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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.