With 2012 shaping up to be the year of the expert compact, Samsung owed it to itself to update the ageing EX1. The new EX2F is based on the same basic formula, but the lens has got faster at wide-angle (f/1.4 compared with f/1.8) and the internal electronics have been totally revamped, notably with the addition of a BSI CMOS sensor.
Owners of an EX2F should make sure they place this hunk of a camera down gently on a table or desk. Not to protect the camera, mind you, but to protect the poor table from the impact of this dense, angular and rather heavy portable brick (it weighs almost 300 g)!
Jokes aside, like the EX1 before it, the EX2F is a sturdy and reassuring camera. It's well built, assembled with care and is made from dense metal with sturdy controls that all make nice clicks. Even the connections-port cover and pop-up flash burst open with a sharp click, as if standing to attention. The EX2F feels robust, it feels tough, and it feels like a red-blooded camera—some users may like that, but others may prefer a sleeker, slinkier model.
The EX2F has an AMOLED screen with 614,000 dots (VGA resolution). As usual with this type of screen technology, the display is very nice to use and onscreen info remains relatively easy to see in spite of the glossy finish. However, onscreen image fidelity is another matter, with mid-grey tones that are a bit too light and over-saturated colours that are flattering but which lack fidelity.
Even if the buttons haven't really changed, much handling has improved in the EX2F. We inevitably still have a few regrets—like the fact you have to click the thumb wheel to correct exposure (the thumb wheel and the settings wheel around the four-way arrows have the same function, instead of being used for two different settings). However, the few problems that niggled us with the EX1 have been corrected here. The graphic interfaces seen in the latest Samsung cameras are clear and easy on the eyes, and the EX2F interface is no exception. The main menu is nicely designed and it's easy to see which setting is selected. The Fn menu is nice too, with handy explanations of all the settings.
The main drawback is the lack of customisable settings. The thumb-wheel and the settings wheel around the four-way arrow buttons both have fixed functions, whereas camera's like the Canon S110 offer more possibilities. In the S110, for example, the lens ring can be assigned a different setting in each mode. In fact, the only button that can be customised here is the Wi-Fi button, which can be set to transfer snaps to a mobile device, to activate the remote viewfinder function, to upload shots to social networks, to save shots in online storage, etc. What could prove more problematic, however, is the fact that the EX2F doesn't have any custom modes for saving your favourite settings—you'll have to make do with the scene modes or readjust the settings before each shot.
Battery life didn't stand out one way or another—it's neither good nor bad in this camera. The EX2F is no match for a Canon G-series camera, but it holds out for longer than a Canon S-series snapper. Also note that you shouldn't compare Samsung's battery life data with those of other cameras—CIPA standards are a Japanese initiative and this South Korean manufacturer doesn't apply them.
The EX2F is a very consistent camera in this field, staying on the better side of average without ever moving up into the exceptional. Start-up takes around two seconds, photo-to-photo turnaround generally takes just under two seconds (even with RAW shots), and focusing takes just under half a second in all conditions.
The burst mode reaches ten frames per second, but it's only available in Jpeg mode. You either get RAW or continuous shooting here—not both.
The Samsung EX2F has pretty much nothing in common with its predecessor on the inside. That said, the sensor stays the same physical size. At 1/1.7", it falls in-between the sensors used in general consumer compacts and the 1" sensor in the Sony RX100. However, the EX2F now uses a BSI CMOS sensor, which should help boost sensitivity. The lens has almost the same focal range as the EX1 (24-80 mm instead of 24-72 mm), but aperture has been upped to f/1.4 at wide-angle in exchange for a slight drop at telephoto to f/2.7.
And these new electronics have brought real improvements. While 8" x 10" prints (20 x 27 cm) from the EX1 showed up digital noise from 800 ISO, the EX2F is perfectly at ease at this sensitivity setting. At 1600 ISO, smoothing is visible on 8" x 10" prints (the contour lines on the map in our test scene are smoothed away, for example), but 4" x 6" snaps (11 x 15 cm) are still fine.
That said, the Canon S110 does a better job—it can easily be used up to 1600 ISO (although it does have a more limited aperture, which makes a big difference). The Panasonic LX7 also takes sharper shots in return for a few rather visible artefacts, and with a lens that's just as fast. But, above all, the Sony RX100 walks all over any expert compact with a 2/3" or 1/1.7" sensor.
The lens is decent too. At wide-angle, the EX2F clearly outdoes Canon's S110. At telephoto, however, the corners of the frame don't hold up as well with Samsung's lens, which gives less evenly sharp results than the Canon. And, in all circumstances, the Panasonic LX7 performs at least as well. On the whole, then, the LX7 remains one step ahead on image quality in all conditions, but the EX2F can still hold its own. It even outdoes the S110 in low light thanks to its wider lens aperture.
On paper, the EX2F ticks all the right boxes. It films Full HD video at 30 fps with stereo sound, with a usable and very quiet optical zoom, and an effective continuous autofocus.
In practice, however, the sound lacks accuracy (distinct noises get a little cloudy) and compression artefacts are sometimes visible in the image. It's therefore not the best occasional camcorder out there.