Samsung EX1/TL500 Review – A Canon G11/G12 Killer?

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

This past weekend I went with Samantha to visit her brother Andy Simpson. Andy had taken a Samsung EX1 digital point-n-shoot camera to Maui for two weeks and was raving about the camera. He said I needed to try the camera and see how I thought it compared to Canon’s G11/G12 cameras. Andy let me use the camera for a day of dabbling and I compared the Samsung EX1 with the Canon G11 and the Sigma DP1x (the two point-n-shoot cameras that I own). Here is a brief summary of what I found.

(Please note, I am not sponsored or paid or receive kickbacks from either Canon or Samsung. This test was purely for my own interest. Be aware however that I am sponsored by Sigma Canada. I have provided a detailed and I believe fair review of the Sigma DP1x here. The results of this field test are mostly between the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1 because those two cameras are feature for feature very similar. The Sigma DP1x is included only out of passing interest. I have yet to actually use the Canon G12.

Canon G11 Features:

  • 10 MP 1/1.7 inch sensor
  • 28-140mm equivelant lens
  • 2.8 inch tilt-swivel LCD
  • RAW image capability
  • dedicated exposure comp and ISO dials
  • face detection
  • image stabilization (2-stop shutter speed gain)
  • great macro capabilities (to 1cm)
  • 15 seconds to 1/4000 shutter speed
  • f2.8-8 aperture range
  • VGA Movie Clips

The Canon G12

  • all of the features of the G11 and…
  • front control dial (in addition to rear control dial of the G11)
  • hybrid IS for close-up photography (4-stop shutter speed gain)
  • multi-aspect ratio shooting
  • HD Video
  • HDR shooting mode
  • HS system (better high ISO performance)

The Samsung EX1/TL500

  • 10 MP 1/1.7 inch sensor
  • 24-72mm equivalent Scheider-Kreuznach lens
  • 3.0 inch tilt-swivel LCD
  • RAW image capability
  • front and rear control dials
  • face detection
  • image stabilization (2-stop shutter speed gain)
  • multi-aspect ratio shooting
  • great macro capabilities (to 5cm)
  • 16 seconds to 1/1600 shutter speed
  • f1.8-f7 aperture range
  • HDR shooting mode
  • VGA movie clips

The key selling feature for me of the Canon G11 and G12 series is the tilt-swivel LCD. Anyone who followed my Daily Snap for 2010 knows how much I loved the G11 for the tilt-swivel LCD to get really creative angles that are difficult without this feature. I love the feature so much that I feel lost without a tilt-swivel LCD. There are very few point-n-shoot cameras on the market with a tilt-swivel LCD and RAW capability (which is the second most important camera feature for me). Samsung’s EX1 not only has a tilt-swivel LCD and RAW just like the Canon G11/G12, it also has a feature list that compares well with Canon’s G-series cameras. But the Samsung betters the Canon cameras with a bigger LCD, a super fast lens (f1.8!) and a wider angle lens (24mm equivalent). The Canon’s have more telephoto reach, slightly closer macro capabilities and the G12 has HD video.

I took out the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1 and shot the same scenes with both cameras. I was interested in how well each camera handled (ergonomics), how the files compared to each other and how useful were the slight differences between the Samsung and the Canon G11.

The Tilt-Swivel LCD

Both the Canon G11 (the G12 is the same) and the Samsung EX1 have a tilt-swivel LCD with the same range of movements. I preferred the Samsung LCD because it was physically bigger and the images was displayed larger on the LCD. I also liked the look and feel of the images on the Samsung LCD better, but this latter is a matter of personal taste. Really, all three of the cameras have a great LCD display that most people will love.

The f1.8 Aperture

The ability to shoot fast (f1.8-f2.4 depending on the zoom range) with the Samsung EX1 is a blessing. I loved it to do indoor existing light photography. Also it was great to get a shallow slice of focus which is difficult to do with a small sensor point-n-shoot camera. I can see this as a great advantage for travel photography and low light shooting. Below is a shot taken hand-held at 1/10th of a second at f1.8 at 80 ISO with the EX1

Samsung EX1 at f1.8 for a thin slice of focus

The Wide, Wide View

I am a wide angle lens fan. I see the world from a wide angle point of view. On my full frame camera a 24mm lens is my absolute favorite and so it is easy to understand why I prefer the big wide view of the Samsung over the Canon G11/G12. You would think that there is not much difference between 24mm equivalent (Samsung) and 28mm equivalent (Canon G11/G12) but check out the photos of Brando below taken from the exact same spot.

Canon G11 at widest angle setting = 28mm

Samsung EX1 at widest angle setting = 24mm

The Long View

The Canon G11/G12 has a longer telephoto setting than the Samsung (140mm equivalent vs. 72mm). For a lot of people the longer reach is really important. I am often racking the Canon G11 all the way out to pull in distant landscapes and make extractive intimate details. I admit to missing the extra reach on the Samsung. Pictures like the image below of a distant landscape across a river are hard to do with the limited telephoto range of the Samsung EX1

Telephoto landscape with the Canon G11

Fast and Easy Camera Controls

Anybody who follows this blog is likely to know that I really dislike the layout and buttons on the back of the G11. They are too crowded together and leave no room for my thumb to hold the camera (see here for more complaining!). The Canon G12 will be a little better in this regard with the addition of a front dial to the camera. But even that camera has a back panel of crowded buttons and dials that would drive me crazy. The Samsung also has a rear and a front dial but there is more space for my thumb on the back of the camera than on the G11. I simply can not use the Canon G11 with gloves on and so winter photography gets a bit chilly. I tried the Samsung with gloves on and had no real problem operating all the controls. I found the controls intuitive and user friendly (more so than the Canon G11).

The Lens

Samsung touts the use of a Schneider-Kreuznach Lens on their camera as getting the ultimate in sharpness. Schneider optics have a legendary reputation among photographers. So it is no wonder Samsung uses the optical company’s name to help sell the camera. But does the great lens really make a difference? I took an image of the sign below at f5.0 on both cameras hand-held using auto-focus and 1/100th of a second. Both RAW images were processed exactly the same way in Adobe Camera RAW.

©Overall Photo of Sign

Here is a comparison of center sharpness:

Canon G11 - Center Shapness

Samsung EX1 - Center Sharpness

The sharpness at the center of the image looks very similar to me. There might be a slight edge to the Samsung, but in practical terms, you’d be hard-pressed to see any difference in prints between the two cameras. Where the differences in the lens quality starts to show up is at the edges of the frame. Below is a scene taken with both cameras at f5.0, ISO 100, hand-held (this time at 1/160th of a second).

Overall tree scene

The next two photos compare edge sharpness between the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1:

Canon G11 edge sharpness

Samsung EX1 edge sharpenss

The Samsung more clearly wins the edge sharpness test. Also the Samsung has less colour fringing at the edges of the frame. In the photos below colour fringing becomes stronger at the edges of the frame in out-of-focus high contrast areas on the Canon G11; Here is the overall scene:

Old Building - overall scene

And here are the frame edges showing the amount of colour fringing exhibited by each camera:

Canon G11 fringing

Samsung EX1 fringing

Overall, there are not huge differences in image quality between the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1 but the Samsung does have the edge when pixel-peeking. In the real world of print and publication these differences are really minor and negligible.

Video

The real winner with video at least on paper would be the Canon G12 which gives HD video where the others do not. I did not test video between the cameras.

Practical Controls

I mostly use aperture priority and manually select my focus point. Exposure compensation on the G11/G12 is easy with a dedicated dial. On the Samsung the front dial does the job just as fast. To alter the focus point on the G11/G12 you need to push the focus point selector and then use the rear thumb-wheel to move the selector around. Same on the Samsung, but on the latter I could do with gloves on, I could not with the G11.

File Quality Compared to a Big Sensor Point-n-Shoot

Just for fun, I took a few comparison shots between the Samsung EX1 and the Sigma DP1x which is a point-n-shoot with an APS-sized sensor. The Sigma has a dSLR-sized sensor, a prime lens (28mm equivalent) and delivers stunning image quality. How did the Samsung shape up in this comparison? Here is the overall scene:

Fort overall

Fort Detail - Samsung EX1

Fort detail - Sigma DP1x

The Samsung can not compete with the big sensor on the Sigma but the Sigma is a specialty camera with a fixed prime lens. Really, it is not fair to compare the two cameras but we can clearly see less colour fringing and much better resolution in the Sigma file. To see how the Sigma DP1x compares to the Canon G11 and the Canon Rebel T2i (a 35mm dSLR camera) check out this review.

Conclusion

The Samsung EX1 gives the Canon G11/G12 a run for the money. For those who love a fast wide angle lens, the Samsung comes out on top. Personally I am willing to give up some telephoto reach for a lighting-fast super-wide lens. But that’s me. I think the controls on the Samsung are better than on the two Canon cameras mostly because I hate Canon’s crowded back panel. And I prefer Samsung’s bigger LCD. The Canon G11/G12 has the edge for longer telephoto shots and closer macro. The G12 has HD video and 4-stop image stabilization. I did not do any high ISO comarisons so I can not comment on whether the new HS system on the Canon G12 gives better high ISO performance or not. Personally I prefer a faster lens at lower ISO than a slower lens with better ISO performance. In the end, I think it is a draw and which camera you choose depends on your needs, wants and preferences. If I did not already own the Canon G11, I would definately buy the Samsung EX1/TL500. If you want a tilt-swivel LCD point-n-shoot camera then your two top choices to consider would be the Canon G12 or the Samsung EX1 followed by a used Canon G11. Based on current prices the Samsung EX1 is the best buy of the bunch – see below!

For other reviews of the Samsung EX1/TL500 see:

Luminous Landscape

dpreview

Steve’s Digicams

Buy the Canon G12 ($450), buy the Samsung EX1 ($350), buy the Sigma DP1x ($600) — the Canon G11 is discontinued and only available used.

10 Responses to “Samsung EX1/TL500 Review – A Canon G11/G12 Killer?”

  1. Nice review! But… No doubt, the point n shoot manufacturers are throwing down the gauntlet as far as trumping the image quality of the G11/G12 (or S90/S95). But the bottom line is that the “high end” PnS is what it is–very good images in an extremely portable package. Personally, as a hobbyist, I’m more interested in lower priced, more compact DSLRs that can compete on some scale with the heavyweights. In that class, the Canon T2i got me to to bite.

    Would I offload my G11 for an EX1? No way. Would I upgrade to a G12? Not necessary because I have a T2i for the video capabilities. For me, very good is good enough. The current selling factor in the PnS market, in my book, is that the G11/G12 is more adaptable via Lensmate type products. Does the EX1 have an equivalent for add ons?

    Just my 2 pixels. xo 😉

  2. I agree with you about the T2i–I own one and think it is the best value in a dSLR on the market right now. I use it more and more for all my pro work.

    I am with you, I did not upgrade to the G12, the G11 does what I want it to do. And I have all the accessories for the G11 (l-bracket, lensmate etc) so I am not selling it. The EX is not that much of a temptation for me to drop the G11. But… if I did not have a high end point-n-shoot I would give the EX1 serious consideration.

    The ex1 has an adapter that will accept a wider angle lens and with this adapter you can screw on filters as well but it is not as elegant as the Lensmate solution

    http://www.samsung.com/ca/consumer/camera-camcorder/cameras/lenses-accessories/EA-LWCEX01/index.idx?pagetype=acc_detail&subsubtype=lenses

    Darwin

    • Neil Zelin Says:

      Darwin, Regarding the lensemate system for a G12 does the Part A tube lock directly onto the camera body mount or to the stick on adapter? If the latter can it truly support the weight/leverage of the additional Part B tube and a Canon TC-DC58C 2x teleconverter lens without breaking off or damaging the extension mechanism?

      If the answer to the above is no ie not secure or harmful can one use the stick on adapter for rapid exchange of 52mm filters and still place a standard single peice canon type barrel adapter (body mounted) for the longer lense ie will the barrel fit over the stick on component?

      I am currently using a G12 with the canon adapter tube and 2x teleconveter

      • Part A locks directly into the camera body so should be no problem with the conversion lens but than again I have not tried it so I may not know what the hell I am talking about😉

  3. I want to step into the point-and-shoot world and Darvin, your posts were the best inspiration to do it. So I bought the G12 and I’d like to start a 365 PAD project:))

    Could you tell me that your adapters are working well with G12?

    Miklós

  4. The Lensmate adapters work great with the G12

    Darwin

  5. I have owned Canon products for quite a while now & am not ready to jump ship yet but I have been spending more time on deck lately. Besides a 20D, I own a G11 and find myself using the latter when shooting macro in the field (shooting wildflowers) much more than the 20D. As discussed in your rant section, I too have been quite annoyed with the control knobs on the back of the G11 (I have also felt like tossing it in the drink on many occasions). Because of the G11’s poor autofocus capabilities in the macro mode (IMHO), I have often had to use the manual focus control and because of the cramped layout and my large thumbs, I have often inadvertently switched to another mode, which has been &$#@ maddening. I understand that the G12 has control knobs on the front and I would like to know if these controls include manual focus? I called Canon’s technical group but was unable to speak to someone who was versed in this matter.

  6. Nigel Chapman Says:

    Having a Nikon DSLR system I was looking for a good quality compact, Canon G11/12 Panasonic LX5 and Samsung EX1 were all considered, but price was definitely my main concern. Here in UK all these cameras were around £350 – £400 and way out of my range, that was until I found the EX1 an- ex-demo model for just £160. I love it. Yes there are some minor irritations, it’s not the speediest camera, and the zoom limited, but the image quality is great for what it is, and more to the point I simply enjoy taking photo’s with it. Thanks to this review, I knew it would be a camera worth buying.

  7. […] Read Darwin Wiggett’s review here. […]

  8. Norwood C. Hazard Says:

    Does the Samsung EX-1/TL500 have a manual focus system?
    I read a review some time ago that knocked a higher end Samsung for not providing any actual manual focus provision— perhaps this camera. Not in actually the same market but the Oly EM5 seems to have a screen within a screen 5 & 10 x enlargement for fine focus— the Rebel T3i loses the larger view when going to 5 or 10 x, making framing difficult.

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