Join ePHOTOzine, the friendliest photography community.
Upload photos, chat with photographers, win prizes and much more for free!
|Duncan Evans reviews the Samsung NX100.|
You can rely on the boffins at Samsung to be up to something creative, almost with every camera. This time round it’s in the form of the mystical hybrid camera, not to be confused with ye olde bridge camera. Nope, the hybrid camera marries SLR lens performance with compact body form and accessibility. Better than a compact, lighter and more portable than a DSLR, it’s the best of both worlds in one camera. Well, that’s the theory, the question is will the child of such a marriage be ill-favoured or flaxen haired?
Samsung NX100: Features
What you have with the NX100 is a mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera, that follows the format of a compact camera, but offers an APS-C type CMOS sensor. In some respects it has a kind of retro, rangefinder look about it but in others it’s cutting edge technology with a super-lightweight design and i-Function lenses that allows access to the camera’s settings. In terms of size, the Samsung hybrid is similar to the Olympus E-P2 but is still bigger than the lens-with-camera-attached style of the Sony NEX-5. This kit package comes with the NX100 body and a 20-50mm lens, which gives an effective range of 30-77mm. There’s also a dedicated 20mm (30mm equivalent) lens in the range.
The NX100 eschews any kind of optical finder but offers a compact-friendly 3inch AMOLED screen. One thing will come as a shock and that’s the lack of a built in flash. You need to add one via the hotshoe. In fact, the hotshoe also supports EVF and GPS add-on units. The SEF-15A flash unit is rated at Gn15. Other features include portrait and beauty scene modes for post-shot processing, a 3fps burst-mode, that lasts for 6 shots and a scroll wheel on the top of the body.
Strangely, the scroll wheel is used for zooming into playback images, not making setting selections. That is taken care of by the Canon-like rotary wheel over the joypad configuration and by the i-Function button and lens wheel.
Samsung NX100: Handling
Marrying a compact body with SLR lenses is always going to give you some strange control issues and the NX100 certainly has them. One issue is the lack of a selection wheel on the top of the camera – the one there is used to zoom in during playback. The actual selection wheel is a rotary dial – like a Canon compact – over the joypad. It’s very light to the touch so is easy to manipulate with the thumb.
The other control option is to use the i-Function on the lens. The trouble is that the button to activate it is recessed so smoothly it often requires looking for, which defeats the object in the first place. Once pressed, the barrel control can be used to set aperture, white balance, ISO etc, but in practice, it’s just faster and more accurate to use the rotary wheel.
The handling is fine, and with such a lightweight design, it’s really easy to get along with and hang around your neck all afternoon. You can take it places you couldn’t get away with a DSLR. The build quality isn’t top notch, and this is the payoff with the weight. The Sony NEX-5 body is actually lighter, but not when you attach a lens to it. The Samsung lenses are very light indeed.
Samsung NX100: Performance
There’s some interesting facets to the NX100 that in terms of performance, give it the feel more towards the compact end than the DSLR one. Continuous shooting produces 7 JPEGs in a 10 second test – they were very even as well, so it really is 0.7fps. That’s not great. Focusing in bright light is fine, it’s nice and quick, but it’s a lot slower in lower light levels and it’s not that accurate either. The LCD screen does give immediate feedback in the way that an optical viewfinder can’t though, so you can see whether a scene is too dark or too bright from the metering before you even press the fire button.
Metering covers the usual trio of centre-weighted, zone and spot, though in practice there’s little difference between CW and zone and it’s down to how much sky is in the picture with regards to whether it exposes for the ground or the sky. There is a dynamic range extender in the menu system, but it’s nowhere near as effective as the systems on Nikon, Fuji or Canon cameras. The range isn’t particularly impressive, so in high contrast situations it’s always a case of picking what you want to expose correctly and what you can afford to lose.
In terms of skin tones, it’s all good news, and again, it looks like the kind of compact user optimal results. There’s even a beauty scene mode which does lighten tones and soften areas, but it’s subtle, rather than petroleum jelly soft focus. Face detection is in there and this is, as you might expect, pretty good, easily picking people out for focussing. Now, while skin tones are all light and healthy, the saturation for everything else, even on the standard setting, is poured on like rainbow treacle.
Everything is very saturated, more than say you get from Canon compact cameras. This does lead to variation of tone in areas, not just shadows. Still, you can turn it down and the LCD screen is very good quality and easy to use no matter what the light. The big CMOS chip also delivers lots of detail in every shot.
There are two areas that are also worth mentioning. Firstly, white balance indoors under a variety of lighting conditions performed very well in practice. Outdoors there was a tendency to undercook the shadow areas so they were a little blue but the artificial lighting shots were very good. The other is that there is a flower scene mode, which is what passes for a macro mode.
Compact owners are in for something of a rude awakening here, as with the bigger chips and lenses comes longer focal lengths, and so macro shots need dedicated macro lenses, not the kind of general kit lens the NX100 is supplied with. That said, the flower mode does produce nice results. The battery isn’t huge, for obvious reasons, but the Li-ion unit will keep going for three or four trips out with the camera.
ISO and noise performance
Overall image quality is more compact than DSLR, despite the bigger chip, but where the payoff comes is in terms of noise control. There is tonal variation apparent right from the start, but high ISO noise is well controlled all the way through ISO800 with no trouble. When it hits the high points of ISO1600 and 3200 the noise suppression really kicks in and this tends to be at the expense of detail. Put it this way, the ISO3200 shots are better quality than anything you’ll get out of a compact and are perfectly usable at reasonable sizes. The ISO range is also extendable, sacrificing ISO100 to add ISO6400 on the other end.
|Samsung NX100 Test chart ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
The lens is rated at f/3.5 at the wide angle end and f/5.6 at the telephoto end. In terms of effective focal length, that’s 30mm-77mm and to be honest, it’s a bit limited. The 30mm wide angle isn’t that wide and using the long end for portraits the f/5.6 aperture is also less than impressive. If you are going to have to compromise on lens performance, you may as well do it with something that has a longer reach because 75mm effective isn’t going to pull anything in either. Obviously, this is a general purpose kit lens, but it comes up a bit short.
In terms of sharpness, there’s no real complaints. The middle is pretty good, the big chip means there’s lots of detail, and the falloff to the edges isn’t dramatic. At the wide angle end there’s some barrelling, but since the telephoto isn’t that far, and increases the minimum aperture anyway, it doesn’t really lose anything. Put it at f/8 on the telephoto end and there’s plenty of both sharpness and depth-of-field. It’s more an issue to get shallow depth of field, especially using the zoom.
There’s no optical stabilisation, but here the weight works in the camera’s favour, because it’s so light and compact, it’s easy to hold still for shots you wouldn’t get with a full size DSLR.
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Samsung NX100.
Samsung NX100: Verdict
Clearly, Samsung thought the NX10 DSLR wasn’t small enough, and decided that a compact-DSLR hybrid would be even smaller and lighter. And it is. There’s no doubt you can walk around with it dangling around your neck with little fear of strain. The thing is, it’s not as radical as the Sony NEX and it has a slightly plastic feel. Mind you, it’s cheaper, and while the performance is more super-compact than mini-DSLR, it’s as unobtrusive as a compact but gives better results. There’s certainly a niche for the NX100; the light weight makes it a compelling alternative for those who want a bit more quality and control of a DSLR but not the weight.
Samsung NX100: Pros
More power than a compact
Full manual control
Low power, high visibility LCD screen
AWB in artificial light
Samsung NX100: Cons
Plastic build quality
Over saturated images
Not top quality images
i-Function lens is fiddly
No built in flash
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Samsung NX100: Specification
|What comes in the box||20-50mm lens, software, mini-USB cable, power lead, charger, neck strap|
|Lens||Samsung 20-50mm (30-77mm effective) f/3.5-5.6 ED|
|Sensor size||23.4x15.6mm APS-C size|
|Max image size||4592 x 3056|
|Focusing system||Contrast AF|
|Focus modes||Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, Face Detection|
|File types||RAW, JPEG|
|ISO sensitivity||ISO100-3200 standard, 200-6400 extended|
|Metering modes||Centre-weighted, spot, zone|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 3EV|
|Shutter speed range||Bulb (8mins), 30sec-1/4000th sec|
|Frames-per-second||0.7fps continuous, 3fps burst for 6 shots|
|Monitor||3in VGA AMOLED|
|Media type||SD, SDHC (up to 32GB)|
|Power||BP1310 (1300mAh) Li-ion|
|Weight||282g without battery or memory card|