Samsung NX11 £459
19th Apr 2011 | 13:36
The third model in Samsung's NX compact system camera line brings a few subtle changes to an existing formula
Overview and features
Following the announcement of the Micro Four Thirds system back in 2008, Samsung became the first company to declare that it would launch a competing NX series.
As with the Micro Four Thirds system it was to be based the on the same principle of a small-format body with a large sensor, and would include a new range of lenses which also promised the combined benefits of portability and high image quality.
To date the system has borne three models, of which the NX11 is the latest. Numbered just one figure higher than the debut NX10 model, the newcomer suggests that it's more a modest improvement on an existing concept than anything more radical, and, indeed, the changes between the models prove to be slight.
Nevertheless, changes have been made and as the current flagship model in the series Samsung clearly feels this is its best answer to a growing list of alternatives. So is there anything to get excited about?
The major change with the new model is that it supports Samsung's i-Function lens system straight out of the box.
This takes advantage of the natural way a photographer holds a camera, by allowing the lens's focusing ring to be used to regulate a collection of key controls, such as shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation (much in the same vein as the aperture rings common to older lenses).
The settings available depend on the exposure mode you set on the mode dial, and alternating between then happens upon a press of the dedicated iFunction button on the barrel of the lens.
In use, the effectiveness of this system varies between lenses; on the kit lens, both the iFunction button and focusing ring are in the perfect position for respective thumb and finger control, although the smaller proportions of the 20mm pancake lens and the different position of the iFunction button means that accessing the feature is too awkward for comfort.
Samsung is also said to have revised the NX11's focusing system, claiming it to be the fastest yet on an NX model. The system offers 15 points as standard, which increase to 35 when shooting close up, while Face Detection is said to be effective for up to 10 faces per frame.
There's also a new Panorama function, which is accessible through the mode dial; the user simply pans across a scene and monitors progress through a bar on the display, and it's possible to shoot panoramas both horizontally and vertically, the latter being helpful for buildings and other tall structures.
It takes a little practice to please the system, and should you move over any low-contrast areas the camera immediately stops recording, but when it works it works well, with images processed in a matter of seconds.
As on the NX10, the new model's screen is a 3-inch AMOLED display with 614,000 dots. Verifying the touted benefits of OLED technology, the screen does indeed offer a capable viewing angle and is noticeably easier to see in harsher light than equivalent LCD screens, while its feed is very smooth.
It does, however, appear to suffer from aliasing artefacts which dance around finer details, and subjects tend to wobble as the camera moves around a scene. It's also considerably more detailed when browsing through captured images than when viewing the screen in real time.
For these reasons the 921,000dot electronic viewfinder may be preferable; while it falls a little short of being best in class, it's clear, bright and detailed and, presumably due to the different technology on which it is based, suffers far less from any of the issues described above.
The camera's APS-C-sized CMOS sensor is similar but not identical to that in the NX10, with 15.1MP total and 14.6MP of these effective. This captures images in Samsung's proprietry SRW raw format as well as in JPEG, now in a choice of three separate aspect ratios: the standard 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1.
For the purposes of metering the camera employs a 247-segment sensor, which allows for the traditional triplet of multi, centre-weighted and spot patterns, while there's also a capable assortment of colour options within Samsung's Picture Wizard system, all of which may be personalised to taste and with the added provision of three custom options.
The camera also offers a sensor-based dust reduction system and image stabilisation through its kit lens, although there seems to be no good reason as to why the tiny grey icon which indicates camera shake couldn't be made larger and be brightly coloured as on similar models, as it can often be difficult to notice.
Finally, HD videos are recorded to the 1280x720p standard at 30fps, with compression handled by the H.264 codec and mono sound recording from an in-built microphone, while all images and videos are stored to SD and SDHC memory cards.
The camera is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery which claims to last for up to a respectable 400 frames, although this figure varies depending on how exactly the camera is used.
Build quality and handling
While the NX11 is as much as compact system camera as any other, its design strongly adheres to that of the traditional SLR, more so than most of its peers.
Whereas a number of similar cameras suffer from something of a visual imbalance between their small-format body and long protruding optics, the slightly larger NX body and its design mean that any mounted lenses appear as though they actually belong on it.
Its relatively tall and slender body is rounded at its edges so that there's little definition between its different sides, and its plastic casing is built to the standard expected for such a camera.
It's much the same in this respect to the NX10, although one change Samsung has made is to its grip, which has been remoulded for greater comfort; what this results in is a slight depression under the shutter release button which dictates where the forefinger should rest.
Together with the rest of the body this makes for a comfortable handling experience, although those with larger hands would possibly prefer a more accommodating design, and so are likely to appreciate this change less.
The camera's buttons are plentiful but well labelled, while the menu system should present no problem for anyone using the camera for the first time.
It features icons and clear labelling throughout, although some of the functionality isn't as helpfully explained in-camera as on competing models, making a browse through the supplied manual necessary.
The NX11 requires less than half a second to power up, and it's ready to shoot at once. The 18-55mm kit lens and the 20mm f/2.8 objective share an impressively swift autofocus performance, although, unusually, it's the kit lens which is the quieter of the two.
As with similar mirrorless models the NX11's autofocusing performance is still no match for the phase-detection systems of DSLRs, but when set to its multi-pattern focusing option the camera does remarkably well to quickly pick out and mark the key subject, even if they occupy only a fraction of the frame.
Manual focusing with the above optics is also a breeze thanks to the responsiveness of the focusing ring, in contrast to some of the more tardy performances on comparable camera/lens combinations.
The camera also helpfully magnifies the central part of the frame once the manual focusing ring is adjusted, although not by the same amount as on other cameras; this is particularly a shame considering the mixed performance of the LCD screen, which make judging fine focus adjustments a little tricky.
You can still manually focus with confidence, though, by setting the camera to show the Focus Aid bar instead of the magnification option. This indicates when the camera is close to perfect focus by rising as contrast increases.
It's easy to find nice touches elsewhere, too, such as the depth-of-field preview button to the side of the lens mount, and the zoom function upon image playback which stops at the image's full size rather than continue on to higher and higher levels of pixelation.
The camera's metering system scores well for accuracy, with just an ocassional tendency to underexpose when faced with large areas of sky, other brighter details. This leaves the highlight-retaining Smart Range option largely uneccessary, although, as promised, it does tame highlights a touch where it is used, even if it can ocassionally cause a slight shift in white balance.
Otherwise, the auto white balance system can also be left largely to its own devices, as it generally retains the correct mood of the scene. The only times it seems to record any inaccuracies come when the same scene is being shot from different perspectives, although this is common to many other cameras too.
A slight texture is present from around ISO 200 onwards, but it's only from around ISO 800 that coloured noise begins to noticeably degrade image quality.
Even with noise reduction disabled, the camera appears to apply noise reduction to JPEGs shot at the highest couple of sensitivities, and this is accompanied by an unfortunate shift in saturation which leaves images looking a little dull and lacking any punch.
Colour otherwise is generally fine, and JPEGs show good saturation and contrast next to raw files, although a handful of images do show an odd saturation in particular hues. Sharpeness is also noticeably increased JPEGs, while some of the more obvious chromatic aberrations are visibly reduced too.
Once the kit lens is stopped down a little sharpness is very good in the centre of the frame, and this continues towards edges and corners.
There's pronounced and slightly uneven barrel distortion at the widest extreme of the 18-55mm kit lens, although most of this can be easily and effectively removed by the camera's Distortion Correction function.
Video quality is pretty average, with decent detail and the camera's reliable metering system producing pleasing exposure, but colour moire patterning is very obvious throughout a number of videos. Sound quality is good, though, not stellar by any means but no worse than can be expected for such a model.
As part of our image quality testing for the Samsung NX11, we've shot our resolution chart with the Samsung 18-55mm II OIS lens mounted.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the 24 is capable of resolving up to around 28 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
See a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 24 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 100, score: 24 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 24 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 20 (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG images from the Samsung NX11 show better results than the Olympus E-PM1, Nikon J1, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 and Sony NEX-C3 at the lower end of sensitivity range. However from a sensitivity of ISO 400 the signal to noise ratio drops, only beating the Nikon J1's results.
TIFF images (after conversion from raw) are similar to the JPEG files in that the dynamic range results lag behind those of the Olympus E-PM1, Nikon J1 and Sony NEX-C3, although they closely relate to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 from ISO 800 to 3200.
The NX11's multi-pattern focusing system picked the bulb of this flower out with ease, in turn blurring the flowers in the background. Next to the raw file of the same shot, this image taken on standard colour settings has vivid greens and nicely saturated reds. While the flowers at the top of the frame are a little distorted in the raw image, in-camera JPEG processing has helped to straighten things out
A typical example of the close focusing distance and shallow depth of field obtainable by the NX11 when using the 18-55mm kit lens
The camera's noise reduction system does a good job to remove colour noise from this image, but it's drawn out some colour with it.
Noise and sensitivity
ISO 100 (JPEG)
ISO 200 (JPEG)
ISO 400 (JPEG)
ISO 800 (JPEG)
ISO 1600 (JPEG)
ISO 100 (raw)
ISO 200 (raw)
ISO 400 (raw)
ISO 800 (raw)
ISO 1600 (raw)
ISO 3200 (raw)
Current street prices for the NX11 with its kit lens stand at around £470-£550, roughly on a par with Panasonic's GF2 and Olympus's EPL-2.
Those drawn towards the Samsung NX11 may also want to look at the cheaper NX10 model, which may appear as the better-value proposition, and also Panasonic's G10 and G2 alternatives given their styling next to the more pocket-friendly likes of Sony's NEX models and Panasonic's GF series.
On the whole, the NX11 is a fun camera to use and it scores points for its autofocus performance, detailed viewfinder and graphic user interface. While lab testing reveals it lags behind a couple of its competitors, it still puts in a more than reasonable performance for a model of its calibre, and images appear well exposed, with good colour and white balance in a range of situations.
It's only really with high-sensitivity images where the user would be advised to take matters into their own hands, given some of the lifeless images which result from the camera's processing engine.
The Samsung NX11 boasts a high-quality viewfinder and raw capture.
Cluttered layout of buttons. Lab testing showed it lag behind some competitors.
The Samsung NX11 is an enjoyable camera to use, with a pleasing user interface and good results, but it's not as great an upgrade over the NX10 as its current price premium may suggest.