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In terms of performance the ST500 acquits itself reasonably well, although compared to other compacts in the same price range it's not that quick. Its start-up time of approximately two seconds isn't too shabby, but in single-shot mode its shot-to-shot time of a little over three seconds is a bit on the slow side. In continuous shooting mode it can manage a shot every 1.3 seconds; there is an audio cue to let you know when a picture is taken, but the monitor remains blank after the first shot.
The autofocus system is also good. Options include centre-spot, nine-point multi-zone, or a touch-screen selectable focus point. Focusing is quick and accurate, and works reasonably well in low light. The ST500 has an AF assist lamp with a useful range of about two metres. The flash is a little weak though, with a useful range of less than its claimed 3.4 metres. The recharge time of around nine seconds is also quite slow.
The ST1000 has a powerful 1150mAh battery to power all its built-in gizmos, but the ST500 has only a relatively puny 720mAh cell. While testing the camera I used the flash and the front screen probably more than most users would, and I found that the battery was down to one bar after only 70 shots, but after that it went up and down like the Assyrian Empire, going from three bars to one bar and back again between shots, until it finally ran out of juice at 140 shots.
Image quality has not been a great strength of recent Samsung cameras, a trend which the ST500 unfortunately continues. Considering that it has a supposedly premium quality lens, a 12.2MP sensor and a low compression file size of around 5.8MB, the level of detail is surprisingly poor; I've seen 8MP cameras with better fine detail.
The lens is sharp enough in the centre of the frame and shows very little distortion at wide angle, but corner sharpness could be better. Dynamic range is also very limited, as is always the case with 12.2MP 1/2.33-inch sensors, with badly clipped highlights in all high contrast shots. The camera has an automatic contrast booster, but all it really does is brighten the image, clipping the highlights even more.
Image noise control, on the other hand, is surprisingly good. Images at 400 ISO have a little noise and colour distortion but are quite printable, and even at 800 ISO tone gradients remain fairly smooth, usable for web and email purposes.
The Samsung ST500 is a fairly typical 12MP ultra-compact, distinguished only by its touch-screen control and by its unusual front-mounted second monitor. This feature has its uses, and the camera is capable of taking good shots in most social situations, but the high price makes it poor value for money.