This flagship model of Samsung's 'New Vision' range of cameras is characteristically slimline, at just 18.6mm in depth. Frontal high points include a Schneider Kreuznach lens that's resistant to ghosting and flare but prone to a bit of purple fringing and softness.

At the rear, a 2.5-inch LCD takes centre stage but there's no optical viewfinder. However, the NV20 breaks with tradition when it comes to the controls. Instead of a four-way navipad, it has two rows of buttons – one along the bottom of the LCD and the other arranged vertically up the right-hand side.

These offer a so-called Smart Touch control system, which works in conjunction with icons that are arranged in a corresponding grid on the screen. The idea is to make selecting menus and options more intuitive and immediately available but, in our tests, we found the system to be a bit fiddly. Suffice it to say, Smart Touch won't be everybody's idea of a good time.

In the hand, the NV20 feels robust and handling is very natural for such a thin camera, thanks to a sensibly designed, curved grip on the front right side of the camera. The quality of the finish is also very good, with posh looks achieved by a subtle mix of smooth gloss black and eggshell-textured surfaces.

Loud and proud?

In full Auto mode, the metering makes a reasonable job of things but there's more flexibility in Program and Manual modes, with a choice of multi-segment, centre-weighted and spot-metering options.

Samsung aims to enhance basic metering with its Auto Contrast Balance (ACB) system, which supposedly avoids loss of detail in the highlight and lowlight areas of high-contrast scenes.

However, in our tests, the camera seemed more concerned with giving bright, punchy results by boosting contrast and saturation, not really caring how many highlights it blew along the way. Indeed, we often needed to dial in between a third and a full stop of under-exposure when shooting in bright sunlight.

Image noise proved a persistent problem, with the NV20 often producing fairly grainy looking results even at its lowest sensitivity setting of ISO 80.

Things got noticeably worse with every step up the sensitivity ladder which, presumably, is why the Auto ISO function seemed intent on keeping the sensitivity as low as possible. This makes indoor shooting without flash (and without camera shake) a particular challenge.

In our tests, using Program exposure mode, the Auto ISO feature consistently gave us shutter speeds of a full second without pushing the sensitivity above ISO 200.

Say cheese

Samsung's Advanced Shake Reduction (ASR) feature is built into the camera but, strangely, this is only available as a trick exposure mode, via the main mode dial, rather than offering anti-shake options in other exposure modes like Auto, Program and Manual, or in scene modes like Portrait. The NV20 offers the now-almost-ubiquitous trickery that accompanies Portrait mode.

Along with tweaked image processing and in-camera red-eye removal facilities, there are additional options for face-priority autofocus and metering, intended to ensure perfect portrait results.

In our experience, however, these were the least impressive facets of the camera, as the face-detection autofocus usually failed to recognise faces and, even when it did, the metering and image processing systems produced muddy, lifeless skin tones.

On paper, the NV20 promises a lot but, compared with most of its 12MP rivals at similar prices, it doesn't quite manage to deliver. Images are certainly punchy and vivid in ideal shooting conditions but, when the going gets tough and lighting is a bit tricky, you can quickly find yourself running into problems.

Via PhotoRadar