The TL500 is a first rate general purpose point-and-shoot that will dependably produce excellent quality images not only for photography enthusiasts, but also for travelers, casual shooters, and straight-shooters.
Timing is one of the most important considerations when assessing digital camera performance. The TL500's DCR lab-measured times are at or near the top of its class in shutter lag (0.01) and AF acquisition (0.43), but it is much slower (1.5 fps) than most of its competition in continuous shooting mode. Interestingly, the TL500 beats the Canon G12 in every timing category except continuous shooting.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5||0.01|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55||0.01|
|Canon PowerShot G12||0.04|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55||0.28|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5||0.40|
|Canon PowerShot G12||0.50|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5||3||3.3 fps
|Canon PowerShot G12||∞||2.1 fps
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55||4||1.9 fps
|Samsung TL500||∞||1.5 fps
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Auto exposure in Smart Auto and Program modes is consistently and dependably accurate and impressively quick. The TL500 dependably chooses the appropriate shutter speed in aperture priority mode and the appropriate aperture in shutter speed priority mode. In manual mode, exposure accuracy is dependent on the skill and experience of the shooter.
The TL500 features a TTL Contrast Detection AF system with Center AF, Multi AF, Selection AF, Tracking AF, Face Detection AF and Smart Face Recognition AF modes. The TL500's AF system analyzes the scene in front of the lens and then calculates camera-to-subject distance to determine which AF point (in multi AF mode) is closest to the primary subject and then locks focus on that AF point. Press the shutter button halfway and the AF marks will turn green (if focus is achieved) or red if the AF system can't achieve focus.
The TL500's's Center AF option is super for portraits and traditional landscapes, but it is even better for street shooting since straight shooters don't want the camera selecting which face in the crowd to focus on. AF is consistently quick and dependably accurate.
Push the TL500's flash release slider switch and the pop-up flash deploys with a satisfyingly solid thump - there is also a standard hot shoe for mounting external flash units like Samsung's SEF 20A. The TL500's small multi mode pop-up flash provides an acceptable selection of artificial lighting options, including Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill flash, Slow sync, Red-eye fix, and Manual - plus (+/- 2EV) flash exposure compensation. According to Samsung, the maximum flash range is about 20 feet at Auto ISO, which seems a bit optimistic given the small size of the unit. Based on my very limited flash use, the TL500's flash recycle time is about 5 seconds.
The TL500's sensor shift image stabilization system reduces blur by rapidly and precisely shifting the 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor to compensate for minor camera movement. Image stabilization allows users to shoot at shutter speeds up to three f-stops slower than would have been possible otherwise. Image stabilization is also helpful when shooting in dimly lit indoor venues where flash is inappropriate or where flash use would be obvious when viewing the image.
Check out the image below which was shot in the work room of an old friend's leather shop. Room lighting was from a single cool white fluorescent tube. My friend's hands are a little blurred, but the rest of him is pretty sharp. This image would have been impossible (without flash) using a digicam with an f/2.8 maximum aperture, but the TL500's f/1.8 maximum aperture allowed almost twice as much light to reach the sensor. Interestingly, this image also showcases the efficacy of the TL500's auto white balance mode which rendered colors fairly accurately even under the "greenish" cool white fluorescent lighting.
Samsung's Dual IS mode combines the TL500's standard mechanical sensor-shift with higher sensitivity and faster shutter speeds to insure sharper images. Does Dual IS really work, and should it have a dedicated spot on the mode dial? With this camera the answer is yes to both questions. Check out the images below - they were shot in a friend's dimly lit living room. The blurry picture was shot with the TL500 in Program mode (auto WB/Auto ISO) with standard Image Stabilization. Here's the exposure data - ISO 80 at 7/10ths of a second. The sharper picture was shot with the TL500 in Dual IS mode. Here's the exposure data - ISO 800 at 1/15th of a second. Interestingly the sharper image also shows the efficacy of the TL500's noise management system - this picture looks more like an ISO 400 image than an ISO 800 image.
According to Samsung, the TL500 is good for about 240 exposures (without flash) or 100 minutes of video on a freshly charged SLB-07A rechargeable lithium-ion battery. That's fewer exposures than average for cameras of this type. The battery is charged inside the camera - an external AC charger isn't included, but Samsung offers external chargers as optional accessories.
The battery can be charged via a powered USB port on your computer or with the included AC charging cable. The Samsung TL500 supports SD/SDHC memory media and provides 1GB of built-in image storage.
On the right side of the TL500 is a small locking (metal) door with two I/O ports. The top port is the HDMI connection for hooking the camera up to an HDTV. The second port is the USB connection for downloading images and video to your computer, direct printing when plugged into a compatible printer, standard video output via the optional A/V cables, and charging the battery.
The Samsung TL500 is built around its very fast f/1.8-2.4, 5.6-15.6mm (24-72mm equivalent) Schneider-Kreuznach Varioplan zoom lens. Most point-and-shoots offer zooms with maximum apertures of f/2.8 or slower. The TL500's f/1.8 maximum aperture lets in almost twice as much light as an f/2.8 maximum aperture, which allows faster shutter speeds (in dim light) without boosting sensitivity and shallower depth of field for less distracting backgrounds.
When the TL500 is powered up, the zoom extends from the camera body automatically, once you remove the included pinch-clip lens cap. When the camera is powered down, the lens retracts into the camera body. A word of caution for TL500 purchasers - I kept misplacing that tiny lens cap.
Zooming is smooth and relatively quiet. Minimum focusing distance (in macro mode) is just shy of two inches (5 centimeters). The TL500 needs about 2 seconds to move the zoom lens from wide angle to telephoto.
The TL500's Schneider zoom is amazingly good even though it displays some very minor corner softness, but there's no vignetting (dark corners) at the wide angle end of the lens. Barrel distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center of the frame) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range is essentially absent, which is very impressive optical design and engineering. Check out the bricks in the mural below, shot at the wide-angle end of the zoom - no barrel distortion is visible. Pincushion distortion (straight lines bow outward from the center of the frame) is absent at the telephoto end of the zoom.
Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is remarkably well controlled - essentially absent at both ends of the zoom range. The textured ring surrounding the zoom can be unscrewed to reveal threads for attaching optional conversion lenses - Samsung currently offers only one conversion lens - the LWCEX01 wide conversion lens which takes the TL500 into ultra-wide range.
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