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Samsung PL21 Digital Camera – Great Photos on a Budget


Rating: ★★★½☆

With manufacturers racing to pack high-end features into their cheaper products, it’s a really great time for budget cameras. Retailing at a penny under £80, the PL21 boasts an impressive feature list:

  • 14.2 megapixel resolution for high quality pictures
  • 27mm wide angle lens to capture more of the scene
  • 5x optical zoom to get in really close
  • High definition video recording (1280 x 720p, 24 frames per second) for HD TV playback
  • Smart auto mode for easy operation
  • Digital image stabilisation to reduce camera shake
  • Perfect portrait mode to help when photographing people

Of course, you can’t judge a camera by the feature list. I was worried that Samsung may have just worked down a feature list without making sure each feature worked well. I’m glad to say I was wrong (mostly).

Good lens on the Samsung PL21

The lens on this camera is rather good. It works well in reasonably low light, and the slightly wider than normal angle allows for some dynamic shots. The 5x optical zoom is good for most uses, and it’s backed up by an additional digital zoom up to ten times magnification if you really need to get closer.

The menu takes a little while to figure out, but it’s mostly quite clear once you get the hang of it. The button layout is fairly normal, although I found the zoom control quite difficult to use while framing shots.

Shooting high definition video

The PL21 can shoot 720p video (basically the same resolution shown by an HD Ready TV), and it does a decent job of it. Motion is clear and natural, and the only downside I could find was that the picture is quite grainy. Usually the sound recorded by cameras like this is poor, but despite some background hiss the PL21 captures sound clearly at almost any angle.

Super smart mode

The Smart Mode on the PL21 is great. Point the camera at anything and it will do it’s best to select the right mode for you. Get close to something and it switches to macro mode, point at a face and it sets you up for portraits. It can even make adjustments based on the colours in the scene. You never really need to think about making changes to get the best picture, allowing you to just point and shoot. The only downside is that the camera can be quite slow to autofocus, and does get confused about what it’s looking at from time to time.

The really useful “Photo help guide”, which takes you step by step though common tasks. It’s a great way to learn how to use the camera, and when combined with the smart mode, makes the PL21 a particularly good camera for novice photographers.

Photo taken in smart mode using a Samsung PL21

  • Photo taken using Smart Mode – Good detail, zero effort


  • Good picture quality
  • Decent battery
  • Shoots high definition video
  • Sound quality of videos is good
  • Wide angle lens


  • Controls and menu are a bit fiddly
  • Slow focus
  • Grainy video


The Samsung PL21 is a surprisingly capable, feature-packed digital camera at a great price. Samsung have probably been a bit ambitious with some of the features, but the PL21 does a good job of matching more expensive models with features like HD video.

The button layout could do with a rethink, but the smart mode and photo help guide combine to make this a great camera for novice and casual photographers.

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