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.
Look and Feel
The NX10 is a compact, SLR-style interchangeable lens camera. It's not as small as the Olympus E-PL1, Panasonic GF1, or Sony NEX models, but it's still very portable. The camera body appears to be made entirely of a very solid plastic, giving it a high quality feel, though the two plastic doors for the battery and memory card compartments feel a little flimsy. While the right hand grip is on the small side, I found that I could comfortably hold the camera (at least with the smaller lenses) with my pointer finger on top, the middle finger on the grip, and thumb on the back of the camera. The grip has a rubberized finish, which is a nice touch.
The NX10 has more than its share of buttons, and since many of them server more than one function, things can get a little confusing. Most of them are well placed, save for the continuous shooting and "green" buttons on the top of the camera. All of the buttons on the camera could be a bit larger, as well.
The NX10 in black and silver. Images courtesy of Samsung
In the U.S., the NX-10 will come only in black. However, in some other countries you'll be able to pick it up in "noble silver", as well.
Alright, now let's take a look how the NX10 compares to other ILCs and small D-SLRs in terms of size and weight -- body only, of course.
As you can see, the NX10 is one of the smaller interchangeable lens cameras out there. While the Sony NEX-3 is the smallest in the group, its size advantage diminishes once you attach one of its large lenses. I did find that I could transport the NX10 with its pancake or 18 - 55 mm lenses in my coat pocket (with the latter being a tight fit), and it will travel in a small bag or on your shoulder with ease.
|The NX10 (right) next to the similar-looking Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2|
Alright, let's begin our tour of the NX10 now, shall we?
Here's the front of the NX10, without a lens attached. As I mentioned, the NX10 uses a totally new lens mount, known as the -- get ready -- Samsung NX mount. This mount supports current and feature NX lenses, plus Pentax K-mount and numerous other lens types via optional adapters. The only lenses that will support autofocus will be the NX lenses, though. Regardless of what lens you're using, there's a 1.5X crop factor to keep in mind. Also, since the NX10 doesn't have image stabilization built into the camera body, you'll need to buy lenses that offer this feature (and two of the three initial NX lenses do). To release an attached lens, simply press the button located to the right of the mount.
Sensor size comparison, image courtesy of Samsung
Looking through the lens mount, you can see the NX10's 14.6 Megapixel CMOS sensor. This sensor is APS-C size, which makes it larger than the Live MOS sensor used in Micro Four Thirds cameras, and the same size as the sensor in the Sony NEX-3/5 cameras (and regular entry-level D-SLRs). The advantage of the larger sensor is better image quality and less noise at high sensitivities -- at least in theory.
Since the sensor does not have a mirror to protect it from dust, the NX10 is going to need a strong dust reduction system. The NX10 uses a fairly typical system for keeping dust away: first, there's an anti-static coating on the CMOS sensor to keep dust from gathering in the first place. If that's not enough, there's an ultrasonic dust removal system that vibrates at 60,000 Hz to literally shake dust off the sensor at startup and shutdown (though this feature is off by default). During my time with the NX10, I did not find dust to be a problem.
Directly above the lens mount is the NX10's pop-up flash. This flash, which is released electronically, has a guide number of 11 meters at ISO 100. That's the same as on the Panasonic DMC-G2 and G10, and stronger than the flashes in the smaller interchangeable lens cameras. If you want a more powerful flash, you can attach one via the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.
To the lower-left of the lens mount is the camera's depth-of-field preview button. This button can also be redefined to activate the custom white balance feature.
There are two last things to see on the front of the NX10. On the left, near the grip, is the camera's AF-assist lamp. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer, as well. Over on the opposite side of the photo, right under the NX10 logo, is the camera's microphone (monaural).
On the back of the camera is a 3-inch AMOLED display with 614,000 pixels. The AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic LED) screen offers several benefits over traditional LCDs, including improved contrast, a much wider viewing angle, faster response time, and lower power consumption. The screen is certainly beautiful, looking almost as sharp as the 921k pixel screens that are fairly common on D-SLRs these days. The downside of AMOLED screens is that visibility in bright sunlight isn't the greatest.
|The "view" in live view. Sorry these are so lousy -- the NX10 does not output video in record mode||Zoomed-in while in manual focus mode|
As with all interchangeable lens cameras, taking pictures on the NX10 is a live view only affair. You can compose photos on the AMOLED display, or with the electronic viewfinder that you'll see in a moment. The NX10's live view mode offers you a real-time preview of exposure and white balance, a live histogram, a fast 15/35-point autofocus system (in normal and close-up mode, respectively), face detection, and frame enlargement for easy manual focusing (though it's fixed at one position). The view on the AMOLED display is bright, sharp, and fluid, though low light visibility is not great.
You can also compose photos on the electronic viewfinder located directly above the AMOLED display. This viewfinder displays 100% of the frame, and has a magnification of 0.86X. That magnification makes the EVF one of the smaller ones out there, with only the Lumix DMC-G10's below it. The resolution of the EVF is excellent, with 921,000 pixels, so everything is nice and sharp. The EVF shows exactly the same things as the main LCD, including menus and playback mode. I did find that low light visibility was even worse on the EVF than it was on the main display. There's a sensor underneath the viewfinder detects when you put your eye to it, so the camera can switch from the LCD to the EVF automatically. You can adjust the focus of the EVF by using the diopter correction knob located on its left side.
To the left of the EVF is a button for entering the menu system. Moving over to the far right, we find buttons for adjusting the exposure compensation (-3EV to +3EV) or the aperture (in manual mode). Below that is the AE/AF lock / image protection button.
Shortcut (function) menu
Closer to the LCD we have the Display button, which toggles the info shown on the LCD/EVF, and also displays a help screen for menu items. Under that is the Function button, which opens up a kind of shortcut menu. The items here, at least in Program mode, include:
- Photo size
- Image quality
- AF area
- Color space
- Smart Range
Since all of those are in the regular menu, I'll describe the options that need some explanation when we get to that section of the review.
Next up is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, replaying photos, and also:
- Up - AF/MF (Single AF, continuous AF, manual focus) - you may have to flip a switch on your lens to access the last option
- Down - ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
- Left - Metering (Multi, center-weighted, spot)
- Right - White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent white, fluorescent neutral white, fluorescent daylight, tungsten, flash, custom, color temp) - more on this later
- Center - OK + focus point selection
The last buttons on the back of the NX10 are for entering playback mode and deleting a photo. This second button is also used to select and adjust the Picture Wizard feature, which I'll get to a bit later.
There's plenty more to see on the top of the Samsung NX10. First up is the speaker, with the flash release button located above it.
Moving toward the center of the photo, you can see the camera's hot shoe. The camera will work best with one of the two Samsung flashes I mentioned earlier (the SEF20A or SEF42A), as they'll sync with the camera's metering system. The SEF42A also supports high speed flash sync and an AF-assist lamp, plus a backlit LCD display. If you're not using one of these flashes, you may need to set the exposure on both the camera and the flash manually. The maximum flash x-sync speed is 1/180 sec on the NX10. The camera does not support wireless flashes.
Next up is the NX10's mode dial, which has these options:
The NX10 has a fairly straightforward set of shooting modes. You've got your auto mode with scene selection, plenty of other scene modes that you can select from manually, and full manual exposure controls. In fact, I don't think I need to explain anything here, so let's move on!
To the upper-right of the mode dial is the command dial, with the power switch/shutter release button above it. You'll use the command dial for adjusting manual exposure settings, navigating through menus, and more.
The handy customizable self-timer
The two final buttons on the top of the NX10 are the "green button", used for resetting certain shooting settings to default, and the drive button (these are use for playback zoom, as well). The drive modes include single-shot, continuous, burst, self-timer (customizable), AE bracketing, WB bracketing, and Photo Wizard Bracketing.
Before I tell you about those three bracketing options, let me explain the differences between the "continuous" and "burst" modes, and how they performed. The "continuous" mode takes photos at full resolution, while the "burst" mode lowers the resolution to 1472 x 976 and also locks out the RAW format. The image on the AMOLED or EVF also goes black while you're shooting in "burst" mode. Here's what kind of performance you can expect in both of these modes:
At full resolution ("continuous" mode), the NX10 is capable of taking photos at over 3 frames/second. Unfortunately, the buffer fills very quickly, especially when a RAW image is involved. When shooting JPEGs, the camera doesn't stop after 16 shots, it just slows down considerably. The image on the AMOLED keeps up well with the action in this mode. The "burst" mode does allow for faster shooting, though the resolution is low, and you can't actually see what you're taking a picture once the burst sequence begins.
Now, about those bracketing modes! You can bracket for exposure, white balance, or Photo Wizard setting. For the first two, the camera takes three photos in a row, each with a different exposure or white balance setting. The exposure interval can be up to ±3EV, while the white balance can be bracketed in the amber/blue or magenta/green direction by up to three steps (Samsung doesn't say what a step is equivalent to). For Photo Wizard bracketing, you can select as many "Wizards" as you want, and the camera will save an image for each. I'll tell you what those Wizards are all about when we get to the menu section of the review.
The first things I want to point out here are the two switches on the 18 - 55 mm kit lens (which is at full wide-angle here, by the way). The top one turns the image stabilizer on and off, while the one on the bottom switches between auto and manual focus. Further to the right, under a plastic door of average quality, are the NX10's I/O ports. The ports include DC-in (for the optional AC adapter), HDMI, remote control, and USB + A/V out. Remember that both the HDMI and A/V cables are optional accessories!
On the opposite side of the NX10 is its SD/SDHC memory card slot, which is protected by a somewhat-flimsy plastic door.
The lens is at full telephoto in this shot.
Our tour of the NX10 ends with a view of the bottom of the camera. Here you can see a metal tripod mount, as well as the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is of average quality, and includes a locking mechanism. You can spot the included BP1310 li-ion battery in the lower-right of the above photo.
Using the Samsung NX10
The Samsung NX10 is ready to start taking photos as soon as the power switch is flipped. That is, if you have the sensor cleaning system turned off, which is the default setting. If you have startup cleaning on, you'll have to wait nearly three seconds before the camera is ready.
Samsung has done a very nice job with the autofocus performance on the NX10. I don't have the equipment to do a precise comparison, but the camera seems to focus as quickly as the Panasonic G-series cameras, which have been the benchmark for AF performance in this class. With the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, the camera locked focus in 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 0.8 seconds (and rarely a bit longer) at telephoto. The camera focuses well in low light, typically in less than a second, due in large part to its AF-assist lamp.
As you'd expect from a camera like this, there was no shutter lag to report.
Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent. You can take photos as fast as you can compose them, regardless if you're using the flash. If you're taking RAW photos, you can take another right away, though there may be a brief delay if you try to enter the menu system or playback mode.
There is no way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter playback mode to do that.
Now let's take a look the the image size and quality options available on the NX10:
That was quite a table! I would take the file sizes with a pound (or two) of salt, as the numbers provided by the manual seemed a little "off" to me. Anyhow, you can take a RAW image alone, or with a JPEG of the size of your choosing. The "burst" resolution is only available when using the 10 frame/second shooting mode that I mentioned earlier.
The help screen for one of the setup menu options
The NX10 has a plain-looking, but functional menu system. The menu looks nice and sharp on the AMOLED display, and you can navigate through it without much trouble. The menu is divided into seven tabs, covering shooting, custom, and setup options. If you're confused about a certain option, you can press the Display button to view a help screen. And now, keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the complete list of menu items on the camera (and apologies for the poor quality of the menu captures):
Shooting Menu 2
Shooting Menu 3
User Setup (Custom) Menu
|Setup Menu 1
Setup Menu 2
Setup Menu 3
|Fine-tuning white balance||Setting the color temperature|
I've got four things to talk about before we can continue to the photo tests. First, let me tell you about the numerous white balance options on the NX10. There's an auto mode, the usual presets, and the ability to use a white or grey card to custom WB. Each of those settings can be fine-tuned, using the screen you can see above. If you wish, you can also set the color temperature manually. Still not enough? Then you can use the white balance bracketing feature that I mentioned earlier.
Editing the standard Picture Wizard
If you've used a digital SLR before, then you've probably encountered a feature like Picture Wizard before. It goes by many names -- Picture Style, Creative Style, Picture Mode, Film Mode -- but it always works about the same. These styles (wizards in this case) contain image parameters which you can easily adjust. There are numerous presets, each of which can have the color, saturation, sharpness, and contrast adjusted. I don't like how the values are at zero for each preset, so you can't really tell what differentiates them. As I mentioned earlier, the Picture Wizard bracketing feature lets you take one photo and see the results in as many Wizard styles as you'd like.
What about the AF area options? Selection AF allows you to select an area of the frame on which to focus, with 143 spots to choose from. The size of the focus point can also be adjusted, with four sizes available. The multi AF mode normally selects one or more of 15 possible focus points for you, though in the closeup scene mode, it will have 35 zones at its disposal (not sure why you can't always have that many). That brings us to face detection. The NX10 works just like a point-and-shoot camera in this regard, and is able to find up to 10 faces in a scene, making sure they're properly focused. This feature worked well, quickly detecting 5 of the 6 faces in our test scene. The last AF area option is called self-portrait AF, which shortens the AF range, and makes the camera "beep" when it has detected your face or faces.
|Smart Range off (ISO 100)
View Full Size Image
|Smart Range on (ISO 200)
View Full Size Image
The last item of note is called Smart Range, which aims to reduce highlight clipping. It does this by boosting the ISO to 200, which Olympus does for a similar feature on their Micro Four Thirds cameras. Above you can see this feature in action, doing a very effective job at reducing the highlight clipping on the right side of the tunnel (sorry the composition is off, I don't take this photo on a tripod). Do note that using Smart Range may decrease camera performance.
Alright, that does it for menus -- let's hit the photo tests now. With the exception of the night shot, which was taken with the F4.0-5.6, 50 - 200 mm lens, all of these were taken with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. And since someone is bound to ask, the camera was running firmware version 1.15.
I have no complaints about how the NX10 handled our macro test scene. The subject has the "smooth" look that you commonly see on cameras in this class, the colors are nice and saturated, and noise is nonexistent.
As always, the minimum distance to your subject will depend on the lens you're using. For the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, it's 28 cm, while that number drops to 25 cm with the 30 mm pancake lens. Samsung will have a dedicated 60 mm macro lens for the NX system cameras sometime later this year.
The night scene (taken with the 50 - 200 mm NX lens) turned out nicely, as well. The camera brought in just enough light, as it should given its manual shutter speed control. If you want to take a photo like this without using manual controls, the Smart Auto mode should be able to select the correct scene mode for you (and if it doesn't, the night scene mode is two spots away on the mode dial). The photo is quite sharp, from one side of the frame to the other. Highlight clipping is relatively low, as is purple fringing. Noise levels are low, as well.
Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the NX10 performs at higher sensitivities:
There's really no difference between the first two crops. You can start to see some noise at ISO 400 -- which is earlier than I'd expect to see on an SLR or ILC -- but it shouldn't make a different unless you're making billboard-sized prints. Details start to disappear at ISO 800, so at this point you'll have to consider reducing your print sizes, or shooting RAW. There's more detail loss and lots of visible noise at ISO 1600, so I'd avoid it in low light, at least for JPEGs. The ISO 3200 setting is best left alone.
Let's see if we can't take those ISO 800 and 1600 photos and make them look better by using the RAW image format and doing a little post-processing!
I don't think anyone's going to dispute the results of this test. Namely, that a quick trip through a RAW converter (I used Samsung's here), noise reduction software, and the unsharp mask filter makes a much more usable photo. Since you can't really tweak the noise reduction on the NX10, you'll definitely want to shoot RAW for best results at high sensitivities.
I'll have another ISO test for you in a few paragraphs.
As you can see, there was very little redeye in our flash test photo. That's courtesy of a preflash system, which shrinks the pupils of your subject, which often (but not always) reduces this phenomenon. Should some redeye get past this first line of defense, you can also remove it digitally in playback mode.
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. You can see what this looks like in the right world by checking out the high rise on the right side of this photo. While I didn't find vignetting to be a problem with this lens, it was pretty soft on the right side of the frame (example), but strangely, not on the left. The pancake and 50 - 200 mm lenses didn't have any noticeable corner blurring.
Now it's time for our studio ISO test. I've taken this test scene with the same lighting for several years, so the results can be compared from review to review. So, now's the time to open up the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 review to see how it compares against the NX10! The test below illustrates the right side blurring problem that I just mentioned -- notice how much sharper the left side is. Keeping in mind that you need to view the full size images as well as the crops, let's see how the NX10 performs at high sensitivities in normal lighting!
The ISO 100 - 400 shots are all very clean (save for the right side blurriness), as they should be. Noise becomes apparent at ISO 800, though it shouldn't keep you from making midsize or large prints. Noise becomes more pronounced at ISO 1600, though it's still good for small and midsize prints, and perhaps larger if you're using the RAW format (we'll see about that below). At ISO 3200 we get a drop in color saturation and more detail loss, so you'll definitely want to shoot RAW at that setting, or just avoid it entirely.
Let's see if we can't clean up those ISO 1600 and 3200 photos with some post-processing, shall we?
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
At both ISO 1600 and 3200, we get much better image quality by shooting RAW and using noise reduction/sharpening filters. There's some strange magenta-colored fringing that shows up in the RAW conversions (just above the "M" on the salsa bottle), which may be caused by the Samsung RAW Converter. The bottom line here is that you'll need to shoot RAW in order to get the most out of the camera, at least at high sensitivities.
With one exception, I was happy with the photos produced by the Samsung NX10. Thankfully, the biggest flaw is the camera's love of underexposing photos by 1/3 stop. I bracketed nearly all of my photos to make sure I'd always have that +0.3 EV photo, and doing so paid off. If I owned the NX10, I'd probably just increase the exposure compensation by +1/3 EV and leave it there. Aside from that, the news is good. Colors are nice and saturated. Image sharpness is typical of a large sensor camera: not too sharp, not too soft (though my kit lens was soft on the right side, as I mentioned). The NX10 does clip highlights, though it's not as bad as Micro Four Thirds cameras, in my opinion. If you get into a situation where clipped highlights are likely, then you might want to turn on Smart Range. As for noise, the NX10 is definitely not as clean as the Micro Four Thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic, especially in JPEGs. If you'll be making large prints or shooting at the highest sensitivities, then you definitely want to use the RAW format. Purple fringing will depend a lot on what lens you're using, and I didn't find it to be a problem with the three NX lenses I used.
Now, have a look at my Samsung NX10 photo gallery. View the photos at full size, maybe printing a few if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the NX10's photo quality meets your needs!
As with its main competitors. the Samsung NX10 has the ability to record HD videos. The camera can record video at 1280 x 720 (30 fps) with monaural sound until the file size hits 4GB, or the recording time reaches 25 minutes. Believe it or not, you'll reach the time limit first.
Two lower resolutions are also available, and they're the usual 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 sizes. For all three movie resolutions, you can select from high or normal quality settings.
As you'd expect, you can operate the zoom lens while recording a movie. The camera doesn't really offer true continuous autofocus, though -- you have to press the depth-of-field preview button in order to reactive the AF system. One thing you can use for sure is the image stabilizer, should your attached lens offer it.
The camera can record videos in Program mode, or you can switch to Aperture Priority mode to adjust the depth-of-field. Other features include a wind filter, fade in/out function, and the ability to pause a movie in the middle of recording.
Movies are saved in MP4 format, using the H.264 codec. The quality is decent, though not spectacular. There are some jaggies in the movies, and the camera doesn't save the last 0.5 second worth of video, for some reason.
Here are two sample movies for you, both taken at the 720p/HQ setting:
The NX10 has a decent playback mode by D-SLR/ILC standards. Basic features include slideshows (complete with special effects and music), image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and playback zoom (AKA zoom & scroll). This last feature lets you enlarge an image and then scroll around, though there's no way to jump from photo-to-photo while maintaining the current zoom and position.
The "date view" in playback mode is of limited use
Images can be viewed one at a time, as thumbnails, and filtered by date, week, or file type (still/movie). The date filtering is a nice idea, but there's no way to jump quickly from day to day.
Function menu in playback mode
Press the function button and you'll find more editing options. Here you can:
- Remove redeye
- Adjust backlight (brighten an image)
- Resize/rotate an image (you can trim a photo by using the playback zoom feature)
- Change a Picture Style (similar to the Photo Wizard feature, just not customizable)
- Retouch faces
Video editing features include trimming as well as the ability to save a frame of a movie as a still image.
The default image playback screen doesn't show very much information, but if you press the Display button you'll get a lot more, including an RGB histogram.
The NX10 moves through photos instantly.
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!