[REVIEW—SAMSUNG NX500 compact system camera]

Samsung NX500

Price: $890 with 16-50mm power zoom [street price]
Setting standards

THE LOW-DOWN: This 28 megapixel compact mirrorless camera is the little brother to the acclaimed Samsung NX1. It shares the sensor and most of the features of the NX1 but without the electronic viewfinder and with a cheaper kit lens. The high definition Super Amoled, touch sensitive, tilting LCD almost compensates for the absent viewfinder. The 16-50mm lens (24-75mm in film equivalent) is powered and incorporates the Samsung iFn button. 4K video recording, WiFi, NFC and Bluetooth connectivity are featured. The Samsung smartphone app is one of the best and connection is easy with no password required. Software for RAW conversion and converting 4K to conventional high definition is supplied in the camera and must be downloaded to a PC via the USB connector.

LIKE: The image quality, both in jpeg and RAW, is excellent. Video quality is outstanding, although we were not able to test the 4K output. Auto focus, using both phase and contrast detection, is fast. The camera has a luxurious fit, finish and feel.

DISLIKE: The RAW converter supplied in the camera is weird, using bewildering terminology unique to Samsung. It will only be a stop-gap until Adobe update Camera RAW, but for those who are stuck with the supplied software we recommend looking for an alternative. The absence of a viewfinder at this price is disappointing.

VERDICT: The NX500, like the NX1, is an indication that Samsung intends to be a serious player in the camera business. It is a long way from the first Samsung DSLRs which were essentially re-badged Pentaxes. The NX1 and NX500 stand at the top level of compact system cameras, setting standards for construction, useability and image quality that challenge the established brands.

SAMSUNG CSC

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[HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?]

The Editor received an indignant email recently complaining about this column: “I am very fed up with your digital camera reviews. For weeks now, they have all been about very highly priced cameras that few of us can afford. How about reviewing cameras in the range $50 to $500? That would be appreciated by many of your readers.”

We were stung! But we see that we have only reviewed one camera costing less than $500 in the past year. We promise to mend our extravagant ways and have asked the camera companies to send us some of their newest reasonably priced compact cameras toot sweet.

The smartphone impact on compact camera sales has been devastating. The Olympus camera company has abandoned the category and the new releases from the other companies are infrequent and generally disappointing.

Compacts tend to have too many pixels and excessively long zooms because these are the two aspects of camera technology that are hard to build into a phone body. But adding pixels to a sensor and millimetres to focal length does not lead to improvements in images, only to big numbers to impress.

Twenty million light receptors on the tiny sensors in compacts pushes against the limitations of physics. One of our excuses for not giving the compact category the attention it deserves is that the images produced by these cameras are so noisy (grainy), lacking in dynamic range (lost detail in both shadows and highlights) and soft (un-sharp) that using them and reviewing them is depressing.

Some people believe that the only difference between a $99.99 camera and a $2000 DSLR is ostentatious embellishment designed to enhance the owner’s status. This view holds that the pictures produced by the two cameras will be indistinguishable. If only it were so!

Nikon CP L840Under review at the moment is a compact camera costing $260 that has a zoom lens reaching 600mm (film equivalent) at its maximum focal length. By comparison a fixed focal length 600mm lens, for an interchangeable lens camera, from a reasonably priced third party lens maker costs $6000. Believe us, no one pays an unnecessary $5740 just to show off.

However the essential aim of photography is to capture images that are startling for their originality, emotional pull and artistry. That can certainly be done with a $199 camera. You just might not be able to make wall-size prints of your masterpiece.

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[REVIEW—NIKON D5500 DSLR]

Nikon D5500

Price: $970 with 18-55mm lens [street price]
Smallish and competent

THE LOW-DOWN: This 24mp digital single lens reflex seems designed to go head to head with compact system cameras. It has a fully articulated, high resolution, touch sensitive LCD, allowing for touch-navigation of menus, touch-focus-fire function and pinch, expand and swipe by finger in review. The WiFi connection now works with a smartphone app to give remote control of some functions when the camera is in live view. The D5500 is small and light, but still larger than some compact system cameras. The usual Nikon auto-focus system with its 3D tracking ability makes focussing a breeze.

LIKE: The image processing is notable for its wide dynamic range. A couple of hundred test photos taken in harsh afternoon light show fine shadow/highlight detail preservation. (See samples here) All the essentials – exposure, focus, colour and tone are handled well, giving consistently good results.

DISLIKE: So-called “live view” continues to be a pain in the posterior. It is clunky to access, sludgy in operation and disables the eye-level viewfinder. It still feels like interim technology needing further development.

VERDICT: The challenge that Nikon and Canon face with their entry level DSLRs is that for the same price or less there are superb compact system cameras. The Sony a6000 uses a similar sensor to the Nikon in a smaller body with a more modern control set and it is $100 cheaper. There is no feeling that the Sony has been cut down to a price, whereas with DSLRs there is always the feeling that something has been left out of the cheaper models. The D5500 is a competent camera and it takes lovely photos and, as we always say, it is an entry into a superb system of lenses and accessories.

Sample029

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[CHEAP IS GOOD, FREE IS BETTER]

f11 coverAt our place we subscribe to seven photographic magazines – one on paper and six on pad/tablet. We prefer the padlet medium because it saves trees and the photos look better.

Our two favourite e-zines for padlet reading are f11 (f11magazine.com) and BETA, the occasional magazine from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale (ballaratfoto.org). They are free, but cheap on its own is no recommendation. Both of these e-zines are gorgeously produced showcases of the work of outstanding photographers.

f11 comes from New Zealand, published and edited by Tim Steele. Now up to its forty-second issue it arrives by email, then is downloaded as a pdf and opened in the e-book reader on the padlet. There has never been a dud.

BETA is an inspiring and intimidating sample of the sorts of photographs that may be seen at the Ballarat Biennale.

We pay for the British Photography Week through the on-line newsagent, Zinio. This is cheap at $36.99 for 52 issues, but it is a small publication, more like a pamphlet than a magazine. Nevertheless is has good equipment reviews, how-to guides and user photo galleries. It is basic, chatty and non-intimidating.

We also use Zinio to subscribe to two American magazines – American Photo ($15.71 for 6 issues) and Popular Photography ($19.64 for 12 issues). These are journals for the serious photographer who is looking for camera, accessory and software reviews and already knows her way around the Canikon. There are portfolios of work but the emphasis tends to be technical with more words than pictures.

On the home front we look forward to Australian Camera ($49 for 6 issues from tinyurl.com/ly25tpr). Editor and technical reviewer Paul Burrows is a fine writer and photographer and his approach to camera reviewing is to seek out, use and report on the most deeply hidden features and controls on everything he tests. This is subjective assessment at great depth from the point of view of an experienced user.

The quarterly Photo Review Australia ($39.00 for 4 issues) is our only assault on the Tasmanian forests, being delivered on paper. There are user galleries and professional portfolios reproduced here, along with how-to guides and technical reviews from Margaret Brown. Margaret’s lens and sensor gradings are based on objective optical testing.

They are all good publications and f11 and BETA represent the new e-publishing paradigm – value for the subscriber entirely at the cost of the advertisers.

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