Samsung NX500 Conclusion

Pro: Cons:
  • Good image quality at low to moderately high ISOs in JPEGs (excellent in RAW)
  • Excellent high ISO performance for an APS-C camera in RAW files
  • Very good dynamic range
  • Very high resolution
  • Very good print quality results, especially at low to mid ISOs
  • Swift autofocus speeds
  • Fast ~8.5 fps full-res continuous mode
  • Generous JPEG buffer depth
  • Fast buffer clearing
  • Decent battery life for its class (though much lower than most DSLRs)
  • Compact, lightweight design -- a great travel camera
  • 4K video recording: both Cinema 4K and Ultra HD
  • Space-saving H.265 video codec
  • Built-in Wi-Fi & NFC
  • Good build quality
  • Improved ergonomics and dual control dials
  • Good for beginners and enthusiasts alike
  • Heavy-handed high ISO noise reduction
  • Little difference between default and lowest NR setting at ISO 3200 and below
  • Noticeably reduced saturation at high ISOs
  • Image quality drops when shooting high-speed continuous mode
  • Shallow buffer when shooting RAW files
  • Struggles to focus in low light
  • No OLPF means sharper images, but also more susceptible to aliasing artifacts when used with a sharp lens
  • No built-in flash (but small external flash is included)
  • No option for EVF
  • 4K Video is cropped with narrower FOV
  • H.265 video codec needs conversion to H.264 for compatibility with most devices
  • No microphone jack

The Samsung NX500 packs a lot of punch for a lightweight, travel-friendly mirrorless camera. Coming as an update to the earlier NX300, the NX500 is more of a complete overhaul rather than merely an incremental update to their mid-level compact system camera. In fact, under the hood, the NX500 includes many of the same hardware and software features as the beefy, flagship NX1.

Indeed, the NX500 shares the same backside-illuminated 28.2-megapixel APS-C sensor as the NX1 as well as a similar DRIMe Vs image processor, which together give the NX500 some impressive specs, including very crisp, high-resolution images, a very high 51,200 maximum ISO sensitivity and 4K video recording.

In both our real-world shooting experience and lab testing, the NX500's image quality is very good, especially with low to medium ISOs. Details are crisp and sharp, colors are pleasing and the dynamic range is very good. High ISO performance is generally good as well, particularly up to around ISO 1600, with a good balance of detail and noise reduction with in-camera, default NR processing for JPEGs. At around ISO 6400 and higher, though, detail loss is quite noticeable with a lot of blotchiness and smearing from the NR processing. The NX500 does shoot RAW, which, of course, gives you much more control over how much sharpening or noise reduction you can choose to apply in post-processing.

On the speed and performance front, the NX500 is a good performer. Autofocus speeds are nice and quick thanks to the hybrid AF system with on-sensor phase detect pixels. By the numbers, the NX500 tested faster than average for a mirrorless camera, and as for out in the real world, the camera was quick and snappy to acquire focus. And while shot-to-shot time tested about average, it's pleasing and not at all frustrating or sluggish to use.

Seeing as it has a lot of the horsepower of the NX1 under the hood, it's no surprise that the continuous burst shooting on the NX500 was also pretty good. Samsung claims a 9fps rate, and we tested it at about 8.8fps for Large Superfine JPEGs (LSF), and 8.6fps for RAW+JPEGs, which is not far off. Buffer performance was also very good for LSF JPEGs in Continuous Hi mode, with about 38 frames until the buffer filled. However, it chokes up with just 6 frames in RAW or RAW+JPEG, so if you're into capturing fast action scenes with the NX500, turning off RAW is probably a good idea.

Like the NX1, the NX500 shoots very nice, highly detailed 4K video, at both Cinema 4K (4096x2160) and Ultra HD (3840x2160) resolutions, at 24p and 30p framerates, respectively. The video quality at 4K from the NX500 is very good, with crisp detail, great colors and nice dynamic range. It also uses the new H.265 video codec, which is not the most compatible format right now, though it saves a lot of space on the memory card. Unlike the NX1, however, the NX500 records 4K only to a maximum of 15 minutes in one go and, more importantly perhaps, doesn't use the full size of the sensor and instead crops in. This 4K crop is quite noticeable -- about a 1.6-1.7x crop with Ultra HD -- which really narrows the field of view, and particularly makes wide-angle lenses much less "wide."

The build quality of the little Samsung NX500 is quite nice with a very solid feel, nice brushed aluminum top plate and nicely-textured leather-like grip surrounding the majority of the camera body. The handgrip has a slightly more contoured top surface, which improved the comfort and finger placement over the shutter release button. The rest of the buttons and controls are easy to use, and the re-introduction of dual control dials on the top and rear is a very nice improvement over the previous model iteration.

The new 180-degree tilting screen is nice for shooting at variable high and low angles, and yes, for capturing "selfies." The NX500 can be set to automatically enter into "selfie-mode" when you flip the screen fully vertical, which includes automatic shutter release modes like smile detection and wink detection options. These modes worked surprisingly well, though we can't help but think they're a little on the gimmicky side.

The camera features a hot shoe, and without a built-in flash, Samsung has thoughtfully included a small hot-shoe-mounted flash in the bundle. The flash tested on the weak side with narrow coverage, but it's better than nothing, that's for sure. One glaring omission in our view when it comes to the hot shoe is the option for an electronic viewfinder. Back with the original NX100, Samsung produced an add-on EVF, but subsequent models sadly did away with this little accessory. From a consumer standpoint, many of which are used to smartphones and other small point-and-shoot cameras, a viewfinder is likely not a critical or much-used feature. However, for the enthusiast crowd, it would be a nice addition to the camera, especially when using longer and often heavier lenses.

And speaking of lenses, the included 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 Power Zoom ED OIS lens is, on one hand, a small, compact and lightweight piece of kit with pretty nice optical performance if, on the other hand, you get a good copy. In our NX3000 review, we also received this lens as part of the kit, and it tested quite well for a kit lens with good sharpness, low distortion and only moderate CA. However, the 16-50mm PZ lens that came with our NX500 seemed to perform less well.

The Power Zoom feature of the lens is nice for video recording and features built-in zoom buttons on the side of the lens, which provide a controlled, smooth zooming action. Given the electronic nature of the zooming function, the manual zoom ring is electronically controlled as well. The feel of the zoom ring can be a little imprecise with the force of rotation not directly translating to the speed of zooming as you might expect from a typical zoom lens.

All in all, though, the Samsung NX500 is a fun, great little camera. The image quality and video quality are both very good, and the compact size and solid build quality make it an excellent travel companion. Speed and performance are also quite good, with snappy AF in all but dim lighting and good continuous burst rates and a deep buffer with JPEGs. The Samsung NX500 overall shapes up to be not only a great mid-level camera for those stepping beyond the smartphone, but also a great camera for enthusiasts, including those looking for a lightweight companion to their NX1 or other larger system camera.

Overall, the Samsung NX500's impressive feature set, improved stylish design, high image and video quality, and solid performance make it an easy Dave's Pick.

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