Overall handling and operation
Generally, handling on the TL500 is very good - it fits well in the hand and, although some buttons aren't placed exactly where they'd be most comfortable, it's a pleasant camera that's quick to use. We'd have liked to have seen the ability to control aperture with the front dial - it may not be perfectly positioned, but we found it easier to make precise changes with than the rear dial - but that's a minor point.
There are also some strange interactions between features that limit the combinations that can be used. For instance, we're not surprised to find that RAW shooting isn't compatible with the camera's Smart Range feature, since it is a processor-intensive function that affects the JPEG output. However, the inability to use Photo Styles with manually selected AF point or AF tracking is perverse (doubly so given that you can engage that combination in continuous shooting mode and it persists when you move back to single shot mode - the camera can do it, it just doesn't want you to).
Thanks to its high level of external controls, the TL500 is a fast camera to set up for your shot, which makes it feel like a fast camera to use. However its shot-to-shot times mean this impression of speed can be spoiled if you try to take multiple images. Shot-to-shot time is around 1.8 seconds in single-shot shooting mode (Superfine JPEG), but slows down considerably if you engage RAW shooting.
In RAW, even with a fast card, shots can be taken after around 2.3 seconds but the effort of recording them means that, after four or five images, the camera then presents a warning that it's 'Processing.' At that point, you'll have to wait around five seconds for the camera to recover. Attempting to review images after such a burst can also yield the 'Processing' warning for up to ten seconds after you took your last image.
The TL500 does not allow the use of RAW in continuous shooting mode, so the problem is avoided. Instead, it will happily rattle off 1.5 frames per second until you run out of card space or get bored of holding the shutter down. There's virtually no recovery time needed after such a burst.
There are four AF-point selection modes - center, multi (where the camera chooses from 9 points clustered around the middle of the frame), manual select AF and AF tracking. Manual AF point selection is well implemented, with the center/OK button providing easy access when you want to move the focus point. It also allows greater freedom for where you wish to focus - ranging over a larger proportion of the screen.
Generally autofocus is pretty quick and reliable. We weren't hugely impressed by the tracking mode, which can get a little easily distracted and lose its target. Face detection is also rather unimpressive - fleetingly finding faces only to lose them as you half-press the shutter. The effect is slightly disconcerting, as you cannot be totally sure what the camera is going to focus on. The results are rarely problematic, though.
We were a little concerned when we saw how small the TL500's battery is but it turns out to be a very similar capacity to that of the LX3. As usual for Samsung, no details are given of the testing methodology for the 240 shot lifespan it quotes, so it's hard to take anything useful from the figure. But, while it's not about to rival a DSLR for capacity, having taken it away for a weekend and shot a couple of hundred frames without having to recharge, it seems entirely fit for purpose.
A particularly nice feature is that the battery is charged via the USB connector, meaning you can pack light for those weekends away and charge up if you choose to download images to your computer via the cable.