BUILD AND DESIGN
The Samsung TL500 is a thoughtfully designed, precision built and robustly constructed imaging tool that was obviously designed for serious shooters.
The TL500 is an attractively understated (traditional black) digicam that reminds me of classic compact cameras from the past, like the Rollei 35S. The TL500 is small enough to be dropped in a jacket pocket and light enough to be used all day without fatigue. The TL500’s all metal body is built to withstand the rigors of time and heavy use.
Ergonomics and Controls
The TL500’s user interface is logical and uncomplicated – all buttons and controls are a bit small, but they are all clearly marked, sensibly placed and easily accessed. On the TL500’s back deck, above the compass switch, are the AEL (Auto Exposure Lock) and one touch video buttons. Next are the Menu and Metering buttons. The TL500’s compass switch (4-way controller) provides direct access to flash settings, macro mode, Sensitivity (ISO), and the LCD display.
The compass switch is also a rotary jog dial which I used primarily in review mode. Other users might employ it to easily and quickly scroll through menu options. Below the compass switch are the Review and Fn (function) buttons. Pushing the Fn button provides direct access to white balance, image size, metering options, AF options, OIS, etc. The Fn button functions as the delete button in review mode.
The Power button (surrounded by the drive mode dial), shutter release button (surrounded by the zoom toggle switch) and mode dial form a triangle that dominates the right side of the camera’s top deck. On the front of the camera, just below the shutter button, at the top of the handgrip (exactly where the second finger of your right hand rests naturally) is a control wheel which can be used to change various settings like aperture or shutter speed, or to quickly scroll through the menu.
Samsung gets my all-time usability grand prize for this control array which allows TL500 users to manage power on/off, mode selection, zooming, change settings, menu navigation and image capture with the thumb, forefinger, and second finger of the right hand – without letting go of the camera. The Samsung TL500’s control array is the best I’ve ever seen and I’ve been using and testing digital cameras for almost a dozen years. Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Fuji would be well advised to steal the TL500’s ergonomically perfect control array for their premium point-and-shoots.
Menus and Modes
The Samsung TL500 features a user-friendly, icon driven, five tab menu system. The TL500’s menu system, accessed via a dedicated button above the compass switch, is logical and easy to navigate. I have praised the TL500’s usability up to this point, but what were Samsung’s designers thinking when they buried the exposure compensation function in the very middle of a long list of menu options? The EV function should allow users to easily and quickly lighten or darken images (incrementally) in Program mode.
This single misstep is, in my opinion, the TL500’s greatest fault. Here’s a note to camera designers everywhere – the exposure compensation function should at best have its own dedicated button (or a place on the compass switch) and at worst, be available quickly via the function button.
The Samsung TL500 provides a comprehensive selection of shooting modes including:
- Smart Auto: The camera automatically selects all exposure parameters (except flash on/off) by analyzing the subject in the frame and then selecting the appropriate Scene mode for the subject and conditions.
- Program: Auto exposure with limited user input (sensitivity, white balance, exposure compensation, etc.).
- Aperture priority: Users select the aperture and the camera selects a shutter speed appropriate to existing conditions.
- Shutter priority: Users select shutter speed and the camera selects an aperture appropriate to existing conditions.
- Manual: Users select all exposure parameters.
- Dual IS: For low light shooting or shooting action in poor light. Standard IS is employed and the camera automatically boosts sensitivity and shutter speed to further limit blurring.
- Scene: Close-up, Landscape, Children, Portrait, Night, Beauty Shot, Snow/Beach, Fireworks, Backlight, Dawn, Sunset, and Text
- Movie: The TL500 records VGA video at a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 at 30 fps.
Like most current P&S digicams the TL500 doesn’t provide an optical viewfinder, but there is an optional OVF (that mounts in the hot shoe) available. Users must rely instead on the 3.0-inch (614,000 pixels) tilt-swivel camcorder style AMOLED LCD screen for all framing/composition, captured image review and menu navigation chores. Most modern shooters rarely use optical viewfinders with point-and-shoots (if present) and in many shooting scenarios, it is actually quicker and easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen than it is through an optical viewfinder.
The TL500’s LCD screen can be rotated up to 270 degrees. This allows users to sneakily frame subjects, get closer and manage the plane of focus more accurately in macro mode, shoot verticals above the heads of the crowd, and turn the LCD inward against the back of the camera to protect it (when not in use) from smudges and scratches.
The TL500’s LCD screen is bright, hue accurate, fluid (smooth – not jerky), automatically boosts gain in dim/low light, and covers approximately 100% of the image frame. The TL500’s LCD screen, like all LCD monitors, is subject to fading and glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting, but I can’t address that issue with regard to the TL500 since we haven’t had much in the way of bright outdoor lighting here in the Bluegrass State for almost a month. I’ll have to rely instead on the peak brightness and contrast ratio ratings from the DCR test lab.
The DCR test lab objectively measures LCD peak brightness and contrast ratios to assist our readers in making more informed buying decisions. A decent LCD contrast ratio should fall somewhere between 500:1 and 800:1. That would be bright enough to use the LCD for framing and composition in outdoor lighting, and it would provide a better sense of color and contrast. The TL500 weighs in on the very high end of that scale at 2430:1 – for comparison purposes, a couple of Canon’s entry level point-and-shoot models score in the mid 400’s. Peak brightness for the TL500 (the panel’s output of an all-white screen at full brightness) is 243 nits and on the dark side, the measurement is 0.10. For reference, anything above 500 nits will be fairly bright outdoors.
The default info display provides all the data this camera’s target audience is likely to want or need, but I do have one minor complaint with the TL500’s LCD. The information display bar at the bottom of the frame is dark-toned and actually blocks a small portion of the frame. That’s bad because the dark area is at the bottom of the frame, which makes it difficult to judge whether or not you’ve left enough room at the base of the image to prevent cutting off something important, like the subject’s feet. The info display can be disabled, so it is not a big deal – unless you want to see the whole frame and still have all the relevant information (shutter speed and aperture) about the image you’re composing.