD/SDHC/SDXC slot, battery compartment, and tripod mount.
In general, the camera feels solid and offers simple, intuitive controls. It would have been nice to have a scroll wheel or similar dedicated control for dialing in aperture and shutter speeds, as well as a touchscreen interface for inputting e-mail addresses and other login credentials, but the camera's control scheme works well for all of its basic settings.
The Samsung WB150F is one of the first cameras we've seen that offers Wi-Fi features as a complement to impressive camera specs; most Wi-Fi cameras we've seen in the past were essentially basic point-and-shoots that relied on their wireless features as a key selling point. This camera backs up its array of wireless-sharing options with a long-zoom lens, manual controls, interesting creative effects, and in-camera editing options.
Operational simplicity and an uncluttered button layout are usually positives, but the Samsung WB150F may have too many options for its bare-bones controls to handle smoothly. This camera would benefit from a touchscreen for inputting logins and passwords, and a scroll wheel or a jog dial for adjusting manual settings. The model's image quality is good but not great, and its video quality lags behind that of its top-tier competition. The WB150F rates as a versatile, feature-packed camera, but its core strengths will appeal to casual shooters interested in easy-to-apply effects and direct-to-Facebook functionality, rather than to more-experienced shooters who want an advanced long-zoom camera with wireless features.