Samsung TL500 (EX1)
Category: Premium Enthusiast Compact Camera
Samsung TL500/EX1 Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Good image quality, particularly at lower ISO settings
- Extremely bright F1.8-2.4 lens
- Useful 24mm equiv. wide angle
- High ISO performance good up to ISO 800 (and higher if processed from RAW)
- Accessible, quick-to-use manual controls
- Superb bright, high-contrast, articulated OLED screen
- Generally well optimized JPEGs with good color response
- RAW capability with fully featured RAW conversion software
- Well implemented manual AF point selection mode
- Reliable focus and white balance
- Face detection / tracking AF modes (though neither terribly effective)
- Compact, very well built
- Good battery life
Conclusion - Cons
- Highlight clipping and channel clipping in bright, high-contrast conditions
- Unpredictable metering requires regular use of exposure compensation
- No control over noise reduction (which is excessive at high ISO settings)
- Video limited to VGA resolution
- Rear dial difficult to move with precision (and has to be used for manually changing aperture)
- Flash underpowered, flash performance overall not that impressive
- Manual focus preview too low resolution to be useful (and gives the false impression of being in focus)
- Status bar can impinge on image composition
- Odd conflicts between feature combinations can make it hard to access the feature you want.
If the market for enthusiast cameras was reduced by the falling prices of DSLRs, it now faces being squeezed further by the mirrorless cameras that offer DSLR-level image quality with less of a size penalty. In the light of these developments, it's great to see another player join the enthusiast compact sector and do so with such a promising product.
It would be hard to argue that the TL500 is a particularly original concept - apparently borrowing heavily from the Panasonic LX3 in terms of both looks and concept. This is no bad thing, given that the LX3 remains one of our favorite compact cameras and that Samsung adds a bigger, more flexible screen and a slightly faster, slightly rangier zoom lens to its version. Its biggest limitation remains the same as the LX3's though: that the lens range is a touch short for some subjects (particularly head-and-shoulders portraits).
At low ISO settings the TL500 is capable of producing excellent image quality and, thanks to its bright lens, there are plenty of situations in which you can get away with keeping the ISO down. Its relatively small compact camera sensor means, though, that what the bright lens gains you is mainly the ability to shoot in low light, rather than any particularly great control over depth-of-field.
The camera's occasionally erratic metering can sometimes result in significant overexposure, which can produce strangely cyan skies, but generally the color response is good. The camera's easy-to-access exposure compensation dial means you can easily stop this being a problem.
At higher ISOs the camera's JPEG engine begins to struggle, with its over-eager noise reduction blurring away all fine detail above ISO 800. However, if used in RAW mode, it's possible to apply more subtle noise reduction and reveal greatly improved images.
In all but the most extreme cases, handling is a case of personal taste - partly related to physiology but also dependant on previous camera experience and willingness to tolerate odd design decisions if you get the photos you want. Personally I don't think the control layout is as well thought-through as the Panasonic LX3's, making it slightly less enjoyable to use. It would be nice to have the option to make slight changes, such as being able to assign aperture control to the camera's front dial, rather than the slightly more awkward rear one, which several of us found to be less convenient and less comfortable (I'd also swap the metering button and Fn menu button, if I could).
There are also a few peculiar combinations of features that can't be used together - selection or tracking AF with 'photo styles' for example - that are hard to predict. As a result you can find yourself in a situation where certain features are unavailable and you're left essentially having to guess what's stopping you using them. However, there's no aspect of the TL500 that ranks as highly as an annoyance, let alone a problem. On the whole, it's a nice camera that's quick, easy and pleasant to use. I even found myself enjoying the articulated screen (a feature I seldom make use of on other cameras).
In general the Samsung is rarely anything by unobtrusively quick - you simply don't notice it. This applies to autofocus as well as the perception of in-use performance. However, this poise isn't entirely unflappable - switch to RAW and, even with a fast memory card, you'll risk encountering a warning that the camera is 'processing,' during which time the camera completely locks up.
The Final Word
The Samsung TL500 is a very good camera - it takes good images, has a great lens, flexible feature set and, unlike most mirrorless cameras, it maintains its go-anywhere, shoot anytime capability when slipped into a jacket or coat pocket. The similarities to the LX3 make it almost impossible to review the TL500 without comparing the two, however.
Its few quirks are not significant enough that we'd consider it massively less desirable than the slightly more polished LX3, but its advantages over the LX3 are similarly marginal - only if you think you're going to use the Samsung's superb articulated OLED screen is there any real deciding factor (and, even then, the Panasonic's multi-aspect ratio sensor and 720p video might help tip the balance in the other direction).
Of the two cameras, the more consistent metering and slightly faster RAW performance would still push us towards the Panasonic, but the Samsung only loses out by a whisker. Or, to put it another way, this is a camera capable of trading punches with one of the best compacts we've ever tested and, even if we feel it just misses out on points, that still very much makes it a contender.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Movie / video mode
Photographers looking for something smaller than a DSLR that gives shooting flexibility.
Not so good for
Not the perfect all-round or travel camera, due to its short (but bright) zoom. It's also a bit short for traditional portraits.
The TL500 / EX1 is a very capable and well-featured photographers' compact camera. Its excellent (and articulated) OLED screen helps distinguish it from the conceptually similar Panasonic LX3. Overall it's among the best compact cameras available if the super-bright lens is more important to your type of shooting than overall zoom reach.
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