Samsung NX10 Review
How Does it Compare?
For many years, Samsung has mainly been producing ho-hum compact cameras and rebadged Pentax digital SLRs. Their announcement of the NX system in 2009 caused quite a stir in the industry, and more than a year later, I must say that I'm impressed with the first camera in the series, the NX10. It's not a groundbreaking product, but the NX10 does a lot, and it does it well. It takes good quality photos, performs robustly, features a beautiful AMOLED display, offers a complete set of manual controls, and can record 720p movies. Downsides include very frequent (but slight) underexposure, noise levels that aren't as good as the competition, limited visibility of the main display and EVF in extreme lighting conditions, and a few movie mode frustrations. Despite its flaws, the NX10 is the first Samsung camera I've actually enjoyed using in a very long time. It's not the best interchangeable lens camera, but it's still one that should be strongly considered.
The NX10 is a compact, SLR-style interchangeable lens camera. The body is composite (read: plastic), though it feels quite solid for the most part. While the right hand grip isn't huge, I found that it was easy to hold the camera with one hand, except when using heavier lenses. The NX10 does have more than its share of buttons, which are on the small side, and not necessarily in the best locations. The NX10 uses the new Samsung NX mount, and there are currently three lenses on the market, with more to come this year. Two of the lenses have image stabilization (the 18-55 and 50-200), while the 30 mm pancake lens does not. The camera also supports an adapter for Pentax K-mount lenses, though those will operate with manual focus only. Whichever lens you attach, there will be a 1.5X crop factor to keep in the back of your mind. Unlike the Micro Four Thirds offers from Olympus and Panasonic, the Samsung NX10 uses an APS-C size sensor. In theory this allows for better image quality at higher sensitivities, though in reality both the Olympus E-PL1 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 did better in that department (but I'm getting ahead of myself). On the back of the camera you'll find a beautiful 3-inch AMOLED display, which sports 614,000 pixels. This display has great color, contrast, and is easy to see at nearly any angle, though it's outdoor visibility leaves something to be desired. There's also a sharp 921k pixel electronic viewfinder on the NX10, though it's on the small side.
Being a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, the NX10 is a live view only camera, and Samsung has done a pretty nice job implementing this feature. You get fast, 15-point autofocus (with 35 points available in closeup mode), face detection, a live histogram, exposure and white balance previews, and manual focus frame enlargement. The bad news is that low light visibility is poor (especially with the EVF), and that the MF enlargement feature is fixed at one zoom setting. The camera has a host of point-and-shoot features, with the highlight being the Smart Auto mode, which selects a scene mode for you (there are plenty to choose from manually, as well). The camera has a nice face detection feature with a handy self-portrait mode, both of which worked well. I also liked the customizable self-timer and help screens for (most) menu items. The NX10 has plenty of manual controls as well, covering exposure, white balance (including fine-tuning and color temperature), and color/sharpness/contrast adjustment. Naturally, the NX10 supports the RAW image format, and Samsung includes a clunky, Windows-only editor with the camera (a Mac version is available if you jump through a few hoops). The NX10 can bracket for exposure, white balance, and "Picture Wizard" (the aforementioned color/sharpness/contrast adjustment feature). The camera is short on custom functions, and there's no way to save your favorite settings to a spot on the mode dial, as you can with other cameras in this class.
The Samsung NX10 can also record HD movies at a resolution of 1280 x 720 (30 fps) with monaural sound (there's no stereo mic option). You can record until the file size reaches 4GB, or the recording time hits 25 minutes. While the optical zoom is available, the camera won't focus continuously -- you have to press the DOF preview button to get it to refocus. The optical image stabilizer is available (should your lens have that feature), and there's a wind filter for outdoor recording. I did notice that the camera doesn't seem to save the last 1/2 second or so of video, which is slightly annoying.
The NX10 is a capable performer in most areas. With the startup dust reduction cycle turned off (which is the default), you can start taking photos as soon as you flip the power switch. With dust reduction on, the delay is closer to 3 seconds (yuck). The camera focuses very quickly -- probably as fast as the Panasonic G-series models -- and does well in low light, too. Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot delays were minor, though note that you cannot access menus or enter playback mode while the camera is saving RAW images. The NX10 has two continuous shooting modes, though only one is at full resolution. The high res continuous mode has a nice 3.3 frame/second burst rate, but the buffer fills very quickly (after three shots when RAW images are involved). The other "burst" mode is very fast (10 fps), but the resolution is low and the LCD blacks out after the first shot. One area in which the NX10 excels is battery life: it has the best numbers in its class.
The Samsung NX10's image quality isn't the best in the interchangeable lens camera class, but it's still very good. The two biggest issues related to a nearly constant underexposure (of 1/3 stop) and high ISO performance that's at least a full stop behind the E-PL1 and DMC-G2 (I can't comment on the Sony NEX-5 image quality yet). The first one is easy to fix (hello, exposure compensation), while the second can be helped by using the RAW image format. While the NX10 does clip highlights at times, I don't think it's as bad as on the Micro Four Thirds cameras, and the Smart Range feature helps to reduce that issue. Color was nice and vivid, and images have the typical "smooth" appearance that you expect to see from cameras in this class. Neither purple fringing nor redeye were major issues.
There are a few other things to mention before I wrap up this conclusion. I found that the 18 - 55 mm kit lens sometimes had noticeable blurring on the right side of the frame. Since it's just on one side, I have to believe that it's the particular lens I used, but I'd be interested in hearing from NX10 owners about their experiences. Samsung puts the full camera manual on a CD-ROM, and even then, it's not nearly as detailed as I would've liked. Samsung doesn't include an A/V output cable and, as I mentioned, Mac software is not included (though you can get it). Finally, when you've enlarged a photo in playback mode, there's no way to jump from photo to photo, while keeping the zoom and position intact -- a handy feature found on nearly every D-SLR and interchangeable lens camera.
Overall, the Samsung NX10 is quite impressive for a first generation product, though it has a ways to go before it'll be the best interchangeable lens camera on the market. Samsung has shown through firmware updates that they want to improve the NX10, and I hope that trend continues, and that some of the other issues are addressed in future models. Taking the NX10 as it is now, it's a compelling (but not class-leading) camera that's certainly worth your consideration.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
- Compact, SLR-style body with NX-mount interchangeable lenses; good build quality in most respects
- Beautiful 3-inch AMOLED display with excellent color, contrast, and viewing angle
- Nice live view implementation: fast autofocus, live histogram, face detection, grid lines, and more
- High resolution (but small) electronic viewfinder
- Full manual controls, with lots of white balance and bracketing options
- RAW format supported, with capable (but clunky) editor included
- Smart Auto mode selects a scene mode for you
- Smart Range feature improves highlight detail
- Help screens for most menu options
- Records HD movies at 720p with control over aperture
- Best-in-class battery life
- Optional Pentax K-mount adapter (though it will be manual focus only)
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Camera consistently underexposes (not by much, though)
- High ISO performance not as good as competition
- Main display and EVF difficult to see in extreme lighting conditions
- Continuous shooting mode hampered by lack of buffer memory
- No "true" continuous AF in movie mode; camera cuts off last 1/2 second of video
- Right-side blurriness with kit lens (though it may be my particular lens)
- No way to move between images (while maintaining zoom/position) when using playback zoom feature
- Slow startup speeds when dust reduction is on
- Full manual on CD-ROM, and is not very detailed
- No A/V output cable or Mac software included, though the latter can be downloaded
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the NX10 and its competitors before you buy!
See how the NX10's photos look in our gallery!