As we saw with the WB150F, Samsung is throwing all its weight behind smart cameras this year. On the higher-end WB850F, Samsung still manages to pull off Wi-Fi connectivity in a user-friendly way, but also brings out the big guns with showy features like 21x optical zoom, GPS, an AMOLED screen – and still retains a reasonably low $330 price tag. But can all this compensate for image quality that still lags behind top-tier competitors like Canon?
Look and feel
Like the WB150F, the WB850F is a good-looking camera. It has the same matte, black-tinted aluminum finish, which is simultaneously an industrial and minimalist look – and we love it. There are far too many point and shoots on the market that look like they belong in a toy box, and the WB850F definitely does not.
The front of the camera has a bit of an extended lens on the face, and the finish suggests there’s a dial attached to the front – but it’s just for looks. This is a little silly: It’s definitely trying to make the WB850F look a little more professional than it is, but we have to admit it gives a nice aesthetic effect. There’s a subtle grip as well, which makes the device a little thicker than most people are probably used to with point and shoots, but we actually prefer a little more bulk.
Despite the bigger body, everything is relatively smooth and streamlined – buttons are overwhelming the camera. The top is marked by the power control, a dedicated pop-up flash, the shutter-zoom toggle, and the settings mode dial. None of these pop up too high from the surface, though, giving a nice level look to the camera. The power button is perhaps a little too sunken into the top of the camera, however, making it not the easiest power switch.
Around back, you’ve got a 3-inch AMOLED display, a dedicated video capture button (paired next to a dedicated toggle that manage capture speeds and burst modes), and your traditional center dial and menu hub in the right hand corner.
Overall: For a point and shoot, it’s a big heavy and it’s a little wider – but it just looks so damn good, so the WB850F pulls it off.
In the box
The WB850F comes with a software disc containing Intelli-studio and Creative Movie Maker, a USB cable, li-ion battery, charger, and a wrist strap.
User interface and navigation
Without a doubt, the Samsung Smart draws its bragging rights come from two factors: Its easy Wi-Fi accessibility and its in-camera UI and navigation. Samsung has taken lengths to unite the way its menus look and function with the rest of its connected and Galaxy products, so there’s a feeling of familiarity and uniformity between its Smart devices.
There’s also ample instruction when you’re within the user-controlled modes. Shooting within A/S/M, the menu will direct you how to manipulate the settings, minimizing what can be a confusing process for new learners.
Samsung also makes it incredibly easy for users to work with the GPS and Wi-Fi options, which is surprisingly unique in point-and-shoot cameras. These are two features we’re seeing more and more often in consumer-level cameras, and they are usually buried deep within a menu, or far trickier to use than they’re worth. Giving these two prime real estate on the main mode dial is a fantastic choice, made even better by the fact that once you’re in there, the navigation is visual-heavy and relies on app-like icons to get you rolling (you will need to do a little software installation before you’re able to use the GPS function, but that aside, it’s smooth sailing).
The same goes for the rest of the shooting modes: Generally, we’re inclined to give Nikon and Canon nods as most user-friendly in-camera navigation, but Samsung is absolutely setting a new bar here.
The single complaint we have about the physical button setup is that flash and focus are buried under the Function button – it’s clearly a move to free up some space on the back of the camera, but it’s still a bit of a stretch for users to naturally find their way here for what are two oft-used controls.
We’ve already mentioned two of the WB850F’s big features – Wi-Fi and GPS, but they’re only the headliners. Before we dive into specifics, here’s a quick overview of what’s all packed into the WB850F: There’s the 3-inch AMOLED display, a 21x optical zoom, a pop-up flash, 1080p HD, a variety of filters, and scene presets.
Wi-Fi is incredibly easy – and fun – to use. You’re launched into a familiar hub that gets you connected and sharing content very easily. Entering account and password info with a four-way dial is never pleasant, however, so steel yourself for what’s an unavoidable one-time process there. Once you’re in, though, you’re in, and there’s no clunky mess of a typical camera UI to get your photos and video where you want them. The WB850F connects with Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, and PhotoBucket, and can also back up photos to your desktop or to Microsoft SkyDrive accounts.
The GPS feature isn’t quite as flawless. Unlike many cameras that merely show coordinates, the WB850F projects a map with locations plotted, but it was slow to recognize locations and (like all GPS systems) virtually useless indoors. Then again, we’re not entirely sold on the usefulness of GPS in general, so it wasn’t all that disappointing (especially considering that the WB850F’s price cut to $330 doesn’t exactly make you feel like you’re losing too much of what you’re paying for).
The AMOLED screen might get overshadowed by some of the showier features, but it’s a really nice addition. It holds up very nicely in bright overhead light, and on-screen blacks are deeper and richer than you’ll see in LCD screens.
Outfitting the WB850F with a 21x optical zoom is another coup for the camera, giving it a really nice multipurpose position. (It’s almost hitting all the big sells: manual settings, Wi-Fi and auto-share, GPS, and a compact with a high zoom is pretty impressive).
Performance and use
There are a lot of fun things about using the WB850F; everything about it is easy to use without being elementary. You can experiment with manual settings while also auto-sharing. It’s incredibly versatile. However, that doesn’t necessarily translate to the highest quality photos.
For the most part, the WB850F’s 16-megapixel sensor performs well, although saturation and color tone errs toward the warm side and there’s some minimal distortion going on. But these are pretty nit-picky things. Same goes for high-zoomed shots: You can’t expect interchangeable-lens results when you’re using a $330 point-and-shoot, and you’re not going to get them. That said, for its sensor size and lens build, the WB850F does a decent job of compensating.
Really, the challenge comes in when you’re trying to push ISO. Anything higher than 800 gets grainy pretty quickly. That’s not to say you can’t experiment with higher ISOs, but don’t plan on printing anything beyond a 4 x 6. However, the WB850F’s max shutter speed of 16 seconds means that night scene shots are easily within reach, provided you have a stable surface or tripod.
In burst mode, the WB850F can hit a max of 10 fps, but only for a string of eight photos. While that’s technically a limitation, we actually love that this gets capped by the camera and isn’t a user-controlled specification. The results are impressive and processing time is fast.
Shutter and recycle-to-refresh time in general are speedy, and you won’t find yourself lagging in-between shots. All that said, battery isn’t particularly good, and that’s largely due to GPS (it’s the burden of the beast).
Samsung packs a lot (and we mean a lot) into what is essentially an average point-and-shoot camera: Its specs are fine, and image quality is good, but not outstanding. But as we noted with the WB150F, Samsung’s forwarding-looking features and UI seal the deal, not image quality. Wi-Fi – done right – is quickly becoming an absolute must-have for point-and-shoots, and an engaging, easy-to-navigate UI is always in demand. You can check those both off with the WB850F.
Of course, extras like an AMOLED screen, manual settings, and the super zoom only make this a more attractive package – and the $330 price tag is relatively low. If you’re spending less than $230 on a digital camera these days, you may as well kiss utility beyond a year goodbye. But the WB850F definitely isn’t going to be left in the dust anytime terribly soon.
Should you buy it?
Unless your sole focus is high image quality, then the WB850F is a great bet for most consumers, especially those who want their photos up and on Facebook as quickly as possible.
- Easy to use Wi-Fi function
- Feature-packed and versatile
- Great interface
- Fast functioning and processing
- GPS is easy to use, but battery draining
- Average image quality
- Can’t push ISO without noise