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Samsung TL34 HD
Digital Camera Review

14.7 Megapixel, HD Video Recording

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Overview

The Samsung TL34 HD is one of the first point & shoot camera's that I have reviewed in a long time. Samsung asked me if I wanted like to review their new Samsung TL 34HD with a whopping 14.7 megapixel resolution and HD video recording - all in a camera that fits in a shirt pocket and I couldn't resist. So after using the camera for the past couple of weeks and subjecting its image quality to my own personal scrutiny, let me present to you my review.

In this review I am going to try to reduce the amount of technical details I provide and instead focus on the most important questions that most of us have when trying to evaluate a camera for purchase. Since it difficult nowadays to take a bad picture, there has got to be other criteria in which to judge a camera. It is these 'other' features that I plan to examine more closely in this review. Yes, I will definitely cover the camera's image quality - but there are so many other factors that make a point & shoot camera a winner: Comfort and Size, Battery life, Screen quality, Screen Visibility outdoors, shutter lag (how quickly will the camera take a picture after pressing the button), how close can I get, how wide will it get, and ease-of-use. I am sure that this isn't a complete list so please read the review and you will most likely discover a few that I remembered along the way.

14.7 Megapixel Resolution

The Samsung TL34 HD digital camera offers an incredible 14.7 megapixel resolution on an image sensor that is the same size (0.59") found in more advanced camera's such as the Canon Powershot G10. What makes this unusual is that most small point & shoot (P&S) camera's tend to uses small image sensors (0.43") even as resolution increases. The importance here is that the more pixels you pack in, the more noise the sensor will exhibit, especially in lower lighting. So if the camera features a high megapixel count, you hope that the manufacturer at least uses a larger sensor in order to keep noise levels in check. Samsung did just that. (How's that for not getting technical -- it only took me one paragraph before I strayed from my promise).

Camera Features

For a point & shoot camera, the Samsung TL34 HD is no slouch in the "wow" department. With a body that is only 3/4" of an inch deep and a weight of about 6 ounces, this camera packs in technology and features like no other.

  • Schneider 28mm wide, 3.6x Optical Zoom Lens
  • Aperture range F/2.8 (Wide Angle) - F/5.9 (Telephoto)
  • 720p high-definition video (30fps)
  • H.264 video compression (3x the recording length compared to MPEG4 compression)
  • Samsung's Successive Recording mode allows you to pause video recording without creating a new clip each time
  • Large 3.0" Touch Screen LCD (460,000 pixels, hVGA)
  • New Smart Touch 2.0 user interface
  • Dual Image Stabilization (Optical and Digital)
  • Stabilization and zoom both work during video recording
  • Camera automatically organizes photos based on date, content, color, and themes
  • Face Detection technology recognizes up to 9 faces and automatically adjusts focus and exposure to ensure better results
  • Smile Shot and Blink Detection help to prevent taking a picture at the wrong moment
  • 13 Scene modes help set the camera up for specific shooting conditions (sports, sunsets, landscapes, snow, etc.)
  • New Recycle bin feature allows you to recover photos that were mistakenly deleted

Camera Specifications

  • Image Sensor Type: 1/1.72" CCD
  • Effective Pixels: 14.7 megapixels
  • Focal Length: 28-102mm (35mm Equivalent)
  • F-Stop Range: F/2.8 (W) - F/5.9 (T)
  • Macro Range: 1.97" - 31.5" (Wide Angle), 19.69" - 31.5" (Telephoto)
  • Max. Shutter Speed: 1/2000 second
  • Min. Shutter Speed: 16 Seconds (Manual Mode), 8 Seconds (Night Mode), 4 Seconds (Fireworks Scene Mode), 1 Second (Auto Mode)
  • ISO Option Settings: Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 (3MP Resolution)
  • Flash Range: 1 ft - 17.7 ft (Wide), 1.6 ft - 8.9 ft (Telephoto) - with ISO Set to AUTO
  • Stabilization: Dual (Optical and Digital)
  • Playback Editing: Resize, Rotate, Trim, Face Retouch, Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Red-eye Fix, and Auto Contrast Balance (ACB)
  • Internal Memory: 40-Megabyte
  • External Memory Support: SD Card (up to 4GB), SDHC (Up to 8GB), MMC Plus (Up to 2GB)
  • Image Quality Modes: Super Fine, Fine, and Normal
  • Images / Megabyte: 136 (Super Fine 14MP), 265 (Fine 14MP), 386 (Normal 14MP)

Design / Layout

Thanks to the large 3.0" display with touch screen interface, Samsung was able to reduce the amount of buttons on the outside of the camera. The top of the camera features a power button, shutter button, and mode dial. The shutter button is located next to the power button, which can cause you to hit the power button inadvertently when your intent was to snap a picture. Luckily, the mode dial, which your index finger has to reach across in order to get to the shutter button, acts as a location reminder and should help reduce the occurrence of this problem.

Video Showing Left Hand Placement Problem

The pop-up flash is also located on top of the camera - on the far left side. If you like to stable your camera using a second hand you will soon discover that the most natural position for your left hand will end covering the flash and preventing it from popping up. A potential work around would be to support the camera by grasping the lower left corner of the camera, but during use your thumb will end up activating a menu option or two. The design ultimately forces you to either support the camera with just your right hand or to use position your left hand with your thumb underneath the camera on the left side with just the ball of your index finger resting to the left of the pop-up flash.

The rear of the camera is comprised of the 3.0" touch screen LCD with just two buttons on the bottom right and a zoom rocker switch on the upper right. Button simplicity at first seems like a great idea, especially on a point & shoot camera, but that all depends on how quick and intuitive the touch screen makes menu selection. On the Samsung TL34 HD I found the touch screen navigation to be quick but the icons a bit confusing (explanation further down the page).

The camera features a large 3.0" and sharp 490,000 pixel display (half-VGA). I had no problem using the LCD outdoors in bright sun, an important factor considering that this - and most point & shoot cameras - no longer feature an optical viewfinder. Menu icons are small, but bright, and are also easy to view in direct sunlight.

Touch Screen Interface

Video Showing Menu System of Samsung TL34 HD
This video was recorded as a low-resolution video output file. This is not an indication of the screen quality

By including a large and sharp 3.0" touch screen LCD, Samsung was able to reduce the amount of buttons that typically plague and confuse those that just feel a camera should be intelligent enough to take a picture - without fussing with buttons and menu options. In that regard, Samsung has succeeded. There are few cameras on the market that can make a novice feel comfortable on first use, but the Samsung TL34 HD is one of them. Keep the mode dial on the "Green" setting (Auto) and you can hand this camera to anyone and they should be comfortable enough with it to start snapping away.

For those that don't want the camera making all the decision all the time, the Samsung TL 34HD does offer plenty of setting overrides. These settings show up as small icons that overlay the live picture on the LCD. The icon themselves are not at all intuitive but you can set the camera to provide FULL icon information, HIDE icon information, or to display just a title of each icon as your finger slides over it. I would recommend setting or leaving the menu option set to "FULL description," as this option will place a title and short description on the screen far enough away from your finger that you can actually read it. Stay away from the menu option titled "FULL" as the short function name is located right above the icon and is almost always being covered up by the finger that's pressing the menu option. Like anything, the more you use the camera the more comfortable you'll become with the menu icons.

I have mixed feelings about the touch screen navigation itself. Using your finger to adjust the shutter or exposure slider left and right seems intuitive enough, but you often need to swipe 5, 6, 7 times before reaching the setting you want. Samsung should provide for more movement when you glide your finger and less, more precise, movement when you tap the screen.

Still Photo Image Quality

Despite the 14.7-megapixel specification, I must admit that I my expectation levels were pretty low with regard to what I was expecting out of this camera. Even on semi-professional DSLR's, which use bigger APS-C sized sensors, cramming this many pixels onto a image sensor will typically increase noise quite dramatically. The camera manufacturer then has to deploy some sort of noise reduction system to help compensate for this added noise.

While my expectations were admittedly low, the Samsung TL34 HD easily exceeded them with regard to image quality, especially in good lighting. The first time I went out to shoot with the Samsung, I took along a Panasonic DMC-TZ3, a popular 7-megapixel camera that I have enjoyed using over the past year or so. I wasn't sure what to expect but I thought it would be interesting to compare the two since I know that there is more to a camera than just megapixels. Upon reviewing the shots from the day I was surprised by how well the Samsung performed. Colors were vibrant and accurate, and overall image quality was very pleasing. There was more purple fringing in the photo than I would have liked to see, and not just in the corners. If you look at the horse you'll notice some slight purple fringing down the length of the horses head. In comparison, the Panasonic exhibited virtually no purple fringing. This phenomenon doesn't happen in all pictures and would only become a major issue at larger print sizes (11x14" and higher).

Click each photo to view the original image

As it should, the 14.7-megapixel image sensor captured more detail than the lower resolution Panasonic DMC-TZ3. At full resolution pictures taken under good lighting could easily be made into 16x24" enlargements - not bad for a camera that slides into a shirt pocket. In a side-by-side comparison with the Panasonic DMC-TZ3 you can easily see the detail difference. The Samsung image (left) seems to offer more depth to its photo compared to the one shot with the Panasonic (right).

Low Light / High ISO

In low light the Samsung TL34 HD also performed well for a point & shoot camera, both with and without the flash. At wide angle the flash was strong enough to light up a pitch black 15x25' room, even at the lowest ISO 80 setting. At full zoom, I had to increase the camera's sensitivity to ISO 400 for the flash to have enough power to light up the portion of the room I was zoomed in on. Incredibly, the camera had no problem focusing in the pitch black room, thanks to its focus assist lamp.

The camera offers six ISO settings at full resolution (ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) and up to ISO 3200 at 3-megapixel resolution. Below are some test images that show the noise levels at each ISO settings. The small images below demonstrate how noise levels increase as the ISO sensitivity increases. Click on each or any of the thumbnails to view the actual 100% crop at full size. Note that unless you view these full size it will be difficult to really notice the differences in noise levels.

It would appear that the camera uses some form of noise reduction or at least an increased levels of noise reduction starting at ISO 800, as there is actually slightly less chroma noise at ISO 800 than there is at ISO 400, but with more loss in detail and an increase in luminance noise (clear dots). At ISO 1600 colors become smudgy as noise reduction tries to compensate for the higher noise levels. There is even an ISO 3200, though the camera lowers resolution to 3-Megapixel in this mode and image quality becomes extremely poor.

ISO noise almost always looks worse on screen than it does in prints, or at least in typical size prints of 8x10" or smaller. I printed a few 8x10" prints shot at ISO 80, 200, and 400 and all came out looking great. Yes, if you look close you can see additional color moire at ISO 400 but you would need to look for it to notice it. I would even go as far as to say that in very dim situations, ISO 800 could potentially save the day if flash photography was not an option, but that would be the limit of the ISO settings. ISO 1600 and 3200 are just not all that useful because of the poor image quality.

Sample Video (Handheld)


Watch Demo in High-Definition


Video Review - Recorded using the Samsung TL34 HD

Click through to watch in HD. Video edited using Pinnacle Studio Plus Version 12.

720p High-Definition Video

Yes, this pocket size camera also features 720p high-definition video recording and does a pretty good job with it - as long as your expectation levels are in check. Sound is typical from a built-in microphone (noise from wind, zoom, and handling), but overall video quality was pretty good. Since P&S cameras don't offer lens hoods, sun streaks will show up in the video - as a purple vertical line - when recording at certain angles to the sun. Tilting or repositioning the camera just a little can eliminate this issue or blocking the sun with the other hand. The camera's auto focus and optical zoom will work in video mode but the focus system will briefly go out of focus anytime you zoom in or out. The good news is that it locks back in focus very quickly. The camera provides four video resolution & quality settings: 1280x720 HQ, 1280x720, 640x480, 320x240.

Overall I really liked the video capability of this camera. You would never want to use the video mode to record an event, but for quick clips here and there it's great, especially since it fits in your shirt pocket. Image size is 1280x720 pixels, which is considered HD video (16:9, 720p), but the overall quality falls short of true HD resolution. Details are quite soft, but color accuracy is excellent.

Video Tip: To improve video quality make sure you only shoot video on a monopod or tripod and don't zoom. This will keep the camera steady, the focus sharp, and will reduce or eliminate handling noise. Trying to record with arms out in front of you is a huge mistake and is the reason why video clips from a point & shoot still camera almost always look terrible (mine included). It's hard to enjoy watching a shaky, jumpy movie - and image stabilization won't reduce bouncing video. Vibrations, yes, bounce - no. I have included some hand-held (sorry) test video's for you to watch. This one here (on the right) can be viewed in HD if you click through using this link.

Additional Features

The TL34 HD offers additional functions such as 'Beauty Shot' that will actually smooth out the skin tones, reduce 5 o'clock shadow, and just make us older folk look better, younger, okay, it's not a miracle worker. There's a smile shutter feature that will only take the picture when your subject is smiling, a blink detector that does the same thing but for the eyes, and even a double-shot self-timer that will wait 10-seconds to snap the first picture and will then automatically take a second picture 2-seconds later. That second photo will usually capture the real smiles, since they're now relaxed.

The playback mode offers a very useful slideshow feature which includes a variety of advanced special effects (Wipes, dissolves, quandrant zoom effects, and more. Samsung has even include a few music tracks that can be used when playing your slideshow.

For shooting faster action, you'll be happy to know that there is virtually no shutter lag when shooting in most operating modes. Shutter lag is that nasty delay between the time you press the shutter button and the time the camera takes the pictures. When shooting sports don't forget to switch the camera to manual (M) mode, and increase the shutter speed value by sliding your finger across the screen to the right. In bright sun, a shutter speed of 1/1000 or 1/2000 will absolutely freeze most action. As shutter speeds increase, less light will reach the image sensor, so lower the shutter speed for cloudy days and even more for shooting indoors. The camera features 13 scene modes that, when selected, will automatically adjust the settings of the camera based on the scene mode selected. Interestingly enough the camera lacks a sports or action option in the scene mode so make sure you set the camera to manual (M) mode when shooting fast action.

Samsung SCC-NV5HD HDMI Video / Charging Dock (Optional)

This compact docking station is designed both as a convenient charger as well as to provide convenient playback of slideshows in glorious 720p high-definition. The dock includes an special HDMI jack and dock to HDMI cable. There is also composite video out and while this cable is not included with the dock it is included with the camera. The dock includes a tiny remote control, which controls menu, playback, thumbnail and zoom functions. The remote needs to be aimed at the dock in order to work. To use the dock as a charger just connect the power cable that comes with the camera. The dock does not include its own power cable.

Very few people seem to give slideshows on TV anymore, unless they first put them on CD or DVD. Most use their computer monitor or upload their images to an online photo sharing site in order to share their images. If you have kids and want to share with the family all the photos you took that day, the dock provides a convenient way of doing this. You can connect the camera to your TV without the dock, but you won't have the HDMI port for high-definition viewing.

Included Software

Nothing is perfect

  • The USB/Camera connector is located on the underside of the camera, making it impossible to stand the camera up while connected to your PC. It is always a good idea to use an inexpensive SD card reader ($10-18) instead of connecting the camera to your PC. This will eliminate the need to connect the camera itself to your computer. Just pop the SD/SDHC card out of the camera and into the card reader.
  • The position of the pop-up flash makes it difficult to hold the camera with a second hand. There is only about 1/4" of space to the left of the flash where one could place the tip of their index finger. I know that options are limited considering the camera size, but maybe an integrated flash in front would have been a better option. Despite the positioning issue, the flash system worked quite well.
  • The play button on the back of the camera will turn the camera on - even if the main power is off. This can cause your camera to turn on and your battery to drain if mistakenly pressed while in a pocket or case. While the quick access to playback mode is nice, this should at least be an option that can be turned off is so desired.
  • When an SD memory card is inserted you can only view images that are on the card. You have to remove the card in order to play back images that are stored in the camera's internal memory. There is a workaround to this. With a memory card inserted in the camera you can copy images from internal memory to the card by going to the menu while in playback mode. Then you'll be able to view all images, plus they'll already be on the card when it comes time to transfer them to your PC.

Conclusion

For those looking for a compact point & shoot camera and who like the idea of having 'extra' megapixels to either throw away (crop) or use to make larger prints, the Samsung TL34 HD should be given serious consideration. It's not a professional's camera, but it definitely has the ability to capture stunning photographs. While image quality degrades a bit in lower lighting, the camera easily holds its own with any other camera in this price range when it comes to noise levels - and most likely outperforms a good majority of them. The focus system is fast and accurate when shooting still images and the ability to just press a spot on the LCD to tell it where you want to focus is a great and easy to use tool. The rechargeable Li-Ion battery pack did a great job allowing what seemed to be an seemingly endless amount of photos, picture review, and video's on a single charge, no small feat considering the bright 3.0" LCD and frequent use of the zoom.

The camera ships with a PC connecting cable, stereo audio/video cable, wrist strap, and power adapter. A quick start guide is included but the full manual is in pdf format on the CD.

After spending the past couple of weeks with the Samsung TL34HD I can definitely recommend this camera to anyone who wants a reliable, pocket-size, digital camera with resolution to spare.

View Our Samsung TL34HD Image Gallery


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