Introduction and features
The Samsung NX1 that the NX500 is based on has the type of feature set that is designed to grab the attention of enthusiast photographers. For a start, its APS-C format CMOS sensor is backside-illuminated (BSI), which means that the photo receptors (pixels) can be made larger to improve their light gathering potential. What's more, the sensor has 28.2 million effective pixels, giving the NX1 the highest resolution of any APS-C format camera currently available.
Add to this the fact that there's a hybrid autofocus (AF) system with 205 phase detection points (153 cross type) and 209 contrast detection points, 4K video recording and a maximum continuous shooting rate of 15fps (frames per second) and you start to see what all the fuss is about.
Now Samsung has taken many of the most important aspects of the NX1 and put them in a smaller, more affordable NX500 – which replaces the NX300.
Significantly, the NX500 has the same 28.2Mp APS-C format BSI sensor as the NX1, along with a slightly pared back version of the DRIMe V processing engine. This engine enables a maximum continuous shooting rate of 9fps for 40 JPEGs or 5 raw files (when a UHS-1 SD card is installed) before the rate slows. While this is slower than the NX1, it's still quite a lick and faster than most CSCs or DSLRs can manage at full resolution and with continuous autofocusing. Exposure is set at the start of the sequence, but that is unlikely to be an issue in most instances.
Sensitivity may be set in the native range ISO 100-25,600 with an expansion setting of ISO 51,200 for stills. This drops to ISO 100-6400 for video.
There's also the same hybrid AF system as is found in the NX1. And, as in the NX1, this combines with the processing engine to enable the inclusion of Samsung Auto Shot (SAS) mode with its rather unusual Baseball and Jump Shot mode, along with a new Trap Shot mode.
Baseball mode is designed to take a shot at the moment the ball hits the bat in a baseball game and in Jump Shot mode the camera takes a photograph when the subject is at the top of a jump. In Trap Shot mode the camera takes a photo when it detects the subject is moving in the direction of the on-screen arrow and it reaches a set point. As it requires the subject to move in a particular direction, it could be of rather limited use for shooting wildlife, but it could work well for running races and the like.
One key difference between the NX1 and the NX500 is that the NX500 doesn't have a viewfinder. However, the 3-inch, 1,036,000-dot Super AMOLED touch-sensitive screen on the back of the camera is the same. Again, this is mounted on a tilting bracket to make it easier to view from high or low angles when shooting landscape format images. It can be tipped right up to allow viewing from in front when shooting selfies.
Taking another leaf from the NX1's book, the NX500 can record Full HD (1920x1080), UHD (3840x2160) or 4K (4096x2160) video in MP4 format with HEVC compression. AVI format with MJPEG compression is used when recording VGA footage. The maximum bit rate for 4K recording is 36Mbps (at 24p), but 40Mbps is possible with UHD (at 30 or 25p) footage. Samsung claims that its HEVC codec enables high image quality despite these conservative bit rates.
Full HD footage can be recorded at 60, 50, 25 or 24p. Helpfully, it's possible to speed up or slow down the responsiveness of the AF system when shooting videos.
It's worth noting that there's a focal length conversion factor of around 1.68x (on top of the usual 1.5x caused by the APS-C format sensor) when shooting 4K video because the camera crops in to use 1:1 pixel recording rather than downsizing. While this means that composition changes if you switch from shooting stills to shooting 4K video, it should ensure higher quality movies than down-sampling.
This will change the effective focal length of your lenses. For stills photography the 16-50mm kit lens, for example, will have an effective focal length of 24-75mm, but if you switch to 4K video this becomes 40-126mm.
Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth
Like most modern compact system cameras, the NX500 has Wi-Fi connectivity built-in, and as is becoming increasingly common there's NFC (near field communication), but it's also got Bluetooth connectivity that works with Android smart devices (not iOS). The advantage of using Bluetooth to connect to a smartphone is that there's less drain on the battery and after it has connected once, it will do it again automatically.
Build and handling
Rather than having the SLR-like design of the NX1, the NX500 has the more rectangular shape of the NX300 and other entry-level/mid-range compact system cameras. Its metal body feels pretty solid, although there's a faint clicking or creaking sound when you hold the grip tightly, suggesting that there's a little bit of flex. Unlike the NX1, the NX500 isn't weatherproofed.
The front grip has a more defined edge than the NX300's, which makes it more effective in your hand. Meanwhile on the back of the camera is a small but well-designed thumb-ridge which allows you to get a good grip.
Dials and buttons
Exposure mode can be selected quickly using the knurled metal dial on the far right of the top-plate. This dial doesn't have a lock, but it isn't knocked out of position very easily.
According to Samsung, the dial and button placement on the NX500 was in part determined by monitoring the brain responses of a collection of willing volunteers that the company wired up to find the most favourable location. Whether or not these people were photographers is unclear, but for the most part the NX500's button arrangement is pretty good.
However, like the Sony Alpha 7 II, the video activation button is in a rather awkward position on the top corner of the thumb-ridge on the back of the camera. This means that if you're hand-holding the camera your grip has to be adjusted to press the button and it could result in a bit of wobbling at the start and end of footage.
I also found the exposure compensation button rather awkward to use in the default set-up. This is on the back of the camera and it needs to be pressed down while rotating one of the command dials to adjust exposure. Thankfully it's possible to customise the use of this button as well as the AEL (auto exposure lock) and the two command dials. I elected to set one of command dials to adjust exposure compensation directly when shooting in aperture and shutter priority mode.
Kit lens and iFn control
Samsung sells the NX500 with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 Power Zoom ED OIS lens, and there's no body only option (in the UK at least). This lens is a neat fit on the camera and it complements the size and style well. It's also an i-Function optic, which means that there's a button on the side of the barrel that can be used to control some camera features.
There are two options for using this button, iFn Standard or iFn Plus. In iFn Plus mode, pressing the iFn button changes the purpose of the exposure compensation and AEL button. It gives a quick means of adjusting two customisable features, but the 12 options available aren't features I tend to change that often so I prefer to use the Standard option. In this mode, pressing the button turns the manual focus ring into a control dial capable of adjusting one of four features; aperture, sensitivity, exposure compensation and white balance. Repeated pressings of the button toggles through the options while turning the lens ring adjusts the setting.
There's also an Fn (Function) button on the camera body which brings up a maximum of 12 features for adjustment on the screen. Although several of the features have dedicated controls, I found this another convenient way of changing white balance, Picture Wizard (JPEG image style) and focus mode. It would be nice if this menu could be customised, so you have access to the features that you use most.
The NX500 doesn't have a viewfinder, so images must be composed on the AMOLED screen on the back of the camera. This is an excellent unit and when viewed straight-on it's possible to see the scene even in quite bright light (when the screen's brightness is boosted). The level of detail and clarity is impressive and it makes you want to take pictures because they look so good on-screen. However, in bright light it's much less clear when viewed from a slight angle and reflections become very problematic.
Fingerprints don't help with the screen image's visibility, so it's worth carrying a cloth to give it a wipe occasionally because the touch-control is excellent – it's very responsive and well implemented. When reviewing images a quick swipe of the screen scrolls to the next shot and a double tap zooms in. The main and function menus can also be navigated and features selected and adjusted by tapping or swiping the screen.
The menu is also very clear and generally well laid out, and most of the terms used are straightforward and not overly complex. A few, however, may have you checking the downloadable manual for an explanation. Framing Mode, for instance, rather than being an option to apply frames to your image or a method of adjusting aspect ratio, actually controls whether the screen displays the impact of exposure compensation adjustments or not.
An oddity that's familiar from the NX1 is that Tracking AF mode is set via Touch AF options (along with Touch AF, AF point and One touch shot) in the main menu or via the screen icon. It's not listed amongst the AF options accessible by pressing the AF button or the Function menu.
Another disappointment is that the camera's level display was quite badly inaccurate straight out of the box and needed to be calibrated to avoid sloping horizons. I've consulted another reviewer about this and they had exactly the same problem. Happily the calibration process is very simple, but you would expect it to be set correctly in the factory.
Like the NX1, which shares the same sensor, the NX500 is capable of resolving a high level of detail. However, with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens in place the extra 4 million effective pixels that it has over the Sony Alpha 6000 (with its comparable kit lens) don't bring it a huge advantage in this respect. Our lab tests indicate that when the kit lenses are used these two cameras capture a similar level of detail up to ISO 800, but by ISO 1600 the NX500's detail resolution drops below that of the Sony Alpha 6000's.
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Click here for a full size version.
For most of their sensitivity range the two camera's images are a reasonably good match (bearing in mind the slight size difference) at 100%, but at ISO 6,400 and above (the A6000 tops out at 12,800), the Samsung camera's images look a little coarser.
Nevertheless, even at ISO 25,600 the NX500 is capable of achieving a very respectable respectable score in our resolution tests, though the level of noise reduction applied to JPEG images shot at the uppermost sensitivity value (ISO 51,200) limits detail visibility at 100% on screen – the raw files fare rather better.
While Samsung's noise reduction regime can look a little aggressive when examining JPEGs at 100% on screen, it's worth remembering just how big the NX500's images are and how far off from normal viewing sizes 100% is. At 300ppi, for instance, the 28Mp images make prints that measure 54.86 x 36.58cm or 21.6 x 14.4 inches.
Though it's worth keeping an eye on the histogram view and/or using the overexposure guide, I found the NX500's 221-zone metering system generally does a good job in its Multi mode. Occasionally it's also helpful to use the Exposure/Focus Separation option. When this is activated, touching the screen once sets the location of the AF point and puts a small right-angle icon next to it. When this icon is dragged the exposure metering point is separated from the AF point. This is useful, for example, if you want to focus on a very bright part of the scene and you want to set the exposure for a mid-tone area.
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Click here for a full size version.
Wizards and white balance
The NX500 has a collection of Picture Wizards which determine the processing that's applied to JPEG images. Rather oddly, though these can be turned off, there's also an option called 'Standard'. I haven't spent ages investigating it, but the JPEGs captured when the Picture Wizard is turned off and in Standard Picture Wizard mode look pretty similar. Both seem to produce quite natural looking images in a range of conditions. It's fun to experiment with the other options; Classic (monochrome), Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Forest, Retro, Cool and Calm.
I especially like using the three Custom options to create different looks for images. It's possible to adjust the saturation of the red, green and blue channels as well as overall saturation, sharpness, contrast and hue. The beauty of it is that you can record raw files at the same time as the JPEGs, so if you decide that don't like the effect after all you still have a file with all the colour data to work with.
I found that the NX500's automatic white balance system copes pretty well with most natural light situations, but it struggled a couple of times when shooting red flowers in overcast conditions, putting too much blue into the image and making them look purple/pink. Switching to the Daylight setting solved the problem.
Interestingly, the NX500's Cloudy white balance setting produces much more subtly warmer images than many other cameras'. The difference in colour produced when using it and when using the Daylight setting is surprisingly slight. There are few occasions when I find other camera's Cloudy setting useful because the result look excessively warm, but the NX500 is much better in this respect.
Autofocus in action
Like the NX1, the NX500 has an impressive autofocus system that's capable of getting subjects sharp very quickly. With the kit lens mounted, the AF system becomes slower and less decisive in low light, but with the Samsung 50-150mm f/2.8 lens in place it's better. It's not quite up to the standard of the NX1, but still decent.
Unlike some compact system camera's AF systems, the NX500's does a good job of keeping moving subjects sharp, and the Tracking AF system works well – but the shape of the NX500 camera makes it less suited to shooting sport and action. Moving subjects are far easier to follow when you're looking through/at a viewfinder.
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The Samsung Auto Shot (SAS) modes are rather gimmicky, but they can be good fun, especially Jump mode, which seems to be the most reliable. Trap mode appears to have quite a bit of potential, but it needs developing and being a bit more flexible because I found it rather hard to find many situations in which I'd want to use it as it stands. One potential use is to photograph a running race with the shot being taken when the runners cross the finish line. The problem is that because of the limitation in the direction of subject movement and the trigger position, it tends to produce images where the subject is heading out of the frame. In reality, it's generally better to take action shots where the subject is moving from the edge of the frame towards the centre of the image.
Click here for a full size version.
Click here for a full size version.
As you'd expect, it's easy to connect the NX500 to a smartphone, but I found a Wi-Fi connection more stable than Bluetooth when controlling the camera remotely.
I haven't tested the video capability of the NX500 in depth, but it can produce high quality footage. Video enthusiasts are likely to be disappointed by the lack of external microphone and headphone ports, though.
We test cameras for resolution, dynamic range and signal to noise ratio using laboratory test charts, measurements and analysis. We also pick three rival cameras so that you can instantly compare the performance of the test camera against it's closest competitors.
For our Samsung NX500 comparison, we've chosen the Sony A6000, Panasonic GX7 and Olympus E-P5.
The Sony A6000 is Sony's top APS-C format compact system camera, with a 24-megapixel sensor, state-of-the-art autofocus system and a viewfinder built in.
The Panasonic GX7 is Panasonic's top compact-style compact system camera. It has a smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor than the Samsung and lower resolution, but it does have a viewfinder and high-end controls.
The Olympus E-P5 is two years old now, but it's still Olympus's top compact-style compact system camera. It's solidly made with powerful features but, like the NX500, it lacks a viewfinder.
This is carried out in controlled lab conditions using an industry-standard resolution chart. The resolution is measured across the ISO range to test the camera's performance at higher ISOs
The results are displayed as line widths/picture height, today's universal standard for resolution measurement because it's independent of sensor size, image size and megapixels. To put the results into context, a resolution of 3000 line widths/picture height is about as good as it gets for APS-C format cameras like the Samsung NX500.
JPEG resolution analysis: With their 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lenses mounted the Sony A6000 and Samsung NX500 are capable of capturing a similarly high level of detail up to ISO 1600, when the NX500's performance drops sharply. This is the impact of noise and noise reduction obliterating detail.
Raw resolution analysis: The pattern is broadly similar when comparing raw files (converted to TIFFs). This time the NX500's drop off in performance at ISO 1600 is less noticeable, but the Sony A6000 has a clearer advantage throughout the ISO range. The two Micro Four Thirds cameras lag a little way behind in both the JPEG and raw tests, though they still perform well in absolute terms.
Dynamic range is the camera's ability to capture extremes of brightness. You see this on overcast days, when some cameras fail to capture detail across the whole sky and record some areas as a blank white, for example.
We test cameras scientifically using DxO Analyzer hardware and test processes, and here are the results from our four cameras.
Dynamic range test
JPEG dynamic range analysis: At the low to mid-range sensitivity settings the NX500 produces JPEGs with a wide range of tones. Again, its performance dips steeply at ISO 1,600. Its rivals deliver better dynamic range it higher ISOs.
Raw dynamic range analysis: Up to and including ISO 1,600 the NX500 produces raw files (after conversion to TIFF) that have an impressive dynamic range, indicating that images have a wide range of tones and there's good scope for post-capture contrast and brightness adjustment. At higher ISOs than this the dynamic range falls away, but it's the same for its rivals.
Signal to noise ratio
The signal to noise ratio test measures the amount of random noise being produced in the image against the amount of real detail. The higher the figure, the greater the difference – and the less noise you're going to see in your photos. Signal to noise ratio is the scientific way of measuring how noisy images look at different ISO settings.
Signal to noise ratio test
JPEG signal to noise ratio analysis: Having a very high pixel count means that the photo receptors are very small, even on a backside-illuminated sensor, and this makes it harder to control noise than with a lower resolution sensor. Nevertheless, the NX500 puts in a good performance in comparison with the 16MP Panasonic GX7 and Olympus E-P5 and 24MP Sony A6000.
Raw signal to noise ratio analysis: The NX500 produces a strong signal to noise ratio at lower and mid-range sensitivity settings indicating that images are relatively clean, but its performance falls away progressively at higher ISOs. It is, however, almost the best in the group, and a very narrow second to the Olympus E-P5.
At less than half the price, the NX500 offers a considerable saving upon the NX1. That price reduction comes at the cost of the viewfinder, a change in form factor and the loss of the weatherproofing, but you still get the same impressive sensor and a slightly modified processing engine. It also means that you can produce large, superb quality images and have access to some innovative features as well as fairly sensibly arranged user interface.
With the exception of a viewfinder, the NX500 offers a pretty enticing collection of features. There are options and modes that will be attractive to both enthusiast and novice photographers and the autofocus system is very good, especially if you use one of Samsung's faster optics.
When the 16-50mm f/3-5-5.6 kit lens is mounted the NX500 feels very comfortable and secure in your hand, it's also nicely balanced. The controls are generally sensibly arranged, but there is scope to customise their use to make things a little better. Samsung's iFn control is especially useful for making quick settings adjustments on a relatively small camera that is likely to be held above or below head height, putting the buttons and dials on the top and back of the camera out of sight.
While not perfect, the camera's interface is generally very clear and easy to use.
The AMOLED screen on the back of the camera is also excellent and, although it suffers from reflections that limit the viewing angle in direct sunlight, it provides a pretty good view in situations that other screens struggle with.
Samsung has some great ideas about how to make photography easy in some situations, and while they seem a bit gimmicky, they are a step in the right direction for many novices. It would be nice, however, if the Trap mode (and others which may come) could be made more flexible to make them more useful to experienced photographers.
My biggest issue with the NX500 is its lack of a viewfinder. Several other similarly priced (or cheaper) cameras aimed at the same market, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M10, Sony Alpha 6000 and Panasonic GX7, all have viewfinders. The new Canon EOS M3, however, is another notable viewfinderless camera.
As well as providing a clear view of the scene in bright light, a viewfinder makes it easier to concentrate on the image that you're composing and ignore any surrounding distractions. It's also easier to hold a camera steady and follow a moving subject when a camera is held to your eye. Without a viewfinder it's hard to get the full benefit of the NX500's excellent autofocus system.
I've said on several occasions that Samsung needs to sort out an issue with its manual focus assist feature and it's still something that still needs to be resolved with the NX500. Like many compact system cameras, when the NX500 is set to manual focus and manual focus assist mode is activated, the on-screen image is magnified to make it easier to see important details. Unlike other CSCs, however, it's not possible to move the location of the magnified area and it stays locked in the centre of the frame. Naturally, you can use the 'focus and recompose' technique, but this is less than ideal when accurate focus is absolutely critical – for example with macro subjects.
In many respects the NX500 is an excellent camera. It is capable of resolving a lot of detail, keeps noise under control well for most of the native sensitivity range and it has a good range of features including a very competent autofocus system. It's also easy to use and has an excellent touch-screen as well as Samsung's iFn control. The only disappointment is the lack of a viewfinder.