The TL500's flash is not its strong point - which is understandable given how small it is. It has a quoted range of up to 6.2 meters when shooting wide angle in Auto ISO (which means, if we assume ISO 400 to be the highest ISO setting used by Auto ISO, we can conclude this range drops to just 2.8 meters at ISO 80).
|Skin tone - Slightly warm, generally good||Color chart - good color, distinct underexposure|
Macro isn't the TL500's speciality - it can focus down to 5cm at the wide angle end and 50cm at the telephoto end of the zoom but, because the wide end of the zoom is so wide, you still end up capturing an area of at least 60 x 45 mm. At the long end of the zoom the closest focusing distance captures so much that it covered nearly our whole macro chart.
The bigger issue is that you need to engage Macro focus mode every time you want to focus on something less than 80cm away. You'll find that you have to switch into Macro mode from time-to-time, even if you're not consciously taking a macro photo.
|Wide macro - 60 x 45 mm coverage
61 px/mm (1542 px/in)
Corner softness: Low
Equiv. focal length: 24 mm
|Telephoto macro - 232 x 174 mm coverage
16 px/mm (398 px/in)
Corner softness: Low
Equiv. focal length: 72 mm
Barrel and Pincushion Distortion
The TL500 manages what may at first glance appear to be something of a magic trick: it has a comparatively small, wideangle lens that also has a fast maximum aperture (these things are usually traded-off against one another). Of course what's going on behind the scenes is that the lens is producing an appreciable amount of distortion that is then automatically corrected on the rear screen and the JPEG output. This approach is becoming increasingly common, particularly in compact cameras with wide angle lenses.
The RAW files do not have these corrections applied and, unlike the system used by other makers, there are no correction parameters specified in the RAW files, so you'll be limited to whichever RAW converters have established their own lens profiles for the camera (this should include Adobe Camera Raw 6 and Lightroom 3). The supplied Samsung Raw Converter does apply lens corrections though not quite the same ones as used by the camera. Unlike the camera, it does not automatically correct chromatic aberrations (CA).
Because no details of the required correction are included in the file, Adobe has developed its own lens profile which, in this instance, corrects the distortion to a greater degree than the camera does. It also corrects in a slightly different way, so you may get an image with a wider field of view than the preview image would have led you to expect.
Whether this makes any difference to you depends to a great extent on your workflow. If you were to use the camera JPEGs, the supplied software or the latest Adobe converters, you wouldn't ever see the distortion. Only if you have a favourite raw processor that does not include lens correction profiles is it likely to be a problem.
|ACR 6.2 (beta) conversion||Out of camera JPEG|
Because the camera only corrects from 2.6% down to 0.9% distortion, rather than all the way to 0%, the difference between the camera images and the uncorrected versions doesn't look that extreme. With under 1% residual distortion in JPEGs, it's only really visible if you have a strong line running along the long edge of the frame.
The only respect in which the TL500/EX1 doesn't look cutting-edge is in its video capabilities - it's got this year's must-have feature, a direct movie record button, but it can't shoot HD movies. Instead, as a result of the capability of the sensor it's based on, it is only able to record 640x480 VGA video.
It's a shame because several other aspects of the video mode seem quite promising: it offers the unique-to-Samsung ability to pause and restart the video during the recording process. You can still use the zoom while you're recording and, pleasantly, you have a choice of whether to risk recording the noise of the lens motor or to automatically mute the audio while you zoom.
Sample movie: 640 x 480 pixels @ 29.97 fps
Overall Image Quality / Specifics
In general the TL500's images are very impressive, particularly in terms of color response. Its two biggest image quality problems come about from occasional overexposure and the rather aggressive high ISO noise reduction it applies. Both of these can be resolved shooting in RAW and processing with different settings. (See RAW page for examples).
Beyond this, the camera is automatically correcting distortion, chromatic aberration and purple fringing, meaning there are very few obvious problems making it into the final images. As shown in the studio comparison shot, the camera we based our review on occasionally shows a loss of image sharpness down the left-hand side. The effect is only really visible with this essentially flat target that is shot at a relatively close focus distance. The performance shown in this review is fractionally better than that of a second unit Samsung sent us to check the results against (which instead showed a soft right-hand side).