Wow... is just about the only word that's really adequate to describe the styling on this latest compact camera to come from Samsung.

The Korean electronics giant has decided to play hardball in the digital camera market and has upped its game considerably with its latest models. The result of this new 'get serious' attitude is the gorgeously designed and manufactured Samsung NV7 OPS, which can probably be best described as a compact bridge camera.

Constructed from metal, and finished with an attractive matt black coating, the NV7 offers a 38-270mm zoom lens and optical picture stabilisation based on a shifting CCD sensor. This stunningly attractive camera can shoot in Auto or Program modes as well as aperture and shutter priority and manual. That 7x zoom looks tempting for the SLR owner who wants a serious compact when leaving the big camera at home.

Alas, there's a teeny chink in the NV7's superbly chic armour - and that's the weeny size of its sensor. Samsung has chosen to place a 1/2.5-inch CCD crammed with 7.2 million pixels. It's a recipe for noise and that's exactly what you get from this svelte model.

At the rear of the NV7 is a crisp 2.5-inch LCD with a creditable 230,000 pixels. It's nice and bright, but does tend to falter in bright sunshine. Unfortunately there's no optical viewfi nder on offer so that large screen may become a burden when you're on the beach.

Ever so smart

Ranged to the right and beneath the LCD are 13 (count them!) unlabelled black buttons. The system is called SmartTouch. Don't worry, the screen provides a function label for each button depending on which mode you are in. You press the button that corresponds to the required icon and the whole thing just works.

Even better is the way that the strips of buttons work as slider controls for adjusting things like EV compensation. It's a revelation and so much fun to use. The absence of tacky labels and lettering all over the back of the camera adds to the NV7's sense of style and sophistication. Also at the rear is a small rocker switch for the zoom.

Sitting on top of the camera is a retro-inspired mode dial that just oozes class. Alongside is the large shutter release button and the delightful but relatively weedy pop-up fl ash. The whole package screams James Bond.

So what's the image quality like? Well, if only it matched the design. That small sensor produces fairly high noise levels that are then corrected with a bit too much noise reduction, producing some blurry and ill-defined images. Things also fall apart with exposure and white balance. Images are easily washed out while the auto white balance turns out hopelessly warm and red images.

The NV7 features Samsung's OPS (Optical Picture Stabilisation) and Advanced Shake Reduction technology that offers at least two extra stops of exposure before the dreaded camera shake kicks in. It worked well for us and there's no reason not to suppose that almost every camera will have this sort of function soon. It's surely bound to take over from the 'more megapixels' fever as the next 'must-have' feature.

Power for the NV7 comes from a slip of a lithium-ion battery, which is recharged using a tiny self-contained plug charger and special cable. It certainly beats dragging a transformer brick around. Images are stored on an SD card although Samsung has provided a modest 19Mb slice of internal memory should you find yourself stuck without memory.

In use the NV7 is quick to respond and changing the settings of things like metering, ISO and focus is great fun using those strips of buttons beside the LCD screen. It's fairly easy to fi nd your way around, although some of the choices on offer can be a little bit daunting since everything is icon driven. That said, this is a camera that's designed to appeal to the more serious photographer rather than the point-and-shoot brigade.

If Samsung can shoehorn a bigger sensor into the NV7 and maintain the styling and smart design, then this category of camera could wipe the floor with the competition and fill a gap in the market for a serious compact that doesn't compromise on features. Mark Sparrow

Via PhotoRadar