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Finally, a Pocketable Prosumer Travel Camera

by Globetrooper Todd | 24 Responses
Samsung TL350 (WB2000) Review

I recently spoke about ditching our Panasonic Lumix LX3 for the new Samsung TL350. The simple reason is the LX3 is not pocketable. To me, a non-pocketable camera doesn’t really qualify as compact, especially for travel.

While my last review of the Samsung TL350 (WB2000) was theoretical, this one is hands-on. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say the LX3 is now on eBay and the TL350 is here, in my pocket, to stay.

I’ll make a number of comparisons to the LX3 in this post, but keep in mind the LX3/LX5 costs twice as much and is twice as thick. So why the comparison? Because the LX3 is what I know and what I loved for everything but its size.

Recap

The TL350 (WB2000) has a lot of great features for its size. It has a fast lens (f2.4), wide range (24mm), good zoom (5x optical), shoots full-HD video (1080p), shoots high-speed video (to 1000fps), has a high-res AMOLED screen (3″) and it all fits in the pocket. On paper, it’s almost the perfect pocketable travel camera.

Samsung TL350 (WB2000) Building Shot

Day Shot - F2.4, 1/500 (Oops!) Using Aperture Priority

After using the camera for a couple of weeks, it lives up to most of the advertising hype. The most notable exception is the high-speed shooting. The next step up from standard 30fps is 240fps, but that’s at a much smaller resolution. So for me, it’s not really useful. It’s a mystery why 60fps isn’t available.

Build & Body

The build is very good for a $250-$300 pocketable travel camera. It feels solid, it looks resilient, and the screen is absolutely gorgeous. It seems a little thicker than the advertised 22mm, but it’s still pocketable to the point that I forget it’s there. Without vernier calipers, it’s hard to say how thick it is, but between 22-25mm.

Update: We went for a training run yesterday (for our impending trips to Peru and Mongolia) and I took the camera to record a training video. Well, while running up and down Mont Royal 3 times, and then running flat for a few kilometers, I totally forgot I had it, which shows it really is a compact camera.

There really don’t seem to be any build quality issues at this stage.

Design & Features

I LOVE the retro dials for the battery and memory levels on top of the camera (see picture). Most reviewers lambasted Samsung for the redundancy of the dials, since battery and memory levels are available on-screen. But they create awareness so you don’t unwittingly end up with dead batteries and full memory cards. Nice work Samsung.

Samsung TL350 (WB2000) Retro Dials

There are two (very) obvious design flaws. Firstly, the revolutionary thumb wheel quite simply sucks. It allows you to flick between timing, burst and other photo modes. But the menu moves in the opposite direction to what’s intuitive, and there’s no feedback from the wheel so you always go too far past the desired setting (in the wrong direction of course). Poor form Samsung.

Secondly, if you hold the camera with two hands, you tend to cover the left-hand side microphone (see picture). I’ve looked at other stereo microphone compact cameras, and most are the same, but that’s no excuse. With that said, these design flaws certainly aren’t show stoppers.

Menu System

This is one area in which the TL350 beats the LX3 (in my opinion). The on-screen menu is really slick and easy to use (apart from the silly thumb wheel implementation). A lot is jammed into the menu, and it’s noticeable, but not overwhelming. It seems that someone sat down and really gave it a lot of thought, regarding both form and function.

Best of all, since the initial setup, I haven’t needed to venture into the main menu very much. I can access aperture, shutter speed, sensitivity, etc., all from other direct access options.

Operation

The TL350 has separate shutter and video record buttons. So you don’t need to be in video mode to shoot video; you just press the video record button in any mode. And when you’re taking video, you can even press the shutter button to take a picture simultaneously. The separate video button is great, but the in video photos are a bit of a novelty.

Samsung TL350 (WB2000) Dinner Plate Shot

Dinner plate shot - F4.7, 1/30, Using Scene mode

The zoom works well in photo mode, but it’s too noisy to be useful in video mode. You can hear the feedback within videos, which is probably why the default setting for ‘mute while zooming’ is on.

Remember that the TL350 offers aperture and shutter priority, as well as full manual control. Very few cameras of the same size offer the level of manual control, as well as RAW file capture. All of these modes work well, and the circular dial on the back, unlike the thumb wheel, provides lots of feedback and makes setting adjustment a breeze.

Image Quality

Firstly, I’m only a photographer in the sense that I take photos. So I can only give you my subjective and uneducated opinion about image quality.

The LX3 took great photos. It was a huge step up from anything I’d ever owned. Moving down to the TL350 (WB2000), a camera with a much smaller sensor and slower lens, I expected a return to the bad ol’ days.

Samsung TL350 (WB2000) Night Shot

Night Portrait Shot - F2.6, 1/30 Using Smart mode

But, in my hands, in everyday conditions, I believe I get better photos on average from the TL350. It maybe that the TL350 is in my pocket ready for more opportunities, or that I’m swayed by the look of photos on the gorgeous AMOLED display, or that it’s processing unit is better suited to my absence of ability. Either way, I like what I see.

All of the photos within this post, except those of the camera itself, were taken with the TL350. (Apologies I don’t have better daytime photos, but we haven’t had a lot of opportunity.) And unlike my other posts, you can click on these to see the full-sized version. If you want me to take a particular type of shot, just say so in the comments.

Conclusion

The TL350 (WB2000) fits in my pocket and takes great photos. It also feels solid, is relatively easy to use, and for the most part, well designed. What more can I say than that? It’s the best compact camera I’ve owned and, in my opinion, a very good travel camera. It would be even better with 60fps video, a GPS receiver, a better thumb wheel and a relocated microphone. But all in all, it does a great job for such a small and cheap camera.

Posted in Gear & Gadgets | September 5th, 2010

24 Responses to Finally, a Pocketable Prosumer Travel Camera

  1. U guys didn’t like the canon SX210 IS? That’s a really good price for those specs!! That camera u guys had looked like it was from the 1900′s lol

    • Hey Marcello, yeah we did, but we especially wanted a camera with a fast lens (large max aperture) for better pics in low-light (can use faster shutter, hence less blur when hand held). We loved the zoom on your camera, but we’re not big zoom users. The previous camera (the 1900s one, hehe), only had about 3x, and it was fine for us. But I’d certainly recommend your camera to someone who wanted a wide zoom range in a small package (so thin).

      Someone on Twitter just mentioned the Canon s95. Pros: BIG sensor for a compact, fast lens, HD vid (720, not 1080), + more. Cons: thicker (30mm). But compared to the LX3 and cameras with a similar sized sensor, it’s quite pocketable.

      • IT’s better than the S95 ….. Tested it ! S95 has one problem with images and that’s the in camera processing …… It makes images very soft …. It might shoot better at Iso 1600 and 3200 but do you want a camera to shoot only at night ?

        The videos are exceptional and images are WOW on this cam and some are award winning …. TL350 is very very nice and can find it for $269.00 can you find an S95 for less than $400.00 …. Simply put it’s things that make you go Uhm ……

        Get one you won’t be sorry ……

  2. thanks for the nice review. I plan to travel with wife and consider myself an advanced amateur photo buff.

    I am very intrigued since I don’t see much pixelation on the largest original size of the pictures especially 1st shot. Wife has a request, she wants some pictures on the wall after we get back, her requirement is the size needs to be 24×18″.

    My question is this, assuming there is good enough lighting for ISO 100, do u think I can expect reasonable sharpness without visible pixels for that size print?, thanks for you time.

    gychang

    • Hi gychang. In all honesty, I have no idea how a print that size would turn out. I’d think about printing them onto cavas if you’re ging to hang them up. Gives the prints a more artistic look and may even hide some of the pixelation. Sorry I can’t help more.

  3. What do you think of the quality of its videos? Do you have an indoor video sample, perhaps of a moving object like a pet or small child?

  4. Hi Todd,

    Thanks for the review. I had just bought a TL350. I do have 1question that maybe you can answer. If I put the camera in single shot mode, PA(not S)M mode and the ISO – AUTO, the picture is invariably blurry because the aperture would be wide open, but the shutter speed is usually set at 1/4 second by the camera. So in order to bypass this, I would have to bump up the ISO manually to 400 or 800, then the shutter speed would be 1/30. These picture are indoor, normal lighting environment. Can you comment on this? Do I have a lemon?

    Thanks,
    hiep
    hiepcii@yahoo.com

    • That definitely sounds a little odd if the lighting is normal. Is the flash on or off? I get blurry pics if the flash is off and the lighting is low. The aperture simply isn’t enough to take pictures without flash or tripod in low light. Also, try the smart and scene modes. I’ve learn a bit about the camera from seeing what the camera selects in those automatic modes. But maybe you just have a lemon like you suggested.

      I just tried to replicate the issue with my camera, and the furthest it seems to go is ISO 400. But it still takes fine pics in normal and even low indoor light. Try it again and see what the aperture, shutter and ISO are.

  5. Hi Todd, very interesting review!
    Now some months have passed; did you find some issue with the WB2000? I’m trying to choose between WB2000 and ixus 300.

    I’ve read a couple of feedbacks on other blogs, pointing out some possible problems:
    - the colors of WB2000: some users complain that the “normal” settings give somehow damp colors, not vivid (specially compared to what you see on the wonderful AMOLED). However it could be some setting could be adjusted to improve colors. What do you think?
    - two users pointed out that a great number of shots were blurred; again it could be a wrong choice of a scene mode; what do you think?
    - battery life; have you some feedback on that?

    Thank you for any suggestion!
    Paolo

  6. Hey Paolo

    Yeah, I still like the camera a lot. We’ve treated it pretty rough and it’s held up well.

    - I haven’t noticed the colour issue, but then I’m not an expert at all. Check out our smugmug for examples, it’s http://photos.globetrooper.com. The blog photos aren’t always ours, but the other ones are.
    - we often choose the wrong scene mode and end up with blurry shots. As long as it’s on the green mode (forget the name) it takes a good shot. But in your pocket it can go to shutter mode, which I’d previously set for a particular shot. Low light can be blurry too, but I think other compacts would be worse. I’d love the Canon 5D or Nikon D700, but the size would drive me nuts.
    - I have 3 batteries, bought them from eBay for a pittance. They seem to all last quite long. But again, I’m not an expert and can only compare to much older compacts that I’ve owned.

    Overall, I’s buy this camera again if given the choice. The size is as big as I’d want to go and the IQ and feature list is awesome for the size.

  7. Thanks for the review. I am seriously considering buying the Samsung TL350 ($247) over the Canon X210 ($200) and Samsung HZ30w ($176). Both cameras are old but they remain the best for my price range of under $300 (unless you have other recommendations?) What i like to shoot most are shallow depth of field shots. I am used to the excellent blurriness of film and dslr. How would you say the TL350 does with shallow D.O.F.? thanks

    • Hey evolnomis,

      It’s okay for DOF for close objects. But it’s DOF capabilities aren’t anything like a full-frame DSLR. I could setup a shot with nice DOF if I could position the object right in front of me, but forget portraits on the fly with DOF. I recently used the Canon 5D and talk about DOF! Zooming right in using a f2.8 200mm lens was pretty spectacular.

      I guess DOF is a product of aperture, focal lengths and sensor size. These compact high-aperture cameras only tick off one part of that equation. Their sensors are tiny and they have no zoom. There are couple of big-sensor compacts coming out with reasonable aperture (e.g Fuji X100), but the zoom is still missing and these cameras tend to be inflexible.

      The other option for compact DOF shots maybe a Micro 4/3s with a f1.4 lens???

      • Thanks Globetrotter.

        Looking at the equation for a great DOF, do you think it can be achieved with one of the superzoom compacts then? For example, would a portrait shot work with a Canon SX210is ($200) if the aperture was set to its lowest (f5.9), and the zoom fully at 392mm even though its sensor size is the same as the TL350? or is the aperture and sensor size still too small?

        I also noticed a DSLR, Olympus E420, for only $279 refurbished. It is quite old but is a true DSLR. In your opinion, would it be possible to drag this camera everywhere while traveling the globe? or should i just stick with a compact when it comes to traveling?

        thanks!

      • This is one of the realisations I had to come to with travel: either I can buy a nice DSLR and take great pics or use a compact and just capture the moment. Ask yourself the value of very good pictures. What do you really plan to do with them? My pics stay on my hard drive and get opened up every now and then for a quick look. Is that worth the cost and burden of a DSLR? Absolutely not.

        In the scheme of things (life, family, adventure, etc), what do nice pictures really have to do with anything? I understand if it’s your number one interest. But I think we (including me) get too carried away with the idea of nice pictures without considering their relative worthlessness. The only exception is that a professional camera can attract inquisitive locals. I think there’s some value in that But again, I think it’s all or nothing. If I were serious about this, I’d have to work out a way to travel with a full-frame camera and at least one good lens. Either you make your travels about photography or you don’t.

        As for your question, even with the $7000 Canon 5D rig I used, if I wasn’t zoomed in, the DOF on a portrait wasn’t instantly great. So I doubt the compact zooms will produce anything spectacular with regard to shallow DOF, especially at f5.9. I can get a shallow DOF with my iPhone, but it has to be staged in the right conditions; they’re not real-life conditions. You really need a DSLR with a good lens to take real-life shallow DOF shots.

        My advice? Give up the quest for nice shots, buy a decent compact, like the Samsung, and enjoy the freedom of light travel. :) Or, if you want to make you travels all about photography, get the Canon 5D or Nikon D700 and a f2.8 zoom lens. I know many people will disagree and suggest that cheap DSLRs are good, but for me it’s all or nothing. Most of the truly awesome photos you see aren’t taken on sub-$1k DSLRs with the lens they came with.

      • Thanks Todd!

        I loved what you had to say in terms of comparing a dslr vs a compact camera when it comes to traveling. I agree with what you said about how travel is mainly about experiences and not the photos and especially agree with u that most of my shots are never printed and the majority are actually placed into a hard drive never to be seen again. I guess the bottom line is that photography is my hobby, while traveling is my passion (i think you are the same way).

        I guess with all this camera comparison research, i got all caught up in the specs and wanting everything into the camera which inevitably brings me to consider non-travel-sensible dslr’s. But with your wisdom, i have been able to realize that main goals of the camera and think compact is definitely the way to go. I would definitely have more regret for not bringing a camera with me (b/c dslr too bulky) on a random adventure than having a compact and being able to take the ultimate shot.

        so only 1 main question remains. Whether to get a superzoom (such as the Samsung HZ35W) or get the TL350. Aside from the difference in price, the main consideration is the usefulness of having a large 15x zoom while traveling (while sacrificing the easy manual controls of the TL350 with its handy wheels for Aperture and Shutter speed). On your treks around the world, have you found yourself wishing you had more zoom on the camera or wishing u had a more convenient controls?

        aside from camera discussions, I want to applaud you on the website and your commitment to travel and live throughout the world. I would love to do what you do if only I knew how to. Should I assume you take on odd jobs everywhere you live or are fully fully dependent on this website? I am moving to Korea to teach for 1-2 years (hence the need for a new camera) and would like to just bounce from country to country afterwards. I just don’t want to rely on ESL jobs to pay the salary.

  8. I definitely would suggest the TL350. It’s probably one of the best cameras that will actually fit in your pocket. If you go down the super zoom route, you may be back at square one with a camera that requires it’s own case. The TL350 can go into your pocket as if you’re not carrying anything extra. Plus it’s a really good camera and the fast lens is good in dull light, which always seems to pop up.

    Thanks for the kind words about the website. :) I’ve promised to do a post about how we can live traveling the world. So I’ll have to make sure I do it ASAP. The quick answer is that we look at both sides of the financial equation. Not just the income, but also the expenses. You can live in many cities for less than $1k per month. In fact, if you’re really adventurous, you can rent an apartment in many places for less than $100 per month. We also travel with single 30 litre bags. That means we only have the basics and we can’t buy anything else, because there’s not much room. Sure it saves money, but I also love traveling with a light footprint.

    You know, once you leave the conventional world behind, and once you start to run into financial problems, you’ll start to get creative. Some people just go home, but others will sit and think until they come up with financially sustainable ideas. Most of aren’t used to using our brains and having our own customers and making money on our very own ideas, but when it happens, you really feel like you’ve achieved something special.

    Good luck with Korea and the teaching; I imagine it would be an experience you’ll always remember.

    • Thank you so much for the email once again. After considering all other options, i agree with u and will be choosing the TL350….when it came down to it, i realized that street photography is what i want to do while in Korea and a pocket camera is way more important than any other feature. Combine that with the timelapse video and other cool features, and the TL350 truly is the best option out there…(btw…there are compacts as small as this camera doing 14x zoom…just that they don’t have the dual manual dials I love on the TL350)…talking to u made me realize that “the best camera is the one you have on you”…and i’ll be proud to have this camera on me all the time…

      thanks for all the help…i look forward to reading your post on how to live around the world on a tight budget…i am very interested to hear more about the transition you made from the conventional world to the one of a globetrotter. meanwhile, i will browse around your site for more useful travel tips…(i don’t know any travel sites like this!)

    • Hi Todd,

      Me again…quick question: for this camera, what size memory card should I buy? is an 8gb hcsd card enough or 16gb? Maybe two 8gb is better than one 16gb?

      Thanks (currently bidding on the TL350 on ebay)

  9. I was wondering if you have tried the exposure “bracketing” capabilities of the TL350. It is a top-level menu option under the “Camera” icon. This is a very handy feature and is needed for a certain post-picture processing method commonly called “high dynamic range” photography.

    I am asking because I just got a TL350. It seems to me that the bracketing menu options do not work, at least not the exposure value (EV)-based one, which allows the user to take 3 simultaneous photos with 3 separate EVs. Under the “Bracket” menu, after adjusting EV, as with most menu choices on this camera and others, I am given two options: either press “OK” to save the settings and shoot, or Menu, to go up one menu level.

    On my TL350, both OK and Menu do the same thing: they return me to the menu. I cannot save the setting and return to shooting mode. When I do get back to the shooting screen, there is no icon to suggest that I am in bracket mode, and when the shutter is released, it takes just one image, not three.

    Assuming you have used the feature, I would be curious to know if you have had the same experience, or if I am just doing something wrong.

    P.S. After discovering this shortcoming, I ran the June 2011 firmware update, but it did not fix the problem.

    • Doink !

      I figured it out: The menu buttons that I described in my preceding post – OK and Menu – are only for selecting among three bracketing options. It’s the dreaded “Drive Mode Dial” (a/k/a Thumb Wheel) that is used to activate the bracketing mode, using the options that were selected in the menu. In fact, the wheel used to active several capture modes, like the self timers, the interval mode, precapture, etc. The icon in the top right-hand corner of the camera’s display changes as the shooting modes are changed. The default mode is, of course, single shot. I agree with you that the thumb wheel does not work very well. But it does work, and it is somewhat better than having to delve deeply into screen menus to activate shooting modes.

      Put another way, I read one page of the user manual when I should have read two.

      So the bracketing feature does, indeed, function. And the good thing about this little drama is that it motivated me to run the June 2011 firmware update.

      I forgot to thank you for your Sept. 2010 review: it helped me decide to purchase the TL350 over several other models including the S95, the LX5, etc. Dramas aside, so far, so good.

  10. I’ve been using a Samsung TL 350 for around 6 months now. As far as P&S travel cameras goes this one is at the top of the list. I like taking shots of people in their natural everyday occupations, in markets, back streets, and virtually anywhere and everywhere I can. This camera is quick, highly, highly convenient and produces an excellent photo under quite difficult to the point of arduous lighting conditions, i.e. shaded market conditions where the subject can be partly backlite, or half in and half out of shade. No matter its extremely versitile with as many manual settings and functions as one could ask for on a compact this size. That German lens IS very sharp indeed. I’ve owned several Cannons inc the S90, an LX4, several Sony, a Fuji, a Nikon all P&S not DSLR’s and while one can’t own and compare them all, for me this little Samsung sure as hell beats them all on overall user friendliness and overall performance. The one most pressing capacity of this little beauty is that it doesn’t attract attention like my DSLR does. Does it take a comparable picture to a DSLR, NO it doesn’t, and for $240 brand new through Amazon who could expect it to. However it takes the type of pictures I like to take, in and out without any fuss or confrontations. I’ve never wanted for extra zoom, the 5x is sufficient, beating the more expensive LX 4 in this department. In fact I bought my 9 year old daughter a TL350 as she loves to get into places where I just don’t fit and being a child, gets far more favourable responces from subjects than I ever can. Build quality is exceptional. This IS a 5 star rated camera. Yes it does have faults, like the quite ridiculous on board charger, $3.50 gets an out board one. I carry 2 x 8GB SD cards and 3 batteries labeled from 1 to 3 via a type correction pen so they have constant equal chargings. I carry the TL 350 with me ALL the time, either in a mobile phone belt pouch or in my pocket. Its a bit like a Henry Lever Action rifle, load it only once a week (:<)

    • Hi Colcamb, many thanks for the detailed info. Glad we weren’t wrong about this camera. Our TL350 has gone into semi-retirement after a 2 month expedition across the Gobi Desert. Most other cameras didn’t make it out alive, but the TL350 is still going, sort of. Just need to manually push the lens back in because it’s full of sand.

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