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Samsung NX210 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

Camera performance is generally snappy on the NX210. It's not the fastest mirrorless camera that I've used, but it's not far behind. The table below summarizes its performance:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.2 sec Average
Autofocus
(Normal light)
0.1 - 0.4 sec (W)
0.3 - 0.7 sec (T)
Above average
Autofocus
(Low light)
~ 1 sec Average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Average
Shot-to-shot
(JPEG, no flash)
1.5 secs Average
Shot-to-shot
(RAW, no flash)
2 - 3 secs Average
Shot-to-shot
(with included flash)
~ 3 sec Average
Autofocus tests performed with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens

As you can see, the NX210 performs on-par with your typical mirrorless cameras in most respects. One thing that the chart does not mention is that you cannot enter the menus or change any settings while the camera is saving a photo to the memory card (you can take another photo, though). In the case of RAW+JPEG images, that's seven seconds, even using an extremely fast UHS-I memory card!

Okay, now let's move onto burst mode performance. There are two full resolution modes to choose from (low and high speed), plus low resolutions modes that shoot at 10, 15, or 30 frames/second. The problem with the fast "burst" modes isn't really the 5 Megapixel resolution. Rather, it's the fact that the display is blacked out during shooting, making subject tracking pretty much impossible.

Here's how the two full resolution modes performed in my tests:

Image quality Low speed High speed
RAW + Large/SF JPEG 7 shots @ 3.2 fps 8 shots @ 7.9 fps
RAW 7 shots @ 3.3 fps 8 shots @ 7.9 fps
Large/SF JPEG 11 shots @ 3.3 fps 10 shots @ 8.3 fps
Tested with a SanDisk UHS-I SDHC card

I wasn't overly thrilled by the NX210's burst mode. It's not the speeds that bothered me -- they're quite good. Rather, it's the small amount of buffer memory and the lengthy amount of time that it takes to clear it. While I'm not surprised to see that you can only take 7 or 8 RAW photos sequentially, the JPEG numbers are shockingly low. While you can keep shooting (at around 1 fps) in low speed mode, you have to wait until the buffer is cleared before you can more photos in high speed mode. If you're shooting RAW, expect a 20 second wait before live view returns in low speed mode, and 30+ seconds in high speed. I should also mention that the live view on the LCD lags behind the action, so tracking a moving subject can be challenging.

Alright, enough about burst mode -- let's head into the photo quality discussion now. With the exception of the night shot, all of these were taken with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens.

Our macro test subject looks very good here. The NX210 handled our studio lights well, with some nice, saturated colors. The subject is plenty sharp, save for near the top of the "hat" (which may just be a depth-of-field issue), and plenty of detail is captured. There's no noise visible here, nor would I expect to see any.

The minimum distance to your subject depends on the lens you're using. The 18 - 55 mm kit lens has a minimum focus distance of 28 cm. If you'll be taking a lot of close-ups, then you might be interested in Samsung's F2.8, 60 mm macro lens.

I took the night shots with the Samsung F4.0-5.6, 50 - 200 mm lens (the non i-Function variety). As always, I set the exposure manually to bring in enough light, though you can certainly do the same by using Smart Auto or one of the scene modes. While there is some highlight clipping here, it's fairly minor. Colors seem really dull to me, and this becomes even more obvious when you view the RAW versions of the same shot (see below). The buildings are generally nice and sharp, though things get blurry on the right side of the frame (ahh, budget lenses). Purple fringing was not an issue here.

Now we're going to use that same night scene to see how the NX210 performed at higher sensitivities:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

There's barely any difference between the photos taken at ISO 100, 200, and 400, aside from a slight glimpse of noise at the latter. There's a bit more noise as well as some very minor detail loss at ISO 800, but it's still usable for large prints. Things start going downhill at ISO 1600, with noticeable detail loss, noise, and some weird yellow spots on the US Bank building. If you're comfortable with RAW, now is the time to switch. JPEG shooters should probably stop here. Things continue to get worse at the sensitivity increases, with more of the yellow spots as well as some banding at the highest sensitivities.

The NX210 is one of those cameras where you can get a substantial increase in image quality by shooting RAW. Want proof? Have a look:

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

Several improvements can be seen in the RAW conversions above. Colors are a lot more pleasing, there's less detail smudging, and those weird yellow spots are gone. If you're shooting near the higher end of the sensitivity range in low light, then I'd say that RAW is a must. You won't get enough detail back to make the top end sensitivities usable for anything but a small print, but it's certainly better than the JPEGs the camera is putting out.

We'll do another RAW vs. JPEG comparison in a little bit.

There's very little in the redeye department when using the included external flash. If you do run into something more severe than what you see above, then you can remove it using the tool found in playback mode.

There's very little barrel distortion at the wide end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. That's because the NX210 has distortion correction turned on by default. Turn it off, and things will look quite a bit... curvier. My kit lens didn't have any problems with blurry corners or vignetting.

Now we're going to look out how the Samsung NX210 fared with our studio test scene. Since the lighting never changes, you can compare the results from this test with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Remember that the crops below only show a very small portion of the scene, so view the full size images too! And with that, let's travel through the full ISO range, from 100 to 12800:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

Everything is nice and clean through ISO 800, with just a bit of noise becoming visible at ISO 1600. Detail smudging begins at ISO 3200, but it's not too bad. I'd make this the stopping or switch to RAW spot for most folks. Details get pretty soft and muddy at ISO 6400, and you should probably avoid ISO 12800 altogether.

Can those ISO 6400 and 12800 turn from mediocre to usable with a little RAW magic? Let's take a look:

ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 12800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

At ISO 6400, the photo is improved by a decent margin. You get more detail (albeit in the form of grain) and much richer color. While there's undoubtedly an improvement at ISO 12800 as well, I still don't think that the images are usable at this setting.

Overall, I was happy with the photos produced by the Samsung NX210 and its 20 Megapixel CMOS sensor. Exposure is accurate most of the time, with a slight tendency to overexpose. The camera will clip highlights at time, though not as severely as mirrorless cameras that use smaller sensors. Colors are not overly saturated, but are generally accurate. I say "generally" because in both our night and studio tests, colors were really flat (shooting RAW got around that). The NX210's sharpness is similar to that of other mirrorless cameras: somewhere in-between "tack sharp" and "a little soft". (Now's a good point to mention that both sharpness and color saturation can be adjusted using the Picture Wizard feature.) As the previous tests illustrated, noise is kept in check until ISO 800 in low light, an2d ISO 3200 in good light. Shooting RAW and doing some post-processing will improve the quality of photos taken at those sensitivities (and higher). I did not find purple fringing to be an issue on the NX210.

Don't take my word for all of this, though. Head on over to our Samsung NX210 photo gallery. Once there, view the full size images, maybe printing a few if you can. After that, hopefully you'll be able to decide if the NX210's photo quality meets your needs.

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