Samsung NX500 mirrorless camera
Get the picture, and get it in a fun way with this great mirrorless camera
Samsung's NX500 mirrorless camera is a rare unit. It possesses an almost impeccable balance of wonderful picture quality that will please experienced photographers, along with a control layout and menu system that will appeal to users making the leap to a more manual-capable camera.
Note: Scroll to the end of the review for sample images.
We find so many things appealing about this camera. The main thing is its crisp and vibrant image quality, but not far behind is the control layout and the menu system. It seems to be a camera that has been designed with ease of use in mind. It doesn't bamboozle you with an over-abundance of controls and settings, but it does still allow you to change everything you want about the exposure and focus.
Want to change the focus point? Easy, just tap anywhere on the touchscreen, or press the OK button on the back and use the directional pad. Want to do some manual focusing? Also easy; just change the focus mode by pressing the AF button on the directional pad, select manual focus, then move the ring on the lens and watch the focus peaking on the screen tell you which aspects of the picture are in focus. Want to change aperture and shutter manually? No problem; place the camera's dial into manual mode, use the index finger and thumb dials to change the values and check the screen for the exposure.
You get a live view of the scene as you change the exposure, which is great for on-the-fly changes, and you can also use the meter to see what the camera itself deems to be the perfect exposure. It really is a camera that brings a lot of joy to the user, because it is not frustrating. After a few days with it, you are not left wondering how something can be done or where a setting is hidden.
What also helps is that it is such a capable camera in terms of overall performance. The focusing is bullet in its quickness and it was accurate virtually all of the time during our test period (unless we were too close for the lens to handle). It uses a hybrid style of focusing that relies on phase detection and contrast.
The sound of the shutter is a resounding snap not unlike that of a digital SLR (it goes up to 1/6000th of a second, which is useful not only for freezing action, but reducing light intake on very bright days), and it's as satisfying as every other aspect of this camera in terms of enjoyment. A well-balanced body with a deep handgrip makes the camera easy to hold, while the vertically hinged screen is a beauty that can be tilted up or down for the times when you want to shoot from the hip or from above your head.
We prefer this type of hinged screen to that of a side-hinged screen, mainly because of the way you can hold the camera steady with two hands without having to balance one hand on the screen.
Furthermore, it's a Super AMOLED-based screen that is as crisp and colourful as we've seen on any camera in recent times. It needs to be, since there is no viewfinder installed on this camera by default. We used it on an overly sunny day and rarely struggled to see what was on the screen. We even went as far as manually focusing -- the shimmer from the focus peaking feature was clearly visible on the focal plane.
At times, the angle from which we were shooting did mean that the sun was overpowering the screen's own brightness, so we had to compromise and shoot from a different angle or use one hand to shade the screen while framing. What we want to relay is that the lack of a viewfinder on this model was not a major disadvantage to us, even while shooting under a lunchtime sun.
We shot in shutter priority most of the time, but also grabbed full control of the camera when we wanted to capture a particular scene with more or less light than the camera judged on its own. It's the type of camera that allows you to make the switch from auto, semi-auto, and manual modes as easy as you like, and this is part of what makes it such a good camera if you are only just starting to learn the ins and outs of manual photography.
At the start, it will be wonderful to use in auto mode, but then when you move to semi-auto (shutter priority, aperture priority) and manual, the AMOLED screen on the back will show you the result of your settings in real time so that you can quickly learn the relationship between them.
In addition to dials for the aperture and shutter values, the ISO speed can be changed with a quickness from the rear button that's clearly labelled 'ISO'. Some graininess starts to creep in at ISO 1600, but the overall picture still looks good up to ISO 3200, especially if you won't be viewing it at its native size.
You can bring up the quick menu by pressing the 'Fn' button on the rear, and this will allow you to set white balance, drive mode, and exposure compensation (+/- 5.0) by tapping on the screen.
Another way you can play with the exposure while in semi-auto or manual modes is by separating the focus point from the metering point. When you tap on the screen to select your focus point, the focus box will appear doubled. Press and hold it, then move your finger, and this will bring out the exposure box, which you can then place elsewhere on the screen.
It's a good feature to use if you want to focus on a particular area of a scene, but want to use the metering value from another part of the scene. It's yet another thing that makes playing around with this camera fun.
With 28 megapixels capturing your images, there is plenty of scope for cropping photos closely. It's the sort of thing that can come in handy when your subject is perhaps a little far away from you and you want to make it more prominent in the scene (such as the bee in our example below). We used the 16-50mm kit lens for our tests, which didn't give us a whole lot of zoom, but it was great for landscapes, portraits, and for shooting things such as plants and static objects.
When we used the 50mm focal length, we gained a pretty looking, circular 'bokeh' blurring effect that made our shots look more interesting than they would have otherwise. This lens has built-in optical image stabilisation, as well as some 'i-Function' buttons. Those buttons simply mean that you can use a different interface for changing settings, by rotating the ring around the lens. On a body such as the NX500, we never thought about using the lens instead of the on-body controls.
You can use the wireless features of this camera, which include a Bluetooth connection and 802.11n, with the latest version of Samsung's Camera Manager app. This requires the installation of a component called Samsung Accessory Services and one other component, which can only be installed after you change security settings on your phone to accept an installation from an 'unknown source'. It's not the best user experience we've seen for getting an app to work, but at least you can use NFC to find the main app in the store.
Is it worth installing it and using the wireless features? We think it is. The Bluetooth features are especially useful as they allow you to create quick and easy connections for the remote viewfinder and remote shutter applications. With these, you can place the camera in an awkward location and still check the framing conveniently on your phone, as well as zoom or change exposure settings and the focal point.
However, you can't use all of the camera's features easily in this way. For example, if you want to do something like set up remote slow motion shooting, you must change the video mode to slow motion first, frame the shot using the remote viewfinder, then exit the remote viewfinder and enter the remote shutter to initiate and end the recording.
Speaking of recording modes that are interesting, there is also 4K video mode, and an interval mode that can be used to create timelapse videos. You might have problems playing the videos back on your computer. We had to use a version of VLC that supports the HEVC codec in order to view the 4K and slow motion videos that we shot.
The last thing you should know about this camera is that you can charge it via a micro-USB port using a phone charger. You could even use a mobile battery charger such as the ones used for charging phones and tablets.
Samsung has done some good things with its NX line up of cameras, starting with the NX10 back in 2010, which we loved. We also love this camera. Its ease of use, image quality, and overall performance, make it one to consider highly if you're after a mirrorless shooter, whether you're an advanced user or an L-plate photographer.
Read more: A simple guide to mirrorless cameras
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