We've all wanted to get closer to our subjects than our compact camera's weedy 3x optical zoom would allow at one time or another, but we may have been put off an alternative with a broader focal range by the perceived bulk that came with it. In the past couple of years however, all that has changed.
Announced last year, Samsung's 12.2 effective megapixel WB600 charges into battle with Panasonic's TZ camera series, for one, by virtue of shoehorning a 15x optical zoom into its compact 30mm 'thick' chassis, an improvement on its predecessor the WB500's 10x. Like the competition it eschews mini DSLR/bridge camera styling by keeping the entirety of that long lens flush with the body when not in use, meaning it will still fit easily in an average pocket or handbag – the perfect travellers companion, it would seem.
The key here is not how big the zoom is but what you can do with it. The WB600's focal range is equivalent to 24-360mm in 35mm terms, suggesting it is as adept at wide angle landscape shots and group portraits as it is in capturing candid, up-close and personal portraiture, or shots of skittish wildlife that would be impossible with a more conventional 3x, 4x or 5x optical zoom. In this regard, it's an equal to the stylish Fujifim FinePix F300EXR, which also has a 12 megapixel resolution, but the Fuji has a thinner body at just 22.9mm in depth.
Currently in the Samsung's favour though is a very keen street price of just £120, a sizeable drop when compared to its manufacturer's original 2010 asking price of £250, making it a real bargain. Especially when you add in the 3-inch LCD - an increase in size from its forebear's 2.7-inches - 1280x720 pixels High Def video with dedicated backplate record button, and even less expectedly still, a smattering of manual controls. This includes newly-added aperture priority, shutter priority shooting modes, plus even a degree of control over manual focusing via a distance slider/toolbar, running from macro (as close as 3cm) to infinity. We also get a broader than average light sensitivity range starting out at ISO80 and extending up to ISO3200 at full resolution, plus the ability to individually adjust contrast, sharpness and saturation levels, if shooting in Program mode.
That said, in most other respects this is very much a snapshot camera that anyone will be able to pick up and start shooting with pretty much instantaneously, and we get both regular Auto mode and additional Smart Auto mode. The latter is the WB600's compares scenes and subjects with on-board parameters and selects the most appropriate camera settings for hopefully an optimum performance for the given scene. Working on this latest generation model for video as well as stills, this comes across as fairly reliable, making the WB600 an able point and shoot aid.
Available in black, brown or silvery grey, we had the latter in for testing, which looks a bit drab at first glance. Still, the build quality is solid, despite a plastic construction and easily belies its modest price. A curved edge to the left hand side of the faceplate provides something in the way of a handgrip, although there's no rubber padding this time as on the WB500. Three scored lines on the backplate provide a roughened surface for the thumb to steady itself on - but it's no substitute for a proper grip. Then again, you're almost certain to need two hands to shoot steadily with that vast zoom range, so it's not too much of a concern.