An ultracompact digital camera comes in most handy while you’re on the move or in crowded places. It fits snugly into your pocket, keeping you worry-free about dropping it accidentally or misplacing it. The 16.1 megapixel Samsung ST66 is one such digital camera which is more compact than a pack of playing cards and weighs less than a smartphone. However, don’t underestimate the capabilities of this camera just because it’s small. Read on to find out what it has in store.
A 16.1 MP ultra-compact camera with a good feature set
Design and Build Quality
The Samsung ST66 doesn’t come across as extraordinary by its looks. Despite the plain design, it looks very elegant. The ST66 comes in five colours. Pick either black or silver if your taste is sober. If you like happy colours, you have an option to choose from light blue, pink and red. We received a silver review unit from Samsung. For an entry-level camera, the construction is very good. The front of the camera is reinforced by an aluminium plate with matte finish. The Samsung logo on the grip and the shiny lens housing enhance the aesthetics. The strip at the top houses the power button, zoom rocker, microphone and a tiny speaker.
The body is just 16.9 mm thick
The rear half of the shell is of the same colour as the front, and it’s hard to tell it’s made of plastic. It’s dominated by a 2.7-inch LCD monitor, which is a standard feature of entry-level digital cameras. You’ll be pleased looking at the control panel because the layout is typical of most digital cameras. Starting from the top are Menu and Mode buttons followed by a 5-way D-pad. In addition to navigation, the D-pad offers instant access to Info display, Self-timer, Macro and Flash. These shortcuts are time-saving as you aren’t compelled to frequently navigate the menus. At the bottom we have Playback and Function (Fn) buttons. The latter doubles as Delete in playback mode. The battery and slot for memory card reside in a compartment at the bottom.
2.7-inch LCD display and a simple control panel
Now for the interesting bit: unlike most digital cameras, ST66 uses a microSD memory card. The advantage of this feature is that after shoots, you can instantly insert the card into your smartphone and share your photos on the social network. But the drawback is pathetically slow write speed with entry-level memory cards such as the 4GB card that comes bundled. Another useful feature is the use of micro USB interface for charging the camera and transferring data. If your phone uses the same interface, you can use its charger to charge the battery incase you forget to carry the bundled charger. The micro USB port also doubles as video output and the package includes a composite video cable.
Features and Ergonomics
The key features of the camera are printed on the front – HD, 5x, 16.1 megapixels and the numbers describing the optics. The lens of the ST66 is quite wide at 25 mm and it extends to 125 mm, which translates to 5x optical zoom. At the widest end, the largest available aperture is F2.5. A larger aperture helps capture well-exposed shots in low light. The largest aperture in most other entry-level cameras varies between F2.8 to F3.5.
The user interface of the ST66 is similar to other digital cameras by Samsung. The Menu button lets you access the camera settings such as sound, time and date setting, language (Hindi included), display brightness and so on. The Shooting tab lists all the shooting parameters, but they can also be accessed instantly while shooting by pressing the Fn button. These include Photo Size (resolution), Quality, EV, ISO, white balance, Smart Filter, Face Detection, Metering, Drive mode and DIS. You can tinker with all of them in Program mode, while other modes allow tinkering with only a few. For example, the Smart Auto mode only allows setting the Photo Size, and the Scene presets additionally allow setting the Quality, Focus Area and DIS. Do not confuse DIS with dual image stabilisation (optical and digital). Here, it stands for Digital Image Stabilisation, which means the ST66 lacks optical IS.
25 mm wide angle lens, 5x optical zoom and HD video recording
Besides the Smart Auto, Program and Scene modes, the ST66 features Live Panorama and Movie modes. The former is similar to the Sweep Panorama mode in Sony Cyber-shot digital cameras. Simply hold down the shutter and keeping it pressed; you have to pan the camera horizontally or vertically to get panoramic shots. The scene presets are limited – Beauty Shot (skin softening), Funny Face (distorts faces), Night, Landscape, Text, Sunset, Backlight and Magic Frame. The Magic Frame is most interesting, wherein you get 13 overlay frames to have fun with – Magazine cover, Newspaper, Classic TV, Billboard, Mural etc.
Effect filters are now a common feature of many digital cameras. In ST66, filters such as Miniature, Vignetting, Sketch, Half Tone Dot, Fish Eye and Retro are accessible from the stack of shooting parameters. A very good thing is that these filters can be applied to photos shot without using them while editing in playback mode. The other functions available are resize, rotate and adjustments such as auto-contrast, red eye fix, face retouch, brightness, contrast and saturation. The edited image is stored as a separate file.
The ST66 can record videos at 720p and optical zoom is available while you’re shooting videos. The white balance, EV and metering can be tweaked for video recording. Some filters such as colour tints, vignetting, miniature effect and Fish Eye can also be used. One feature that we really liked is the option to extract frames from videos. You simply have to pause the video playback at the frame that you wish to capture and then press the down button on the D-pad to save it as an image.
Press the on/off button and the ST66 takes about a second to get ready to snap. We liked the intuitive user interface. But the time taken to write the image to the memory card, coupled with the slow flash recharge, is disappointing. With flash disabled, it takes a good 3 seconds to write a photo to a Class 4 microSD card and get ready for the next shot. With flash enabled, it takes 4.5 seconds. You can easily miss a golden moment during the lag.
The ST66 is below average when it comes to handling noise. Only up to ISO 100 will you find the noise level acceptable, beyond which graininess kills the details. We’ve seen entry-level cameras perform fairly well at ISO 400, but this camera doesn’t quite make the cut. The solution to this problem is to scale down the image shot at ISO speeds greater than 400 to 20 percent, apply some sharpening and boost the contrast . ISO 1600 and 3200 yield very grainy results. Thankfully, there is hardly any colour noise which would have otherwise ruined the shots.
Shots taken with the ST66 look nice so long as they are fit to screen. Zoom in to 100 percent and you’ll find that the reproduction of details of distant objects is poor. Even objects in close proximity appear a little fuzzy. This indicates that the optics and the image processing engine of this camera leave a lot to be desired. What we enjoyed the most was shooting with Magic Frames – it’s fun to use with friends.
Magic Frames are fun
Shot using Half Tone Dot filter
Macro mode: Notice the highlight along the bright edges
The video quality was good. At 720p, there is very little jitter, but that can be ignored. Using Smart Filters while recording videos doesn’t affect the frame rate. A common problem with many cameras is the microphone picking up the annoying zoom motor noise and the Samsung ST66 isn’t an exception. There is an option called Sound Alive, which when enabled suppresses the sound of the zoom motor – it does bring some relief.
Verdict and pricing in India
The Samsung ST66 is priced at Rs. 6,690. There are many other cameras that fall in this price bracket and they can’t be ignored. It’s only the below average quality of photos that holds us back from recommending this camera. If you don’t have a very high budget and want compactness, we suggest looking at the Canon PowerShot A2300 which costs Rs 6,300. The specifications are similar to the ST66, but the quality of image it captures is far better.
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Oct 22, 2016
Oct 22, 2016