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.)

Samsung TL500 (EX1)

Stout Little Fellow

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.)

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PMA, Day 1

February 21, 2010

Yes, I have been keeping one eye on the product introductions at PMA 2010. But anyone waiting for some industry-rattling blockbuster has likely been disappointed so far.

It seems that a few camera manufacturers are conspicuously snubbing the show this year. The “poor economy” is the glib explanation; but I wonder if there’s a some more complex backstory we haven’t heard yet.

There is a new international imaging exhibition in Japan called CP+, launching in Yokohama on March 11th. Camera makers may feel that the Asian market is the center of their future growth; and so that’s where the promotional dollars (er, yen) and media attention would be best targeted.

From the perspective of this blog, the one PMA unveiling of note is the Samsung TL500 (to be called EX1 in Europe). A friend asked me if this would change my “crackhead” assessment of Samsung; and the answer is “a little.”

Samsung TL500

Samsung TL500 (EX1)

The TL500 is apparently meant to go head-to-head against enthusiast compacts like Canon’s G11, or especially their S90; and Panasonic’s LX3. Pop Photo has a video intro here.

All these cameras are 10 megapixel models with roughly 2.0 micron pixel size. That’s significant, since each pixel grabs 60-100% more light than the tiny pixels used in mainstream point & shoots.

Panasonic’s LX3 is more compact than the TL500. But Samsung has matched its extrawide 24e lens coverage, while eking out an extra 1/3 stop of lens brightness.

Some complained that the LX3’s zoom range only extended to 60e (which is hardly even a portrait lens); and was only f/2.8 at that point. The new Samsung stretches that to 72e even while maintaining f/2.4 brightness.

Before anyone geeks out about the selective-focus potential here, remember that’s about equivalent to the DOF at f/11 if you were using an APS-C lens covering the same 72e.

If you need more telephoto reach than that, the Canon S90 gives you 105e, in a smaller package—albeit at a cost of a couple of f/stops. Another deficiency of the S90 is its lack of a hot shoe, unlike the others.

The styling of the Samsung is a bit unusual—rather angular and “brutalist.” I think I’d need to handle the TL500 in person to see whether that bothered me.

I’m amused that those chamfered ends seem to echo Kodak’s old (German-made) Retina cameras, the camera series that introduced the 35mm film cassette to the world.

Kodak Retina Cameras

1937 and 1952 Kodak Retinas

In their day, Retinas were considered quite desirable precision models. Most offered superior Schneider Xenar or Xenon lenses. Alongside the even swankier offerings of Leica and Contax, they helped cement 35mm film as a “miniature” format which could be taken seriously.

The TL500’s lens also carries the Schneider name (its manufacture is undoubtedly Asian, of course). And the physical size of the Samsung is a very close match to early Retinas, too.