Say hello to the Samsung Digimax L85

My first camera was a piece of junk instamatic 110 of some sort; given to me by my mother. This was eons (32 or so) ago, and although it took horrible pictures, they were probably a lot better than I deserved at the time. After that, I progressed to some other more-or-less-useless piece of equipment from Kodak. I lost interest in photography for a long time, until one day when I saw an Olympus IS-3000 camera. It was gorgeous and given great reviews. So I figured I’d take up photography again. This was over ten years ago. I have since progressed and moved past a Nikon F80, a Canon Ixus 400, and a Canon 10D to my current kit which is a Canon 20D. Once I got started with the 10D, I realized it’d be cool to have a compact but competent camera like the Ixus 400. So I looked for quite some time before I found the Canon PowerShot Pro1. The only problem with it is that while being extremely competent, it’s not so compact 🙂 So once again I was facing “having” to browse around for something more modern than the Ixus 400, while staying at or around the same physical dimensions. I thought about the Ixus 800is long enough to notice the Samsung Digimax L85.

Having been fairly impressed with digital camera products from Canon over the past few years, it felt like a leap of faith even considering the L85. I mean, come on.. Samsung? What do they know about cameras? (I said the same thing when LG started putting out LCD:s severals years ago.) Anyway, I decided to take that leap and ordered a package on offer, which included a cradle for charging and easy transfers.

So, on with the show, how was it?

Samsung Digimax L85
Samsung Cradle for charging and easy transfer
Sandisk Secure Digital Extreme III 2GB

Taking the camera out of its box, one can’t but enjoy the look and feel of it. A sleek “rubberish” coating, which has been popular on some other cameras for some time, combined with the mostly black color and silver top makes for a rustic and genuine feeling. There’s no mistaking this for a big and expensive camera; it isn’t. It’s a lightweight and slick compact digital camera with a rechargeable battery.

Many settings can be set/changed to one’s content; I set all quality and resolution options to “Super fine”, which is one less than TIFF. The camera does not support RAW images, which I personally don’t mind missing in a compact camera though I don’t think it would have hurt had Samsung included this format. With my 2GB memory card, I can take some 450 pictures at full resolution (8 megapixels).

Most controls are very easy to operate, even if you have big hands. The power button could be a bit more sturdy/obvious, but is different enough from the shutter that the fingers quickly learn to recognize which is which, even when operating without looking 🙂 The L85’s LCD is the only viewer/source of information. There’s no viewfinder, which I think is good since they serve little purpose on most compact digital cameras. The LCD is fixed and cannot be flipped, turned, swirled or otherwise operated. There are pros and cons with this of course, the biggest pro is that it’s one less thing to break, the biggest con is that it limits the angles at which you can photograph.

Macro, auto-macro, red-eye reduction flash, standard flash, slow synch flash and no flash are all easily configurable, workable, and simple to use. The slow synch flash is, of course, most useful on a tripod, but it makes for some nice shooting possibilities. Movies at 30 frames per second in decent quality makes for some fairly simple but fun functionality. It comes nowhere near a real camcorder of course, but I’m assuming Samsung never had that intention. Another “sequencer” is the ability to take up to 30 pictures per second for 1-3 seconds. This is a pretty cool feature when shooting things that move and are hard to catch at that exact right moment; the only problem is that it requires good lighting and no or little camera shakes. The L85 also allows you to annotate a given picture or movie sequence by recording a voice message; this can be more useful than it sounds. It saves taking notes about objects or locations.

As many other companies have had troubles with in the past, the Samsung does not allow for an option to configure the time format. It simply uses AM/PM, and that’s that. This is no big deal, but slightly annoying since it allows me to configure the date format to the three most widely used. The camera can be configured to “imprint” date and time information on the physical image files, something useful for certain prints where the digital source is no longer available.

Samsung claims the L85 is “World First HDMI camera” (sic); which is nice when hooking it up to a capable viewing device such as a HDTV-ready flatscreen TV. Regular audio/video connectivity is also offered.

I have been one to hold a grudge against manufacturers of compact digital cameras for not working more on the optical zoom department, instead of focusing just on the pixels. This year we’ve seen compact digital cameras deliver 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and even 12x optical zoom; all with varying quality of course, but it’s nice to see that things are moving along. Once image stabilizing functionality is something everybody has, 8-12x optical zoom on a compact camera may even be useful.

The L85 sports 5x optical zoom, which is sufficient for most “average” situations, I would like to see somewhere around 6-8x optical zoom. Speaking of image stabilizing functions, the L85 doesn’t offer any. This is, thus far, the only major drawback as far as I’m concerned.

The accompanying software is simple to install and simple in operation. It took me a while to figure out that I had to switch the USB cable from the mouse and the camera on the HP NC6000 laptop before the computer would recognize the camera, but once I did, it hooked up just fine. Samsung has included a fairly rough but useful image manager which can also be used to actually manipulate and produce final video from the video recordings.

All in all, I’d rate this 9-9.5 on a 10 scale; but since nobody cares what I think about cameras, I won’t rate it 🙂
I find the L85 to be a good and solid compact digital camera at a very reasonable price. It takes good pictures, has a solid set of features and can by all means be called compact. The only thing that prevents a 10/10 rating is the lack of an image stabilizer in normal picture mode.

Some sample images (click for a larger version):

Apples and grapefruit, no flash

Green foam, no flash
Features at a glance according to Samsung:

  • 8.1 mega-pixel
  • Optical 5X Zoom (Schneider Lens)
  • Large 2.5″ TFT Color LCD
  • World First HDMI camera (Optional)
  • Manual Mode
  • Wide Mode
  • Motion Capture Mode
  • Advanced Movie function

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