* Prices may differ from that shown
** Introduction **
The Samsung S830 digital camera is a rather newer model than most of those in my diigicam collection: it was released as recently as 2007, and boasts an 8.1-megapixel resolution that is still respectable four years later. That resolution, incidentally, is more than enough for a compact as long as it's well put together: it cannot be stressed enough that a 14 mp camera does *not* necessarily give better quality output simply because its headline numbers are larger. The quality of the product and in particular its lens is much, much more important.
** Looks and handling **
This isn't the most attractive of cameras, perhaps because of the rather awkward-looking lens and surrounding ring. That's not to say that it's hideous; it's simply an unexciting silver brick that isn't likely to get anyone's blood pumping. Around the back there's a decently large (2.7-inch) LCD screen, which is slightly recessed to prevent damage; and though the buttons and controls are rather small, especially the zoom rocker, they generally have decent feedback. The mode dial on top of the unit is as it should be: slightly stiff to avoid accidental movement but still easily operable with a thumb.
While its looks are uninspiring, however, the S830's handling is actually pretty solid, starting with its decent build quality. Samsung have thoughtfully provided a proper grip, rather than the tiny areas of slighly roughened plastic that so many cameras inflict on their users. That means it's a very easy and solid-feeling camera to hold one-handed, and its weight seems just about right, too: not unpleasantly heavy, but with enough heft to feel a solid and reassuring presence. The shutter button could have done with being very slightly further to the centre, but it really is a matter of a centimetre or so.
** Screen and optics **
The Samsung has, as already mentioned, a pretty decent 2.7" screen; this isn't tiny even by today's standards, and is fairly comfortable to use. It's nicely responsive, with very little lag even if you move the camera around swiftly, and despite a by no means class-leading 112,000 pixels there's little in the way of grain in evidence unless light levels drop really low. Menus and icons are shown very clearly, though I'm not a huge fan of the dark blue used for the all-important "photos remaining" indicator; I'd have preferred a slightly brighter colour.
This is not an upmarket camera, and as such has to make do with Samsung's own SHD lens technology rather than being granted the Scheider-Kreuznach treatment as is done with some other Samsungs. It's an absolutely standard 3x optical zoom, with a reach equivalent to 35 - 105 mm in film terms. I was pleased to find that it responded almost instantly to my presses on the zoom button, rather than suffering from the very annoying slight delay that even some quite expensive cameras inflict. It's averagely quiet.
Features and settings
This camera falls about halfway between the simplest "auto-everything" snapshooters and the models with every control option you could think of. For example, while there is a manual option, which allows good control over shutter speed, there are only two apertures to choose from at each focal length. Oddly, there isn't either shutter- or aperture-priority, so for the most part I would imagine most people will simply leave the camera set to "Prog", where most photographic options are still available.
There's a good range of basic creative controls - though, for some utterly bizarre reason, exposure compensation is not available in manual! Otherwise there's that, full white balance (including manual) and ISO between 50 and 400 - though not the 1600 claimed in some press releases from the time. Samsung have really gone to town with the resolution options: you can choose *any* megapixel setting between one and eight, as well as VGA! There are also three quality and three sharpness settings.
It's a little bit disappointing that there's no centre-weighted metering - it's matrix or spot only - but I was very pleased to see the fine colour controls I'd admired so much on Samsung's earlier V5. These allow you to control red, blue and green saturations individually, with no fewer than 17 positions for each. Add to the mix basic auto exposure bracketing, some fun-but-silly effects such as photo-frame graphics and a small but useful range of scene modes and you should be able to find something to suit the scene in front of you.
The S830 has a macro mode that's good without being mind-blowing: it has a minimum focusing distance of 4 cm. One nice touch is that in Auto mode the camera moves seamlessly between normal and macro focus according to the subject. The movie mode is very acceptable: VGA (640 x 480) at 30 fps, and in a very nice touch it records using the MP4 standard; this will allow movies to be played "out of the box" on compatible portable devices. For example, my GP2X console had no problems in running a movie I'd shot on the S830.
** Consumables **
Samsung followed convention on this score, with the S830 taking two AA batteries and SD card memory: you'll certainly need the latter, as internal memory is a mere 20 MB. A 1 GB card will store around 230 photos at top quality settings. Its battery life is unfortunately not one of its stronger points: while it's not terrible, I've certainly used plenty of cameras - with the same two AA cells - that have offered significantly better life. You'll want two sets of good NiMH rechargeables, and ideally these should be rated 2500 mAh or above.
** Photo quality **
The S830 has a 1/1.8" sensor, which is appreciably larger than average for a compact, and so I was hopeful that it would produce good-quality photos. For the most part, it did, and I wouldn't have any problems in using this camera for everyday snaphots. I do feel that its output lacks a little "punch" here and there, though that may be partly because I'm used to Canon's fairly strong colour, and Samsung has decided to tone things down a tad. This is really a matter of personal preference, however, and I know some find Canon colour too much of a good thing.
I found that the Samsung took decent photographs in most conditions, not merely the evenly-illuminated "bright afternoon outdoors" conditions that almost every half-decent digicam can deal with. You can't expect miracles in low light with most compacts, but if you're not overly fussy you can certainly get usable results. All round, then, it's a pretty good effort and one that can generally be relied upon.The one exception to this is with flash photos: quite often you'll end up with a slightly washed-out picture when using flash.
** Problems? **
The Samsung S-series cameras, including the S830, seem to be somewhat prone to minor screen damage. This often takes the form of black splodges appearing on the LCD, blocking the view of screen or overlay pixels. These don't affect the final image, but they're certainly irritating. As such, I wouldn't recommend buying an S830 unless you've seen (at least a photo of) it running with the screen on. One thing that catches some people: you need to set a menu option if changing between alkaline and NiMH batteries; if you don't, the low-battery warning will not be not accurate.
** Buying and verdict **
This is quite a common camera on the second-hand market, and with a modicum of patience you shouldn't have too big a problem picking one up for around the £20 mark. At that price the S830 represents good value: even if you ignore the manual mode it gives enough control to the user to allow it to handle most situations without fuss. It handles quite well, has a nice clear screen and takes good photos. Its mediocre battery life lets it down slightly, but it's still a model well worth considering.