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.
The Samsung WB500 is a 10.2-megapixel compact digital camera aimed at photographers with a penchant for panoramas. Its main claim to fame is its 24mm wide-angle lens with a powerful 10x optical zoom.
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 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 105-x-61.4-x-36.5mm, 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.
Big buttons are a boon
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?)