SAMSUNG NX10 – RAISING THE STAKES

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Background

As I’m testing the Samsung NX10, the new Sony NEX-3/-5 is released, and it strikes me that Samsung is the odd man out for looking so much like a small DSLR. The NX10 is the workhorse PC here, while Olympus and Sony follow the Mac style. Pansonic’s Lumix G range comes in fashion colours too, but the Samsung is black or white.

These new compacts have carved out 10% of the interchangeable lens camera market (read DSLR market), according to some accounts. The new market is driven by three kinds of photographers, I suspect:

  • Pros who want a small camera to test locations or for emergency back-up
  • Well-heeled consumers who don’t mind paying for style
  • Gadget freaks who must have the latest, whatever that is.

The new market is also driven by electronics makers who branched out into cameras when they went digital. Mirror-less compacts are a logical step for them, since they avoid the complications of mechanical mirrors and penta prisms, and need not worry about backwards compatibility with legacy lenses.

SAMSUNG NX10 Value Proposition

The Samsung NX10 breaks new ground (Sony has now followed suit) as the first compact with its APS-C sized sensor, the kind that’s found in most consumer DSLRs. It’s about 30% bigger than the micro 4/3 sensor used by Panasonic and Olympus and promises even better image quality in a camera that’s no bigger than the Lumix G1/2.

As Samsung puts it: Never compromise when it comes to capturing life’s most precious moments. The Samsung NX10 offers an incredible 14.6 Megapixels and APS-C size CMOS sensor which delivers high-quality images and rich, natural color. It’s the perfect size to carry with you everywhere, but still packs powerful features like high definition video recording and an AF function for fast action shots.’

The Samsung NX10’s key features are

  • 14.6 mp (effective) APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 1280 x 720 video capture (H.264, 30 fps)
  • 3.0″ AMOLED screen with 614,000 dots
  • Built-in 921k dot Electronic Viewfinder with proximity sensor
  • Built-in flash
  • Fastest AF in class
  • Supersonic dust reduction

There’s nothing really new here, so it comes down to how these tricks work. My guess is that the NX10’s sensor is an evolution of the Samsung sensor used in the GX-20 and the Pentax K-7. 14.6 megapixels isn’t quite up there with the Canon 550D I tested a few weeks ago but it’s still far more pixels than you need for non-commercial work.

Samsung shares sensors with Pentax, and I suspect Pentax had a lot to do with the new lenses, but the body is all Samsung (except for the ‘green’ button which resets selected functions back to their default position). The NX10 has a new 42mm lens mount and can use Pentax lenses via an adaptor if you’re willing to focus manually (more below). http://www.samsungimaging.net/adapters-for-the-nx10-have-been-unveiled-at-the-pma2010/

SAMSUNG NX10 Build Quality and Handling

The NX10 is a well-built, solid camera shaped like a small DSLR so it feels good to hold. All the grip surfaces are covered with a soft, non-slip material. The on-off switch is a ring around the shutter as is the case with Nikons, and the rest of the layout is just as traditional – from the mode dial on the top right to the buttons on the back.

It looks like Samsung is aiming this camera at serious shooters rather then the fashion set, and has stuck to the traditional script for DSLR layouts, including the built-in flash on top. Once you swap the pancake lens for the 18-55mm zoom, however, it isn’t that much smaller than compact DSLRs either.

Source: Imaging Resource – http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/NX10/NX10A.HTM

My point is that it still won’t fit in your pocket, unless the pocket belongs to an anorak and you have the pancake lens on the camera. This is an issue for all these compacts: the bodies are much smaller than equivalent DSLRs but the promise of smaller lenses has yet to be delivered in full, as you can see from the photo above. And the Samsung 50-200mm zoom is just as hefty as the tele-zooms in my Nikon system.

The test camera was supplied with the 30mm pancake lens, the 18-55mm kit zoom and the 55-200mm tele-zoom, packed in a Samsung-branded Lowepro camera bag. More lenses are in the pipeline: a 20 pancake, a 20-50 zoom, a 18-200mm zoom and a 60mm macro lens. Yes, Samsung is serious.

Menus and modes

The layout of basic controls is logical, and the menus easy enough to get around. The usual modes are present on the top dial, including a SMART mode that guesses what you’re about to shoot (it works more often than not), and a beauty mode that performs plastic surgery on the fly. The 4-way control wheel gives you quick access to White Balance, ISO, AF and metering, and the FN button gives you access to a few more settings. There’s even a Depth of Field preview button.

All good, except that the control wheel and the buttons are too small and too squishy – not crisp and positive in their response to the touch. It means that you change a setting but end up with a different setting by accident because the OK button didn’t lock the change you made in. There’s plenty of room on the back of the camera, so the buttons and four-way control could easily be made bigger.

Viewfinder and Screen

The EVF is typical of its type and comes with a sensor that switches it on and the screen off when you put your eye close to it. That’s about the only positive I can find for it. It’s a grainy affair in subdued light and blows out bright spots in bright light. For anyone who’s seen through the viewfinder of a Nikon D90 or even a D40, the NX10’s EVF is going to be a letdown. If you’re used to framing shots carefully through the VF, the NX10 will frustrate you and, if you have Pentax lenses that need manual focusing, this is probably the wrong camera to use with them.

The upside is that LiveView is better than any of the fancy DSLRs so, if you’re coming from a digicam, you won’t notice any difference. The AMOLED screen saves the day to an extent because it’s good and clear and usable in bright light. Sadly, it’s fixed rather than articulated but it does give a fairly accurate preview of the light conditions, going darker and lighter to make you adjust your shooting settings.

SAMSUNG NX10 Performance

The NX10 is easy to use and easy to like, right out of the box. Its metering is accurate as a rule, and its autofocus is the same if a bit on the slow side. Reproduction is superb, both in colour and sharpness. The pancake lens is fast and sharp and the mid-range zoom is surprisingly competent. The tele-zoom is about average for a kit lens.

Image Quality

The RAW files were over 20mb which made them hard work, so I settled on JPEGs at the 10mp economy size, which is more than enough for general purpose photography. As usual, I turned the in-camera processing settings (via the Picture Wizard) to off, zero, neutral, standard and so on to ensure minimal processing. Then I went down to the harbour.

The full version of this photo is very sharp, with the late light captured nicely.

This is a 100% crop from the previous image. Getting sharp shot with accurate colour was easy, at least in terms of lanscapes.

A weekend in Kangaroo Valley two hours south-west of Sydney provided a change of scenery, and a perfect autumn Mother’s day. My partner’s mother has the most stunning Nyssa Sylvatica in her garden, and this provided wonderful opportunities in the late afternoon light. The NX10 did the occasion absolutely proud.

But it’s not just good at catching landscapes

Nice still life. I’ve posted more photos on my blog in the Samsung NX10 gallery http://briard.typepad.com/get_the_picture/samsung-nx10-gallery.html

Action

This is where the NX10’s shortcomings become serious obstacles. The Electronic Viewfinder makes action shooting difficult because of the inherent lag – it takes a second or two to show you what you’ve just shot. Of course you can use the screen, and that works better for single shots. If you want to take a few shots as you follow the action, you’ll soon find the screen a blur as it tries to show you what you’re about to shoot and what you’ve just shot, more or less at the same time.

The only other option is to use continuous shooting (2.5 fps) and hope for the best, or burst mode which fires off rounds at the speed of a machine gun (30 fps). That’s impressive speed but not what you want when trying to catch kids or pets or sports action. If you shoot  a lot of action, the NX10 is most likely the wrong camera for you – any DSLR makes it a lot easier to follow subjects around and focus and shoot fast.

Another thing that doesn’t work on the NX10 is the Auto ISO. The circuit that controls it thinks it’s fine to shoot handheld at 1/15 sec. Auto White Balance works a lot better.

Video

The Samsung NX10’s video mode is as easy as shooting still: just select the mode, focus and shoot. I’m not all that interested in video but it works fine at a basic level, except for the blur effect during sweeps which was quite pronounced. And the image quality wasn’t that great – skin colours taking on a waxy quality was the most noticeable defect.

The NX10 records 640×480, 320×240 or 1,280 x 720 at 30 frames-per-second, but the audio is only mono and there’s no external microphone jack. It’s probably fine for home video clips as long as you keep the panning slow and steady.

Low-light Shooting

The NX10 produces fairly clean shots up to ISO 800. Noise starts to rear its ugly head at ISO 1600 but the images are still usable. ISO 3200 is best left for emergencies and ISO 6400 is sensibly not on the menu (thank you for being so honest, Samsung). The shots below are 100% crops, ISO 1600 followed by ISO 3200.

So the NX10 isn’t quite up there with the Nikon D5000 in the low light stakes but there is a decent flash to fall back on, and it’s built-in rather than an add-on option.

Verdict on the Samsung NX10

The Samsung NX10 is competent, easy to use on the whole and easy to like. It produces images of impressive colour and sharpness with the pancake and short zoom lenses, and is clearly a great camera for landscapes and travel. It’s well-built and solid, the body is slim and compact, and it handles well. In fact, for a first model in a brand new line from an electronics giant who until now has produced largely undistinguished digicams and re-branded DSLRs, this is a mighty achievement.

The NX10 is a serious camera that comes with a couple of serious flaws: The viewfinder lets the show down, and the small, squishy control buttons make navigation a hit-and-miss affair. The auto ISO issue is a minor blemish, and the low light shots are acceptable if not quite up there with the competition.

Competition

Samsung has put a pretty sharp price on the NX10. It sells for about $700 in the USA with the 18-55mm lens and, down under, you can get the twin lens kit for less than A$1,000. It also includes flash and EVF, which are costly options on some of its competitors. And, by eschewing the luxurious mark-ups Canon and Nikon enjoy in the Australian market, Samsung has swept the grey market sellers right off the shopbot.com page.

The NX10’s image quality is right up with the best, and the lenses are as good as any of the kit competition. Autofocus and shooting are faster than Sigma and Olympus can manage but still lags behind any DSLR. The NX10 competes most directly with the Lumix G series, and offers an attractive alternative.

If you need to have the compact size, the NX10 is probably the best deal going for the money right now. If you want fast action shooting and better low light performance, the Pentax K-x DSLR is a steal at $200 less if you don’t mind the extra bulk. And you’ll be able to use those old Pentax lenses as well.

Buy a Samsung NX10

Get a price on the Samsung NX10 at Amazon

A word on my methodology

I don’t test or review cameras the way DP Review or Steve’s Digicams do. I test cameras as a user, and that means I look for image quality, good design, ease of use and logical operation/navigation. Good design is about a great user experience, something very few companies are good at. Here’s a piece of my mind on the subject http://www.technoledge.com.au/pdfs/user-experience.pdf

Additional Resources

If you want all the gory details, look no further than DPReview http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/samsungnx10/

http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/NX10/NX10A.HTM

http://www.photoreview.com.au/reviews/advanced/samsung-nx10.aspx

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
SAMSUNG NX10
Author Rating
4

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Kim Brebach is a marketing professional whose experience spans over 3 decades in the IT industry. His interests include photography, cool technology, great music, theatre and books, wine and food, tennis and chess. You can find his photo blog at Get the Picture.

  • I cant see a single good reason why anyone would get this instead of a basic dSLR, which is like half the prize?

  • I am in the market for a compact, but I am waiting on the Nikon version only for the reason all of my other gear is Nikon and I want to use my speedlights on it. This looks fine and dandy, I just don’t know about a Samsung camera that is serious at any level. they always seem to be to be stuck in the toy-making business. Maybe I need to reevaluate that.

  • Kelly

    Nice review, but I can’t understand WHY you keep comparing it to DSLRs (Nikon d5000, Canon T2i, Nikon D90/D40)– it’s not a DSLR, even if it has the functionality of one. Why don’t you compare it to similar prosumer cameras? My bet is that someone who is looking at a camera like this is looking at it because it’s NOT a DSLR, so your comparisons are not helpful.

  • Kim

    Kelly, I take your point but I made more than a few comparisons to mirrorless competitors I thought. However, the NX10 is the first mirrorless I’ve actually tested for a 10-day stretch, and I am in truth more familiar with DSLRs. And I don’t agree that people looking at these cameras are not looking at DSLRs – the big point I made was that the compact difference isn’t that great in the end, and the price is a premium.
    Kim

  • Rob

    The larger sensor size leads to bigger lenses than MFT due to the crop factor in getting equivalent FOV. The Samsung also has a longer flange back distance which increases lens size.

  • Rob

    Atte: They are easier to use due to live view (unlike the impractical slow focusing live view on DSLRs)
    They are lighter than SLRs that produce similar quality i.e. mid range not the entry level ones.
    They will come down in price.

  • Rob

    I think it would be fair to mention that although an EVF doesn’t perform as well as optical in low light or action, it does allow you to preview white balance, exposure and depth of field. It also allows more overlays than an optical viewfinder.

  • Was there a reason to use the NX10 as a 10 megapixel camera? My impression is that the pictures lack the punch of which this sensor is capable when used as a 14.6 megapixel!
    I know the conventional wisdom is that small file sizes are OK for small images, but when viewed as an A4 sized image, especially captured RAW, the larger files appear better to my eyes..

  • Lawrence, I can’t see the difference but my eyes may be older than yours.
    🙂
    The reason I switched to the smaller pixel size was that I see no point in going past 8 or 10mp for non-professional photography. The bigger files just slow down the editing process.

    Kim

  • Kelsey

    Hey! I’ve just got a NX10 as a present and can’t seem to find how to put it into the continuous shooting mode, and I was wondering if you could help me? Please, it really would mean a lot to me. Thanks! 🙂

  • Mandy

    Hi Kim, Loved the review and nice photos – thanks!
    I have just bought this camera but cannot work out how to take black and white shots? Can you tell me where this functionality lies?
    Thanks…

Some Older Comments

  • Mandy April 2, 2011 05:32 pm

    Hi Kim, Loved the review and nice photos - thanks!
    I have just bought this camera but cannot work out how to take black and white shots? Can you tell me where this functionality lies?
    Thanks...

  • Kelsey August 13, 2010 03:02 am

    Hey! I've just got a NX10 as a present and can't seem to find how to put it into the continuous shooting mode, and I was wondering if you could help me? Please, it really would mean a lot to me. Thanks! :)

  • Kim Brebach June 7, 2010 05:55 am

    Lawrence, I can't see the difference but my eyes may be older than yours.
    :-)
    The reason I switched to the smaller pixel size was that I see no point in going past 8 or 10mp for non-professional photography. The bigger files just slow down the editing process.

    Kim

  • Lawrence Baker June 4, 2010 08:29 am

    Was there a reason to use the NX10 as a 10 megapixel camera? My impression is that the pictures lack the punch of which this sensor is capable when used as a 14.6 megapixel!
    I know the conventional wisdom is that small file sizes are OK for small images, but when viewed as an A4 sized image, especially captured RAW, the larger files appear better to my eyes..

  • Rob May 20, 2010 09:03 pm

    I think it would be fair to mention that although an EVF doesn't perform as well as optical in low light or action, it does allow you to preview white balance, exposure and depth of field. It also allows more overlays than an optical viewfinder.

  • Rob May 20, 2010 09:30 am

    Atte: They are easier to use due to live view (unlike the impractical slow focusing live view on DSLRs)
    They are lighter than SLRs that produce similar quality i.e. mid range not the entry level ones.
    They will come down in price.

  • Rob May 20, 2010 09:26 am

    The larger sensor size leads to bigger lenses than MFT due to the crop factor in getting equivalent FOV. The Samsung also has a longer flange back distance which increases lens size.

  • Kim May 20, 2010 08:24 am

    Kelly, I take your point but I made more than a few comparisons to mirrorless competitors I thought. However, the NX10 is the first mirrorless I've actually tested for a 10-day stretch, and I am in truth more familiar with DSLRs. And I don't agree that people looking at these cameras are not looking at DSLRs - the big point I made was that the compact difference isn't that great in the end, and the price is a premium.
    Kim

  • Kelly May 19, 2010 09:14 pm

    Nice review, but I can't understand WHY you keep comparing it to DSLRs (Nikon d5000, Canon T2i, Nikon D90/D40)-- it's not a DSLR, even if it has the functionality of one. Why don't you compare it to similar prosumer cameras? My bet is that someone who is looking at a camera like this is looking at it because it's NOT a DSLR, so your comparisons are not helpful.

  • scott May 19, 2010 07:31 am

    I am in the market for a compact, but I am waiting on the Nikon version only for the reason all of my other gear is Nikon and I want to use my speedlights on it. This looks fine and dandy, I just don't know about a Samsung camera that is serious at any level. they always seem to be to be stuck in the toy-making business. Maybe I need to reevaluate that.

  • Atte May 19, 2010 07:03 am

    I cant see a single good reason why anyone would get this instead of a basic dSLR, which is like half the prize?

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