Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Samsung NX500: Unboxing and First Impressions

As I wrote last week, I found the Samsung NX500 to be impressive enough on paper that I ordered one.  Here is the unboxing:

I shot with it briefly today.  I'm still working on a preliminary review but here are my first impressions:

UPDATED 4/8/15  (see italics)

o In size, weight, and build quality, it feels very similar to the Sony a6000.

+ The Samsung 16-50 kit lens has decent sharpness.  Significantly better than the Sony 16-50 kit lens.
+ I like the colors.  Reds are reproduced accurately.  I also like the tonality and contrast.
+ As shown by DPReview samples, the NX500 has very wide latitude for adjustments.
as shot (captured in raw)

after adjustments
Using DPR's new exposure latitude widget, I believe the NX500 has the best shadow recovery (and ISO invariance) of any APS-C sensor thus far

This is the other headline feature of the NX500.
+ On a couple of quick side-by-side tests with the a6000 (with its kit lens), the NX500 was able to maintain focus on the subject more consistently than the a6000.  I will definitely test this more thoroughly.
o + There are only two AF area options: single AF point (can adjust the size) or Multi (all points).  There is no group AF unlike the a6000.  I found there is something like a group AF.  You need to select Multi AF then rotate the dial to shrink the size of the Multi AF, to a box around 1/6th of the screen, which functions somewhat like Group AF.  Fortunately, the Multi AF seems to be able to pick out subjects well.  The lock-on AF also works well.
- Has a harder time with low contrast subjects, compared to the a6000.  Also has a harder time in low light, or backlit subjects.  I think I have a workaround for backlit subjects but am still experimenting with it.

This is my first Samsung camera and my biggest worry was that it would be like an electronic appliance (as in previous generation Sony NEX cameras).  Fortunately, it handles pretty well, although it has its quirks.
+ The number and location of controls and customizable buttons is on par with mid-level cameras.
+ The touch screen helps a lot, not just for focus but for selecting options more quickly.
+ You can specify the minimum shutter speed based on 1/focal length and adjust it from slower to faster (+/- 2).  Alternatively, you can specify a minimum shutter speed.
+ The metering is quite reliable.  It avoids blowing out relevant highlights.  Note: I was using SmartRange+.
+ It has an instant 100% zoom option on playback.
+ For basic operations, the controls are sufficiently intuitive. For intermediate and advanced options, the names and options are indecipherable.  For example, "Framing mode".  It turns out that is Samsung's term for selecting whether the display shows the exposure level in realtime or not.  The NX500's saving grace is that it has a very descriptive help option. When enabled, it describes each option and parameter in detail. Whew!
o Adjusting the aperture or half-pressing the shutter will not show the depth of field.  The depth of field can only be previewed by assigning "Optical Preview" to the Custom button.  Moreover, the DoF preview will not show focus peakingThere is a workaround to allow you to view DOF in realtime by switching to Movie Standby mode.
o The LCD is not as bright as that of the a6000, but it's usable even in sunny conditions.  In direct sunlight, it can suffer from glare and diffraction (rainbow) effects but is still usable.
- The buffer is very small.  For raw, it can only do about 5 shots.  I tried this with both lossless and normal (lossy) compression and it was the same in either case.  At least it can clear the buffer in a reasonable amount of time.
- Bracketing has only 3 shots.
- Depending on what options you select, other options are grayed out but it's often difficult to figure out why.

Anyway, these are just my first impressions.  I plan to take more shots and post a more detailed review.  Samsung NX500 Review now posted!