Samsung WB850F review

The Samsung WB850F is a travel zoom camera that appears to have the lot

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Superb screen

  • +

    Broad focal range

  • +

    Packed with features

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Pricey for a point and shootc

  • -

    Inconsistent performance

  • -

    Average battery life

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On paper, the Samsung WB850F has everything one could hope for from a travel zoom camera – a long lens as well as GPS and Wi-Fi

For anyone looking for an all-in-one snapshot camera that offers a wide range of shooting options, the 16 megapixel Samsung WB850F, in topping its long zoom or 'travel zoom' range, would seem to have it all.

On board are a 21x optical zoom, GPS image tagging facility plus cable-free Wi-Fi connectivity, the latter a big 'message' for the so-called 'Smart' family of Samsung cameras.

The focal range here also starts out a wider than most 23mm equivalent in 35mm terms, which its manufacturer claims is a wider view than the human eye can deliver. This runs up to a 483mm equivalent at the telephoto end.

Samsung has crammed a lot into this conventionally styled pocket camera because, while sales of DSLRs have declined, the fixed lens travel zoom market is on the up and fiercely competitive. Rivals include 20x zoom models in the Canon SX260 HS, the Sony HX20V and the Panasonic TZ30, along with the 18x zoom Nikon S9300 and the 24x zoom Olympus SZ-31MR to name but a recent handful.

Of course, for the winning combination of a big zoom in a pocket-sized chassis, we're inevitably paying a slight premium. Although sporting a suggested price of £329.99, the WB850F was however being offered at a more sensible street price around £270 at the time of writing. So is it worth it?

Samsung WB850F: Controls

Despite the technological innovation within, the looks and layout of the WB850F is as conventional as its design. The camera comes complete with something approaching a proper handgrip to one side of the faceplate, which is very welcome when shooting at longer zoom settings.

At the top is a shooting mode wheel smaller than a five-pence piece that mixes up manual and automatic selections. This means we get aperture priority, shutter priority, manual and program modes alongside simple point-and-shoot 'Smart Auto' functionality. It also saves having to drill down into menu screens to find the same features.

Also convenient is a zoom lever surrounding the shutter release button, jutting out slightly to the front for easier purchase, while a video record button located top right of the back plate falls readily under the thumb.

Unusually, surrounding this is a lever for altering the camera's drive mode: switching between single shot and up to 10 frames per second capture speed, for example. It's a useful shortcut we'd more readily expect to find on the likes of a DSLR than a point and shoot.

Completing the backplate button line up are more familiar menu, function – a press of which provides a graphical overview of commonly used settings – plus playback and delete buttons, along with a control pad for tabbing through menu selections.

This is encircled by a rotating scroll wheel that, with a thumb spin, enables users to even more rapidly find the setting or locate the previously captured image as required.

Samsung WB850F: Screen

With a history in TV sets, Samsung has pioneered the use of contrast and black enhancing AMOLED screens on its digital cameras, which here the WB850F also offers in preference to regular LCD found on most digital cameras. To our eyes it relays a more life-like image, the difference being comparable to watching a Blu-ray disc instead of a DVD.

However this can also mean that the pictures and video you're taking look better and sharper on the camera's 3-inch, 614K-dot resolution screen that when downloaded to the desktop.

So there can be a slight feeling of anti climax. On the plus side, the sharp screen also means that menu options and function icons look clear and legible too – the virtual icons, such as the on-screen wheel for adjusting ISO speed, looking almost physical in appearance.

Samsung WB850F: Battery

At the base of the WB850F's handgrip, within a compartment also shared with a vacant slot for an SD memory card, we find an SLB-10A lithium ion rechargeable battery.

As far as the actual charging is concerned, in the box we get a USB-equipped mains plug and a USB lead for plugging directly into the camera – there is no separate charger, so even if you were to buy a spare battery, the camera is out of action each time the power needs replenishing.

Power is good for around 200 shots from a full charge, though having the GPS always switched on can reduce this figure.

Samsung WB850F: Image quality

As well as clean and crisp 16 megapixel stills, the Samsung offers 1920x1080 pixels video at 30 frames per second. To minimise any operational buzz, the optical zoom is much slower in operation once recording has begun than when being used to frame up stills, taking 13 seconds to slide from maximum wideangle to extreme telephoto setting, compared to six seconds in stills mode.

With such a wide-angle 23mm equivalent lens it's no surprise to witness some converging verticals at this widest setting – by which we mean the tops of buildings appearing to lean towards the centre of our frame.

While this is hardly a deal breaker we did find that busier scenes occasionally confused the camera's smart auto mode. When this was the case however, re-framing the shot and trying again to focus on the correct subject soon sorted it out.

The shutter will however fire even if the subject isn't completely sharp, so we did get the occasional soft shot; not uncommon with most point and shoots but not as consistent a performance as we found with the Panasonic TZ30 or Sony HX20V.

The GPS, which can be turned on or off as wished, was also hit and miss, failing to work indoors or between tall buildings. Look on it as a bit of fun rather than as a lifesaver.

Samsung WB850F: Verdict

It feels like Samsung has crammed just about every conceivable feature we'd ask of a current pocket compact into its 16 megapixel, 21x optical zoom WB850F, though occasional performance inconsistencies stop it getting full marks.

The wider than average lens does however come as a boon to anyone wanting to capture more panoramic and dynamic images on their travels, as does the ability to pull the faraway closer without having to change your actual footing, making it great for street photography and candid portraits.

The crisp back screen also lends the camera the wow factor, as do, on paper, GPS and Wi-Fi, though we found both did struggle to find a target on occasion. Pay a tiny bit more and we'd still suggest the Panasonic TZ30 and Sony HX20 are slightly better options, everything considered, if you don't need Wi-Fi specifically.

Samsung WB850F availability: Available now

Samsung WB850F price: £329.99

Gavin Stoker

Gavin Stoker has been writing about photography and technology for the past 20 years. He currently edits the trade magazine British Photographic Industry News - BPI News for short - which is a member of TIPA, the international Technical Imaging Press Association.