Aimed at photo enthusiasts, can the swivel screen, Wi-Fi equipped Samsung EX2F high-end compact camera hold its own against the likes of the Panasonic LX7?
There are currently three big growth areas in the photography market: interchangeable lens compact system cameras (CSC's), long zoom pocket cameras ('travel zooms') and premium or high-end compacts.
Falling into the latter category and aimed at photo enthusiasts, the range-topping Samsung EX2F takes on the current likes of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 for the 'best ever digital compact' trophy.
From its all-black matt exterior complete with two top plate control dials, vacant hotshoe and secreted pop-up flash, the Samsung EX2F certainly looks a serious contender. Within the metal bodywork too Samsung offers up a veritable arsenal of creative photo features and sharing applications to fight its corner.
These include a brightest-in-class f/1.4 maximum aperture lens with 3.3x optical zoom capability, wireless photo sharing via Wi-Fi plus swivel 'n' tilt back screen – the latter always useful for navigating otherwise awkward extreme low or high angle framing. With top-plate hotshoe provided, the only thing seemingly missing out of the box with this Samsung is an electronic viewfinder.
So, for those who don't want to swap lenses but do crave high quality pictures and High Def video, the second generation EX2F in replacing last year's EX1 would appear to have a lot going for it.
That said, a street price of £429 at the time of writing is a little steep. It actually makes the camera more expensive than the outwardly flashier, seemingly technically more advanced Samsung Galaxy Camera, which is £399.
Yet kudos awaits any manufacturer able to crack the premise of a single lens camera that can fit in the pocket yet, thanks to being equipped with every conceivable bell and whistle, can still churn out pictures a professional would be proud of.
Though a 12.4 megapixel resolution sensor seems modest next to the whopping 20.2 MP of the Sony RX100, is the EX2F the camera to crack that particular nut?
Samsung EX2F: Controls
Of very similar dimensions to the more minimalist yet interchangeable lens Nikon J2, the EX2F finds extra room for a proper handgrip to one side with the convenience pf a DSLR-like control dial set into it.
Give this a spin with a forefinger to jump from stills capture to video capture and set up mode, or use the multi directional pad at the back to tab from one setting to another in a more precise manner. A third option is to spin the scroll wheel that surrounds the same pad to arrive at a chosen setting quicker.
On the Samsung's top plate, and ape-ing a rangefinder camera in terms of design, we have a pair of dials governing shooting modes and drive modes. The eight option shooting mode dial offers hands-on creative control courtesy of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual settings, along with Samsung's 'Smart' auto setting for when all you want to do is point and shoot.
The three other settings are for Wi-Fi connectivity options, video and scene modes. As we've found on previous Samsung compacts, the options in scene and Wi-Fi modes are presented graphically, so that they resemble smartphone applications – an idea taken to its logical conclusion with the Samsung Galaxy Camera, but here included more for show-y familiarity.
We should mention that there's no automatic lens cover provided on this camera, instead you get a traditional clip-on lens cap. As a result you have to remember to take it off before attempting a shot – not something we're used to with a camera this small.
Samsung EX2F: Screen
As has proved the case recently with Samsung's flagship models, particularly those in its NX range of interchangeable compacts, the EX2F comes with an AMOLED as opposed to regular LCD screen.
This is said to provide an image with more contrast and deeper blacks, and to our eyes the appearance is certainly more 'life-like' and punchy than that usually provided by common-or-garden LCD.
Resolution here is a respectable 614k dots and the standard 4:3 aspect ratio screen is 3-inches in size, though because of the wider bezel and 'arm' via which it's tilted and flipped, actual screen size somehow looks smaller.
What is really exciting though is that the adjustable screen really opens up the possibilities for unique compositions. Along with the recently rated BenQ G1, this has got to be one of the most compact cameras to feature an angle adjustable screen, and it makes this Samsung a pleasure to use.
Samsung EX2F: Battery
The Samsung EX2F is supplied with an SLB-10A lithium ion rechargeable battery. It's re-charged within the camera, as all that's provided in the box is an USB-equipped mains plug and the necessary cable to hook this up to the camera.
The amount of shots provided via a full charge is a respectable if not quite grounding breaking 200-250 images, compared with 330 pictures on the Sony RX100, though in fairness this is marginally better than the 200 shots offered by the competing Canon S100.
In practical terms we were able to utilise the Samsung for a couple of days sightseeing without having to plug the camera into the mains, but you'll probably want to pack it if going on holiday for a week or two.
Samsung EX2F: Image quality
Photographers always bang on about how they want a fast or bright aperture lens so they can take handheld photos in shadow or low light and not have to instead bump up the ISO and possibly introduce noise, or worse, still resort to flash.
However, the f/1.4 aperture offered on the EX2F is so bright, on a sunny day we actually had to dial down the exposure setting to avoid images that were simply too light for us in tone and so retain the detail that we wanted.
Once we had done this we were delighted with the results, with shots maintaining bags of detail right into the corners of frame, whether at maximum 28mm equivalent wideangle or maximum 80mm equivalent zoom setting.
Inevitably there is slight pixel fringing between areas of high contrast – most noticeable where, say, leaves on trees meet bright, featureless skies – but this is only spotted under close magnification.
Colours for stills and videos are vivid straight out of the camera, which is exactly what you want – and indeed expect, having viewed them on the equally punchy AMOLED back screen prior to downloading.
The 3.3x optical zoom doesn't offer massive scope in terms of what you an fit into frame without having to simply stake a step forward or back, and the digital extended zoom is worth avoiding altogether if you want to avoid a video grab-like result, but if you did want an all-encompassing zoom you wouldn't be considering the EX2F.
On the whole results from this Samsung resemble images from a very good snapshot camera rather than a DSLR, and, thanks to that bright lens, we were indeed able to take a higher proportion steady, blur-free shots under artificial light and shooting handheld.
An addition to your kit bag perhaps if you're a keen photographer already, but – and no massive surprise here – not quite the fabled straight swap for an interchangeable lens camera costing just as much. Samsung hasn't swiped the 'best ever compact' crown just yet.
Samsung EX2F: Verdict
Samsung has pitched the 12.4 megapixel, 3.3x optical zoom, Wi-Fi enabled EX2F at photographers who have grown tired of just pointing and shooting with a smartphone or cheap snapshot but don't actually want to go the whole hog and opt for a system camera or a digital SLR.
The other market for the EX2F is owners of DSLRs who want something more portable – but ones who presumably consider Samsung's other alternative in a CSC like the NX1000 still too bulky once an accessory lens is added. Though the EX2F can fit in your pocket, because its lens barrel juts out an inch or more even in its dormant state, it's a tight squeeze.
The other alternative is simply to attach the neck strap provided and show it off. Though you are still buying a compact camera rather than DSLR replacement, fortunately the EX2F looks sufficiently serious and high quality that you just might want to.
Samsung EX2F release date: Available now
Samsung EX2F price: £429