Samsung NX10 £499
18th May 2010 | 11:19
Is this high-res hybrid more than just an SLR-a-like?
Samsung NX10: Overview
Samsung's been trying to break into the lucrative keen-amateur camera market for some years now, and the Samsung NX10 is its best effort to date.
Previous Samsung bridge cameras and GX-series SLRs were bulky and expensive affairs; while not bad cameras in their own right, they simply couldn't ace similar models from the big Japanese makers.
Despite Samsung's best efforts in a highly competitive market, it's not sold as many D-SLRs as compacts (it's been selling a million compacts a year).
With the advent of the advent of Micro Four Thirds-based hybrid cameras, Samsung's seen a fresh opportunity to take some market share from Canon, Nikon and the rest. But we need to remind readers from the outset that the Samsung NX10 is not based on Micro Four Thirds technology.
Samsung's boffins have come up with their own solution, but the outcome is basically the same; namely a mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera with Electronic Viewfinder.
The nature of hybrid camera technology levels the playing field somewhat between DSLR makers, who can draw on a strong optical and 35mm camera heritage, and consumer electronics specialists, such as Samsung and Sony. Suddenly it's less about esoteric mirror arrangements and reflex viewinders and more about circuit-board wizardry.
Another selling point of the Samsung NX10 is the inclusion of a three-inch OLED screen. As you'd expect from a big player in TVs, Samsung claims this offers a wide range of viewing angles and better contrast than more conventional rear screens.
The Samsung NX10's resolution is right up there too. While some Micro Four Thirds hybrid have felt a bit compromised when it comes to sensors, the Samsung NX10 packs a 14.6 megapixel, APS-C sized chip.
The size is significant, as sensor-wise at least, it puts the Samsung NX10 on the same level as a consumer DSLR.
Currently selling for around 500 quid, the Samsung NX10 is very keenly priced. It takes the fight to the similarly priced Panasonic GF1 and Olympus Pen family, and also competes against entry level D-SLRs, such as Canon's EOS 500D.
So plucky Korean contender Samsung has certainly got a fight on its hands.
Samsung NX10: Features
When first handling the Samsung NX10 you need to keep reminded yourself this is NOT a conventional DSLR.
When it comes to form and styling, the Samsung NX10 feels very similar to an entry-level DSLR from Nikon or Canon. So you can't help but feel slightly deflated - it lacks the pleasingly diminutive shape of the Panasonic GF-1, for example, or the retro charm of the Olympus Pen series.
Another disappointment is the lack of a hinged rear LCD display; OLED technology or lot, this feels a bit of a let-down when articulating displays now come on several Micro Four Thirds models. Reason being, they make it easier to take photos.
Although the Samsung NX10 is easy to handle and use, it's not quite as well thought out as a Canon or Nikon DSLR.
Take the rather oddly placed Menu button to the top left of the screen. You need to access the Menu button quite a lot, as there isn't a dedicated ISO (light sensitivity) or White Balance button. Until you get used to it, you tend to hit the flash button instead of the Menu button as they're quite close, and this soon gets very annoying.
The built-in Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) is a decent performer, certainly as good as you get with the Panasonic G1. Raise the Samsung NX10 to your eye and the viewfinder automatically takes over from the rear screen, which is a nice touch.
As for the much-vaunted OLED rear screen, it's crisp, clear and colourful, though the fancy technology doesn't make that much difference to visibility in bright sunshine.
The onscreen interface is a cinch to use, and a rather helpful Function button makes it easy to adjust exposure settings and other parameters.
The Menu categories accessed via the EVF or rear screen are nigh foolproof, with the exception the Picture Wizard setting. This enables you to choose various picture styles (Landscape and Vivid for example). Simple enough, but we're not sure why black and white is called 'Classic' or what exactly 'Retro' is supposed to be (a sort of hand-coloured effect?)
We'd also like to see the image preview magnification implemented as a lever rather than a fiddly little button, and the lens cap is RUBBISH – it's cheap and nasty and kept falling off in our bag. There's no excuse for such plasticky crap on a camera of this calibre.
Samsung NX10: Image and video quality
So it's close, but no cigar, for the ergonomics. Will the Samsung NX10 impress is more with the quality of its output?
In a word, yes. While there's not a huge difference in practice between the performance of a 12 or 14 megapixel sensor, the APS-C sized chip inside the Samsung NX10 really delivers the goods.
Images are nice and colourful with bags of detail, and the resolution matches anything from a similarly priced Japanese DSLR.
This is also a testament to the quality of the lens. Cheap lenses are the Achilles heel of otherwise good-value DSLR bundles, but the Samsung NX10's glass is an impressive performer for the money.
Chromatic aberration and other distortion is kept to the absolute minimum – we're impressed.
ISO performance is good too. It's a bit of a pain to have to keep adjusting it via the Menu button, but once set, you'll be impressed by the results.
As our test shots from a gloomy Gloucestershire church show, you can get good detail with minimum noise in environments where you don't want to use flash. While the high performance ISO isn't quite as clean as the Canon EOS 550D for example, the Samsung NX10 delivers very usable results up to 1600.
To return to colour performance for a moment, we often used the Vivid style in the Picture Wizard menu, as it added an extra bit of punch to the Samsung NX10's JPEGs without making them look garish.
You can shoot in RAW, and you'll reap the benefits in terms of maximum detail and editing flexibility (but stick to Photoshop for fine-tuning your shots as the supplied RAW editing software is pretty basic, and PC only).
For less experienced users, there are the usual range of 'helpful' widgets that you tend to find on hybrid cameras. Samsung claims the new Smart Auto setting on the PASM dial will automatically work out the best settings to save newbies the hassle of reading the manual, but as with all Auto modes, it's no panacea for poor light or a fast moving subject.
You're better off learning how to adjust aperture or shutter speed yourself – after all, it's easy enough to make adjustments via the top wheel.
The picture styles and in-camera photo editing proves more useful in practice than Smart Auto, and the range of in-camera tweaks provided by the Samsung NX10 is quite impressive. This is certainly a good upgrade for less-confident compact camera owners eager to try new things.
There is the usual range of AF and metering options, and they all work well. Despite Samsung's claims about the "ultra fast AF speed", we found our review sample tended to 'hunt' a bit more than we expected, particularly when shooting at wide apertures.
It's worth fine-tuning the AF points for the most consistent results, but this is a good photographic habit to get into anyway.
HD movie capture maxes out at 720p, and you can choose from Program or Aperture Priority AE modes.
The quality of movie recording is fine for the money, with good contrast and reliable AF; while 720p falls short of full HD quality, it's comparable to the excellent Panasonic GF-1, and having some control over exposure settings is a big help.
Samsung NX10: Verdict
There's a lot to like about the Samsung NX10, but there's one niggling question that keeps cropping up. Despite being a mirrorless hybrid, it looks like an SLR. It feels like an SLR to use. It's got an SLR-sized sensor. So why not just buy a conventional SLR rather than the Samsung NX10? Er…
The Samsung NX10 is well made (apart from the grotty lens cap) and good value, with an excellent range of shooting options, quality Electronic Viewfinder and high-performance rear screen.
While being generally easy to use, with a comprehensive menu of in-camera picture tweaks and edits, it's also got enough advanced features to attract more experienced users (such as RAW shooting and Manual mode).
The 18-55mm lens on our sample is great value for money (you can also buy the Samsung NX10 with a 30mm pancake lens).
In the rather staid world of camera design, hybrid cameras have earned cool points for their articulated rear screens, comparatively small bodies and hip retro looks - so it's a shame that the Samsung NX10 offers none of these.
The layout and menu design miss the mark sometimes, and there's a smaller choice of lenses than with a conventional D-SLR.
Samsung should be congratulated for finally shaking off its 'camera maker wannabe' reputation and bringing out its best ever model for serious amateurs and even semi-pros.
This is a sturdy, high resolution shooter with a great lens for the money and respectable HD movie mode. But it's such an SLR-a-like you're left wondering why you don't just buy a comparatively priced Japanese SLR, and benefit from the more competitive discounting deals and wider range of lenses and accessories.
This could be a problem for Samsung, as its cameras still don't engender the same brand loyalty enjoyed by its rivals (unless you determined to have the same brand camera as your telly). The Samsung NX10 is a good hybrid at a keen price, but we peg it as a worthy contender rather than a market champion.