It's common practice in the electronics and car industries to have joint ventures and rebadge stock, but in the photographic arena it's only been the budget end of the compact market where a brace of similar specified models would have appeared. This is changing as photographic manufacturers join forces with electronics companies to compete against the likes of Nikon and Canon. One of the latest unisons is with Korean giant, Samsung, and historic Japanese camera company, Pentax. We've already reviewed the Pentax version of the GX10 - the Pentax K10D - and now we're going to take a look at how the Samsung performs.
Samsung GX10 specifications
- Effective Pixels: 10.2Mp
- Lens Mount: Pentax K-AF2
- Image Sensor: CCD, 23.5 x 15.7 mm
- Image Sizes: 3872x2592, 3008x2000, 1824x1216
- ISO Sensitivity: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 in steps of 1EV
- Storage Media: SD, SDHC compliant
- Storage System: DNG (RAW), 12-bit compression
- File System: Exif 2.21, Compliant DCF 2.0 and DPOF
- White Balance: Auto (TTL white-balance with 420-pixel RGB sensor), six manual modes with fine-tuning and preset white balance
- LCD Monitor: 2.5-in TFT LCD with brightness adjustment and wide angle view
- Focus Area: 11 point TTL autofocus
- AF Modes: Single Area AF, Continuous AF and manual
- Exposure Metering: 16-segment (coupled with lens and AF information) Multi, Center-weighted, Spot.
- Exposure Modes: Auto, Program, Sensitivity Priority, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Shutter & Aperture Priority, Manual, Bulb, Flash X-sync, User mode
- Exposure Compensation: ±3 EV in increments of 1/3 EV
- Shooting Modes: Single frame, Continuous (approx. 3fps), Self-timer, Delayed remote mode: 2sec delay.
- Shutter speed: 30sec to 1/4000sec in steps of 1/3 EV, bulb
- Hotshoe: flash synchronisation at up to 1/180sec.
- Flash Control: Auto, Manual, Auto/Red-eye reduction, Manual/Red-eye reduction. Wireless sync with optional SEF-54PZF, SEF-36PZF flash guns
- Built in flash: Guide No. 11 (ISO100/m)
- Weight: 710g (body)
- Other feature: Dust free (image sensor vibration system) Shake Reduction
- Further info here.
Samsung have been trying for several years to be taken seriously by the enthusiast end of the photographic market. The recent tie in with Pentax has created a complete turnaround for a company who've always demonstrated skills in the compact camera arena but never cracked the SLR market. Their first real attempt was a disaster - announcing a manual focus SLR when the rest of the world was using AF was a sure-fire road to failure.
The GX10, being the same as Pentax's K10D, proves that the SLR market is no longer safely ruled by Canon and Nikon. As you see from the specifications above, the Samsung GX10 offers a product that will not only satisfy enthusiasts, but also many pros. It sits in a price point that includes Canon's EOS30D and Nikon's D80, yet it has features, such as waterproof seals, that bring it closer to the pro-spec Canon EOS5D or Nikon D200.
Samsung GX10 modes and features
The GX10 is not short of features. With all the usual auto modes, such as program, aperture-priority and shutter-priority, the camera will suit those getting used to the camera, while manual can be used by the more competent user. Modes are selected on a conventional dial to the right of the top plate, which has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Two new modes, Sv and TAv, allow the user to adjust the shutter speed or aperture and the camera then adjusts the ISO sensitivity. The idea is that you can maintain a particular shutter speed or aperture and adjust the ISO to the situation. It's a faster option than going through a menu system to find ISO and takes advantages of digital technology that couldn't have been achieved using film.
The dial also has a User mode where predefined settings, such as exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity, metering mode, etc, can be preselected and then stored in the menus system to be later recalled via the mode dial. The Samsung instruction manual doesn't currently index this correctly (unlike the Pentax) so you need to know where to look (page 125 for those struggling) As this model is aimed at a more advanced user, the waste-of-time scene modes have thankfully been exclude.
While most digital SLRs use 16-bit A/D conversion, the GX-10 adopts a 22-bit A/D converter, which can process 1024 times more image information at a time than other DSLR cameras. This technology promises delicate colours, textures, sharpness, and a wider gradation. Pentax call this PRIME (Pentax Real IMaging Engine) - SRIME wouldn't sound quite so good.
As with other models in the Samsung digital SLR range, the GX10 has body integral anti-shake or OPS (Optical Picture Stabilization). Take a photo in low light, from an unsteady position or with a telephoto lens and the system will help prevent blurred photos. Samsung claim you can shoot at shutter speeds 2-3.5x slower than normal with this system, while Pentax claim a more adventurous 4x.
Samsung GX10 build and handling
The GX-10’s body has silicone seals around the shutter and other important buttons, making the camera weatherproof and dust safe. It feels rugged and in the same class as the Nikon D200. The 95% viewfinder is bright and clear, less poky than cameras, such as the Canon EOS400D.
The sensor is sealed to prevent dust from settling, while the dust removal function shakes the CCD at startup to shed any dust that may have withstood the coating. This can be set to either manual or automatic from the menu.
There's a diopter adjustment and a rubber eye-cup to suit all age of user.
The menu system is logically laid out, although the more features they cram in, the more menus you have to become accustomed to (We'll look at these in a GX10/K10D comparion feature coming soon). Finding how to format the card is a slow process, although the quick access menu on the right is quick to set ISO, white balance, flash and drive modes. There's a useful LCD top-plate illumination for assistance when shooting in low light and a quick RAW button to override JPG shooting.
The shutter feels positive and gives a reassuring clunk when a shot is taken. The instant preview can be set to one three or five seconds, giving you a fair amount of time to check focus/exposure, or turned to off if you want to preserve battery life.
The depth-of-field preview is electronic and positioned on the on/off wheel that surrounds the shutter button.
Heavier and larger than previous Pentax digital models, overall handling's very good, with one exception...the card cover lock, which is opened via a fiddly latch. I prefer the older slide-to-release cover. The exposure input dials for aperture and shutter control are well placed for quick action using the thumb and index finger while gripping the camera in the right hand. These can be set up in the custom functions so the front dial can adjust either the shutter speed or the aperture, depending which way you prefer to work. Nice touch.
Samsung GX10 flash options
The built-in flash has a guide number of 11 (ISO100/m). This is fine for closer shots but wouldn't be much cop at larger distances. This is where you have the option of adding a hotshoe mounted flash - either Samsung's SEF-54PZF and SEF-36PZF flash guns or one of the Pentax range. You could also use studio flash, but as the camera is missing a flash sync socket you'll need a hotshoe adaptor or remote flash trigger. Why a camera of this spec has no sync socket is beyond me, but as the one on my *ist D stopped working after a year's use I'm kitted out with the necessary hot shoe trigger now so this wasn't an incovenience.
Flash modes are set on the function wheel. You can choose between flash on, flash on with red eye, first curtain sync, first curtain sync with red eye, second curtain sync and Wireless mode. With the screen on, you can use the rear thumb wheel to adjust the flash compensation between –2 stops to +1 stop in ½ or 1/3 stop increments.
Samsung GX10 performance
My first full-on photographic expereince with this camera was in a studio shoot. So not too demanding on exposure, but focusing had to cope with a selection of less common lighting experiences. It didn't struggle once. The Pentax *ist D in similar situations had to be swtiched to manual. Oustaide focusing's a breeze too. The only time it struggled was if the subject was a fine slither of detail in the frame such as on a reed in a river scene. In those situations switching to manuar resolved things using the bright screen and the red focus indicator to assist.
Exposure seems more consistent than the Konica Minolta Dynax7 and Pentax *ist D SLRS I've used recently. I tend to be in exposure compensation regularly with those where the GX10 didn't get caught out anywhere near as much.
The burst rate allowed me to shoot comfortably at speed. You can go at three frames per second and unlike most models there's no buffer. I regulaly got left out with the *ist D, waiting for it to catch up. The preview is quick too apart from long exposures where the time it takes for a preview replicates the exposure time. The longest exposure I needed was 13secs and the preview too that long to appear.
The camera is supplied with an 18-55mm. The RAW files this camera produces are softer than most cameras I've used but a touch of unsharp masking is all that's needed to call in the clarity. Take a look at the eyes of the model below to see how sharp it is. Nothing to complain about here. Although processed images gave me concern with artifacts, especially with the detail in the fence on our landscape shot. It's only noticeable when you magnify, so it's not going to be seen on a normal print or 100% screen view, but it's there.
|Daylight and harsh sunlight haven't caused the camera any problems with this portrait. Skin tones are natural, clarity is fine. We've lightened this using curves as the harsh contrast fooled the meter.
||A RAW shot captured using studio flash is also handled well by Photoshop's RAW processing. Look at the detail in the hair and the eyes from this budget 18-55mm lens, which was set at 45mm.
| A fairly accurate rendition of the Macbeth colour chart, although there's a slight hue in the neutral grey squares which has resulted in pastel colours, such as the flesh tone and light blue squares being more vivid. Overall bright and punchy.
| Shadow detail is good and colours are pleasing. Magnify to 400% and you see some bad artifacts in the fence at the back of the scene. There's also some cyan/red fringing which can be removed in Photoshop at the Raw conversion stage.
Samsung GX10 noise tests
Noise starts to kick in at ISO200 but at that point it's hardly noticeable. At ISO400 the patterns are starting to appear when magnified. ISO800 is still perfectly acceptable, but ISO1600 is causing problems. The noise reduction system doesn't do a lot to improve things.
Samsung GX10 verdict
Apart from a few quirks with the badly index handbook and slight cosmetic differences to the dials and switches, the GX10 is the same as the Pentax K10D. The GX10 keys into the Pentax accessory system, giving you access to lenses from the last four decades. You may feel more comfortable with a brand synonymous with photography than one associated more with microwave cookers, but if you can get over this stigma here's a camera that, for the same price as the Pentax, also includes a 55-200mm zoom in the package. Here is a camera well worth its ticket price - you won't be disappointed.
Samsung GX10 plus points
Weather sealed body with solid steel chassis
DNG RAW formats supported
Good 11 point AF system
Sensitivity priority programs
In camera anti-shake should keep lenses reasonably priced
Good battery life.
Very well priced
Samsung GX10 minus points
Existing lens range limited in pro-sector
SD compartment door release fiddly
Battery grip a little quirky
ISO1600 a bit too noisy
No flash sync socket
Instruction manual not as well indexed as Pentax K10D
The Samsung GX10 costs around £600 and can be purchased from the ePHOTOzine shop here.