Conclusion

Pros Cons
  • 28MP BSI CMOS sensor
  • Outstanding dynamic range and low light image quality
  • Bright and sharp tilting touchscreen Super AMOLED display
  • Fast, accurate hybrid autofocus system
  • Effective Tracking AF, especially for video and continuous focus on faces and objects
  • 9 fps continuous shooting
  • Good ergonomics, twin dial operation
  • Advanced Wi-Fi implementation with Android devices (average for iOS)
  • Manufacturer commitment to firmware updates
  • 2.4x crop in 4K video severely limits wide-angle options and low light quality
  • Can only take 5-6 Raw images in burst mode
  • Best AF performance limited to select lenses
  • AF subject tracking suffers in continuous drive
  • No electronic viewfinder option
  • H.265 video files not universally supported
  • Flash must be carried separately
  • No audio-in connection
  • No included battery charger

Overall Conclusion

Samsung has made waves in the camera market in the past year. It gained a lot of credibility with the release of its flagship NX1, a camera with class-leading image and video quality, a great user interface, and outstanding performance. The company has also shown a commitment to its products, having released numerous feature upgrades for the NX1.

The follow-up act is the NX500, a camera that promised to deliver the most compelling features of the NX1 - 28MP images, 4K video, and fast autofocus - in the form of a compact body costing hundreds of dollars less.

On the whole, Samsung has done a great job. Still photos are as good as anything you'll get from the NX1, and 4K video is excellent (as long as you don't need wide angle or very low light footage). Samsung's hybrid AF system seems to lose a slight step in speed compared to the NX1, but it's still very effective and likely more than adequate for most situations in which this type of camera will be used.

However, the NX500 faces some stiff competition. Sony's a5100 has similar specs and performance, and models such as the Olympus E-PL7, Panasonic GF7, and Fujifilm X-A2 offer great user experiences, despite coming in at somewhat lower megapixel counts (resolution isn't everything).

Handling

The NX500 feels solid in your hand and is ergonomically pleasing. The rubber grip is a good compromise between being functional and being compact, buttons are generally well placed, and the twin control dials provide more flexibility than a single dial design.

One of our favorite parts of the camera is the beautiful 3" Super AMOLED touchscreen display. It's beautiful to look at, tilts up and down, and the touch interface is well thought out. Selfie fanatics will be pleased to see that the display can flip up 180 degrees and even retouch skin when a photo is taken.

What the camera doesn't include is a EVF, or even an optional EVF for that matter. This isn't an absolute requirement, and other excellent cameras, such as the Sony a5100, get by without one as well. However, if you spend much of your time shooting outdoors you'll probably wish you had one as the screen tends to get washed out easily in bright sunlight.

The NX500 doesn't have an electronic viewfinder or even an option to add one, but it has a beautiful 3" super AMOLED display and a very intuitive menu system.

A big challenge on smaller cameras is figuring out how to fit so many controls into the limited space on the body, the result being that many functions often get relegated to menu settings. Good news here: Samsung's menus are some of the most intuitive and easiest that we've used and well integrated with the touch screen; it's usually easy to make changes quickly when needed.

A minor frustration is the lack of a built-in flash. In fairness, Samsung provides a small detachable flash unit, but you still need to carry it around with you. Part the appeal of a small camera like the NX500 is that it's the type of camera you just always have with you. Always having to carry a detachable flash with you seems less than likely, even if it's small.

The NX500 has one of the most elaborate Wi-Fi implementations we've seen, especially if you're using an Android phone. The tools aren't that different from those on other cameras, but the ability to maintain a connection over Bluetooth is a big plus. Due to Apple's limitations, you can't do this on iPhones, which must be re-paired manually.

Image Quality

Image quality is probably the NX500's most compelling feature. Its 28MP backside illuminated sensor (the same one found in the NX1) offers class-leading performance that matches or exceeds most in its peer group when it comes to low light performance.

Samsung's JPEG engine has historically been a bit aggressive when it comes to high ISO noise reduction; however the company seems to have refined it for the better and it produces nice color and detail, too.

The NX500's Raw files leave a lot of room for adjustment. The NX500 offers very good Raw dynamic range performance, and is effectively ISO-invariant, much like the NX1.

The NX500 is capable of outstanding image quality, thanks to it's excellent 28MP BSI CMOS sensor. (Samsung 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 lens at 50mm, F5.6, 1/125 sec.)

Photo by Wenmei Hill

The only real competition in terms of image quality in the NX500's class comes from the Sony a5100, which has a 24MP APS-C sensor and offers similar dynamic range performance, but worse low light performance. The Fuji X-A2 offers similar low light performance but, at 16MP, far less resolution.

If you want to shoot continuously then the 9 fps burst rate offered by the NX500 is very appealing. Don't expect to take very many photos in a burst mode if you're shooting Raw or Raw+JPEG though - you'll get 5 or 6 tops. If you're sticking to JPEG, the NX500 can capture over 50 photos.

Video Quality

We've picked on the NX500's video capabilities in a few places, but let's be fair - much of the comparison has been against the NX1. On the one hand its a reasonable comparison, given that Samsung sometimes gives the impression of the NX500 being a 'stripped down' NX1. On the other hand, compared to cameras in the same class its video is actually quite good.

Full HD 1080p video shot on the NX500 is as good as any of its peers. It sometimes shows moiré with certain subjects, but that's about par for the course here.

When capturing 4K video, the NX500 uses a 4K (8.8MP) cropped area from the center of the sensor, effectively giving it a 2.4x crop (relative to full frame). As a result, it's challenging to shoot anything approaching wide angle in 4K. Even the 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OIS kit lens effectively becomes a 38-120mm lens when shooting 4K. Low light performance also suffers from the small sensor area sampled.

If you can live with that quirk, the camera produces very nice 4K video. It's also worth noting that none of the other cameras to which we've compared the NX500 in this review even shoot 4K video, so if that's important to you, the NX500 might be a good choice.

Comparison of the same scene shot in 1080p on the left and 4K on the right. Notice the effect of the effective 2.4x crop when shooting in 4K.

Like the NX1, the NX500 utilizes H.265 video compression. There's a fair argument that this makes sense on a camera like the NX1, given that it's largely aimed at video enthusiasts who are happy to develop a workflow for converting files. We expect that the NX500 will likely appeal to a more consumer audience, many of whom will be frustrated by video files that won't open on Mac or Windows computers without (currently at least) additional steps.

Autofocus

Probably one of the most compelling features of NX500 is its AF system, largely inherited from the NX1. It offers 205 phase-detect AF points, of which 153 are cross-type, that understand depth and work in conjunction with 209 contrast-detect points to focus quickly and accurately, even in continuous AF. And you won't have any of the potential AF accuracy issues a DSLR might.

Particularly impressive is the NX500's ability to intelligently track and maintain focus on moving subjects. Smartphones and mirrorless cameras have changed expectations for the way we shoot - for example, many now expect faces to be automatically detected for focus, something many DSLRs still cannot do. The NX500 will not only find faces, it'll continuously track them to ensure they're in focus the moment you depress the shutter. What's more, the camera will track literally anything you tap to initiate focus on (0:00-0:11 in video below). This is a boon for photographing moving subjects, or for parents with newborns.

There are serious limitations with the NX500's AF system, though. First, its ability to accurately maintain focus on subjects moving erratically around the frame suffers significantly in continuous shooting, as you can see in 0:12-0:22 of our video above. Hence, you'll likely use this more for capturing single shots at the decisive moment than for bursts of in-focus shots. Furthermore, AF performance varies wildly with lenses: though you'll fare well with the kit zoom or any of Samsung's expensive, heavy 'S' series lenses, most other lenses are slow to focus. This does mean that you'll fare better with a, say, Sony a5100 and 35mm F1.8 combo for blurry background portraits of your newborn than a similar NX500 and Samsung prime combo. Not a deal-killer, but a consideration nonetheless.

The Final Word

Compact interchangeable lens cameras are always a bit of a compromise: they try to pack as much of their brand's premium camera heritage into something that could arguably fit in a coat pocket, and the NX500 is no exception. It inherits one of the best APS-C sensors we've ever seen paired with a very effective AF system.

What you give up is a bit of speed, an electronic viewfinder, top-spec video functions, and a more rugged build. But that's the case with most of the cameras in this class.

The compact ILC category is crowded and competitive, and the NX500 is up there with the best of them. Whether it's the right camera for you will likely come down to what requirements are most critical to your anticipated usage: image quality, AF (particularly with kit vs. primes), size, video features, or range of lenses. Suffice it to say, we've really enjoyed using the NX500 and if its key features align with your needs, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

Scoring

Samsung NX500
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The NX500 is one of the most impressive midrange mirrorless cameras, with excellent photo and video quality, good ergonomics, and a broad feature set. Those serious about 4K video may be put off by the large crop factor, and the lack of an EVF may also disappoint some users.
Good for
Those seeking a compact camera with top-notch photo and video quality in a compact, inexpensive body.
Not so good for
Photographers who require an electronic viewfinder or who plan on recording wide-angle 4K video.
81%
Overall score

Samples Gallery