Digital technology allowed conventional optical viewfinders in cameras to be replaced by electronic displays (which of course have a lot of other functions). The typical characteristic of digital cameras is thus a sizable LCD display on the back side. But would you think of placing a display on the front side of the camera, too?
At first glance, Samsung ST550 looks like one of the many compact digital cameras on the market. The simple but elegant design of the black camera is broken up by a color line. You can choose from a total of seven color variations. The line can be practically invisible – black, red, orange, blue, violet, or the more flashy gold or silver. You can see some of the mentioned combinations in the photographs below.
The elegance of the camera is underscored by the back side, which is entirely smooth without the standard array of buttons and other controls. That’s an unmistakable sign that the back side is a touchscreen – with a few exceptions, the camera is operated by virtual buttons projected on the display.
The three and a half inch display has excellent resolution — 1,152,000 pixels, which provides for a perfect image. The LCD is capacitory – there’s no need to press on it; it’s enough to lightly touch the desired spot. This, however, also means that it cannot be used with gloves or with a stylus. The display of the ST550 model is the only difference from the twin of this camera — model ST500. The latter has a smaller display (3” screen size) and also a significantly smaller number of pixels – you have to manage with a mere 230,000 pixels.
As you can see from the dimensions and weight of the Samsung ST550, it really is a pocket camera that ranks among the so-called “stylish jewels” out there. With a weight of 165 grams you will certainly not notice the weight when carrying it around, and the small size allows it to be carried in a pocket (although the stylish carrying case won’t do any harm).
What we still haven’t gotten to is the key feature of this camera – the front display. The designers of this camera embedded it under its high gloss face, which is transparent where the display is located. When you look closely at the second photograph below you will see a lighter rectangle left of the lens — that’s the hidden front display. Smart, no?
You can activate the front display yourself – for example, when shooting a self-portrait, and it is turned on automatically with some functions – typically when the self-timer is activated. When using the self-timer, the last three seconds are visible on the front display in numbers as a countdown. A rather incomprehensible function is the option to activate the display to show certain functions – see last example. On the other hand, the screening of animated clowns in the motive program Kids is quite witty. Clowns playing with balls have the task of attracting children’s attention and direct their eyes toward the camera. Samsung announced the possibility of downloading more animations from its website, however at the time of this review, there weren’t any available.
We probably don’t even have to emphasize that the front display is also a great feature for the participants of the Week of Life project. The share of self-portraits in the week of each person is not insignificant and the front display eliminates the usual blind composition of the shot.
As already mentioned, the large touchscreen display made it possible to minimize the mechanical control elements on the Samsung ST550. It’s not possible to do without them altogether, and so in the top right corner you will find four controls: the main power button, the release button, a miniature zoom lever and finally a button for the image view mode.
The memory card is another key feature. You would likely recognize that the Micro SD is a card normally found in mobile phones, not digital cameras. Nevertheless that does not change anything regarding its functionality; a majority of users download image data from their camera using the supplied USB cable anyway. This cable is – as you can see in the third image – also a charger. All that’s needed is to connect it to the supplied socket plug. Don’t look for a standard battery charger in the equipment.
Just as is the Samsung ST550 is extraordinarily well equipped with respect to construction, it is also excellent with regard to functions. First of all it should be noted that the camera is equipped with all modern functions of compact digital cameras such as automatic focusing with the option of face detection upgraded by the detection of specific faces and subsequent optional skin or red eye retouching. Other than that you can also set a focus point by simply pointing a finger on the display. If you keep it on the chosen spot for a longer period, an image will be automatically taken even without pressing the release button. You will find a fully automatic program, which will evaluate the captured scene and choose the specific image parameters accordingly. It is possible to set the device to a sensitivity of up to ISO 3,200, but take into account that from roughly ISO 800 there is a visible loss of fine detail due to noise reduction.
You can find many functions also in the image view mode, where images can be enhanced in various ways, several effects can be applied, and that enables viewing photographs with background music. The Samsung ST550 even has a recycle bin just like the one you see on any computer. An accidentally deleted image can thus be restored.
Screenshots of the menu of Samsung ST550
The two-display Samsung ST550 is without a doubt an interesting piece among compact digital cameras. The option to use the front display often comes in handy, and, thanks to it’s clever construction, if you don’t want to turn it on you won’t notice it. Operating the camera using the large back touchscreen display works perfectly. The we weren’t fully happy with was a certain inconsistency and sometimes even confusion with the control – there are simply a lot of functions and one can easily get lost in them. You also should carry around a microfiber cloth or a ‘polisher’ for the display. You will have a tough time avoiding constantly touching the display.
The image quality is standard with regard to its category, the device will cope well with automatic exposure and the color scheme is natural. We would welcome a slightly more sensitive JPEG compression – patterns get lost in fine details – but that’s a problem only with serious enlargement. The image quality is absolutely satisfactory for photographs in common sizes or for the use on the web; the resolution is even unnecessarily high (but this is somewhat standard with new compact digital cameras).
Common price (at the time of this review’s publication): 219 EUR
Basic technical data for Samsung ST550
12 Mpx (4,000 × 3,000 px)
Sensitivity ISO 80 to 3,200
27–124 mm F3.5–5.9
Built-in memory 55 MB
1,280 × 720, 30 fps/15 fps
640 × 480 px, 30 fps/15 fps
320 × 240 px, 60 fps/30 fps/15 fps
Screen size 3.5″ (89 mm)
Screen size 1.5″ (38 mm)
Dimensions and weight
100 × 60 × 22 mm (w × h × d)
165 g (incl. battery and memory card)