Samsung has some pretty lofty ambitions for itself in the camera market—the compact camera market, that is. And the tech giant isn't doing things by halves with the WB250F, packing this 18x camera (the norm for 2013 superzooms) with all kinds of technology tried and tested in its smartphones, no doubt in the aim of reaching out to fast-fingered mobile-addicts. In spite of the sensor's rather restrained resolution of 14 Megapixels, the WB250F is the only model in its market segment proffering both a touchscreen and Wi-Fi. Does that make it a good buy?
Straight out of the box, the Samsung WB250F doesn't give a great first impression. It's not great at all, in fact. And this doesn't get any better as you start to use the camera. The casing is made from moulded white plastic that's hard, slightly grainy and not particularly pleasant to touch. The controls don't exactly inspire confidence either. The button for opening the pop-up flash is quite hard and has too long a press, for example. That does mean that you're not likely to pop up the flash by accident, but it can be pretty annoying when you have to try pressing the button several times, pushing down hard with the full force of your nail, to get the thing working. The buttons on the back of the camera are made from a hard and relatively low-quality plastic, as is the mode-selection dial.
The tripod screw-hole is moulded directly into the plastic casing, making it neither reassuring nor particularly hard-wearing. The tripod screw leaves all kinds of black marks on the camera body and—more importantly—the ridges in the screw hole start to wear down after you screw a tripod in and out about a dozen times, making it pretty much impossible to use after a while. That's just not good enough for a camera at this price point. Build quality of the lens is just as worrying too. When you zoom, the image can clearly bee seen zigzagging back and forth as if the lens isn't properly centred in its barrel.
For its overall impression of quality, the WB250F isn't on par with Samsung's WB750F.
The WB250F has a TN-type LCD, which means that the screen viewing angles are going to be pretty tight. This isn't the worst screen we've seen in this kind of camera, but it'll still be annoying for anyone wanting to shoot from more creative angles. And "creative" is just the word we'd use to describe Samsung's approach to screen calibration here. With a gamma reading of 2.0, blacks are too bright and whites are too dark—as with posterisation effects. The colour temperature of 8184 K gives the onscreen image a cool overtone, while the average Delta E of 7.4 means that colours aren't reproduced accurately onscreen.
Left to right: gamma, colour temperature, Delta E (colour fidelity)
The camera settings are accessed via the mode-selection dial rather than the "Menu" button like in almost every other compact camera in the world ever. A strange choice. Thankfully, the menus are laid out pretty logically and are very nicely designed. Samsung's multidisciplinary design—twinning a touchscreen with physical controls—clearly has its benefits.
Another plus point is that the Wi-Fi mode can be accessed directly via the mode-selection dial. You can then choose to share snaps with a smartphone, control the WB250F with a smartphone, save photos to a computer, email them or share them online. The upper edge of the camera also has a "Direct Link" button for quick and easy access to one of these options (which you pre-set in advance). To control the WB250F with a smartphone, you'll need to download and install the Samsung Smart Camera app (available for iOS and Android). It's easy enough to configure but lag is a big problem and picture quality really isn't great.
In terms of responsiveness, the WB250F is a Jekyll and Hyde kind of camera. In some fields, the WB250F is really very fast. For example, it's one of very few superzoom compacts we've reviewed to start up in under two seconds in our standard lab test. It even beats the Sony HX20V on that front. It takes about a second to turn around between two photos, which is on the better side of average, and the autofocus is perfectly fine, falling in line with current market standards.
When you turn the mode-selection dial to switch from one shooting mode to another, the WB250F displays a menu that's very stylish and well-designed but way too slow. Each time you switch mode you have to leave the WB250F to do its thing for around four seconds, which soon becomes annoying. And there's more. The WB250F has an 8 fps burst mode that works pretty well—we measured it shooting at nearer 10 frames per second—but this nice surprise is soon overshadowed by the fact that shooting a burst of photos freezes up the camera for over 15 seconds while they save. These painful performances push the WB250F down to two stars in this part of our review, which is a shame because the autofocus was worthy of four stars.
It was Oscar Wilde who said that "one should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details", advice that Samsung really seems to have taken to heart with the WB250F. Here, colours are handled pretty well, although saturation levels drop after 400 ISO. Detail, however, is pretty much a no-show in photos taken with the WB250F, right from the lowest ISO setting. Plus, any trace of detail that makes it out alive gets instantly drowned out in a big old mix of smoothing and pixelly clumps from 800 ISO. Even with prints 4" x 6" (10 x 15 cm) in size, the lens' flaws will still be visible around the edges of the frame.
However, sharpness levels do improve as you zoom, but only if you're zooming in very good light. Otherwise, the low aperture makes this lens slow, forcing the camera to compensate by pushing up the sensitivity setting where smoothing soon kicks in to wipe out any improvements brought by the lens.
Logically, picture quality is pretty similar to photo mode, with a chronic lack of detail, contrast and a heavy dose of smoothing. The WB250F also tends to under-expose videos, which in turn blocks up dark, shadowy areas. But this often-used exposure trick doesn't manage to prevent areas of bright highlighting from being overexposed. At this rate, the fact that the WB250F films 1080p Full HD video is almost anecdotal.
Sound is recorded in mono so don't expect any stereo effects or spatialisation. There's no notion of in front, behind, left or right—everything is recorded in the same soft, echoey, slightly metallic ambiance that muffles voices.
Voices are drowned out by the noise of the zoom lens in quieter scenes. In noisier conditions, sounds that are too high or too low can get muffled away in a rather unpleasant fashion.