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In movie mode the L55W offers VGA resolution at 30 frames per second, although the full image size is cropped to give the widescreen effect. It uses MPEG-4 image compression, so recorded quality remains high while making the most of the available space, with over two hours recording on a 256MB card. Electronic image stabilisation is available in video mode, and there are some useful editing functions available in playback mode. As well as this, the L55W also has an excellent macro mode, able to focus down to just 2cm.
I was not able to fully evaluate battery life, but the camera has a big 1280mAh Li-ion rechargeable cell, and several days of shooting, mostly with the flash, did not budge the indicator from reading fully charged.
Sadly, the otherwise exemplary performance and specification of the L55W is badly let down by poor image quality.
The images are massively over-processed, robbing what would otherwise be outstanding shots of much of their fine detail. This is most likely done to combat image noise, because the L55W also has a big problem in this department. In long-exposure test shots, some image noise was present at 50, 100 and 200 ISO, but at 400 ISO the noise reduction seemed to switch off and then things got really bad. Take a look at the sample shots to see what I mean.
This is a real shame, because in all other respects the image quality is excellent. The lens produces good edge-to-edge sharpness with minimal distortion even at wide angle, exposure and colour rendition are superb and flash range and coverage is well above average. The sharpness level is adjustable, but I found that even at the sharpest setting images still lacked the fine detail one would expect from a 5MP camera.
This over-processing could be a real problem if you regularly print your pictures at A4 or larger. However at normal snapshot print sizes the L55W can still produce outstanding results, and is the only true widescreen camera on the market.
The Digimax L55W is a solidly made and well designed camera from a much-improved brand, offering a good specification and excellent performance at a bargain-basement price. The movie mode is good, the bizarre frames are just silly, however it is the wide-angle widescreen capability that really sets the L55W apart. There’s nothing else on the market that can do what this camera does. It’s just a shame that the image quality doesn’t live up to it.
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