Samsung TL500 (EX1) Emerging
July 1, 2010
Samsung’s new “enthusiast” compact, the TL500 (or EX1 outside the US) was announced at the PMA show in February; but as of this writing, it’s not yet available from the usual mainstream sources. However, reviews are starting to filter out: Both Luminous Landscape and now Photography Blog have given it very positive ratings. (DP Review has a sample gallery posted, which suggests they’ll be posting their own full rundown soon.)
As with any small-sensor compact, there’s still some image-quality compromises. The active area of the TL500’s sensor measures about 7.5 x 5.6 mm, so ISO 800 still shows obvious noise.
However this new Samsung is beginning to look like one of the better options in the “serious compact” segment. (Street prices will start out about $400, presumably to drift downwards from there—that’s higher than a Canon S90, but well below Ricoh and Leica levels.)
A TL500 feature Samsung is proudly trumpeting is the camera’s f/1.8 maximum aperture (some might even mistake the needlessly-large “F1.8” on the front for the camera’s model number). But we do need to dial down the hype about this.
An f/1.8 aperture would have been considered boringly underwhelming on any 1980s standard lens—yes, even for zooms, if we consider Super-8 movie cameras (whose image area is comparable to today’s point & shoots). Also, f/1.8 is only one third of a stop improvement over the f/2.0 offered by Canon’s S90 or Panasonic’s LX3. This is a practically negligible difference.
Also, don’t imagine that this lens is going to offer some miraculous shallow depth of field. Small sensors mean short focal lengths, and 15.6mm is the long end of this camera’s zoom range. Wide open at f/2.4, the depth of field would equal that at f/11 on a 35mm camera (using the equivalent 72mm focal length). In other words, the TL500 might give a background that’s slightly fuzzy, but not so blurred that it disappears.
One mystery is the exact CCD chip used in the TL500. Of course, Samsung itself is a major sensor manufacturer; but the lack of 720p video and the exact 3648 x 2736 pixel dimensions look suspiciously like Sony’s ICX685CQZ. I strongly suspect this is the same chip used by Canon in the S90 and G11; and by Ricoh in the GRD III.
As with many of us, the first time I ever laid eyes on the word Samsung, it was probably on the front of a microwave oven. So perhaps it’s unavoidable that in online photo forums you’ll sometimes hear people slam Samsung—vowing to never take them seriously as a manufacturer of cameras.
Well, it’s probably time to get over that idea. Between the TL500 and the interesting NX10, it’s clear that Samsung is learning fast.
You might be aware that Samsung is already a huge force in semiconductor manufacturing (for example flash memory), as well as in LCD displays (including one these words are being typed on). Samsung was also among the first to commercialize OLED displays, a much-praised aspect of both these recent cameras.
In fact, no lingering racial snobbery should ever cause anyone to underestimate Korean industry. Some may know that Korea’s shipbuilding industry (including Samsung Heavy Industries) builds more ships than the rest of the globe combined. Or think of Hyundai—now the world’s fastest-growing, most profitable carmaker.
Sometimes the mocking comments about Samsung remind me of a Popular Photography article from September, 1946. This gave an overview of the “Jap” (yes, I quote) camera industry after WWII—basically dismissing all its products as clunky, inferior imitations of better American and German cameras. (It did allow that one strangely-named lens, the “Nikkor,” was of decent quality.) Even if at the time, there was some small grain of truth to this smug assessment, we all know quite well what happened eventually.
Are we witnessing the arrival of Samsung (and Korea) into the top tier of the world’s photo manufacturers? Perhaps so. (And while you’re at it, keep an eye on Korean lensmaker Samyang… )