Samsung TL500: Good Camera in Tough League

The Samsung TL500's spec list reads like an all-star team recruited from other advanced point-and-shoot cameras' more enticing qualities. Like the , it comes equipped with a flip-and-rotate screen to help with odd-angle shots. Like the , it offers an ultra-wide-angle 24mm lens (and a separate lens cap). And like the and the PowerShot G12, it has a slightly bulky body and a raised handgrip that feel good in the hand. It also packs a hot shoe that you can use with Samsung's external flashes, and it has a 3X optical zoom (24mm to 72mm).

The 10-megapixel TL500 ($450 as of January 3, 2011) has a few features that no other camera in our could match, such as a very wide F1.8 maximum aperture and an adjustable 3-inch OLED display. You can record fast-action still images at a clip of 1.5 shots per second in the camera's burst mode. Your images and the navigation menus look reasonably sharp on the OLED screen, and it's bright enough for satisfactory viewing under most lighting conditions.

The TL500 takes great-looking photos when it's on a tripod or otherwise held very steady, but handheld shots look best when the camera is in Dual Stabilization mode. In other mode settings, the camera's optical image stabilization is less effective than that on other cameras in its class, and shots can look a bit blurry.

Macro mode is decent, but we couldn't get in as tight with the TL500 as with competing cameras. The Samsung camera takes crisp, detailed shots when a subject is about 1.5 inches away from the lens, but anything closer than that starts to get blurry. The TL500's implementation of manual focus controls are also cumbersome: You press the Macro icon at the bottom of the camera's directional pad, select 'manual focus' from the macro menu, and then adjust the focus by using a combination of the zoom control and the back-mounted scrollwheel. Manually focusing a shot with the TL500 left me longing for the Lumix LX5's quick-access switch or the PowerShot S95's lens-ring control.

The Samsung TL500's menu structure and general navigability are a notch below what the other four cameras offer; in fact, it was the only camera that left us unsure as to which menu selections were tucked in which places. Still, there are some great little extras lurking in the mix: a Miniature mode, a fish-eye lens simulator, a pinhole camera simulator, a face recognition setting that lets you register and tag faces in your photos, and more. Unfortunately, some options are available only in a limited number of the camera's modes; others are hard to find in the menus; and others--like the complicated process for manually focus the camera--are unnecessarily complex.

It's a shame that the in-camera menu diving can leave users flustered, because the camera's physical controls are well done, unintimidating, and uncluttered. The front-mounted scrollwheel lets you comfortably adjust shutter speed with your index finger. A thumb-operated auto-exposure lock button and a dedicated video record button occupy the back. Two dials handle shooting modes and techniques (bracketing, burst mode, single shot, or self-timer settings), and a texturized rubber hand grip makes the camera's sturdy, slick-looking body easy to hold securely.