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Samsung Digimax i6 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 01/06/2006
Rating: Recommended

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Introduction: Announced on the 1st of January 2006, the Samsung Digimax i6 is the "world's first" PMP (Portable Media Player) digital camera - the camera will play Xvid MPEG4 videos on it's 2.5" screen. The camera also features MP3 playback. The i6 is a 6.1 megapixel digital camera with a high resolution 2.5" screen, and a 3x optical zoom lens. The 3x optical zoom lens is equivalent to 39 - 117mm on a 35mm camera. The Samsung Digimax i6 is available from around £179 this makes it good value for money for an ultra compact 6 megapixel digital camera. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy metal body and is available in black or silver. The camera has a VGA 30fps video mode with sound. The camera is very compact, and is particularly thin - it measures: 96 x 61 x 18.5mm (without protruding parts), and weighs approx. 129.5g excluding batteries and media.

Samsung have this to say about the camera:

"The world’s first digital camera with PMP will let your spirits soar! With the Digimax i6 PMP, you are always in a movie theatre. Enjoy the big-screen performance - in the palm of your hand! Take your music with you with the high quality MP3 function. Have extra fun by enjoying a slide show of your life in pictures and sound. The unique, stylish design of the Digimax i6 will make taking every shot a real pleasure."

You can find more information on their website.


The Samsung Digimax i6 is also available in Black (picture courtesty of Samsung)

The Samsung Digimax i6, has several unique and interesting features, of which I'll explain below:

PMP / Portable Media Player: The Samsung Digimax i6 with a high resolution 2.5" screen, built in speaker and headphone socket, is well suited as a compact and portable media player - the digital camera supports XVID video recording and playback. The XVID video format is a high compression video format that allows a good length video to fit in a small amount of memory, for example a 60 minutes video at 320x240 resolution and 30fps would take around 260mb - meaning you should be able to fit nearly 2 hours on a 512mb card assuming nothing else is on the memory card. The Samsung comes with XVID video codec software for playback on the PC, plus XVID codec encoding software called Samsung Digimax Convertor that will allow you to convert the majority of video files into a suitable XVID video for playback on the Digimax i6. Converting a 60 minute file on a 1.5ghz "Centrino" laptop took around 30 minutes. After converting the file, you will need to copy the file to folder called PMP on your memory card. You can fast forward or rewind at 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x, or 32x. Converted files can be played back in Windows Media Player, and unfortunately for Apple users, Samsung Digimax Convertor is only available for Windows 2000 / XP computers. If the video source is in widescreen you can crop it or stretch it to fit the full screen of the Digimax i6. Battery life: I was able to play videos for 2 hours and 10 minutes and then the battery went flat - if you need to watch videos for longer than this then you'll need to either plug the camera into the charger or buy a second battery.

MP3 Player: The MP3 player is very easy to setup and use, simply copy your MP3s to a folder called MP3 on your memory card. Battery life: I was able to play MP3s repeated for around 3 hours and 50 minutes - this is with the screen off which automatically switches itself off when you're not pressing any buttons. You can take 3 megapixel photos while listening to MP3s, however as soon as you exit the MP3 mode or enter the MP3 player's menu, MP3 playing will stop.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix FZ3)


Front - Camera off.


Front view - Handgrip, flash, focus assist lamp, microphone, lens.


Back - Status LED, 2.5" screen, zoom, M (Mode button), E (Effect button), 4-way controller, Menu / OK button, Playback, +/- button, Headphone socket, Wrist strap loop.


Top: Speaker, ASR, Power, Shutter release.


Bottom - Docking / USB / TV out / Charging connection, battery and memory compartment. 3.7v 860mAh Lithium Ion battery.


Tripod adapter attached to the camera, Samsung headphones for MP3 playback.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison, compared to the Canon Digital IXUS Wireless.

Specifications / Features:

  • 6.0 million pixel CCD
  • 2.5" TFT screen - 230,000 pixels
  • 3x optical zoom lens (39-117mm equiv.)
  • SD memory card compatibility
  • ISO: Auto: 50, 100, 200, 400
  • 11 Scene modes
  • PMP - Portable Media Player - plays XVID MPEG4 videos
  • MP3 - MP3 Playback
  • Advanced Shake Reduction
  • Voice Recording (max 1 hour)
  • MPEG4 VGA Video recording at 30fps with sound, digital image stabilisation, optical zoom usable (sound is muted when zooming in/out)
  • 5cm macro mode, 1cm super macro mode
  • 45mb of internal memory

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Strap
  • USB cable
  • Audio/video cable
  • Earphones
  • Rechargable Lithium-Ion battery
  • AC Charger
  • Software CD Rom
  • Printed Manual
  • 2 year Warranty Card
  • Tripod Adapter

Average box contents - There is no memory card provided with the camera, instead the camera has 45mb of internal memory - this is better than a lot of other cameras, however you should invest in a much larger memory card. Some kind of case would be very useful. There is an optical docking station available for the camera.

Battery usage: Battery life seemed good, using the provided battery I was able to take around 120 photos. MP3 playback ran for around 3 hours and 50 minutes. Video playback lasted for 2 hours and 10 minutes. If you need longer than this then I would recommend you buy a second battery.

Camera Operation and OptionsThe M button on the back of the camera lets you select the camera mode, in "Still/Movie/PMP" mode pressing it switches between the modes, in "Full" mode pressing it brings up a menu that lets you choose the mode you want (this is shown below right).

Photo mode / menu:

Record Mode Full mode selector

In photo mode the menu options allow you to change mode (Auto, Program, Movie, Nightscene and the other scene modes), however, you can access these options by pressing the M button (when the camera is set to "Full mode") shown above right. It seems as though Samsung haven't decided which menu system works the best and have left that choice up to you. Unfortunately it makes using the camera very confusing as you aren't sure how or where the options are. In full mode you can choose between Program, Auto, Video, MP3, PMP, but you can't choose audio recording, instead you access this by pressing the up direction on the 4-way controller twice!

Effect Menu / +/- Menu Options:

Effect menu, photo mode +/- menu, photo mode

The E button brings up the effect menu where you can alter colour, highlight areas, take multi-frame shots, or frame images with a cartoon frame. The +/- button is where you can find RGB, ISO, White Balance and Exposure compensation options - these options aren't available in AUTO mode.

Setup Menu / Playback Mode / Menu:

Setup / Photo menu Playback mode / menu - Mouse over for playback menu.

Screen / LCD display in play mode: (shown above, right) The screen resolution with 230,000 pixels is very good and pictures look clear on it. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. The screen is slightly reflective, but blacks are good. Playback mode: Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is quick. Zooming in is very quick and magnifies the image up to 11x. Zooming out shows 9 images at a time as thumbnails. Again the menu system is somewhat confusing, pressing menu will allow you to resize and rotate photos, while the E button allows you to alter the colour of the image, or fix red-eye.

MP3 / PMP Screens:

MP3 Playback default screen PMP Video playback screen

MP3 playback: This shows a background image of your choice - there are two default backgrounds provided or you can use your own photo or image if you want. The screen switches off automatically after a while. PMP video playback: The screen at 2.5" is a good size, however, if you play wide-screen videos then the image becomes quite small. The built in speaker is quite loud, or you can use the earphones provided.

Optical / Electronic Viewfinder:  There is no optical viewfinder

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number will fit in the built in memory:

Size Number of Photos Stored / Quality
SuperFine Fine Normal
6mp (2816x2112) 18 35 52
5mp (2592x1944) 22 42 61
4mp (2272x1704) 27 54 79
3mp (2048x1536) 35 65 93
2mp (1600x1200) 57 101 139
1mp (1024x768) 139 197 250
VGA (640x480) 289 341 417

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended. You can fit quite a good number of 6mp Fine images on the built in memory, however if you want to store MP3s or videos you will definitely need a larger card.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you intend to use the PMP or MP3 features of this digital camera then you would be best with a 1GB or 2GB memory card. If you are likely to be away from a computer for a long time (such as when going on holiday) then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in. This camera takes only secure digital memory. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Samsung Digimax i6:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £6.59, 512mb: £10.55, 1gb (1000mb): £23.40, 2gb (2000mb): £49.95
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera's switch on time is fairly quick but could be quicker, and takes around 2 seconds to switch on and become ready to take a photo. Focusing is quick at around 0.4 seconds - shutter response is a bit slow at around 0.2 seconds. Shot to shot time is around 2 seconds, with flash on this slows down to around 3 seconds between shots. Playback mode is quick, and its easy to zoom in on your last shot and check for blur with the zoom control. Moving from picture to picture is quick but you can also get an overview of 9 shots at a time if you zoom out one more notch. Moving around the different menu options is rapid. Continuous shooting is a bit sluggish taking 1.1 second or more for each shot (slower than 1fps) and the screen switches off meaning you can't see what you are taking photos of.

Ease of use: Using the camera is fairly straightforward, simply switch it on and start taking photos, however, when you want to use some of the more advanced features of the camera it quickly becomes much more complicated, mainly due to the complicated menu system(s), and some of the hidden functions (such as the +/- button and audio recording). Once you get used to switching between the modes and find all the options the camera becomes slightly easier to use, and it is fairly easy to use the more basic functions of the camera - for example it's easy to switch the the MP3 or PMP mode and use those parts of the camera. Using the Advanced Shake Reduction system is also somewhat of a learning curve as best results are acheived in fairly limited lighting conditions.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) The camera feels solid, with a robust metal body. The stylish curve of the body helps give your thumb something to grip onto, as does the front handgrip. The zoom control is fairly easy to use, however I personally prefer horizontal controls that you press left or right rather than the vertical control fround on the Digimax i6. Unfortunately there is no built in tripod mount, so the camera comes with an external tripod mount that connects to the camera. The strap loop is very stylishly and cleverly built into the hand grip. The camera labels are fairly clear although the +/- button was fairly cryptic. I would have prefered if the M (mode) button was replaced with something easier to use, such as a mode switch as found on the Canon Digital IXUS Wireless. The buttons and controls are all positioned so that the camera can be operated with one hand.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Samsung Digimax i6 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO101) Group photo (ISO101)

Inside: The camera has good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is very little red-eye in the photo, although there is quite noticable redeye in the group photo. The colour is very richly saturated and detail is quite good. It has a decent flash, and copes well with group photos, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept fairly low in these photos. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light.

ISO Noise Test: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 50, 100, 200, 400).

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 5 megapixel, Canon Digital IXUS Wireless.

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Samsung Digimax i6 on the left, Canon Digital IXUS Wireless on the right. The colour difference is due to automatic white balance.

Samsung Digimax i6 (6mp) Canon Digital IXUS Wireless (5mp)
ISO50 - Actual Pixels ISO50 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
 
ISO203 - Advanced Shake Reduction  

The Samsung i6 appears to have lower noise at ISO50 and ISO100 although there isn't a huge difference. The Samsung i6 appears to use stronger noise reduction when compared to the 5 megapixel Canon Digital IXUS Wireless. ISO50 and ISO100 produce good results. ISO200 produces acceptable results, and ISO400 should probably be avoided. The Advanced Shake Reduction tends to take photos at ISO200 or there-abouts, and in this instance produced a slightly blurry shot due to me taking the photo handheld.

ASR / Advanced Shake Reduction: The Samsung Digimax i6 features ASR / "Advanced Shake Reduction" - this is a software based blur reduction system, it is designed to enable low light shots without flash, with sharp results, and accurate colour. It works by combining a slow shutter photo (with full colour information) with a fast shutter photo (with sharp edges) in order to generate a natural coloured sharp photo. There are some limitations to this, in that the subject and camera have to remain quite still, unlike other anti-shake / image stabilisation systems, and the camera takes two photos which isn't as instant as just taking one photo. Samsung explain it on this page.

ISO101, Flash on, actual pixels below ISO149, Flash off, actual pixels below ISO201, ASR On, actual pixels below

Examples: Flash on, Flash off, ASR - The photo using the flash appears the sharpest and most detailed with good colour and low noise, although the background is quite dark, and there is obvious flash reflection. The photo without the flash is blurry and dark, but the background wall can be seen. The photo using ASR produces a fairly sharp picture with good colour, both in the subject and in the background, although noise is quite high. Attempting to use ASR outside at night produces photos that were drastically underexposed, as the slowest shutter speed was 1 second - using night scene mode, the shutter speed was 16 seconds.

It is a clever idea, and works well in some situations, but I can see it's limitations compared to other camera manufacturers methods which are: (software based) using high ISO settings to enable higher shutter speeds and freeze subjects (Olympus, Casio, Panasonic, Fuji etc), and (hardware based) using anti-shake CCD / image stabilisation / vibration reduction lenses to combat camera shake. The more "traditional" methods generally work to avoid camera shake, whereas using the ASR version it is more difficult to avoid the camera shaking - in fact the manual recommends the subject and camera stays still. In some situations the ASR mode seems counter-active, as it disables the flash, and occassionally seems to use slower shutter speeds compared to the normal mode. I think it would be better labelled as a "Natural light" mode rather than an anti-shake mode... as the ASR mode works well in limited situations as it seems designed for indoor use (the manual states that ASR doesn't activate if lighting is brighter than "Flourescant lighting"), and can be confusing, and dissapointing when it doesn't work (at night) or isn't available (in bright daylight).

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO50) Sunset Street (ISO50)

Outside: The camera has rich, saturated colour wirh good contrast and fairly good detail. Some may find the colour saturation too high. Noise was low in ISO50 photos. The quality was set to maximum to minimise any jpeg artefacts.

Zoom: This camera has a 3x optical zoom lens and a built in 5x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the 3x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom is capable of.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom Optical and Digital Zoom

Exposure The photos of the clock tower seem well exposed, with a lot of detail in the dark areas, however at the expense of detail in the clouds. This could be altered using exposure compensation. There is some slight purple fringing on some edges mainly on the wide-angle photo.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is practically silent in operation. There are seven steps between wide and telephoto zoom, this gives you fairly good control over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was difficult to detect in any normal photos, although there was some in the wide angle clock tower photo.

Macro:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO149)
Timex Watch Super Macro Actual Pixels (ISO149)

The macro mode allows you to be 5 cm away from the subject - this is gets good close up shots, although detail seemed a little bit low, ideally it would have been good to see more detail. The super macro mode is very impressive, allowing you to be 1 cm away from the subject - this gives you excellent detail as you are very close to the subject! Custom white balance helps get better colours, and even at ISO149 noise is quite low.

Video mode: The camera features a very good video mode - it records VGA videos at 30fps with sound as MPEG4 files - this means you can fit a decent length video onto your memory card. The video mode also features digital image stabilisation* and uniquely lets you use the optical zoom whilst recording. The video records sound on videos and then whenever you want to zoom in or out the sound is muted so that the camera doesn't record the noise of the lens moving. *Digital image stabilisation is not available when recording videos to internal memory.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is very good for an ultra compact digital camera - the images have good colour with very high saturation, good contrast, quite good detail, with low noise except at higher ISO settings. Indoors photos were good, with noise kept fairly low, although there was noticable red eye. Purple fringing was noticed in one of the shots. The camera was competent at focusing, indoors thanks to the focus assist lamp. I did not notice any vignetting, barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, and compression options although there is no choice regarding aspect ratio.  Auto white balance, metering, and exposure seemed to be good to very good. The camera gives you quite good control over image quality with custom white balance, RGB settings and sharpness. The advanced shake reduction system is quite good indoors, but isn't as effective as other methods of image stabilisation as it can only be used in limited lighting conditions. The video mode is very good with a high resolution, high frame rate, digital image stabilisation and the ability to use the optical zoom. The macro mode is very good, and the super macro mode is excellent. (7/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is stylish with a black or silver body. The camera has a very good 2.5" screen, with a high resolution. The camera feels sturdy and is comfortable to hold. The camera is fairly easy to use, if you ignore the menu system, which seems overly complicated. There a good layout of buttons and controls, although some of the options may take a little time to get familiar with. The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, rapid focusing time, okay shutter response, rapid flash recharge time, quick playback mode, quick menus, and average continuous shooting. The camera has a very large range of features, such as Audio recording, MP3 playback, PMP (XVID Video playback). Battery life is average. The camera is a very complete package, there really is very little missing from this digital camera. (9/10)

Value for Money: The Samsung Digimax i6 is available from around £179, this makes it very good value for money for an ultra compact 6 megapixel digital camera with PMP and MP3 modes. There are very few mainstream digital cameras that feature MP3 playback, let alone a dedicated PMP / Media Player mode. If you are in the market for a digital camera with built in MP3 playback or built in video player then there is very little else to choose from. (9/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Samsung Digimax i6 is a great ultra compact digital camera. It provides good image quality with very richly saturated colours, has a great screen, and a built in 3x optical zoom lens. The camera is fairly easy to use if you can get used to the menu system. It feels well built in comfortable to use. The camera is a very complete package, there really is very little missing from this digital camera, it has an excellent macro mode, an excellent screen, video and audio recording, custom white balance, and built in advanced shake reduction. If you are in the market for an ultra compact digital camera with built in MP3 playback or built in video player then there is very little else to choose from. The digital camera would be very good value for money without the MP3 player or PMP, but with these features it's excellent value for money. The camera does have some minor flaws, such as the wobbly connection on the bottom, and the confusing menu system, but if you can look past these issues then this is an excellent digital camera.

Samsung Digimax i6 Rating: Recommended (8.3/10)
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What I like:

  • Sturdy, compact, stylish body
  • Good image quality - high colour saturation
  • Very good value for money
  • MP3 Player
  • Video player built in with very good compression
  • ASR - Advanced Shake Reduction can work well in some situations - but isn't as good as real anti-shake
  • Very good macro mode, EXCELLENT super macro mode.
  • Excellent 2.5" screen - very clear, high resolution 230,000 pixels - but perhaps a bit small for true PMP?
  • Very good video mode - VGA, 30fps, Sound, optical zoom available (sound mutes when zooming in/out)
  • Loud built in speaker for MP3 or Video playback

What I don't like:

  • ISO / White Balance / RGB settings hidden behind the exposure control (+/-) button.
  • Very confusing menu system (two modes, different ways of accessing different functions / modes, audio recording seperate button etc)
  • Proprietry / Non-standard Samsung USB Cable / Connection
  • TV out cable wobbles when connected to the camera causing it to stop outputting to TV etc.
  • Red-eye in flash photos of people. (Red-eye fix available in playback mode)

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Samsung Digimax i6 Sample Photo Gallery.

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