Samsung NX210 Review
Design & Features
The Samsung NX210 is one of the more compact ILCs on the market. That said, it's very much like the Sony NEX models in that any size advantage it might have is lost the minute you attach a non-pancake lens. The body is made of a mix of metal and plastic, and it feels pretty solid. While the right hand grip is good-sized, it's textured grip is slippery -- real rubber would've been a lot better than whatever Samsung used here. Otherwise, controls are well-placed -- though a bit tight -- with plenty of direct buttons available.
The NX210 has a small body, but most of Samsung's lenses quickly make it much more of a handful
Now, here's a look at how the NX210 compares to other interchangeable lens cameras in terms of size and weight:
The NX210 is the second smallest camera in the group, with only the Nikon J1 "ahead" of it. Of course, the reason the Nikon is so compact is that it uses a 1" sensor, rather than the APS-C sensor found on the NX210. As I said a few paragraphs up, none of these cameras are made for jeans pockets, unless you've got a pancake lens on them. With the kit lens attached, the NX210 will be most comfortable over your shoulder or in a small camera bag.
Okay, let's take a tour of the NX210 now, using our tabbed interface:
The first thing to see on the front of the NX210 is its lens mount. The mount supports all Samsung NX lenses (of which there are currently nine) with a 1.5X crop factor. Since there's no image stabilization built into the camera body, you'll want to look for lenses with "OIS" in their name in order to get that feature. To release an attached lens, just press the button to the right of the mount.
As I mentioned earlier, an adapter is available from Samsung that lets you Pentax K-mount lenses on the NX210 (manual focus only), and third party manufacturers make adapters for other mounts, as well.
In the center of the mount is the NX's 20.3 Megapixel CMOS sensor, which is used on all three of Samsung's 2012 ILCs. This sensor is APS-C size, which is as large as you'll find on a mirrorless camera. The NX210 uses an ultrasonic system to remove dust from the sensor when it's powered on and off, though you'll need to turn this feature on in order to use it.
While the NX210 does not have a built-in flash, Samsung does include a compact external flash in the box. This flash has a guide number of 8 meters, and is turned on and off by raising or lowering it. If you want something more powerful, then you can use one of the external flashes I listed in the accessory section.
The only other thing to see on the front of the NX210 is its AF-assist lamp, located right next to the grip. It's very easy to block with your fingers, so keep an eye on them.
The big thing to see on the back of the NX210 is its beautiful 3-inch AMOLED display. AMOLED displays are known for their brilliant colors, wide viewing angles, and impressive contrast. Something less fortunate that they're known for is mediocre outdoor visibility, and that's the case here. With 614,000 pixels at its disposal, the screen on the NX210 is exceptionally sharp, rivaling the quality of 921k pixel LCDs.
Unlike the original NX100, the NX210 does not support an electronic viewfinder.
Everything else in this view is either a button or dial. Starting at the top-right, we find buttons for movie recording, exposure compensation, and opening the main and shortcut menus.
Next up is the four-way controller, which has the camera's rear dial wrapped around it. The four-way controller handles the usual tasks (menus, image playback) and also has direct buttons for adjusting the drive setting, ISO, AF mode, focus point selection, and what's shown on the display. The dial is used for both manual exposure setting adjustment as well as image playback and menu navigation.
Under the four-way controller / dial combo are buttons for entering playback mode and deleting a photo. The function of the delete button can be customized, and I'll tell you what options you can put there later in the tour.
I'll start my look at the top of the NX210 by discussing the hot shoe. The NX210 works best with the three Samsung-branded flashes that I've mentioned in this review (which includes the one that comes in the box), as they'll take advantage of the camera's metering system. If you're using a third party flash, odds are that you'll have to adjust everything manually. Since it appears that there's no high speed x-sync option on the NX210, the fastest shutter speed you can use is 1/180 sec. Wireless flash control is not supported.
Those two little holes that straddle the hot shoe make up the stereo microphone. Further to the right we have the NX210's speaker, with another control dial next to it. This deal is also used for adjusting the exposure manually, and it's also what you'll turn when you want to zoom into a photo in playback mode.
Above the top dial is the shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around that. At the far right of the photo is the mode dial, whose contents I will discuss after the tour.
The only thing to see here are the two items on the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. There's the i-Function button, which lets you adjust camera settings with the focus ring (more on that later), as well as the requisite AF/MF switch.
The lens is at full wide-angle in this shot.
The right side of the NX210 is where you'll find its I/O ports. They include a micro USB port for connecting to a PC as well as a mini-HDMI port for hooking into an HDTV. Both of these are protected by a plastic door of decent quality.
The 18 - 55 mm kit lens is at full telephoto here.
On the bottom of the NX210 we find a metal tripod mount, which is neither centered nor in-line with the lens. Next door to that is the battery/memory card compartment, protected by a decent quality cover (with a lock). As you can tell from the photo, you won't be able to open this door while the camera is on a tripod.
You can see the SLB10A battery at the lower-right of the photo.
Live view, completely with a histogram (an electronic level is also available)
(Excuse the lousy quality of these captures: they are photos rather than the usual frame grabs)
The NX210 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, which means that you'll compose all of your photos on its OLED display. The live view experience is quite good, with all the benefits of the OLED display plus a very fast refresh rate, though I should point out (again) that the display can be hard to see outdoors. In low light, the screen brightens up nicely, so you can still see your subject. While composing photos you'll have access to a live histogram, grid lines, frame enlargement (for manual focusing), and a two-axis electronic level.
In aperture priority mode you can use the i-Function feature to change the aperture or exposure compensation
Now I'd like to talk about some camera features accessed via buttons on the camera and, in this case, the lens. Most of Samsung's lenses have an i-Function button, which allows you to adjust camera settings by rotating the focus ring on the lens. The available functions vary depending on the shooting mode, and you can further customize what options are available, if you wish. In Program mode, pressing the i-Function button lets you adjust exposure compensation. In the "priority modes", you can select the aperture or shutter speed, as well as exposure compensation. In the not-really-necessary lens priority mode, you can select from various scene modes and special effects. While I rarely used the i-Function feature myself, I'm sure some folks will appreciate it.
By pressing the Function (Fn) button on the back of the camera, you'll open up a shortcut menu where you can adjust virtually all major camera functions. You can pick the setting you want to adjust with either the four-way controller or the dial that surrounds it, and adjust it by using the top dial (or pressing the OK button and going to a sub-menu).
The camera displays a screen with a description of the mode you select when you turn the dial
Let's move on to the mode dial now, which is chock full of options. They include:
If you're looking for a point-and-shoot experience, Samsung has you covered. Most people will find the scene-selecting Smart Auto mode to be just what the doctor ordered. Want to select the scene mode yourself? There's a mode for that, too. If you want special effects or some pretty elaborate digital frames, check out Magic mode. And, if for some reason you really want to use the i-Function feature on your lens, there's the lens priority mode.
The only scene mode I want to mention is the panorama feature, which works in both 2D and 3D. As on other cameras, this feature works by panning the camera from side-to-side. The panorama is literally stitched together in real-time (which looks pretty cool), and the results are pretty good. In the photo above, the camera had a little trouble with some stuff on the pier on the left, but it handled the bridge very well.
Fine-tuning white balance
The NX210 has plenty of manual controls, as well. In addition to the usual controls for aperture and shutter speed, you can also adjust the white balance by color temperature, or by using a white or gray card. You can also fine-tune white balance, as shown in the screenshot above. Bracketing for exposure, white balance, and "Picture Wizard" setting is also available. And, as you'd expect, the NX210 supports the RAW image format.
|Main Wi-Fi menu||The on-screen keyboard|
That brings us to what makes the NX210 a "Smart Camera": it's Wi-Fi feature. Samsung easily has the best Wi-Fi implementation of any camera manufacturer, and it's a pleasure to use (most of the time). There are seven things you can do with the camera's Wi-Fi system:
- MobileLink: Download photos from the camera using an app on your Android-based smartphone
- Remote Viewfinder: Use your Android-based Smartphone as a live viewfinder (with this app), the the ability to set the resolution, flash, and self-timer settings; after a photo is taken, you can choose to download the photo to your phone
- Social Sharing: send photos and videos to Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, or Photobucket using any Wi-Fi network (even those that require a login)
- E-mail: Send a photo or photos using any available Wi-Fi network
- SkyDrive: upload photos to Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud service
- Auto Backup: send photos to your Windows-based PC without the need for a USB cable
- TV Link: allows you to view your photos on a Samsung Smart TV (which has Wi-Fi)
|Remote viewfinder lets you set the image size, flash, and drive settings, in addition to actually taking pictures||MobileLink is used strictly for downloading photos to your Android smartphone|
The two features that work with your Android-based smartphone work quite well. Once the camera and phone connect to each other (which takes about 20 seconds), you're ready to roll. The live view on the phone is good quality, with a good refresh rate. The other features all worked as advertised, though "typing" using the four-way controller is a bit difficult. I'm normally not a fan of touchscreen cameras, but it would've worked well on the NX210, especially with its slick, smartphone-like user interface.
Now it's time to go through the NX210's menu system, and touch on its most important options. In case you haven't noticed, the NX210 has a beautiful user interface that is arguably better looking than anything else on the market. Thankfully, it works as well as it looks. It's easy to navigate, and a description of each option is available if you have the Help Guide Display feature turned on. Here are some of the major options related to still shooting:
- Image quality: choose from Super Fine, Fine, or Normal quality JPEGs, RAW, or a combination of the two; while Samsung doesn't publish an average file size for those, I found that super fine JPEGs were usually around 7MB, while RAW images were around 38MB
- ISO sensitivity: select from a range of 100 - 12800, or use Auto mode (whose range can be defined)
- Picture Wizard: sets of color, saturation, sharpness, and contrast parameters; choose from several presets, or take advantage of three custom spots; by using the "P Wiz" bracketing feature you can try a bunch of these in one shot
- Selective color: always a fun feature, choose which color is emphasized (red, green, blue, yellow), with the rest of the image turning black and white
- AF area: select from multi-point, selection, face detection, or self-portrait AF; this last option will make the camera beep when your face is located in the center of the frame
- MF assist: choose from 5X or 8X zoom when manual focusing, or display a guide which goes up as your subject becomes properly focused
- Drive mode: choose from single-shot, low and high speed continuous, burst mode, self-timer (totally customizable), and AE/WB/Picture Wizard bracketing; more on the burst modes later in the review
- Smart Range: reduces highlight clipping and brightens shadows; see examples later in review
- ISO customizing: select the ISO steps as well as the range used in Auto ISO mode
- Direct manual focus (DMF): lets you manually focus after the AF system runs
- Distortion correct: reduces barrel distortion on most Samsung lenses
- iFn customizing: select what options can be changed using the i-Function button found on most Samsung lenses
- Key mapping: select what the custom button does; choose from optical preview, one-touch white balance, one-touch RAW+JPEG, reset, and AE lock
Believe it or not, the only feature I want to expand on is Smart Range (I'll save the burst modes for the next page). This feature aims to improve overall image contrast, reducing highlight clipping and brightening shadows. In order to do this, the camera will boost the ISO to 200, but that's no big deal on this large-sensored camera. Let's see if Smart Range does any good:
|Smart Range off (default)
View Full Size Image
|Smart Range on
View Full Size Image
While Smart Range doesn't do anything for shadow detail (quite the opposite, in fact), it did noticeably reduce the amount of highlight clipping. You'll notice this on the floor on the left side, and in the sky as well (it's a lot more blue with Smart Range turned on). It's probably worth using Smart Range if you're in a situation that invites a lot of highlight clipping.
The NX210 has a pretty nice movie mode. It allows you to record Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames/sec. Sound is recorded in stereo, as you'd expect, and Samsung offers an external mic for better sound quality. You can keep recording until the elapsed time reaches 25 minutes, or the file size hits 4 GB. The NX210 has the unique ability to pause a movie, so you can recompose and continue recording without creating a new file. Samsung uses the MPEG-4 format for its movies.
Several other resolutions are available, including 1920 x 810 (24 fps), 1280 x 720 (30 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps), and 320 x 240 (also 30 fps). For each of those you can choose between normal and high quality.
As one would expect, you can zoom in and out to your heart's content when recording movies on the NX210. The camera supports continuous autofocus (in fact, that's the only option), so it'll try to keep everything in focus as things change position in the frame. The optical image stabilizer can also be used in movie mode.
The NX210 supports full manual control over exposure while you're taking a movie -- just make sure the mode dial is set to the movie position. You can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, or both, plus the ISO sensitivity. The mic level is not adjustable, nor is there a wind filter available. The NX210 is somewhat unique in offering a "fader" function, which works for both the beginning and end of a clip.
Also available in movie mode is what Samsung calls Multi Motion, which allows you to take movies at very slow or very fast frame rates. Choose from 1/4 or 1/2 normal speed on the slow end, or 5, 10, or 20 times on the fast end. When movies are played back at normal speed, they appear to move very quickly or very slowly, respectively.
And with that, I can offer you a pair of brief sample movies. The 18 - 55 mm lens doesn't move very smoothly, so the second one's a little jumpy.
Something I noticed is that the camera keeps recording for a second or so after you press the "red button", so keep that in mind when shooting movies.
The NX210 has a pretty nice set of playback features. The most interesting ones include:
- Smart Album: when in thumbnail view, you can sort photos by file type, date, week, or location (assuming that you've used the optional GPS)
- Smart Filter: apply special effects to a photo you've taken
- Red-eye fix: does just as it sounds
- Backlight: brightens dark areas of a photo, by quite a lot
- Face retouch: make people look prettier
- Resize/rotate/crop: naturally
- Video edit: trim unwanted footage from a clip, or save a frame as a still image
By default, the NX210 shows just basic information about your photos. However, press "up" on the four-way controller and you'll see quite a bit more, including RGB histograms.
The camera moves from photo-to-photo without delay.