This isn't Samsung's first attempt to crack the enthusiast compact market - it has a long history of offering cameras with slightly higher specs than their peers, topped of with just a dash of quirk (From the Pro815 to cameras such as the NV24HD - one of the first to offer HD movie recording). The company still seems a bit keen on playing specification Top Trumps (the lens is very similar to the LX3's only a touch faster and a fraction longer) but overall the TL500 is a much more conventional affair. The TL500/EX1 is all low-key style, rather than flourishes or gimmicks - it's a good-looking camera and one that won't draw too much attention to itself.
The stand-out feature is that lens. It offers a range equivalent to a 24-72mm lens on a film camera: a very popular, flexible all-round lens. It may sound a little bit unimpressive when compared to the 28-300mm equivalent lenses offered by travel zoom cameras, however the EX1 offers two significant advantages.
Firstly, it has a sensor that's around 50% larger than the ones featured in such cameras, meaning more light is captured during an comparable exposure. More importantly it has a wider maximum aperture than is normal for a compact. For instance, the Panasonic TZ10 offers an aperture range of F3.3-4.1 over the 25-73mm equivalent stretch of its zoom range that's shared with the EX1. The Samsung, meanwhile, offers F1.8-2.4 across that same range, meaning it's 1.7EV brighter at the wide-angle end and 1.5EV brighter at the long end. In other words, it's able to let in three times as much light as the Panasonic's lens, all across its range.
In your hand
There's a notch running down the inside edge of the rubber grip on the TL500's right-hand corner, into which a middle finger readily fits. This gives a nice secure grip, with the thumb pressing into the button-free patch to the top right of the screen. It's certainly a very well built camera, giving a great feeling of quality. It fits well in the hand and gives a secure shooting position, even one-handed.
The downside to this grip is that the hand position doesn't then leave a finger free to operate the click dial on the front of the camera (are you supposed to move your index finger off the shutter or re-arrange your middle finger each time you want to move it?). Also, the Fn button - one of the buttons you're more likely to want to press - is at the bottom right of the camera and can't be accessed without taking your hand out of the shooting position.
The TL500's biggest feature is undoubtedly its lens. It covers a range equivalent to a 24-72mm lens on a film camera. Although not very lengthy by modern compact standards, it's still a very useful range for an all-round lens.
Crucially the TL500/EX1's lens is also considerably brighter than most compact cameras, and many people may find that a brighter lens covering their most used focal lengths is more useful than a greater range.
The other big feature of the TL500 is its flip-out OLED screen. It uses Samsung's own PenTile arrangement to offer VGA-equivalent resolution.
Oddly, unlike similar panels used on mobile phones, the screen does not turn its pixels off when representing black, so the contrast isn't as impressive as it could be. It's still very good though.
There's also a front click dial that's used to adjust shutter speed in Manual and Shutter-priority modes. Clicking it activates exposure compensation adjustment in all modes. Its slightly unconventional positioning can make it awkward to reach.
Beside it is an IR receiver for use with the optional IR remote shutter release.
A rear dial around the four-way controller is used to set the aperture in Manual and Aperture priority modes.
There are also hard buttons to give access to ISO and, more unusually, metering mode. It's a bit of shame the Fn button is a little hard to reach from the standard shooting hand position but there's plenty of direct control to be had.
In keeping with the TL500/EX1's enthusiast compact outlook, there are two easily accessed dials to engage different exposure and drive modes.
Switching to continuous shooting mode allows you to use Photo Styles in combination with a wider range of AF modes than single shot does (oddly), so it's worth considering using this mode as your default.
The battery in the EX1 may seem tiny in comparison to the size of the camera (it's physically smaller than the LX3's battery despite being a larger camera), but it offers essentially the same capacity as the Panasonic.
Samsung doesn't specify the testing method used to arrive at its battery life figures so it's hard to tell what its 240 shot rating means in the real world. We didn't find ourselves caught-out by the EX1, suggesting its battery life is pretty typical.
The battery is charged in the camera, using the USB cable. An off-board charger is an optional extra, if you want to keep a second battery charged, but the convenience of being able to charge by USB is cute.
The other connector allows HD output of stills (though of course the camera's video isn't HD).
Like any self-respecting enthusiast camera, the EX1 offers a standard hotshoe, allowing the mounting of external flashguns or flash triggers for more powerful and flexible flash shooting.
Samsung's little ED-SEF20A flashgun that was introduced with the NX10 also works with the TL500/EX1.
There's also a built-in, pop-up flash. It's not terribly powerful, offering a range of up to 5.1 meters at the telephoto end of the zoom, in Auto ISO mode.