Samsung NX500 Hands-On Review

Samsung isn’t quite the first brand to come to mind when you think about digital cameras.

And while it’s had its fair share of hits and misses over the last few years – you’ve got to hand it to them for trying. 

Their latest attempt at making inroads in the digital photography market comes in the form of an $800 compact, interchangeable lens camera, that shoots 4K video – the NX500.

The retro-styled camera officially launched in the US this weekend, but has been available for about a week now in South Korea where we managed to get our hot little hands on it.

The NX500 has the highest resolution APS-C sized sensor available today – a whopping 28 megapixels and it can shoot 4K video just like Samsung’s top of the line NX1 but at $700’s less.

This camera is stunningly fast – thanks in part to Samsung’s experience building smartphone processors. The NX500 turns on faster than the time it takes to flick the on/off switch, and its menu system zips along like a speedskater on ice.

With a UHS 1 SD card it can shoot about 45 SuperFine JPEGs in a burst, at 9 frames per second. Videos are ready to play quite literally the moment you’re done recording them too. It’s not all that great though once you enter RAW mode as we could only get it to shoot five in a burst before it slowed down, even with our extra fast card. 

Autofocus was quick and reliable and we particularly liked the way it could grab onto things all the way to the edges of the frame. Low light was a bit more of a challenge though, although no worse than other cameras in this price class.

On the flip side of things the NX500, unlike other similarly priced compact system cameras like the Sony A6000 doesn’t manage to provide any sort of viewfinder – built-in or with an optional attachment. The only way to compose your images is with the OLED touch screen, which should be fine for most smartphone users wanting to move up, but not for those used to shooting with a DSLR.

For the most part however, we found the touch screen to be pretty good and perfectly usable even under very bright conditions. The screen tilts up 90 degrees for taking selfies and pivots down making it easier to get a high perspective. Leveraging again on its smartphone technology, the multi-touch screen of the NX500 is very responsive, it lets you zoom in or swipe through photos like you would on an iPhone.

But not everything is an engineering home run, there are some challenges too. For example Samsung engineers haven’t been able to figure out a way to incorporate a built-in flash, so one has to carry the included hot-shoe mountable flash instead. In contrast Sony’s RX100M3, which is about half the size of the NX500, has both a built-in electronic viewfinder and a flash.

All this considered, the NX500 represents a step in the right direction for Samsung, and the timing couldn’t be better. The so-called mirrorless camera market is maturing and people are starting to realize they can take DSLR-quality pictures with far smaller cameras.

In the limited time we spent with it, we can confidently say that based on merit, the NX500 deserves to be on everyone’s short list.

The question now is if you’re willing to place your bets on a company known more for their smartphones and televisions. If you ask me, its for these reasons in particular that you should.