Operation and controls

Although we consider the TL500 to be an 'enthusiast compact,' it's worth bearing in mind that , as with most cameras in its class, it's not actually that compact. The larger screen and its articulation help bulk up the TL500 to the point it's slightly larger than the LX3, a camera that itself will only really fit in a large-ish jacket pocket.

Rear of camera

As with most modern compacts the rear panel is dominated by a large (3.0") screen but, unlike most, this is based on LED, rather than LCD technology and is also mounted on an articulated hinge. This means all the buttons have to be to the right of the screen, including a well-placed exposure lock (AEL) button, a direct video record button and even a hard button for changing metering mode. On the four-way controller, there's direct access to ISO, which makes the camera pretty quick to operate.

Top of camera

The TL500 is larger than most compacts but it would be hard to offer this many controls and an articulated screen if the camera were any smaller.

Display and menus

Despite its high specification, the Samsung's interface is very simple and straightforward. There's a function menu that allows direct access to most key shooting functions and well-chosen buttons to give even more direct access to key functions such as ISO. There's also a menu system that duplicates these functions and adds a few setup options in an attractive and easy-to-navigate menu.

Sadly there's very little in the way of customisation: none of the buttons are configurable (I'd rather have fast access to AF point selection mode than meter mode), and you can't even turn off the digital zoom option. This simplicity does have the advantage of making the camera very straightforward to use, though. Strangely there are a few odd combinations of features that won't work together (for example you can't use Photo Styles if you want to manually select the AF position, unless you're in continuous shooting mode).

The other problem we found was that the dark status bar that appears across the bottom of the screen obscures the image to an extent that makes composition difficult. It's rather easy to accidentally frame a wide shot and discover you've got an extra stripe of image you didn't want along the bottom. This can be worked-round by quickly switching to full-screen mode when composing an image with detail running to the bottom corners. However, it would be better if the bar was more transparent or disappeared a short while after you changed settings.

The manual focus mode, once you've worked out how to engage it (by using the zoom rocker, obviously), is a disappointment: you can only check focus in the middle of the frame and the resolution of the preview is too low to allow focusing. Better still, once you've set the focus, the camera continues to behave as if it's in AF mode - lighting up the green focus square and beeping as if focused, irrespective of whether you actually are.

There are four main viewing modes: basic shooting data, full shooting data, full data plus histogram and just the image. These are cycled through using the DISP button Pressing the Fn button brings up a Function menu containing all the regularly changed settings.
Manual focus can be engaged by pressing the focus mode (Macro) button. To change focus you must first use the zoom rocker to give a zoomed-in preview, then rotate the rear dial. The magnified section always shows the center of the image (even if you'd manually chosen an off-center AF point), and isn't detailed enough to allow fine focus. Which is a shame, since the on-screen graphics are useful and well designed.
One of the few customisation options in the menu is to allow one of four different framing grids to be overlaid onto the image. Movie recording mode brings a traditional red dot and a rather less common blue dot that progresses across the screen as the memory fills.
There's also a conventional menu system which duplicates all the Function menu items as well as including a handful of setup options. It's attractive and easily navigated. Turning either of the dials brings up an image of the dial on the screen. Oddly they look very different and only one of them animates as you rotate the dial.
Bracketing includes an interesting 'Photo Style Selector Bracketing' mode that allows you to preview how your image will look in the various styles, then choose the one you want to use.  


There are three playback display modes: basic shooting info, full info and image only. Images can be zoomed-in up to 11.4x, using the zoom rocker.
You can also zoom out to see 3, 9 or 20 thumbnails. These can then be filtered by image type, date, color, week or face.