The Samsung Digimax L85 is a surprisingly functional 8-megapixel digital camera. Its chunky, retro design belies its very flexible, high-end feature set, including the unique ability to output HDMI. Granted, HDMI in a digital camera is more novel than utilitarian, but the wealth of manual settings and image features will be appreciated by anyone who wants to take solid photos. As long as you don't mind its propensity for fringing on edges and the lack of a fast burst mode, you'll find the Samsung Digimax L85 a versatile, quality shooter.
In a market filled with credit card-size, ultrathin, chrome snapshooters, the Samsung Digimax L85's grippable, rubberised black body with matte-silver accents feels like an homage to yesterday's camera designs. Nevertheless, its chunky, slightly-too-big-to-pocket chassis hosts a fairly standard control layout.
The top panel of the camera holds the power button, the shutter release, and a mode dial. The control pad works double duty, both navigating the camera's menu system and directly controlling the flash, the macro, the timer, and the voice annotation.
Samsung couples the Digimax L85's 8-megapixel sensor with a 38mm-to-190mm (35mm equivalent) Schneider-Kreuznach lens that can focus as close as 3.9 inches in its Auto Macro mode or down to 0.4 inch in Super Macro mode. It's the first digital camera with HDMI compatibility, so you can plug it into a high-end television to show off your photos or your 30fps, VGA-resolution MPEG-4 videos (which it can record up to the capacity of the SD card). Unfortunately, you have to get the optional dock for the actual HDMI connector. The dock also comes with an IR remote for the camera and can act as a standard USB cable and charger, so it's a practical accessory, even if you don't have a high-end television.
More mundane but useful, the L85 offers several handy shooting features and settings. These include aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual exposure modes, as well as automatic, program, and several scene preset modes for hassle-free operation. A Motion Capture mode quickly snaps 30 VGA-resolution photos for motion analysis, such as when you need to overthink your golf swing, and the camera offers a 16:9 wide-screen mode. Unfortunately, the latter works only in automatic, and it simply letterboxes the normal 4:3 image, resulting in a top resolution of 5 megapixels. The program mode offers a few extra tricks, such as the handy Highlight, which displays guides for framing portraits; composition shooting, which combines multiple exposures so that you can be in the picture; and a handful of hideous photo-frame effects. Except for motion capture, all still-image modes can write TIFF as well as JPEG formats. You probably won't want to use all of the L85's features, but the different options grant the camera an appreciable flexibility.
The Samsung Digimax L85 does lack a few notable features, such as as image stabilisation or high-sensitivity shooting modes for low-light shooting -- it only goes as high as ISO 400.
The Samsung Digimax L85 is a solid performer, despite disappointing continuous-shooting speed. After a speedy 2.2-second start-up to first shot, we recorded a pretty standard shot-to-shot rate of 2.2 seconds. With the onboard flash enabled, we could still shoot once every 3 seconds. Recording to TIFF, the camera took 7 seconds to cycle between shots, one of the quickest among point-and-shoot cameras with TIFF support. Its 0.6-second shutter lag in good light is pretty middle-of-the-road and rises to a more mediocre 1.3 seconds with flash. The real disappointment was burst mode, shooting 25 full-resolution shots in slightly less than 33 seconds for a sluggish 0.8 shot per second. In addition, the flash is pretty weak for such as large camera, extending out to only 9 feet in Auto ISO.
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The Samsung Digimax L85 produced very attractive images with only a single significant flaw. The photos reproduced colour well and displayed fine details without distortion or compression artifacts. Even at the higher ISO settings, noise was minimal and images were quite clear.
However, the lens suffers from chronic and pervasive chromatic aberration; high-contrast edges, whether in the centre or at the edges of the frame, frequently exhibited a noticeable coloured fringe. So if you plan on shooting trees against a clear blue sky, expect a purplish aura to appear.