We've been generally unimpressed with the latest round of basic point-and-shoots, including those from Samsung's mid-range Smart series, but we do tend to take heed whenever a manufacturer opts to focus on optics rather than bumping up the megapixel count to boost sticker appeal. Compared to sub-$200 shooters, there's a fairly limited market for $549 pocketable models -- a price point that often prompts would-be owners to dig beyond superficial specs in search of full manual control, solid high-ISO performance, fast focusing and a lens that enables both low-light shooting and shallow depth of field. Samsung's EX2F appears to fit the bill, offering a 12.4-megapixel 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor, a top extended ISO setting of 12,800, a 3-inch VGA-res AMOLED display and -- the crown jewel -- an f/1.4-2.7, 24-79mm lens. That optic delivers an additional
one 2/3 stop of sensitivity over the EX2F's predecessor, the two-year-old TL500. Other advantages include a lighter magnesium alloy body, an NX power pin-enabled hot shoe for adding an external mic or flash, and a new micro-USB trigger cable.
Though the EX2F was noticeably lighter than the 2010 model during our hands-on, it retains much of the TL500's heft -- at least from a size perspective. The camera's footprint makes it too bulky to slip in a pocket, as we were able to do with the Sony RX100, though the flip-out AMOLED display is certainly a welcome addition. An NX-like smart UI mode enables instant access to key settings, as do the dual control dials, which let you adjust shooting modes (on the right) and capture speed (on the left). There's also a new in-camera HDR mode which merges two back-to-back shots (one underexposed and the other overexposed) in order to retain additional shadow and highlight detail. The camera was quite responsive during a quick shoot earlier today, powering on, focusing and capturing an image quickly. We'll need to spend much more time snapping outside of an office environment before passing any formal judgement, but it's easy to see the appeal of such of device -- and the advantage over less-abled point-and-shoots. For now, you can take a closer look in the gallery below, and in our hands-on demonstration after the break.