The control layout of the WB650 is slightly different to the WB550, with the shutter button positioned further forward and angled slightly for greater comfort, while the mode dial has moved a little to the left. The controls are sensibly laid out and accessible, although as usual with Samsung the buttons are very small and most are labelled with silver-on-silver embossed symbols that are hard to see in low light. There is a separate button to start video to start video recording, with a delay of only about two and a half seconds. One useful feature is a separate switch to turn the GPS unit on or off, helping to limit the battery life problems that plague the Panasonic TZ10.
The WB650 is well equipped with features and options, including optional manual exposure modes, a wide range of picture adjustments, some digital filter effects and automatic contrast balance, which boosts shadow detail in high contrast situations. The menu system controlling all of these is clear and comprehensive, although its habit of jumping from a full-screen menu to a sidebar overlay is a bit disconcerting.
The key feature of the WB650 is its 15x zoom f/3.2 – f/5.8 Schneider-Kreuznach lens, with a focal length range equivalent to 24-360mm. This is the longest zoom range of any comparable camera, all the more remarkable because it is no less compact than the 10x zoom of the WB550, retracting completely into the camera body when powered down. It has a very good optical image stabilisation system, and I found I was able to take consistently steady shots at full zoom at shutter speeds of 1/15th of a second, which is an impressive performance.
GPS is already a common feature on mobile phones, and is appearing on more and more cameras. It is used for “geotagging”, locating travel pictures on applications such as Google Earth or websites such as Locr or 100BestViews. The GPS system on the WB650 is very good, picking up a satellite signal in approximately 30 seconds and holding it well. It seems to be quicker, more accurate and more reliable than the GPS in the TZ10. The WB650 also uses its GPS for a built-in map feature, which can show your location on a map displayed on the monitor. The maps have to be downloaded from Samsung’s website and manually installed on the SD card, a procedure which is fairly complicated and not helped by Samsung’s usual terrible translation of the instructions. However once you’ve got everything into the right folders it works smoothly and the map location is accurate, although the level of local detail is a bit limited. The map can be zoomed in and out, street names and road numbers are shown, and there symbols showing locations where you have taken photos, as well as for things like doctor’s surgeries and train stations, but some of the symbols are not obvious and are not explained in the manual.
Another stand-out feature is the monitor, which is a gorgeous three-inch AMOLED screen with a pin-sharp resolution of 614,000 dots, better than most DSLR screens. AMOLED uses less power than conventional LCD technology, and is also stronger, brighter and less prone to sun glare. The WB650’s screen works extremely well even in bright sunlight, and has a viewing angle approaching 180 degrees.
The WB650 can record HD video at a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels and 30 frames per second, recording in the popular H.264 format used in many web applications. Audio is recorded in stereo via two microphones located on the top panel. The optical zoom can be used while recording, with the option to mute audio recording while zooming so that the motor noise doesn’t appear on the soundtrack. There are a number of menu options for video recording including picture styles and digital filter effects.