Samsung NX10 Review
Originally Posted: May 31, 2010
Last Updated: March 8, 2011
The NX10 ($699) marks Samsung's bold entry into the increasingly competitive interchangeable lens camera market. It's designed to go head-to-head with the likes of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 and, to a lesser extent, the more compact (and viewfinder-less) Olympus E-PL1 and Sony NEX-5 cameras. Samsung never really got any traction selling regular digital SLRs, so now they're trying their hand at an ILC. Based on my experiences with the NX10, I think Samsung has a good chance of success in this space.
The NX10 (right) versus a traditional D-SLR
Image courtesy of Samsung
For those unfamiliar with the concept of an interchangeable lens camera, here's the quick rundown. Traditional D-SLRs are somewhat bulky because they need to make room for the mirror box. Interchangeable lens cameras do away with the mirror box, relying on their sensors to handle everything from focusing to live view. This also gets rid of the optical viewfinder, though some ILCs (the NX10 included) having an electronic viewfinder in their place. The result of eliminating the mirror box is that the "flange back", or the distance between the lens mount and the sensor, is dramatically reduced -- by 48% in the case of the NX10 versus the old Samsung GX20. This is what makes the NX10's body so slender.
Alright, here are some of the highlights of the NX10:
- Compact, SLR-style body
- New NX lens mount, with backward compatibility with Pentax K-mount lenses
- 14.6 Megapixel CMOS sensor (APS-C size)
- 3-inch AMOLED display, plus a high resolution electronic viewfinder
- Built-in flash + hot shoe for an external flash
- Responsive contrast detect autofocus
- Full manual controls, with RAW format support
- 720p movie mode
- Best-in-class battery life
If that sounds interesting to you, then keep reading to see how the NX10 performed in our tests. Our review starts right now!
What's in the Box?
The NX10 will be sold with an 18 - 55 mm lens here in the U.S. ($699), at least initially. Here's what you'll find in the box:
- The 14.6 effective Megapixel Samsung NX10 camera body
- F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm Samsung zoom lens w/OIS
- BP1310 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Body cap
- Lens hood
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- CD-ROM featuring Samsung Master and RAW Converter
- 87 page Quick Start manual (printed) plus full manual on CD-ROM
The 30 mm, 18 - 55 mm, and 50 - 200 mm NX-mount lenses
Since the NX10 has an all-new lens mount, this means that you'll have to buy all new lenses to go along with it (well, that's not completely true, but I'm getting ahead of myself). There are currently three NX lenses on the market: the F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm lens (with optical image stabilization) that comes bundled with the camera, an F2.0, 30 mm pancake lens, and an F4.0-5.6, 50 - 200 mm zoom with OIS. The pancake and 50 - 200 mm lenses feel a bit better built than the 18 - 55, with metal lens mounts, instead of plastic. Image quality was good with all three lenses, though the 18 - 55 had noticeable blurring on the right side of the frame at times.
Samsung has announced that five more lenses are coming in 2010: a non-stabilized version of the kit lens, plus 20 - 50 mm compact zoom, 20 mm pancake, 60 mm macro, and 18 - 200 mm zoom lenses.
Whichever lens you choose, there's a 1.5X focal length conversion to keep in mind, so the 18 - 55 mm kit lens has a field-of-view of 27 - 82.5 mm.
Optional K-mount adapter
Image courtesy of Samsung
Samsung's regular digital SLRs were basically re branded versions of various Pentax models. To help move those customers to the NX10, Samsung offers a K-mount adapter (known as the MA9NXK), which retails for around $200. While details are still a bit sparse on this adapter, my understanding is that it will not support autofocus.
As with all D-SLRs and interchangeable lens cameras, the NX10 does not have any built-in memory, nor does it come with a memory card. Thus, you'll need to pick up an SD or SDHC memory card right away, unless you happen to have one already (apparently the NX10 does not support the high capacity SDXC cards). I'd recommend starting out with a 4GB card, though video aficionados will want something larger. Buying a high speed card (Class 4 or higher) is always a good idea with cameras like this).
The NX10 uses the BP1310 lithium-ion battery for power. Despite being relatively compact, this battery contains a lot of energy -- 9.6 Wh to be exact. Let's see how that translates into battery life, with a look at how the NX10's numbers compare to other cameras in its class:
Thanks to its powerful battery, the NX10 has the best battery life of of any interchangeable lens camera on the market (plus the few D-SLRs that I have battery life info for).
Except for the Pentax K-x, all of the cameras in the above table use proprietary batteries, and you should know two things about them. First, a spare is expensive -- expect to pay around $50 for another BP1310. Second, when the NX10's battery runs out of juice, you can't pick up something off the shelf to get you through the rest of the day, as you could on a camera that uses AA batteries. Some D-SLRs let you use AA batteries with their optional battery grips, but since no interchangeable lens camera supports a grip, you're out of luck there.
When it's time to charge the BP1310, just pop it into the included charger. It takes around 2.5 hours to fully charge the battery. This charger doesn't plug directly into the wall -- you must use a power cable.
Now let's take a look at the accessories that are available for the NX10:
The first thing I should point out is that finding these accessories for sale isn't easy (as you can see by the question marks). Samsung definitely needs to get these products into more stores in the coming months. There are several other accessories that I didn't list in the table, including lens filters, camera bags, and shoulder straps.
Samsung includes two software products with the NX10. The first is Samsung Master, which has been around for a while now. It's a decent image organizer and editor, though it's for Windows only. The main screen has the usual thumbnail view, and you can quickly rotate, delete, e-mail, or print photos from the screen. Do note that Samsung Master can neither import nor view RAW images!
Editing photos in Samsung Master
Double click on an image and you end up on this screen, where you'll find a host of editing options. Basic editing features include cropping, rotating, resizing, and leveling. You can also adjust brightness/contrast, color, exposure, and sharpness. A redeye removal tool is available, as are two auto image quality improvement features. There are a number of special effects available, as well.
As I mentioned, RAW images don't even show up in Samsung Master, so you'll want to use the next piece of software for that.
Samsung RAW Converter
If Samsung RAW Converter 3 looks familiar to you, it should -- it's based on SilkyPix, which comes bundled with several other (non-Samsung) cameras. This is a capable RAW editor, though the user interface is very clunky. It can edit virtually every possible RAW property, whether it's exposure, the tone curve, noise reduction, white balance, or color. There isn't a Mac version included with the camera, but if you don't mind jumping through hoops, you can sign up at Samsung Imaging, go to the NX10 page, click on Downloads, and there it is (in the middle of umpteen Windows versions).
If you want to use something other than Samsung RAW Converter to do your RAW editing, you can use Photoshop CS4 and version 5.7 of the Camera Raw plug-in (though the camera is not officially supported yet, and the color seems off) or other third party RAW converters. The Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop CS5 was not compatible with the NX10 when this article was written.
So what is RAW, anyway, and why should you care? RAW images contain unprocessed image data from the NX10's CMOS sensor. This allows you to change things like exposure, white balance, color, and more -- without degrading the quality of the image. The bad news is that you'll need to convert those RAW images to JPEGs for easy sharing, which can be time-consuming. RAW files are also considerably larger than JPEGs, and can slow down camera performance. Despite that, it's a very handy feature to have on a higher-end camera, especially when shooting at high sensitivities.
For the record, the Samsung NX10 cannot be operated remotely from your computer.
The manual for the NX10 is split up into two parts. There's a fairly length Quick Start Manual in the box, plus the full manual in PDF format on the included CD-ROM (groan). The Quick Start Manual covers more than most "basic" manuals, though the small print and "notes" on each page are a turnoff. For more details, you'll have to open up the PDF file, though even then, the full manual could be a bit "deeper". Documentation for the included software is installed onto your computer.