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