In terms of overall performance the WB500 acquits itself well. It starts up in approximately two and a half seconds, and in single shot mode it can take a picture every 1.9 seconds, which is pretty quick. There are two full resolution continuous shooting options, offering either 0.8fps or 1.7fps, which is also quite impressive. Samsung’s new DRIM image processing engine seems to have some serious grunt, which bodes well for the other models in the range.
The WB500 has a very good video mode, shooting in 1280 x 720 resolution at 30fps, recording in the popular MPEG4 H.264 format. The zoom lens can be used while recording, but it does produce a loud whir which is audible on the mono soundtrack. Picture quality is good though, even when shooting in low light.
The autofocus system is particularly good, and especially its low light performance. The AF assist lamp isn’t that bright, but nonetheless the cameras will reliably focus in total darkness at a range of around four meters. The flash range lives up to its claimed 4.7m maximum range, and recharges fairly quickly in about six seconds from a full-power flash. However thanks to the position of the flashgun relative to the handgrip and shutter button it is all too easy to get your fingers in front of the flash, resulting in some odd shadows.
The make-or-break of a camera is of course image quality, something which has proven to be a weak spot for some previous Samsung cameras. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the lens, which produces virtually no wide-angle distortion and excellent edge-to-edge sharpness, although it does suffer from a little chromatic aberration in the corners of the frame. The new processing engine seems to have taken care of most other possible problems, and the overall image quality is very good. Dynamic range is somewhat limited, as is usually the case with small-sensor 10MP cameras. The Auto Contrast Balance does help to preserve shadow detail, although there is a tendency to burn out highlights and some very bright saturated colours lack detail. Noise control is very good, with little visible noise at 400 ISO and decent image quality even at 800, although at 1600 and 3200 ISO there is a lot of noise.
The new Samsung WB500 is an extremely impressive camera for the price. It looks good, has superb build quality, a huge list of features, and its performance measures up to cameras costing £100 more. It does have one or two foibles, but when it comes down to value for money it’s hard to beat.