Hands On With Samsung's New NX500 Mirrorless Camera

When I reviewed the Samsung NX1 earlier this year, I really liked its combination of large, versatile sensor, sturdy body and genuinely smart instant photo sharing. It made for a genuinely good all-rounder for photo enthusiasts. Now, Samsung has stuffed all the power of its pro-level NX1 into a camera that’s a lot more compact, pocketable as well as cheaper.

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Campbell Simpson travelled to Bangkok as a guest of Samsung.

Announced just a week or so ago, the NX500 isn’t the spiritual successor of the DSLR-style NX30, but instead the retro-style NX300. That means no electronic viewfinder, but instead a rear fascia dominated by a touch-sensitive 3.2-inch Super AMOLED display which can tilt over 180 degrees.

In the hand, the NX500 feels a lot less intimidating than the NX1 — it’s a lot smaller and lighter and just as well built — but it’s the metal and leatherette that makes it feel fancy. It’s a decidedly different shooting experience to a retro competitor like Fujifilm’s X-Series, but it certainly feels every bit as special to use.

I’ve become used to these cut-down, superlite mirrorless cameras having a generally inferior feel during use to their larger and more traditionally styled counterparts, but the responsiveness and general ease of the use of the NX500 is top notch. It’s obviously a touchscreen-heavy user interface, which makes the process of navigating through menus and sub-menus a little more time-intensive than a traditional DSLR, but for a novice or intermediate user it’s only a very shallow learning curve.

The NX500 inherits most of its internals from the larger NX1, which I love — it means the NX500 has an excellently detailed 28-megapixel APS-C size sensor, a competent autofocus system that combines both contrast and phase detection to handle both fast daylight and accurate low-light shots. One notable difference, though, is that the NX500 misses out on the 15fps machinegun burst firing mode of the NX1 — instead, it makes do with a (still very competitive) 9fps. Video is also slightly different with no 120fps Full HD 1080p recording.

I really like the images that the NX1 creates, and from a quick hands-on test of the NX500 you can expect the same good detail and competent detail even at higher ISOs. The same processing hardware as the NX1 also powers the NX500’s 4K video recording, RAW image processing and the ability to share photos and other files straight to a Wi-Fi connected smartphone or tablet. If you’re used to using a traditional DSLR, this is a huge change, and on the NX500 it actually works. It’s still not at that perfect, instantaneous, troublefree point yet but if you have your phone previously paired through Samsung’s companion app the process is straightforward — and it’ll up your Instagram game considerably.

The NX500’s small size predisposes it to Samsung’s compact prime lenses — like the 20mm f/2.8 and the 30mm f/2, roughly equivalent to a 30mm or 45mm full-frame wide-angle prime respectively. That said, Samsung will be selling the NX500 with a collapisble 16-50mm power zoom lens, and while these kinds of lenses generally make some compromises on image quality to reduce size, as a general rule they’ve improved massively over the last couple of years they’ve been available.

Crucially, the NX500 will be significantly cheaper than the NX1, despite having functionally the same image quality, quick-sharing features and internal components. That makes it a great deal for photographers that want to snap a high quality photo and share it straight away, but don’t necessarily need the pro-level features of a DSLR-style camera like the NX1 or its Canon or Nikon competitors. We’re still waiting on exact pricing and release date for the Australian market, but it’s looking like the NX500 should cost around the $800 price point with a bundled kit zoom lens.

Update: Here’s what Samsung says about the NX500’s local launch: “We’re very excited to confirm that the Samsung NX500 will be arriving in Australia in April of this year. The camera integrates some of NX1’s innovations into a stylish lightweight design and I look forward to providing more details closer to the launch.”

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