When it comes to overall performance the PL80 is a bit of a mixed bag. It appears to start up very quickly, with the monitor activating and all the on-screen icons appearing in less than two seconds, but this is an illusion; the camera isn’t actually ready to take a photo until nearly five seconds after pressing the power button, which is very slow. The shot-to-shot time of approximately 2.6 seconds in single shot mode isn’t too bad, and in continuous shooting mode it averages a shot every 1.5 seconds, which is also about average for its class.
The main performance problem is the autofocus system, which is terribly unreliable. When it does work it’s decently fast , but even in good light with a normal high-contrast subject at medium range it frequently fails to focus at all. It is one of only three cameras that have ever failed to focus for my usual test shot of the cathedral window. Low light focusing is even worse, focusing only on about one attempt in five despite the bright AF assist lamp, and the 80cm minimum focusing distance doesn’t help either. A compact camera shouldn’t need to switch to macro focusing mode for a subject over half a metre away.
The PL80’s main problem is its image quality. Even shots at 80 ISO taken on a shutter speed of around half a second show significant image noise, and this just gets worse as sensitivity is increased. Shots at 400 ISO have almost no fine detail, and the 3200 ISO setting available at 3MP is very poor indeed. The lens is reasonably sharp at the centre and not too bad at the edges, and wide angle distortion is well controlled, but colour reproduction lacks depth and saturation, and the only way the tiny overloaded sensor can produce any shadow detail is by burning out highlights. As well as these problems the camera uses a particularly fierce JPEG compression algorithm, squashing down its 4000 x 3000 pixel images to around 4.2MB and erasing a lot of fine detail in the process. What’s the point of moving to a 12MP sensor if you’re just going to trash all the extra detail in processing?
While the Samsung PL80 is a well-made camera, and does manage to provide a good specification for its price, its slow performance, unreliable AF system and sub-standard image quality are major handicaps. There are better cameras available for the same price.
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