Product Review: Samsung NX10

The world’s first electronic viewfinder interchangeable-lens APS sensor camera

Samsung can forever legitimately claim they were the first company to produce an EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) camera with an APS sensor. Does the NX10 offer DSLR quality and performance?

 

 

Key features
•    14.6 million APS-C CMOS sensor (effective pixels)
•    New Samsung NX mount (25.5mm flangeback)
•    720p movie capture at 30fps
•    3.0" AMOLED screen 614,000 dots
•    Contrast-detect autofocus
•    921k dot Electronic Viewfinder
•    30mm F2 pancake and 18-55mm standard zoom options

Positives
•    Small but well-built
•    First MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Compact) built around an APS sensor
•    Fast and responsive

Negatives
•    Limited number of compatible lenses
•    Weak flash
•    Electronic Viewfinder isn’t eyeglass wearer-friendly

Well suited for
•    Travel
•    People
•    Sports
•    Low-light photography
•    Family videos

Price: $700 with kit lens (Price accurate as of mid-July 2010) Also available in kits with the 18-55mm and 30mm f/2 pancake lens, or with the 18-55mm and 50-200mm tele zoom lens.

On the same day that I got the Samsung NX10 to review, I also received a superzoom EVF camera built around a smaller sensor. Side by side, the NX10 with the 18-55mm kit lens attached was considerably smaller, thinner, and lighter. If it’s all about size (which it isn’t), the NX10 would be the clear winner. Larger sensor, resulting in better image quality, in a smaller body? No contest.
But there’s much more to this camera than just its diminutive dimensions. There’s speed of operation (performance), ergonomics, menu and control layout, LCD and electronic viewfinder image quality, and sensor image quality—how does it compare to other 14MP sensor cameras? Let’s take a look at this intriguing camera.

 

The system

The NX10 is based on a new interchangeable lens system with an entirely new mount. Since there is no mirror, the flangeback (distance between the rear of the lens and the sensor) could be greatly reduced. The NX-mount family of lenses is small, as one would expect when introducing an entirely new camera system. It can be purchased with the 18-55mm kit lens , or with that lens plus the 30mm f/2.0 pancake lens , which covers a normal angle of view. There’s also 50-200mm f/4-5.6 tele zoom, which can be bought in a kit with the shorter zoom lens  but is also, at the moment, the only lens that can be bought separately. The 35mm equivalent factor is 1.5x. An adaptor for Pentax K mount lenses has been promised but has not been delivered yet.

The camera has a standard hot shoe, and will accept the soon-to-be-available Samsung SEF-42A, SEF-20A. A pop-up flash has a modest guide number of 11 at ISO 100, which is OK for snapshots at fairly close range. It is similar in size and form factor to the Panasonic Lumix “G” series of electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens compact cameras, but while the Panasonic features a Micro Four Thirds mount and sensor, the Samsung has an APS sensor, which should deliver better overall image quality.
 

 

In the hands

The NX10 is indeed small, but is well-built, and fit comfortably in my average-sized hands. The smallish rubberized grip was easily and comfortably held. Knobs and buttons are easy to grasp and operate, are laid out in a logical fashion, and are well marked. The 3-inch, 614K dot LCD monitor offers very good, but not spectacular, image quality, but the electronic viewfinder produces 921k dot resolution, which looks great.

A proximity detector automatically switches from LCD to EVF, but I wish there was a way to manually override it. There is a pause of up to half a second when you bring the camera up to your eye before the picture appears, and I lost a couple of shots because of it. I also found the finder image to be a bit dark in bright sunlight, and certainly the image on the LCD monitor left something to be desired in direct sunlight. In all other scenarios, screen brightness was OK.

 

I especially liked the Picture Wizard tool, which is unfortunately buried in the menus. This lets you access different color palates that are based on adjustments in saturation, contrast and hue—standard, vivid, portrait, landscape, forest (see sample, above), retro, cool, calm, classic, and three custom settings.

 

In the field

Under ideal conditions (a bright sunny day) and even in subdued light (my dimly-lit office) the NX10 focused quickly and with precision. There was a slight lag time when shooting lower-contrast subjects but otherwise I found the camera to be quick and responsive. However, the camera is fast enough for most users when shooting in JPEG. RAW is noticeably slower even on a faster write speed card.
 
I especially like the clean, relatively uncluttered monitor layout especially in its minimal setting, which only shows aperture, shutter speed, over-and-under exposure indication, and number of frames left. You can choose to show more information, but really this is a very simple way to shoot without distraction. There’s also a nifty interface that graphically shows you changes in ISO, drive mode, etc. The 614,000 dot display is nice and detailed, while the eye-level monitor is impressively sharp. The diopter knob was very sticky and awkwardly placed, however, making it a challenge to adjust focus on the eye-level finder for my eyes.

A quick street photo stress test

The NX10 was a quick study on the street, able to capture the passing crowds quietly and, thanks to its diminutive dimensions and lack of noisy mirror mechanism, unobtrusively.  Its quick reaction time meant I could shoot with split-second timing.

 

 

 

 

Overall, I'd give the NX10 a B+ on the Street Photography stress test. Not bad!

 

In low light, the NX10 offers a mixed bag. Its bright green focus lamp is very noticeable. There’s a pop-up flash with a guide number of 11, which is OK for photographing a group at relatively close range, but that’s it. With noise reduction off shooting JPEGs, noise becomes apparent at ISO 400, which is average for an APS sensor camera. Noise reduction was effective, and even images shot at ISO 3200, the camera’s top speed, showed less obvious artifacts with noise reduction on than ISO 400 with noise reduction off. So, shooting in low light with noise reduction on is a must for this camera.

 

The camera’s dynamic range was within acceptable limits, although highlight detail was the first thing to go in high-contrast situations, as you can see in the plumes in these guys’ hats, above.  In open shade (below) the dynamic range and color balance was accurate. This is an unmanipulated image, right out of the camera:

 

Conclusion and recommendation

In an increasingly crowded field, Samsung has made history with the first short flangeback, mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera to be built around an APS sensor. (All previous models, from Panasonic and Olympus, were built on the smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor). I found the  NX10 to be quite nimble; it offers competitively fast AF and shutter response time, and comparable viewing systems. Low light image quality is quite usable when you turn on the noise reduction (which slightly increases processing time but most people won’t notice this increase, it’s so small). Overall, the camera is well equipped to handle most typical shooting situations.

The all-new lens system may be a drawback at the moment, since there are only a handful of lenses available However, with an adapter you can use any Pentax K-mount lens, which vastly widens this camera’s appeal.  Besides, 18-55mm and 55-200mm and 30mm pancake lens covers a lot of ground. For under $700 including the kit lens, the NX10 is a quick, responsive little camera that takes excellent big-camera-quality pictures. It’s a winner!

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