A pocketable long-zoom digicam with a 24mm ultra-wide-angle lens plus innovative in-camera editing functions.The WB500 is the flagship model of a new series of Samsung digicams that introduce a new Perfect Portrait System, which includes Face Detection, Beauty Shot and Smile and Blink Detection modes. Equipped with a 10.2 megapixel sensor and Schneider-Kreuznach 24-240mm 10x optical zoom lens, it sports a 2.7-inch LCD screen and provides a range of shooting modes, including High Definition (HD) movie recording. . . [more]
The WB500 is the flagship model of a new series of Samsung digicams that introduce a new Perfect Portrait System, which includes Face Detection, Beauty Shot and Smile and Blink Detection modes. Equipped with a 10.2 megapixel sensor and Schneider-Kreuznach 24-240mm 10x optical zoom lens, it sports a 2.7-inch LCD screen and provides a range of shooting modes, including High Definition (HD) movie recording.
A direct competitor to Panasonic's DMC-TZ7, the WB500 is targeted primarily at travellers who want a pocketable long-zoom digicam for shooting still pictures and HD video clips. The Samsung camera is more than $200 cheaper but its zoom range is slightly shorter, its LCD screen is smaller and it offers fewer image size and aspect ratio settings. Its controls and menu system are also less intuitive and not as easy to read as the Panasonic models.
Angled front view of the Samsung WB500 with the lens extended. (Source: Samsung.)
The WB500's solid body feels metallic and is generally well-built. The front panel is curved to provide a finger grip, which has a rubber pad for comfort and security. The flash sits above and slightly left of this pad and you have to take care not to cover it with a finger. The large lens mounting covers almost half of the front panel, and accounts for the 36.5 mm body thickness. It extends approximately 15 mm when the camera is switched on and a further 15mm when you zoom from the wide to the tele position.
Rear view of the WB500 showing the menu displayed on the LCD monitor.
Two thirds of the rear panel is covered by the 2.7-inch TFT LCD monitor, which doubles as a viewfinder for composing shots. Its relatively low resolution (230,000 dots) means it's unreliable for checking fine details and colour accuracy. Right of the monitor are an arrow pad with a central Menu/OK button and three small button controls. Above the arrow pad is the Function/Delete button, while below it are buttons for accessing the Play mode and Print control and the Effect sub-menu. A Command lever is located above the Fn/Delete button.
Top view of the WB500 showing the mode dial and other controls.
The top panel carries the power switch, shutter button/zoom lever and mode dial, the latter having eight settings. At the opposite end of the panel is a circle of recessed holes, which are unidentified in the user manual but probably cover the microphone and/or speaker. The battery/card compartment is located in the base of the camera, alongside a metal-lined tripod socket.
Unlike most digicams that use rechargeable batteries, the WB500 isn't supplied with a dedicated charger unit. Instead, you get a dual USB cord configuration in which one side plugs into a socket in the camera's side panel while the other is either an AC adapter that can be connected to the mains power or a USB plug that connects to a computer's USB port. (Yes, you can actually charge the battery from your computer!)
Samsung has traditionally taken an inventive approach to menu design and the WD500's menus are unlike other manufacturers' - and different also from the attractive NZ series cameras. Even the configuration of the arrow pad is unusual, with the flash controls on the left, the self-timer on the right, the macro and play/pause button on the down and the function description/information display controls on the up arrows.
Pressing the Menu button in the P or M mode opens four menu pages covering Recording, Sound, Display and Settings sub-menus. Unfortunately, the fonts used for these menus are small and difficult to read, particularly in bright lighting, and individual control labels are confusing. The screen grabs below show each sub-menu.
The Shooting sub-menu has a Quality setting but no adjustment for image size.
The Sound sub-menu.
The Display sub-menu is fairly intuitive.
So is the Settings sub-menu.
If you want to change the image size, select a different AF or metering pattern, access the drive mode, white balance or ISO settings or use the face detection options, you must press the Fn button above the arrow pad - usually twice in quick succession; otherwise you can only adjust the function that has been allocated to the command lever via the main menu. (If this seems confusing, it's worse when you're working with the actual camera in the great outdoors.)
This opens linear icon-based sub-menus for all these settings, which are selected with the arrow pad and locked in by pressing the Menu/OK button. The screen grabs below provide examples.
Image sizes are selected via the Fn button and arrow pad.
ISO settings for the WB500.
White balance settings include two fluorescent lighting modes plus a custom measurement system.
Even the mode dial on the WB500 is partially non-standard, with the addition of a novel 'Beauty Shot' setting for portrait photography. This setting, which was pioneered in Casio cameras, is designed to render skin tones smooth and blemish-free, when it is selected. Pressing the Menu button in this mode opens two special sub-menus: Face Tone and Face Retouch.Three adjustments levels are available in each sub-menu with the higher the level selected, the more emphatic the adjustment. The Face Tone control is designed to brighten skin tones, while the Face Retouch sub-menu smoothes out wrinkles and blemishes. (The results appear somewhat unnatural at the level 3 settings for both functions.)
Other shooting modes accessed via the mode dial include a full auto ('green') setting, P (Program AE) and M (Manual) shooting modes, a Dual IS mode (which appears to combine ISO-boost with lens-shift optical stabilisation using some kind of image processing that extends normal image processing times), a Night scene mode and a Scene setting that opens a sub-menu containing 14 additional pre-sets. The Movie Clip mode is the final selection point on the dial. Each mode applies particular restrictions on camera adjustments.
Not unexpectedly, the full suite of camera adjustments is only accessible in manual mode. But only two aperture settings are available, although their values change as you adjust the lens focal length settings. It also takes a considerable amount of toggling to adjust them - and even more to change shutter speeds. First you press the Fn button, which should display a small green indicator arrow next to the aperture setting. You then quickly push the command lever to the right or left to switch between the smaller and larger aperture setting. Don't delay; if you do, you'll have to press the Fn button and start again.
If you want to adjust shutter speeds you press the Fn button and then quickly press the left or right button on the arrow pad. If you're quick enough, you'll find the aperture settings changing; otherwise you open either the self-timer or flash settings sub-menus. It quickly becomes frustrating, which is why we feel most users will stick with the automated shooting modes for which this camera is clearly designed.However, these modes are even more restricted.
The Dual IS mode is only usable in relatively low lighting because the user manual states: If the lighting conditions are brighter than fluorescent lighting conditions, the DUAL IS will not activate. Furthermore, the system is only designed to counteract camera shake; it won't prevent blurring of moving subjects.Face detection is engaged by default in the Beauty Shot, Frame Guide, Portrait and Children modes. It can also be turned on in the Auto, P, M, Dual IS and some scene modes and operates over a camera-to-subject range of 2.5 metres at the wide-angle setting.
The system can detect up to 10 human faces and automatically overlays a white frame on the target face. Other faces in the scene are outlined in grey. The target frame turns green when the shutter is half-pressed and the face is in focus.Associated with the face detection system - and accessible via the Fn button - are four shooting options: standard face detection, self-portrait, blink detection and smile shot.
The self-portrait setting limits the focusing range to about arm's length and emits a guiding sound to help you centre your face in the frame. In Smile Shot mode, to quote the user manual: When taking a picture of smile shot, showing teethes or keeping the smiley face of your subject helps detecting the smile face of the subject. (In other words, the camera takes a picture when a smile is detected - or when you press the shutter button.) The blink detection mode takes three shots when the shutter button is pressed if the subject's eyes are closed - but only one if it detects the eyes being open.
The Scene sub-menu contains an interesting Self-Shot mode, which allows you to record a shot of a scene you would like to be photographed in and then hand the camera to another person. Your image is overlaid on the recorded scene, allowing the photographer to position you with respect to the scene and then take the shot by pressing the shutter button.
In Movie mode, relatively few controls can be adjusted, although you can adjust exposure levels and turn the stabiliser and sound recording on and off. White balance is adjustable via the Fn button.
The first page of the movie menu.
The WB500 provides four grid overlays to assist shot composition: the standard '2 x 2' setting divides the screen into nine, while the '3 x 3' setting divides it into 16. The 'X' overlay superimposes diagonal lines on the scene with the central AF area earmarked and the '+' overlay applies a cross-shaped overlay with markings at 1/3 and 2/3 of the distance along each arm. The Sound sub-menu lets you adjust the volume of the audio recordings and playbacks and choose from three start-up and shutter sounds or set these parameters to off.
Pressing the Effect button in recording mode opens a sub-menu with eight settings: Normal, Vivid, Soft, Forest, Retro, Cool, Calm and Classic. These settings remain locked in when the camera is switched off. In Normal mode (but not in the other modes) you can also access sub-menus for adjusting the colour of the shot and changing sharpness, contrast and saturation. The Effect button is inaccessible in the Voice Recording mode as well as in some Scene modes (Night Scene, Frame Guide, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Self-Shot, Food and Café).
Another interesting function is the ACB setting, which operates in the Auto, Program and Portrait modes to compensate for backlighting and improve the chance of recording highlight and shadow details in shots with a wide brightness range. ACB adjustment is also available in playback mode as one of the in-camera editing adjustments.
Image Size/Quality Settings
Still images are recorded as JPEGs with three quality settings and seven size options provided. The table below provides approximate file sizes for each setting.
Quality (Compression) Setting
3648 x 2736
3648 x 2432
3648 x 2056
3072 x 2304
2592 x 1944
2048 x 1536
1024 x 768
Movie clips are recorded with H.264 compression, which is more efficient without compromising image quality. Four settings are provided: 1280 HQ, 1280, 640 and 320. You can also decide between three frame rates: 60 fps, 30 fps and 15 fps. Up to 29 minutes of video can be recorded at a time and you can elect to record with or without a soundtrack. Approximate capacities for a 1GB memory card are shown in the table below.
8 minutes, 28 seconds
16 minutes, 46 seconds
10 minutes, 30 seconds
21 minutes, 08 seconds
30 minutes, 24 seconds
65 minutes 42 seconds
122 minutes, 32 seconds
213 minutes, 48 seconds
In our tests, Photo Review found the average recording rate for a 1280 HQ clip at 30 frames/second was just under 1.2MB per second.You can use the optical zoom while shooting video clips and get the full 10x magnification for 1280 HQ and 1280 format clips and up to 6.7x magnification for 640 x 480- and 320 x 240- pixel clips. Sound recording is muted while zooming takes place. A dedicated movie clip frame stabiliser function is available to minimise the effects of camera shake during movie recording. It works by cropping frames slightly.
Playback is engaged by pressing the tiny Play button below the arrow pad. This displays the last image captured with the camera, regardless of whether it was a still shot or video clip. For still images, you can display a nine-shot index file and select individual shots by moving the zoom lever. The same lever is used for enlarging the selected image, with up to 11.4x magnification available for 10M shots or up to 3.2x for 1M shots. Enlarged shots can be cropped and saved as separate files.
Pressing the up button on the arrow pad lets you toggle through the information display options, of which there are three. Images in memory can be selected for printing or deletion and in-camera resizing and rotation are also available. Pressing the Fn button lets you delete the selected shot.
Rotation options include full 180-degree flips.
You can add colour effects by pressing the E button in play mode. Colour options include B&W, Sepia, Red, Green, Blue, Negative and Custom Colour, which provides slider adjustments for red, green and blue. Red-eye removal is also available in the Effects sub-menu, along with Face Retouch and brightness, contrast and saturation adjustment. You can even add noise to an image for a 'more classic feel'. Edited files are saved as copies.
Editing options in playback mode include fine tuning of individual colour channels ...
... and negative colour conversion.
When replaying movie clips, the arrow pad is used to control most functions, with the Left/Right buttons operating play and pause and the command lever accessing the volume control. Movie clips longer than 10 seconds can be trimmed by using the zoom lever and play/pause buttons to select start and end points. You can also playback voice recordings and add voice memos up to 10 seconds in length to still image files.
Samsung's Smart Album function allows you to categorise stored pictures and video clips to make them easy to locate. It can be set up to allow you to sort and view images by date, type, week or main colour in the shot, and is quite easy to use. Files can also be DPOF tagged for automated printing.
The WB500 can also play slideshows of all shots in memory or selected shots from the Smart Album. You can choose from seven transition effects with associated background music clips to enhance these slideshows. (You can change the music for each effect but no facilities are provided for uploading your own background music.) Play intervals are adjustable from one second to 10 seconds.
The software bundle consists of Samsung Master, which claims to be an 'all-in-one multi-media solution' but doesn't support H.264 movie clips plus QuickTime Player 7.5 for movie viewing. Both applications are Windows only. A full user manual in PDF format is also provided on the CD (Adobe Reader is also provided).
Samsung Master is a pretty basic application that supports transfer of image and video files to a computer and provides viewing and basic editing facilities. These include tools for resizing. cropping and adjusting image brightness, contrast and saturation plus a limited selection of editing and retouching effects. There are also some basic drawing tools.
Movie clips shot with the 640 and 320 settings can be edited in Samsung Master, which lets users add voice tracks, music files and text and combine clips to make a movie that is saved separately. HD clips can be viewed in QuickTime Player 7.5 and edited with most compatible applications.
HD clips can be viewed in QuickTime Player 7.5 but no editing facilities are provided.
For Macintosh users, a USB Driver for Mac is not included with the software CD as the camera is compatible with MAC OS 10.3 or later.
Pictures taken with the review camera were bright and colourful with slightly elevated contrast and saturation, both of which were confirmed by our Imatest tests. Imatest showed the review camera to be capable of the level of resolution expected for its sensor resolution - but only at mid-range focal length settings. Resolution declined sharply as the zoom was extended. However, edge softening was less severe at longer focal lengths than with the wide-angle settings. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Interestingly, the decline in resolution with increasing sensitivity was less than we expected from a small-sensor digicam and, after a small drop at ISO 400, resolution held up well until ISO 1600, declining sharply at the ISO 3200 setting. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
Dynamic range in outdoor shots was better than average for a small-sensor digicam - regardless of the shooting mode selected. However, it was important to match the exposure settings to the subject in order to obtain shots in which details were visible in both highlights and shadows. Incorrectly-exposed shots were no better than similar shots from less-capable digicams.
Colour accuracy in test shots was slightly below average and Imatest revealed shifts in both skin tones and yellows and significantly increased saturation in reds. More modest saturation increases were seen in most other hues with only pastel blues, violets and greens being accurately represented. Lateral chromatic aberration was low at most focal length settings and we observed little coloured fringing but a higher level of compression artefacts than we normally see in high-resolution images magnified to 100%.
Exposure metering was generally accurate with all shooting modes (including video) but autofocusing accuracy was very light dependent and the camera often hunted for focus in dim lighting. The Dual IS system worked well - but it was only available on one shooting mode, which is highly automated. Furthermore, the relatively slow lens required relatively high ISO settings (with their associated noise) in low-to-normal room lighting.
Backlit shots showed only minor evidence of veiling flare in the normal shooting modes. The built-in flash was capable of illuminating an average-sized room at ISO settings of 200 and above and flash exposures were well balanced for both close-up and more distant subjects.
Low-light performance was variable. Long exposures (16 seconds) at ISO settings of 80 and 100 were relatively noise-free and colour-accurate. Colour accuracy began to decline at ISO 400 and noise became obvious by ISO 800, although we saw little difference between shots taken at ISO 800 and ISO 1600. At ISO 3200, images were noticeably softer and noise-affected. We would not recommend using this setting.
Barrel distortion was evident in shots taken with the widest angle of view but by about 9mm it was barely evident. We found no pincushioning at the 42mm setting. Close-up capabilities were generally good and the camera will focus a little closer than the claimed 5cm limit in macro mode, provided you select the smaller lens aperture. Digital zoom shots were soft and artefact-affected.
HD video quality wasn't quite as crisp-looking and lacked the dynamic range of the video we shot with the Panasonic FT1 but we found no evidence of zoom noise in the clips we recorded. For VGA and QVGA capture, the quality was much as you'd expect and the accompanying audio quality was unspectacular.
Dynamic range is reduced when recording video clips.
Frame grabs from HD video clips show the camera's zoom range for video recordings.
A scene with the lens set to the widest angle of view.
Zooming in to the 42mm position.
Auto white balance performance was typical of a point-and-shoot digicam. The camera failed to remove the orange cast of incandescent lighting in our standard tests but produced close-to-natural colours under fluorescent lighting. Both manual pre-sets over-corrected colours slightly but the manual measurement setting produced neutral colours under both types of lighting.
The test camera powered up ready for shooting in just under a second and shot-to-shot times averaged 1.2 seconds without flash and approximately 3.6 seconds with flash. On average, it took 1.5 seconds to process each image file.
We measured an average capture lag of 0.4 seconds at ISO 80-400 and 0.5 seconds with ISO settings of 800 and above. This changed to 0.15 seconds at all ISO settings when shots were pre-focused. The normal continuous shooting mode recorded seven high-resolution shots in 7.3 seconds, while the high-speed continuous mode recorded 10 shots in 5.3 seconds. Image processing appears to be on-the-fly as it took only 3.8 seconds to process each burst.
Buy this camera if:
- You're not fussy about colour accuracy and usually shoot in bright ambient lighting.
- You want a compact, extended-zoom digicam for travelling and can tolerate the limitations the camera imposes.
- You're happy to use the monitor for shot composition.
- You're happy to use the Program or Scene modes for most exposures.
Don't buy this camera if:
- You require P, A, S and M shooting modes.
- You want to shoot raw files.
- You want high-quality, high-definition video.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
Close-up. 4.3mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/3.2.
4.2mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/7.5.
42mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/118 second at f/5.8.
Digital zoom. 42mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/5.8.
Flash exposure; 22.5mm focal length. ISO 100, 1/54 second at f/5.8.
Flash exposure; 22.5mm focal length. ISO 3200, 1/54 second at f/5.8.
Night shot: ISO 80, 16 second exposure at f/3.3; 9mm focal length.
Night shot: ISO 1600, 4 second exposure at f/7.5; 9mm focal length.
Night shot: ISO 3200, 2 second exposure at f/7.5; 12.9mm focal length
12.2mm focal length, ISO 240, 1/45 second at f/5.1. Program AE shooting mode. No flash.
4.2mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/30 second at f/3.3. Full auto mode (flash fired).
9mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/198 second at f/10.1.
40.6mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/91 second at f/5.8. Program AE shooting mode. No flash.
Backlighting; 35.3mm focal length, ISO 800, 1/18 second at f/5.9. Dual IS shooting mode. No flash.
Image sensor: 6.13 x 4.6 mm CCD with 10.3 million photosites (10.2 megapixels effective)
Lens: Schneider-Kreuznach 4.2-42mm f/3.3-5.8 zoom lens (24-240mm in 35mm format)
Zoom ratio: 10x optical, up to 5x digital
Image formats: Stills – JPEG (Exif 2.21); Movies – MP4 (H.264)/WAV
Image Sizes: Stills – 3648 x 2736, 3648 x 2432, 3648 x 2056, 3072 x 2304, 2592 x 1944, 2048 x 1536, 1024 x 768; Movies – 1280 x 720 (HQ and standard modes; 30 and 15 fps), 640 x 480 (30 and 15 fps), 320 x 240 (60, 30 and 15 fps)
Shutter speed range: Auto – 1/8-1/1500 second; Program – 1-1/1500 seconds; up to 16 seconds in manual mode
Self-timer: 2 sec., 10 sec., Double (10 sec, 2 sec) delay
Image Stabilisation: Dual system (optical plus digital)
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV steps
Focus system/range: TTL AF with multi, centre, selection and face detection AF and manual focus; range - 50 cm to infinity; macro to 5 cm
Exposure metering/control: Multi, Spot, Center-weighted, Face Detection AE
Shooting modes: Program AE or manual exposure plus 16 scene pre-sets
ISO range: Auto, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 (at 3M size)
White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent (x2), Tungsten, Custom
Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill-in flash, Slow sync, Flash off, Red-eye Fix; range 0.3 to 4.7 metres; adjustment +/- 1EV in 1/2EV steps
Sequence shooting: Approx. 1.5 frames/second in High Speed mode
Storage Media: 30MB internal memory plus SD/SDHC memory cards
LCD monitor: 2.7-inch TFT LCD (230,000 pixels)
Power supply: SLB-10A, 3.7V (1,050mAh) rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 270 shots/charge
Dimensions (wxhxd): 105 x 61.4 x 36.5 mm
Weight: 219g (without battery and card)
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Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.5
- Ease of use: 8.5 in full auto and scene modes; 6.0 in P and M modes
- Image quality: 8.0
- OVERALL: 8.0