Samsung has been in the news for its smartphones and tablets more than it has for its digital cameras lately. That's too bad since Samsung digicams often come with more features and slightly better specifications than some of the competition (especially Panasonic) at the same price point. Samsung came late to the digital imaging revolution and its first generation digicams left something to be desired. Their second generation digital cameras, like Rodney Dangerfield, were looking for respect, and they found it.
Samsung's newest digicam, the TL500 (EX1 in Europe), is a case in point - the TL500 is a premium point-and-shoot aimed squarely at photo enthusiasts. Sony digicams feature lenses from legendary optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss and Pansonic digicams feature lenses from Germany's leading camera maker Leica; the TL500's first-rate 3x zoom is from Zeiss and Leica competitor Schneider-Kreuznach. Unlike similar models from Panasonic, Sony, Canon and Nikon, the TL500's (24-72mm equivalent) Schneider Varioplan zoom's maximum aperture is f/1.8, which makes it almost a full f-stop faster than most of its competition.
The very compact TL500 features an attractively understated design and its robustly constructed all-metal body feels solid and stable in your hands. Nuts and bolts features include a 3.0-inch camcorder style tilt-swivel AMOLED screen, Dual IS, RAW format (in addition to jpeg) image files, and a 1/1.7-inch CCD image sensor driven by Samsung's DRIMe III image processor.
The TL500, unlike the auto-everything, point-and-shoot and ultra compact digital cameras currently flooding the market, permits lots of individual input into the image making process via an enhanced feature set, plenty of creative flexibility, and full manual control of exposure. The only quibble I have so far is the TL500's VGA (640x480) movie mode. Premium compact digicams are expected to offer a full complement of cutting edge features and all of Samsung's competitors offer HD (720p) movie modes.
The megapixel wars have finally arrived at the point of diminishing returns - crowding more pixels onto tiny sensors dependably results in higher levels of image degrading noise. Point-and-shoot cameras with 12 or 14 megapixel resolution don't actually produce better pictures than digicams with lower resolution - they just generate larger and noisier image files. The TL500 features 10-megapixel resolution, which indicates Samsung is committed to improving performance at higher (ISO) sensitivity - for better low light and indoor pictures.
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. The Fn (function) button provides direct access to white balance, image size, metering options, AF options, OIS, etc. The TL500's compass switch (4-way controller) provides direct access to flash settings, macro mode, Sensitivity (ISO), and the screen 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.
There is a lot to like here - natural light enthusiasts will love the TL500's super fast f/1.8 zoom lens. Demanding shooters will love the TL500's full manual control of exposure and RAW mode. But the TL500's strongest appeal may be to straight-shooters (documentary photographers, street/candid shooters, and environmental portraitists) because it is almost perfect for reactive photography. This elegant little Samsung seems very fast, it is unintimidating to subjects, unobtrusive (in professional black), and capable of generating first rate images.
I've only had the TL500 for a short time, but so far I like it a lot. Check back soon for our full review of the Samsung TL500.