The largest electronics company in the world brings us a camera with a lens from one of the oldest lens makers in the world.
Samsung WB500: Specification
- Zoom: 10x optical
- Resolution: 10.2Mp
- Sensor size: 1/2.33in
- Sensor type: CCD
- Max. image size: 3648x2736
- File type: JPEG
- Sensitivity: ISO80-1600
- Storage: Internal, SD, SDHC
- Focus types: Centre, multi, selection, manual, face detection
- Normal focusing: 50cm-infinity
- Close focusing: 5cm-50cm
- Metering types: Multi, spot, centre-weighted, face detection
- Exposure compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments
- Shutter speed: 16sec-1/1500sec
- Flash: Built-in, Wide: 0.3-4.7m, Tele: 0.5-2.7m (ISO auto)
- Monitor: 2.7in TFT LCD screen
- Interface: USB 2.0
- Power: Li-Ion battery
- Size: 105x61.4x36.5mm
- Weight: 219g (excl. battery and card)
For £197, you get a 10Mp sensor, 10x optical zoom, 2.7in LCD screen and the backing of the largest electronics company in the world. For £2 more, the Canon Powershot A2100 offers a higher 12.1Mp sensor, only a 6x optical zoom, a 3in LCD screen and takes AA batteries.
Alternatively, the Olympus Mju 7000 is £209 and has the same resolution as the Canon, a 7x optical zoom and 3in LCD screen. The Samsung also offers the widest field of view at 24mm.
Samsung WB500: Features
The lens pops out quite far thanks to the large zoom.
There are a few cameras out there that have massive zoom barrels on and for the most part they look good. The Samsung WB500 doesn't fall outside this area as I think it suits the camera's shape more. It's worth noting that with a 10x optical zoom built in to a relatively small body, the lens will need to be bigger. Some companies have the lens poking out more while some think up innovative ways of packing it into a barrel that sits flush. These types of lenses generally tend to sit at around 5x optical.
The lens is made by Schneider who have been providing lenses for anything from medium format to cinematic cameras since 1913. The Varioplan lens is a higher grade than Kreuznach. I've seen reviews that specify the lens as HD but Samsung have confirmed to ePHOTOzine that while HD lenses are usually found on digital camcorders, the lenses on digital cameras are better.
It has a wide angle of 24mm in 35mm terms which means it can telescope out to 240mm. A tripod will be likely at this top end but it sort of defeats the object of a pocket camera if you need to take a massive Manfrotto job strapped to your back. Luckily smaller tripods are available that sit on a table top or wall and are small enough to slide into a camera pouch.
A relatively small 10Mp resolution
compared to other cameras available sits inside but a small 1/2.33in sensor has been used and the higher resolution cameras tend to suffer noise so this could be Samsung's way of showing them jumping out of a pixel race.
On the outside, it's pretty big for a compact but then at the same time, it's not oversized. We've been bombarded so much with tiny cameras recently, it's refreshing to see a camera that doesn't mind being that bit different.
The top plate houses a command dial, shutter release and power button with the zoom rocker wrapped around the shutter release for easier use. On the back is a small switch that Samsung call the Command lever. It's a dedicated rocker switch that can be reset to command different features such as white balance, ISO and exposure compensation. Below that is a function button and the navigation pad for moving around the menu. This also doubles as access to features such as flash, self timer, macro and display options.
At the bottom are two buttons for playback and special effects such as vivid, soft, forest, retro, cool, calm and classic. These are the same effects as found on the ultra-cool Samsung NV-9
but with some expanded options.
In Normal, you can expand your options and choose colour tones such as red, green and blue or add sharpness, contrast and saturation.
There are a few innovations on the WB500 such as the Smart Album and Frame guide. The Smart Album is designed to help you find the photographs you want quickly and easily and is banded into four individual segments including time, colour, content or theme.
One of the features I think interesting is the frame guide. On the surface I thought it was a tool for compositing an image of yourself over a previously taken background. In actual fact, it's used as a template and the idea is to take a picture of the background that you want which then stays on the screen, but the camera drops the opacity so it's semi-transparent.
You then give the camera to a friend or partner to take a picture of you and they align the background to the level you want so you can do all those quirky “leaning against the Tower of Pisa” shots when you're holidaying alone. It means that if you want a certain amount of ground or sky in the shot then you'll get it. Of course you can't compensate for if you crop your own head off because you don't know how tall you are in the frame.
The Samsung WB500 has high definition recording although this is at the 720p so isn't full HD but still has enough detail to be regarded as HD. Samsung have developed a method of compression for video which means the higher quality of HD can be compacted down and they say it doubles the efficiency of the camera.
Samsung have integrated two types of image stabilisation into the camera to ensure sharp images. Optical image stabilisation and digital image stabilisation which uses complex algorithms to ensure a sharp image work in conjunction with each other so if one fails, the other can back it up.
Samsung WB500: Build and handling
There's a degree of weight to the camera which could put some people off but I think those same people will also have issues with the larger lens barrel. Schneider have been making lenses for around 90 years and also provide glass for Kodak.
I like the curve of the front allowing fingers to get purchase for single handed shooting and while there's space for a thumb rest, some of it is taken up by the function rocker switch. Buttons are firm and positive and although the command dial is a little small indenting into the body making it harder to turn, it's not resistant.
Saints alive! The tripod bush is metal!
One area I always pick cameras up on, especially large zoom cameras such as this one, is the tripod bush. With a large zoom, you're going to use the tripod quite a lot and some cameras in the past have been fitted with plastic bushes meaning they won't have as long a life span.
I'm happy to report that the Samsung WB500 has a metal tripod bush which means a longer lasting camera that won't need new parts fitting.
Samsung WB500: Performance
Shutter lag is relatively slow compared to other compact cameras of this classification. It sits at around 0.15sec which is roughly double the 0.08sec found on other cameras.
The Samsung WB500 has two burst modes, one for continuous shooting which will keep taking pictures until you run out of card space and a hi-speed which performs a short burst of images before having to download from the buffer to the memory card. In continuous mode it only managed a meagre total of six which translates to around 0.6fps (frames per second). In the hi-speed mode, the camera took 16 high resolution images in ten seconds. There's no apparent reasoning from Samsung to include both options other than the hi-speed version won't work in manual mode or if the shutter speed is lower than 1/4sec.
Looking at the colour test chart, the usual boosts to primary colours have been applied by the processor with blue bursting out of the image making orange look comparably pale.
Red and yellow look nice and bright though and I like the colour of the skin tone tile. Earth brown and forest green are rich while the mono tones are balanced. I like the fact that it's brought some colour out in the pastel tiles down the left side of brown, orange and blue.
Lovely colour rendition with bright primaries and good mono tones makes for a successful result.
No Chromatic Aberration is present on the white bars and only a mild amount on the leaves which is excellent.
I also noticed that on the writing seen on the colour test chart, there's no chromatic aberration so I looked for it on the landscape image. Usually, the contrast between the white bars and the dark of the lock will throw up some inconsistency, but this camera has none.
Instead, I looked at the leaves in the top left corner to see if there was any and it is noticeable mildly but the control is very good.
Focusing had issues if I got too close but I'm sure I was closer than 5cm here.
I took a close up shot of the vintage camera to get the detail and see how the Samsung manages with close focusing. The specification lists the camera as having a minimum focusing of 5cm but I think I managed to get closer. Not by much but definitely closer.
The problem is that I could close in and get focus, so I'd then move the camera in a millimetre closer and get focus. If I went too far and lost focus, I'd move the camera back to its previous position but it still wouldn't catch focus even though it had done before. It's unusual but not alien to me as I've seen it on other cameras too. Normally, macro work wouldn't really use a wide angle lens but I like the effect it's given the camera and there's no way of measuring the focal length on the camera.
I took three photographs of the tasty bananas using the normal shooting mode, vivid and cool modes in the effects menu found when pressing the button marked 'E'. There's a definite difference in colour saturation between the three and if I was to use these options, it wouldn't be on bananas as I don't think it helps them. For the purposes of the review, it illustrates the effect nicely, though.
Colour effects taken in Normal setting.
The same image taken in Vivid setting.
And again in Cool setting which desaturates mildly.
Portrait mode gives a good image with balanced skin tones and detail in the hair and shadow areas.
In contrast, the flash is bright and too harsh. It highlights well but leaves a reflection on the forehead.
I really like the portrait without the flash, I don't think it's too dark and there's a bunch of detail in the hair. The skin tone is spot on and there's detail in shadow areas. In stark contrast, the flash portrait is way too bright, adding reflection to the forehead and taking any warmth out of the skin. The shadow created on the wall isn't too harsh which is good and there's nice catchlights in the eyes.
Samsung WB500: Noise test
A wide 24mm lens gets lots of information into the image.
While the 10x zoom can pick out certain subjects.
The noise results are a bit disappointing but I think it's worth noting the market that the camera is aimed at. The 10Mp on a sensor of this size should be controlled better than it has been which suggests that a tweak in the software is necessary but it's not overly unpleasant at the lower ISO settings.
From ISO400 and above is where the problems begin with noise becoming more aggressive with each step. Detail in the petal starts to peter out at ISO400 and ISO1600 has purple blotches appearing sporadically. In a bid to reduce noise, the resolution is dropped for ISO3200 but bright blue spots still invade the image which look nasty. Still if you're on a night out, they'll probably not be out of place with all the lights in a club.
Samsung WB500: Verdict
The ISO80 test.
The ISO3200 test.
Despite its obvious flaws, in the right conditions this camera gives some seriously good images. They're sharp, well exposed and have a good colour rendition. What lets it down is the noise which is present at all levels but becomes a problem at mid to high settings which is no good for low light photography. There's also the slow response of the continuous shutter which means this camera is no good for fast moving objects in the dark.
If you're in the market for a compact that has a decent resolution, good zoom and above all gives excellent image quality, then get this camera. Just don't go to a night time rally.
Samsung WB500: Plus points
No colour fringing
Samsung WB500: Minus points
Noise at all stages
Slow continuous shutter
Focusing can be problematic at close up
The Samsung WB500 costs around £197 and is available from Warehouse Express here: