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Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review

Duncan Evans reviews the hybrid Samsung NX100, a compact body with SLR lens performance.

| Samsung NX100 in Mirrorless Cameras

Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 front
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 Key features: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 back   Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 lens
The 3in AMOLED screen is a low power but bright unit that you’ll have to use to compose the images because there’s no optical finder.   With a kind of retro rangefinder look, the NX100 marries SLR lens interchangability with compact style body and function.
Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 mode dial   Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 battery compartment
There’s a traditional mode dial with a full range of apertures and fast shutter speeds that will leave compact owners gasping.   The power pack is rated at 420 shots and will last for three or four average trips out and about shooting and reviewing images.

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.

Samsung NX100 White-balance test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Auto white-balance in incandescent lighting   Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Incandescent preset in incandescent lighting
Auto white-balance in incandescent lighting.   Incandescent preset in incandescent lighting.
Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting   Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Fluorescent preset in incandescent lighting
Auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting.   Fluorescent preset in incandescent lighting.

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.

Samsung NX100 Performance: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 backlighting   Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 portrait
Even with significant backlighting coming through the trees, the centre-weighted metering which was focussed on the dark areas, has kept them nice and bright and ignored the light.   One of the uses of the lens is for portraits, but the DSLR advantage over compacts of shallow depth-of-field is hampered by poor aperture availability at the end of the telephoto zoom.
Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 bright colours   Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 dusk
Whether indoors or out, you are guaranteed bright colours. The AWB also performed very well in practice under a variety of lighting conditions.   Don’t expect to get close to the action with the kit zoom. Even with the focal length extension of 1.5x you only get a reach of 77mm at the most.

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.
Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Test chart ISO100
Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Test chart ISO100 Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Test chart ISO200 Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Test chart ISO400 Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Test chart ISO800
ISO100 ISO200 ISO400 ISO800
Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Test chart ISO1600 Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Test chart ISO3200 Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 Test chart ISO6400  
ISO1600 ISO3200 ISO6400  

Lens performance
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.

Samsung NX100 Lens quality: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 wide angle   Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 no fringing
The 30mm equivalent wide angle isn’t actually as wide as you might expect but it does make it useful for landscape shots.   Against a largely white sky with black ironwork you’d expect there to be colour fringing here but it’s remarkably clean.
Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 telephoto low light   Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: Samsung NX100 flowers
At ISO800, noise suppression is pretty efficient, giving much better results than from a compact camera.   There’s no macro mode as such, so you will need a proper macro lens for it, but the flower scene mode still gives vibrant results.

Samsung NX100 Digital Camera Review: 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
Samsung NX100 Incredibly light
Samsung NX100 More power than a compact
Samsung NX100 Full manual control
Samsung NX100 720p movies
Samsung NX100 Low power, high visibility LCD screen
Samsung NX100 AWB in artificial light

Samsung NX100: Cons
Samsung NX100 Plastic build quality
Samsung NX100 Over saturated images
Samsung NX100 Not top quality images
Samsung NX100 i-Function lens is fiddly
Samsung NX100 No built in flash

FEATURES Samsung NX100
HANDLING Samsung NX100
OVERALL Samsung NX100

Samsung NX100: Specification
Price £499
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
Resolution 14.6Mp
Sensor size 23.4x15.6mm APS-C size
Sensor type CMOS
Max image size 4592 x 3056
Aspect ratio 3:2
Focusing system Contrast AF
Focus modes Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, Face Detection
Focus distance 28cm
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
Image stabilisation n/a
Monitor 3in VGA AMOLED
Media type SD, SDHC (up to 32GB)
Interface USB 2.0
Power BP1310 (1300mAh) Li-ion
Size 120.5x71x34.5mm
Weight 282g without battery or memory card

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Photographs taken using the Samsung NX100

Heavy MetalMean MachineThings to comeStorm 2Suburban StormBack to Whitchurch Market.Ightfield Church revisitedWhitchurch MarketIghtfield Ch.GargoyleUrban SnowShropshire WinterSahara SunShadowsLight and Shade

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rosssinc Avatar
3 Jan 2012 10:49PM
Although retired from doing company photography one of my hobbies in retirement is photography and I bought one of these 5 months ago. It is a tremendously frustrating camera which simply cannot be relied on to take a picture in either poor lighting conditions or in strong light with high contrasts such as winter scenes with bright areas and dark shadows. The red 'can't focus' squares regularly come up and the shutter button simply doesn't work. I have to fall back on one or the other of my pocket cameras a Fuji F200EXR or even a little 70 Kodak M320 which have no problems focussing and taking acceptable shots in the same situation where this sad example of a product fails time after time. Samsung should be ashamed of selling such a defficient product.

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