Samsung Digimax 350S Or, Patience is a Virtue


9 seconds.

That is how long it takes for the Samsung Digimax 350S to stir itself from the digital dreamworld.

3 seconds to boot up, 3 seconds for its lens motor to twist out, and 3 seconds for the backscreen’s liveview to come online. I don’t recommend this camera to enthusiasts who like to shoot from the hip, nor is it fast enough for parents to immortalize the spontaneous antics of their children. And while the annals of familial snapshot history may not speak of the Digimax 350s, its defining lethargy forced me into a relaxed and pensive shutterbug experience not unlike what I felt as a college student in large format photography class.

The cameras (4×5 view cameras) we used then were large, heavy, cumbersome, and capable of producing the highest quality images I had ever conceived. Because of these characteristics and the fact that all of the camera’s functions must be manually adjusted before each shot, I was forced to slow down, contemplate my subject, and compose an image with unapologetic scrutiny.

Looking at the Samsung Digimax 350S, you are probably thinking this camera is the complete opposite of what I just described. And you’re right. It is comparatively tiny, lightweight, and capable of producing images that could only look good on a postage stamp. Also, just about all of the 350S’ functions are automatic. These two types of cameras are the definition of antithesis. They are however, both slow to operate. And with the Digimax 350S originally in the $450-$550 range*, they were once frighteningly close in price.

Yet, I’m hard pressed coming up with an advantage the 350S has over view camera’s. For photographers that will come as no surprise. But think of this: would you expect a device made with 15-year-old technology to be miles better than one made with technology roughly a century old? Sure, digital was still in its infancy when this camera was released in 2002. One might argue that it still is, but their are a number of components utilized by the Digimax 350S where devolution seems to have occurred.

I’ll provide the viewfinder as an example. Large format cameras have ground glass viewing plates, essentially giant viewfinders. There aren’t any mirrors to correct the image so the world ends up looking like a Lewis Carroll dream, upside down and backwards. With a curtain or protective flaps to shield the ground glass from light, looking through a large format camera is a magical experience.

Looking through the Digimax 350S’ viewfinder is more like Norman Bates peeping through a hole to spy on his hotel guests. I’ve endured many tiny viewfinders in the past, but this is one of those that make you feel like you shouldn’t be looking through it, like even pointing this camera at a toad could make you feel like a voyeur. Samsung was at least smart enough to place the viewfinder directly above the lens so as to reduce parallax error, but they failed to draw accurate markers to help the user anticipate what will be inside the frame.

Now, I’m well aware a view camera and a Samsung Digimax 350S are two cameras designed for very different purposes. I’m only comparing them because I find it odd that they force upon the user a similar mode of image-making: slow and contemplative.

The image quality this camera produces is so-so taking its age into consideration, but there is definitely a flat gray look to all the pictures I’ve made. They are all JPEG files (RAW is not an option) and so one might expect them to be a bit more fully formed in terms of color and contrast.

Anyway, I’ve come to realize that the only good thing about this camera originates from its greatest crux: that feeble processor. The apprehension this camera instills upon its user due to its annoyingly slow performance means fewer photos, but possibly also a higher percentage of meaningful ones. Essentially, if you take this camera out for a spin and find that you’re making more interesting photographs, it’s not the camera. It is you adapting to the camera’s flaw.

*Based on information from a 2002 Digital Camera Resource review on the Digimax 350SE, a similar cousin to the Digimax 350S Found Here


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