Although it's a little more expensive than most competitors, considering it lacks a viewfinder, the Samsung NX500 offers a lot of useful features, excellent video quality, and action-friendly performance that makes it a nice choice for families and travelers.
The NX500 costs a little on the high side for an interchangeable-lens camera (ILC) without a viewfinder: $600 (AU$1,000 , about £600) in a market where most of the competitors run about $100 less (price differentials aren't as straightforward elsewhere but run about £50- £100, AU$100-AU$300). For the money, though, you get a slightly broader feature set that includes 4K movie capture.
Unsurprisingly, the photo and video quality definitely surpasses its smaller-sensor competitor, the Olympus E-PL7. Samsung has crammed most of the high-end components from theinto the NX500's body: same sensor, same DRIMe V image processor, and almost the same 4K recording capabilities (it can't stream 4K over HDMI and has no mic input).
For a camera in its price class the photo quality is quite good, though, with excellent rendering of colors, white balance and tonal range; I'd say it's probably one of the better ILCs under $1,000. Unfortunately, it can't match the sharpness at middle ISO sensitivities of a slightly more expensive camera like the Nikon D5500 which lacks a blurring antialiasing filter on the sensor.
Given that it has many of the same imaging components, it's a great lesson in the huge difference a lens makes. The NX1 ships with an excellent, fast lens (16-50mm f2-2.8); the NX500 ships with an at-best better-than-average 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom kit lens. So photos that stay sharp through ISO 6400 on the NX1 start to lose some sharpness at about ISO 1600 on the NX500 and the out-of-focus areas look much better on the NX1. (Unfortunately, I didn't still have the lens from the NX1 to retest with the NX500.)
The 4K video is excellent; sharp and reasonably high contrast with few artifacts.
Overally, I'd rank the NX500's performance as good but not great. It takes about 1.6 long seconds to power on, focus and shoot, partly because the lens has to extend. Long startup times are one of the drawbacks of ILCs. (The E-PL7's time is faster because the kit lens isn't a power zoom.) Time to focus and shoot is competitive at 0.3 seconds for both raw and JPEG.
Note that after the latest firmware update (version 1.1), the lag time on our dim light test rose substantially to about 0.8 -- the test approximates an exposure value of 3.5EV, which is pretty dark. But in just slightly more light, roughly the equivalent of a dim home interior at 5EV, it drops back to 0.3 second again. (If you're curious, Wikipedia offers a chart mapping EV to real-world conditions.) So in practice you should experience the faster speed far more often than the slower one.
It slows a bit when you throw in the time to process and write photos to the card as it does in our shot-to-shot tests, where both raw and JPEG times round to half a second. With the bundled flash enabled, two sequential shots take about 1.2 seconds as you wait for it to recycle. That's pretty typical for an non-dSLR.
However, it leads its field for continuous-shooting performance at 9.1 frames per second, with continuous autofocus, sustained for at least 30 JPEGs. In practice, it's hard to keep a moving subject framed at that speed without a viewfinder, but I had a decent hit rate with the 50-150mm f2.8 lens, despite the large lens' being somewhat unwiedly on the camera.
The NX500's autofocus system operates pretty well, though its multipoint autofocus is as unreliable as most cameras' -- it frequently selects the closest objects in the scene, though it occasionally chooses randomly and even if you don't move the camera or change the scene it never seems to select the same points twice in a row.