Samsung NX500 Review

Samsung NX500
Samsung NX500

In a market dominated by the big two camera makers—Nikon and Canon—for DSLRs and cameras, and the smaller players like Fuji, Olympus and Sony for the mirrorless sector, Samsung is probably not a name that comes to mind when one is shopping for a digital camera. But they do have a small line-up of mirrorless and compact cameras that offer you an alternative to the more dominant and well-known brands.

The NX500 is Samsung’s latest addition to their camera line-up, targetted at the “advanced amateur” photographer who wants something more advanced than a compact camera and interchangeable lenses without the bulk of a typical DSLR setup. It features a 28.2MP APS-C-sized Back-side Illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor—the highest resolution available in APS-C sensors so far.

Weighing in at just 0.63lbs (286g) for the body alone, it’s lightweight but still has a sold feel in the hands. The back of the body is dominated by a 3″ Super AMOLED touch screen for composing and reviewing your shots. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with an Electronic View Finder (EVF). The screen has a resolution of 1063K dots and is articulated, so you can flip the screen up and down to aid your composition. For selfie lovers, the screen can even be tilted upwards to face the front so that you can take 28MP selfies or wefies with ease!

aSamsung NX500 Tilting Screen (Selfie Mode)
aSamsung NX500 Tilting Screen (Selfie Mode)

The controls are pretty well laid out, with the typical PSAM mode dial, command dial and shutter release on the top plate alongside a “Mobile” and AEL buttons. The rest of the controls are at the side of the LCD behind the camera, consisting of a D-pad, few other buttons and another command dial. The front and rear command dials work pretty much the same way as a Nikon DSLR, which means I can get used to it pretty quickly since I have been a Nikon user for a long time. There is a video record button on the side of the body, a rather awkward place to put it. Sure, it prevents you from accidentally pressing it, but when you really need to engage it, it’s not easy to get at.

Samsung NX500 Tilting Screen
Samsung NX500 Tilting Screen. Here you can see the awkwardly-placed video recording button.

Settings like ISO, exposure compensation, AF and drive modes can be easily changed via the D-pad buttons; others have to be accessed via the Fn button or the “i” button on the lens itself. The rest can be accessed via the reasonably intuitive menu.

To keep things nice and compact, the NX500 does not have a built-in flash. However, Samsung bundles a cute little pop-up flash which you can attach to the hotshoe, much like Fujifilm’s EF-X8 which came with the X-T1 camera.

The review unit came with the Samsung 16-50mm f/3.5-4.5 Power Zoom kit lens, which covers a nice, common focal length range suitable for most people. You can zoom the lens using the zoom buttons on it, or by twisting the fly-by-wire zoom ring. The latter becomes a focus ring if you set the lens to manual focus.

Performance

The camera starts up pretty quickly within a second, so it’ll always be ready for your shoots. It might be a bit faster if used with a prime lens, since it wouldn’t have to extend like the power zoom would.

The 3″ AMOLED screen is bright and colourful, much like Samsung’s Galaxy phones in normal lighting conditions. However, once used in bright sunny Singapore streets, it becomes hardly visible. This issue is not unique to Samsung of course, and this is where an EVF or OVF would come in useful. The refresh rate of the screen is very fast, with very little lag, which is a good thing.

The Auto White Balance of the NX500 tends towards the “cooler” side of the colour temperature scale, giving this photo a slightly blue tinge.

With the bundled kit lens, the AF performance is decent in day light. Compared to the Fujifilm X-T1, the AF speed is slightly slower. When light level falls, the camera begins to hunt and sometimes fail to acquire focus. Under the same lighting conditions, my X-T1 didn’t have any issues focussing. Strangely, I also had some random issues with the AF locking but the resulting shot is out of focus. I am not sure what could have caused this as I was photographing something static.

At the widest setting of 16mm (equivalent to 24mm on a full-frame camera), the lens exhibits some barrel distortion. Nothing too major here, and this is quite typical of most low-cost lenses. You can see it in the photo below, where the grid lines on the building is slightly curved.

Slight barrel distortion can be seen at the 16mm end of the bundled 16-50mm kit lens.
Slight barrel distortion can be seen at the 16mm end of the bundled 16-50mm kit lens.

The Samsung NX500 is able to shoot at up to 9fps, but that’s not a feature I use often. Sports and action photographers would probably find it more useful. I didn’t really test this in detail, but with RAW+JPEG, the buffer filled up rather quickly and the camera has to pause to clear the buffer. It should perform much better in the JPEG-only mode.

SAM_0352

Image Quality

Pictures taken by the NX500 and the kit lens have good colour rendition, with a nice contrast and most importantly, sharp. As with most recently-produced cameras, the NX500’s sensor does not have an anti-aliasing filter on it, and this probably contributed to the sharpness. Dynamic range of the camera appears to be decent, being able to capture everything from shadows to highlights easily.

Highlights are kept within control, while shadow details are still good.
Highlights are kept within control, while shadow details are still good.

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One thing I noticed from my test shots is that the NX500’s Auto White Balance (AWB) tends to render colours on the cool side. My daylight shots end up slightly bluish. From the files, I noticed that the camera used a white balance value of about 4800K, which is lower than the typical 5000–5500K used in daylight white balance. Perhaps, Samsung love things on the blue side, something I noticed on the Galaxy-series phones’ bluish screens as well. To get around this, it’s best to set the white balance manually before shooting, even if you are shooting in RAW.

In terms of high-ISO performance, images are generally usable till about 3,200. Above that, things start to get really coarse. I wouldn’t use anything above ISO 6,400 unless I am desperate. ISO 25,600 really looks like crap. Like most cameras, it’s probably there only to try to win the numbers game.

Samsung NX500 ISO Comparison
Samsung NX500 ISO Comparison

Other Features

Most cameras nowadays feature some sort of wireless connectivity, usually via WiFi, and the Samsung NX500 is no exception. With NFC connectivity, all you need is to tap a NFC-enabled smart phone to the camera’s bottom, and it’ll be automatically paired. You do need to download the Samsung Smart Camera app before you can do anything useful.

For non-NFC phones, there’s always the good old way of manually connecting to the camera’s WiFi hotspot, then launching the app to control the camera or download images. You can also change camera settings via the app.

One notable feature which really impressed me is that the NX500 is able to connect to your home wireless network and download firmware updates directly. I have not seen any other cameras do this, and it’s certainly something that other camera makers can implement.

Samsung NX500 Firmware Upgrade Screen
Samsung NX500 Firmware Upgrade Screen

For time-lapse lovers, the NX500 features a Interval Shooting mode which can also compile the shots into a single time-lapse movie. Unlike other cameras with a similar time-lapse mode, it also keeps the individual images captured, in additional to the final movie. There are advantages and disadvantages to this of course. With the original images, you can have the option of processing and combining them yourself in the software of your choice if you didn’t like what the camera did. Of course, this is at the expense of storage space on your card. At 8-12MB per large JPEG and 35-46MB per RAW file, a card fills up quickly. A 16GB card can only take about 270 shots if you choose to shoot in JPEG+RAW like many photographers do.

But my main gripe of the time-lapse is the movie produced. Compared to the time-lapse taken by a Nikon D810 or even an iPhone using iOS 8’s time-lapse feature, the NX500’s time-lapse is noticeably jerky. Samsung also chose to use the relatively new H.265 video codec instead of the more common H.264, so in order to work with the video or even to upload to YouTube, you’d need to convert it to H.264 first. I am not sure if this is the cause of the jerkiness that I’ve experienced.

Conclusion

Overall, the Samsung NX500 is a nice little camera to use, if you are able to live with the little “faults” here and there. If Samsung can improve the AF and AWB a little, it’d be a much better camera. The features are certainly innovative (there’s also this auto-beautifying function in the selfie mode which I did not try), and the image quality is great. What’s not so great is the price. At a SRP of S$1,159, Samsung faces quite a bit of competition from the other, more well-known camera makers.

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Samsung Announces the NX500

EV-NX500_002_Front_Brown

Samsung has announced the NX500, an update to the mid-range camera in the NX lineup. The main upgrade here is in the sensor, with the NX500 sporting the NX1’s 28 megapixel BSI sensor, which by all accounts seems to be very good, and might be even better than the highly-regarded 24 megapixel Sony sensor.

Given that the NX500 has the NX1’s sensor, it inherits a number of features from the bigger brother, including 4K videos in h.265 and a fast 209 point hybrid phase-detect and contrast-detect autofocus system. However since this is not quite the top-end model, concessions are made in other areas, like the shutter mechanism, so there is no 15 FPS continuous shooting mode. Instead the NX500 tops out at 9 FPS. Wifi, Bluetooth and NFC are present.

The rest of the camera is pretty much like the NX300, though the 3″ qHD AMOLED screen now flips all the way up for selfies. The NX500 will be available in March for US$800 with the 16-50 power zoom, in black, white or brown.

 

EV-NX500_004_Dynamic1_Black

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The Dark Horse Rises: Samsung Announces NX1 with 4K and NX 50-150mm f/2.8

NX1 with 16-50MM_3

It may not be the camera system we need, but is it the one we deserve? Samsung has been slowly trying to gain traction, but it always seems that despite being second to the market with a mirrorless system, and having some really sweet lenses, its acceptance has been less than ideal. I do partly blame Samsung themselves, because for a company that can go toe-to-toe with the mind-share juggernaut that is Apple, it has taken a very low-key approach in the camera industry. The NX1 better change that, for it packs some serious specs. Continue reading The Dark Horse Rises: Samsung Announces NX1 with 4K and NX 50-150mm f/2.8

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Samsung Releases the NX mini, 9mm, 9-27mm and 17mm Lenses

Samsung NX Mini with 9mm and 9-27mm lenses

Samsung’s an odd player. They have the technical know-how, the design teams, the foundries, and the marketing capability and budget (watch how they have managed to eventually out-muscle Apple in the smartphone arena), but somehow their NX line just does not get enough attention.

So in a move that reminds me of the original Micro Four Thirds initiative (moving to a less crowded playing field), the NX mini moves away from the APS-C sensors in the NX line to a 1″ sensor size, like that of the Nikon 1 series. The potential difference here is that Samsung does have experience in crafting a consumer experience that casual users might like that is also connected. If you have tried using a recent Samsung camera like the NX 2000 you might have an idea of what I am saying. It is a nicely done camera that is very smartphone-like, runs a decent OS (Tizen), and has a lot of fun little things that many will like. Of course if it sinks under the anonymity of the usual NX no-shows in the digital camera landscape, its not going to sell well, is it? Continue reading Samsung Releases the NX mini, 9mm, 9-27mm and 17mm Lenses

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Samsung Announces NX30 and Two Interesting 16-50mm Lenses

Samsung NX30 with NX 16-50mm f/2.0-2.8 Lens

 

Here is the first announcement of 2014! Samsung’s been one of the earliest players in the mirrorless segment, after the Micro Four Thirds crowd, but they have never caught on, despite the impressive hardware. The NX30 is an example: Take the NX300’s 20 megapixel sensor with phase detect autofocus capability, put it in a bigger body with more controls, a fully articulated three inch 720×480 OLED screen, a large XGA EVF that can be pulled back and tilted upwards, 9 FPS frame rate, full HD video at 60 FPS, and improved WiFi and NFC connectivity. Samsung mentions that the NX30 will have the capability to directly upload to Dropbox and Flickr in some regions. Direct Dropbox upload is a really neat idea, as I have used Dropbox as either an intermediate or final step for client deliverables before, and I can see how it would benefit a photographer working on a tight deadline. I also really enjoyed the automatic uploads over WiFi from my smartphone, and if Samsung are smart, they will include a deal that bundles increased Dropbox storage, just like they do with their high end Galaxy phones. Finding a free WiFi hotspot or a data plan that can deal with the uploads will be left as an exercise for the photographer.

Then there are the lenses. It is not widely known, but Samsung actually make some great lenses for the NX line. Continue reading Samsung Announces NX30 and Two Interesting 16-50mm Lenses

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Samsung Does It Wrong with the Galaxy NX Camera

Galaxy NX with 18-55mm lens

So the rumours were right, and Samsung’s Android-powered mirrorless system camera is real, as with its the lack of physical controls. The images of the camera already make it look like an ergonomic nightmare, and as someone who has tried the original Galaxy Camera, the UI for the camera app is a total disaster for anyone who shoots at a level more manually than full automatic. What you get in the way of manual controls is a command dial, a video record button, the power button, and the flash release button. Oh, and of course, the shutter release. Five buttons and just one dial to control a system camera? I’ll pass. I suspect many photographers will too. As for the casual segment, the camera is a bit ugly too, and thanks to the large touchscreen, not small either, so I don’t think there will be many takers there as well. I mean, take a look:

Continue reading Samsung Does It Wrong with the Galaxy NX Camera

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