As I've remarked before, the long-zoom compact or “travel camera” is one of the most fiercely competitive sectors of the digital camera market, with most of the major manufacturers fielding rival models sporting a range of advanced features. Although the format was first introduced by Ricoh with its R-series cameras in 2005, the current yardstick for travel cameras is Panasonic's TZ series, particularly the advanced TZ10 (£250), which features a 12MP sensor, a 12x zoom lens, HD video recording with stereo audio and a built-in GPS receiver. Other recent long-zoom compacts include the Ricoh CX3 (£280), the Fujifilm F70EXR (£160), the Olympus mju 9000 (£175), the Canon SX210 IS (£240) and the Sony DSC-HX5 (£290).
Samsung's previous entry into this field was the WB550 (£170), launched late last year, which while a very competent camera looked a bit pale compared to the advanced features of arch-rival Panasonic's market-leading flagship. Not to be outdone Samsung has launched a new model in the WB series, the WB650, which which matches or exceeds the TZ10 in all areas of its specification.
Priced at a competitive £250 (but likely to fall in price), the 12-megapixel WB650 features a powerful but compact 15x zoom lens, 720p HD video with stereo sound, optional manual exposure controls, built-in GPS geotagging, and an ultra-sharp three-inch high-tech AMOLED monitor screen. It's a very impressive specification to say the least, and is bound to have Panasonic's boffins scurrying back to their drawing boards.
The WB650 is, it has to be said, not a particularly attractive camera to look at. The overall shape of the body is very similar to the WB550, but with a black plastic lump stuck on the top to house the GPS antenna. It's quite a large and heavy camera even by long-zoom compact standards, measuring 106 x 62 x 35mm and weighing 238g fully loaded, several millimetres larger and 20g heavier than the TZ10. It's solidly made though, and the chunky body is comfortable to hold thanks to a decent-sized handgrip and a textured thumbgrip area on the back. The body is mostly plastic with a metal front panel, and is available in only one colour scheme, the matt black with chrome trim seen here.