4K Paradise – The Samsung NX500

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Although a relatively new player to the world of interchangeable lens cameras, Samsung has made waves in the professional photography world, especially with their NX1 – a powerhouse mirrorless camera that contains a Super 35mm sized, 28-megapixel CMOS sensor, a high-speed DRIMe V image processor, and records 4K and UHD video in camera. With a price point of only $1,499, the NX1’s 4K images I’ve shot are comparable to images I’ve shot with 4K cameras that are nearly 10 times the cost.

In less than six months, Samsung released the NX1’s little brother – the NX500. The compact mirrorless camera system is an interchangeable lens camera that is roughly the size of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera but captures 4K and UHD resolution to SD, SDHC, or SDXC cards. At press time, the NX500 is the smallest interchangeable lens camera that can capture 4K internally. Perhaps most impressive is its list price of only $799.

Shooting with the Samsung NX500 on the Big Island

Samsung recently invited a few camera journalists to Hawaii to test out the NX500 in the air, land, and at sea. With the NX500 in tow, we ziplined through valleys and shot beautiful vistas, waterfalls and lava formations. Not a bad weekend to spend outside of the office.

4K Power In Your Pocket

The NX500 contains the same 28MP BSI APS-C sensor as the NX1, which at the time of this writing, is the highest resolution APS-C sensor in the industry. The 3” Super AMOLED Touch display is also the same as on the NX1 and it contains the same NX mount. For video, the NX500 shoots 4096×2160 (24fps), 3840×2160 (30fps), 1920×1080, 1280×720, 640×480.

There are a lot of cameras that capture 4K resolution but the thing that separates the NX500 and NX1 from the majority of compact cameras is its internal 4K capture. The NX500 records both 4K DCI and UHD uses the HEVC/H.265 codec, which records files at roughly half the size of H.264. The problem with H.265 is that none of the current NLEs handle the complex compression of the format. As explained in my review of the NX1, Samsung provides a transcoding software with the camera but it’s PC only and currently transcodes only to H.264. As a Mac user, I have found a great app – VideoConverterUltimate by Wondershare – that lets you transcode H.265 to various formats, including 4K ProRes 4444 files. For my workflow with the NX500, I captured UHD 30p files to SDHC Class 10 cards and transcoded to ProRes LT files at their native resolution.

VideoConverterUltimate by Wondershare lets you transcode H.265 to various formats, including 4K ProRes 4444 files

Like the NX1, the 4K-image quality on the NX500 is incredibly detailed and quite stunning (even on a non-4K monitor). But before you go out and purchase your new NX500, there are a few things to consider.

NX1’s Little Brother

Although the stills and video quality of the NX1 and NX500 are very comparable, the NX500 is basically a smaller, stripped down version of its big brother, lacking a few important features a video shooter needs. First and foremost, is the NX500’s processor. Although it was earlier reported that the two cameras shared the same processor, the NX500’S DRIMe Vs imaging processor is basically a lighter version of the NX1’s DRIMe V. Because of this when shooting 4K video, instead of clocking the entire sensor like the NX1, the NX500 windows the sensor, so shooting with a Super 35mm sized sensor is closer to a micro 4/3s sensor incorporating a 1.7x crop. A 16mm lens becomes roughly a 40mm for full frame (when you include the additional 1.5x crop for full-frame), making it tough to capture wide angle 4K or UHD shots.

Like DSLRs, the NX500 does not contain an EVF for video capture. For indoor or lowlight shooting this should be fine but for exterior daylight shooting, it can be challenging for manual focus. Although the NX500’s Super AMOLED screen is one of the best screens I’ve tested, I’m hoping Samsung will release an external EVF that you could mount to the camera. You can tilt the display to capture high or low angle shots and for the social media jetset, one cool feature is that you can flip the screen over the top of the camera to shoot 4K video selfies. Ergonomically, the camera is terrific – weighing only .63-lb. (body only). With the small kit 16-50 f/3.5 – 5.6 OIS zoom lens, the NX500 can fit in a roomy pocket and you can shoot inconspicuously anywhere.

The NX500 does not contain an EVF for video capture but has one of the best 3″ displays I’ve ever tested.

Just so you know, regarding sound the NX500 also doesn’t contain a mic input or headphone jack. This is definitely missed and I would have paid the extra cash for these these two inputs.

For slow motion capture, the NX500 can record 60p in 1080 and at 720p, you can capture 120-fps. (With the NX1 you can capture 120-fps in 1080.)

One odd feature with the camera is that it doesn’t have a dedicated movie mode. In order to preview your frame in video mode, you need to press the Delete button. This is an essential tip if you want to properly frame your shot because of the 1.7x crop.

For auto-focus, there is Touch AF on the display, which works better than most DSLR or mirrorless camera systems, although the technology isn’t as good as Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF. Although the NX-mount kit lens on the NX500 is difficult to perform critical focus due to its small barrel size, the Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 S ED OIS and the 50-150mm f/2.8 S ED OIS zoom lenses are high-quality glass and fast and work well with the NX500.

The Samsung 50-150mm f/2.8 S ED OIS zoom lens mounted on the NX500

More To Come

I’m hesitant to write about some of the menu features in the NX500 that are missing from the NX1. A few months after its release, the NX1 had a major firmware upgrade (v1.2) that gave filmmakers important features such as 23.98p 24p for both 4K and UHD, adjustable audio levels during movie capture, timecode output over HDMI for external recorders and more. Perhaps the biggest feature in v1.2 that is missing from the NX500 are D Gamma curves for added dynamic range and no peaking feature for manual focus. Hopefully there will be a firmware upgrade on the NX500 soon that will enable all of the v1.2 features.

Another suggestion to Samsung for both the NX1 and the NX500 is the inclusion of a neutral or flat picture profile to capture a friendlier file for color grading. V1.2’s DR Gamma setting let you change sharpness and contrast settings to enable more latitude although not quite as far as Nikon’s flat picture profile or Technicolor’s CineStyle for the Canon 5D Mark II. Since the DR Gamma profile hasn’t been implemented in the NX500, one fix is that in the Photo Menu setting, you can make these sharpness and contrast changes in the Picture Wizard’s custom settings. Dialing them both down to -5 gives the image a look that’s similar to Canon Log. This is not ideal but a better solution than the NX500’s stock color profiles for capturing video.

UHD frame grab shot at 1600 ISO at f/3.5

Regarding low light shooting for video the NX500 is decent. It obviously pales in comparison to Sony’s A7S but is pretty close to the NX1 and Panasonic GH4. In my testing with the NX1, 3200 ISO was probably the highest you should go and due to the NZ500’s windowed sensor during 4K capture, 1600 ISO would be your max ISO – in my opinion.

Summing Up

The NX500 is a pretty powerful piece of gear. It’s easily the most advanced camera I’ve tested for under $1,000. But for working professionals who want to capture 4K video, the NX1 is a more suitable camera. Although the NX500 produces stunning high-resolution images, the lack of a viewfinder, audio inputs, and the 1.7x crop would make it difficult to shoot an entire project with.

For professional projects, the NX500 could become a valuable B-camera to an NX1 shoot and because of its low cost and small size they would be great in gimbal rigs or crash cams for RED EPIC or Sony F55 projects. Amateur filmmakers will get a kick seeing the incredible detail that 4K delivers.

Here’s a sample shot in the Polalu Valley Lookout in UHD.

For more information, please visit Samsung’s official website.