Samsung WB500 digital camera

10.2-megapixel Samsung digital camera with a 10x optical zoom

Samsung WB500
  • Samsung WB500
  • Samsung WB500
  • Samsung WB500
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Attractive design, good array of modes and features, superb wide-angle lens and 10x optical zoom

Cons

  • A bit bulky for a compact camera, troublesome menu, picture quality is merely adequate for the asking price

Bottom Line

The Samsung WB500 is an interesting and versatile compact digital camera that comes packed with advanced features. Its wide-angle lens and 10x optical zoom make up for its various shortcomings.

Would you buy this?

The Samsung WB500 is a 10.2-megapixel compact digital camera aimed at enthusiasts with a penchant for panoramas. Its main claim to fame is its 24mm wide-angle lens with a powerful 10x optical zoom — the first of its kind in the compact realm if Samsung is to be believed.

Other noteworthy features include a 720p HD movie mode, a dual-image stabiliser for reduced image blur, a useful smart album mode that optimises browsing and a hefty array of manual controls. Most importantly, it also takes a pretty good photo. But do the results justify the $529 price tag? Sort of.

Aesthetically speaking, the Samsung WB500 wears its high-end credentials on its khaki sleeve. With its huge Schneider Kreuznach lens, all-black metal casing and rubber finger pad, it looks like a lovechild of a regular compact and a digital SLR. It is consequently a lot bulkier than the average compact camera. With dimensions of 105x61.4x36.5mm, it’s not an especially portable unit, despite Samsung’s assurances that it "can fit neatly within your pocket so it goes wherever you do". The guys at Samsung must have pretty big pockets. All that extra real-estate does have one benefit though: it translates to large and spacious controls. We especially liked the dinky command lever, which can be used to adjust ISO, white balance or EV compensation without having to access the menu.

This is just as well, as we weren’t particularly fond of the Samsung WB500’s menu system; the less we had to deal with it the better. Rather than simply blanking out the irrelevant functions, the menu layout completely changes whenever you move the camera's mode dial. This means you’re essentially forced to learn eight different menus with multiple tables in each. Samsung has also elected to overlay a transparent menu on top of the LCD screen, which can occasionally make things difficult to read (e.g. when there’s lots of colour and movement in front of the camera). It’s not the worst camera menu we’ve encountered, but it’s a long way from the best.

On the plus side, the menu offers plenty of useful modes and features for those who are determined enough to find them. These include manual exposure, focus and shutter speeds, adjustable aperture, four composition grid overlays, adjustable sharpness/contrast/saturation, a range of colour and picture options (including a great black and white ‘classic’ mode), a dual IS mode and a 720p HD movie mode tailored to high-def YouTube uploads. It also comes with all the latest trends in automatic wiz-bang alchemy, including face detection, smile detection, blink detection and beauty shot. The beauty shot mode is supposed to ‘pretty up’ unsightly faces, but we found it gave us an alarmingly waxy appearance. (Perhaps we confused it by being too pretty to begin with?)

Like most current cameras (see the Canon IXUS 110 IS, Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1 and Olympus Mju 9000), the Samsung WB500 comes with an advanced automatic mode that the company has dubbed Smart Picture. (They also could have called it Dumb Photographer, but we suppose that wouldn’t have gone down too well.) This mode automatically adjusts the brightness and exposure to suit the situation at hand. It will even swap between Macro and Landscape mode unprompted.

Another standout feature is smart album, which helps you to keep track of stored photos. It categorises photos into different, er, categories (date, colour, theme, city, etc.) to make browsing more streamlined and user-friendly. It includes a timeline tool that lets you jump to particular dates. The Samsung WB500 also comes with inbuilt editing software that lets you adjust colours, crop photos and create fancy slideshows complete with music.

The Samsung WB500 offers a similar imaging performance to the Samsung NV24HD; another high-end model that comes with an identical pixel count and sensor. The 10.2-megapixel CCD sensor is capable of capturing good quality photos. Chromatic aberration was barely noticeable, with minimal haloing or purple fringing in high-contrast images.

Although our test shots were reasonably sharp, we did notice some detail loss in complex areas, such as bushy, overlapping tree branches. However, this was only noticeable when we magnified the affected area. It should therefore still be capable of making largish prints. Noise control was adequate for a camera in this price range, with images becoming noticeably speckled at ISO 800 and above. While we wouldn’t call them 100 per cent accurate, the colours produced by the Samsung WB500 were vibrant and pleasing to the eye.

All up, the image quality of the Samsung WB500 is average for a camera in this price range — it's neither bad, nor exceptionally good. However, the wide-angle lens and ultra-powerful zoom go some way to make up for any shortcomings. The 24mm wide-angle lens (35mm equivalent) is ideal for group photos and landscape shots; a boon for tourists. The 10x optical zoom is equally impressive. While we did find it difficult to hold the camera steady at full zoom, the dual-image stabiliser and super speed sensitivity mode helped to keep our photos blur-free. If your photographic aspirations extend beyond close-ups and happy snaps, you really can’t go wrong with this lens/zoom combo. It makes for an exceptionally versatile camera.

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