From Apple's eagerly awaited iPhone to an entire generation of sat navs, touchscreens are all the rage. They promise intuitive access to features and an end to complex menus. But are they suited to cameras?
The L74 is a solid, all-metal compact with just a handful of controls: shutter release, vertical zoom rocker, mode dial, display and replay buttons. So far, so minimal.
Its rear is dominated by the 3-inch LCD which, apart from its size and touch sensitivity, is unremarkable. Colours and detail are sharp enough, although things look very washed out in full sunlight. It's an average performer in the dark, too, with contrast and colour fading out as the lights dim.
You can leave the display unadorned or call up a spread of icons. Without the graphics, framing is straightforward and you can summon a full-screen menu when needed. Opt for the icons and the screen is swamped by upwards of 15 graphics, detailing everything from focal length to image quality and self-timer status.
As with many touch systems, the L74's screen can be sluggish, inaccurate and unresponsive. Samsung does its best with large buttons but it's slower than its best nav-pad rivals - or even the innovative 'strokable' menus on some Samsung NV cameras. The smaller and pointier your fingers are, the easier you'll find it to use.
One other reason you might pick up the L74 is its 28mm wide-angle zoom lens. But use it for a while and you'll probably put it down again. The vertical zoom rocker is juddery and has a 5x digital zoom function that you can't turn off.
Even more annoying is the way the lens freezes when you flip straight from tele to wide zooming - you have to let go of the rocker for a second and then re-press it.
The L74 is home to dozens of features, most of which are either gimmicks or better handled in PC software. Among these, you'll find red-eye fixing, colour masks and effects, frames, background blurring, composite images and a dire animated World Travel Guide.
More useful are contrast, sharpness and saturation tweaks and a face-detection system that's sadly nowhere near as good as Canon's, for example. Another copy-cat feature, a version of Fujifilm's Natural Flash feature called Wise Shot, shoots a flash shot and high ISO shot one after another. But again, the L74 can't quite get it right, shooting the flash image first so that portrait subjects will think they're finished.
It's unlikely, then, you'll view images from the L74 expecting semi-professional results. But, even so, the output from the 28mm wide angle is shocking. Distortion is rampant, softness smears its way into the picture and there's noticeable purple fringing. Telephoto shots are much better, revealing a balanced clarity and subtle, naturalistic colours.
In low light, the L74 garners more respect. Its highest sensitivity (ISO 1600) is low on noise (but low on colour to match) and the flash is well judged, if prone to yellow colour casts. Exposure and focus were fairly reliable throughout.
Three other features are worth mentioning. The huge on-board memory (450MB, of which around 370MB is available for photos) is a welcome find, as is the clever combined power charger and USB cable, minimising weight and maximising flexibility. Stretch-SVGA (800 x 592-pixels) videos are fine and can be trimmed in-camera.
Overall, the L74 isn't so much a camera as a collection of gimmicks in front of a CCD. It can take acceptable photos, in the right conditions, but none of its headline features are anywhere near the top of the game.
The touch screen is slow where it should be fast, the lens blurred where it should be flexible and the World Travel Guide here where it should be in Outer Mongolia, buried under a yurt. Seriously.