Samsung TL500: Good Camera in a Very Tough League
At a Glance
The Samsung TL500 has some drool-worthy specs and shoots great photos, but it stumbles on usability and video quality.
The Samsung TL500's spec list reads like an all-star team recruited from other advanced point-and-shoot cameras' more enticing qualities. Like the Canon PowerShot G12, it comes equipped with a flip-and-rotate screen to help with odd-angle shots. Like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, it offers an ultra-wide-angle 24mm lens (and a separate lens cap). And like the Nikon Coolpix P7000 and the PowerShot G12, it has a slightly bulky body and a raised handgrip that feel good in the hand. It also packs a hot shoe that you can use with Samsung's external flashes, and it has a 3X optical zoom (24mm to 72mm).
The 10-megapixel TL500 ($450 as of January 3, 2011) has a few features that no other camera in our recent roundup of advanced point-and-shoots could match, such as a very wide F1.8 maximum aperture and an adjustable 3-inch OLED display. You can record fast-action still images at a clip of 1.5 shots per second in the camera's burst mode. Your images and the navigation menus look reasonably sharp on the OLED screen, and it's bright enough for satisfactory viewing under most lighting conditions.
The TL500 takes great-looking photos when it's on a tripod or otherwise held very steady, but handheld shots look best when the camera is in Dual Stabilization mode. In other mode settings, the camera's optical image stabilization is less effective than that on other cameras in its class, and shots can look a bit blurry.
Macro mode is decent, but we couldn't get in as tight with the TL500 as with competing cameras. The Samsung camera takes crisp, detailed shots when a subject is about 1.5 inches away from the lens, but anything closer than that starts to get blurry. The TL500's implementation of manual focus controls are also cumbersome: You press the Macro icon at the bottom of the camera's directional pad, select 'manual focus' from the macro menu, and then adjust the focus by using a combination of the zoom control and the back-mounted scrollwheel. Manually focusing a shot with the TL500 left me longing for the Lumix LX5's quick-access switch or the PowerShot S95's lens-ring control.
The Samsung TL500's menu structure and general navigability are a notch below what the other four cameras offer; in fact, it was the only camera that left us unsure as to which menu selections were tucked in which places. Still, there are some great little extras lurking in the mix: a Miniature mode, a fish-eye lens simulator, a pinhole camera simulator, a face recognition setting that lets you register and tag faces in your photos, and more. Unfortunately, some options are available only in a limited number of the camera's modes; others are hard to find in the menus; and others--like the complicated process for manually focus the camera--are unnecessarily complex.
It's a shame that the in-camera menu diving can leave users flustered, because the camera's physical controls are well done, unintimidating, and uncluttered. The front-mounted scrollwheel lets you comfortably adjust shutter speed with your index finger. A thumb-operated auto-exposure lock button and a dedicated video record button occupy the back. Two dials handle shooting modes and techniques (bracketing, burst mode, single shot, or self-timer settings), and a texturized rubber hand grip makes the camera's sturdy, slick-looking body easy to hold securely.
The Samsung TL500 earned some of the highest scores we recorded in PCWorld Labs' subjective testing for sharpness and lack of distortion. On the negative side of the ledger, it was the lowest-rated camera for video quality--not a surprise, given that it was the only camera in the roundup that couldn't shoot high-definition video (instead, it shoots 640-by-480 standard-definition video at 30 frames per second). We've seen standard-definition video that looks fairly good, but the TL500's output in both bright light and low light disappointed us.
Battery life is a bit weak despite the camera's purportedly power-savvy OLED screen. The camera is rated for approximately 240 shots per battery charge. Another quirk is that you must charge the battery (via a proprietary cable) while it's inside the camera. That's no big deal for most casual users, but it's something to think about if you like to keep a spare camera battery on hand for your outings. In addition to buying an extra battery, you may want to invest in a wall charger for it, as Samsung doesn't include one with the TL500.
The Samsung TL500 is an excellent camera, but it lags significantly behind rival models in video quality, macro mode, manual focus controls, and in-camera menus. Its F1.8 maximum aperture and OLED screen are unmatched by any other camera in this roundup, but the TL500's usability issues make it less than ideal for both novices and expert users.
Samsung TL500: Good Camera in a Very Tough League