Samsung NX20 £899
19th Jul 2012 | 11:17
Samsung's top-end CSC gets Wi-Fi
In a crowded marketplace of similarly specified mirrorless compact system cameras, it can be difficult for one manufacturer's offering to stand out from the crowd. Samsung in is an enviable position as an electronics company, because there is so much technology to draw inspiration from in its portfolio of products for the 20.3MP Samsung NX20.
For quite some time, the same AMOLED screens found in Samsung's Galaxy series of Android smartphones and tablet computers have been a unique feature of Samsung's range of NX mirrorless cameras.
With the NX20, Samsung has incorporated wireless connectivity and GPS as you may find featured in one of its smartphones. With phones and tablets sporting better cameras with each generation, how long will it be before you can check emails on your camera? Samsung stops just short of that with the NX20, but the inclusion of Wi-Fi alongside compatibility with Android devices and Windows PCs is a step towards everything becoming connected.
GPS is also included, so images can be tagged with a location. This can be especially useful when sharing images on the internet, via a service that supports geo-tagging, such as Facebook.
Sensor: 23.5 x 15.7mm CMOS, 20.3MP, 1.5x focal length
ISO range: ISO 100-12800
LCD screen: 3-inch swivel type AMOLED display, 614k dots
Dimensions: 122 x 89.6 x 39.5mm/4.8 x 3.53 x 1.56 inches, 341g/0.75lbs (without batteries and memory card)
With a price tag of £900 in the UK and $1,100 in the US, the Samsung NX20 is aimed at advanced users who don't mind spending a little extra money for more exposure control and additional features such as the SVGA electronic viewfinder, articulated 3-inch AMOLED screen and a large APS-C size 20.3 megapixel CMOS image sensor.
Of course, due to the mirrorless design, the camera is quite compact, relative to a DSLR, so it will suit those who wish to travel light, even if it is a little too large to be classed as pocketable.
Using a large APS-C sensor has its benefits. The surface area is much larger than would typically be found in a compact camera. Greater available surface area enables increased quality at high sensitivities, or higher resolution images, or a compromise between the two.
At 20.3 million effective pixels, the CMOS sensor found in the Samsung NX20 isn't the highest resolution APS-C sensor currently available, so it will be interesting to see if this compromise results in a gain in quality when shooting at high ISOs.
A reasonable selection of Samsung NX lenses are available, including zooms covering moderate wide angle to telephoto focal lengths and a variety of compact pancake-type prime lenses. Advanced users may find the lack of ultra-wide angle, super-telephoto and lenses with a maximum aperture faster than f/2.8 a little limiting.
Also, there are currently very few third-party lens options available, with established manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron concentrating on Micro Four Thirds and Sony NEX formats for now. Samsung's i-Function feature enables the focusing ring on each compatible lens to be used to control the camera.
A button found on the lens can be customised to give access to a range of adjustments, including aperture, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity and exposure compensation.
Video clips up to 25 minutes long can be recorded at 1080 high definition resolution and frame rates of up to 30 frames per second. Videographers may be a little dismayed to find there is no facility to attach a standard 3.5mm or XLR microphone to the Samsung NX20, for better sound recording quality.
However, Samsung is releasing a proprietary external microphone called the EM10, which attaches and is powered via the hotshoe. The EM10 microphone is unique, since the A/D converter is built into the microphone itself and has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack for monitoring sound levels while recording, and zoom and wide settings for altering what sound is captured.
Following the trend set by almost every current compact system camera and DSLR available at the moment, an incredibly wide range of ISO sensitivities up to ISO 12800 are selectable on the Samsung NX20. This should be great for shooting in low light conditions, or for forcing faster shutter speeds when needed.
Thanks to the use of a hybrid system that uses both a mechanical and electronic shutter, the maximum shutter speed is 1/8000sec. Also 15 full resolution JPEG images can be taken continuously at eight frames per second, which should take some of the guesswork out of capturing fleeting moments.
A useful Auto ISO customisation setting is also included, which enables you to specify a maximum ISO and whether the ISO is changed in 1 or 1/3 stop steps.
The usual manual creative exposure modes are provided to satisfy the needs of advanced photographers, alongside a raft of automatic options for those requiring a little help. A 'Smart' automatic mode analyses the scene and applies an appropriate scene program, whereas the 'I' and Scene modes enable you to choose the automatic preset.
Also on the dial are a dedicated video recording mode and a Wi-Fi mode. Evaluative, Centre-Weighted and spot metering options are also provided.
Since this camera includes wireless connectivity, supporting the latest 'N' network technology, the Wi-Fi mode provides access to various functions for transferring images, or even remotely operating the camera via an Android smartphone or tablet.
Android device users can download the MobileLink and Remote Viewfinder apps from Google Play to connect to the camera. The MobileLink app enables images to be transferred to your phone or tablet for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or to be edited in Photoshop Express or similar software.
The Remote Viewfinder app turns your smartphone or tablet into a wireless remote control, with live view, which could be especially useful for shooting timid wildlife, or for taking self portraits with a group. Unfortunately the only control available in the Remote Viewfinder is over whether the flash fires automatically, the self timer duration and resolution. Control over some aspects of exposure will be very welcome here.
Although Samsung specifies that the apps are compatible with its Galaxy S and Galaxy S2 smartphones and Samsung Galaxy Tab tablets, in theory, any smartphone running compatible Android software should be able to work with the camera. To test the connectivity with Android-powered devices we tried three smartphones - a Motorola Milestone 2, a Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S and an HTC Desire Z - all running Android 2.3 Gingerbread.
The Motorola phone enjoyed the greatest compatibility with the Samsung NX20, with both apps working successfully. Problems were encountered with the MobileLink transfer app on the Xperia Arc S, but Samsung Remote Viewfinder worked flawlessly. Finally, nothing worked with the HTC Desire Z. The camera had real issues connecting with this phone, connecting sometimes only to drop to link almost immediately.
If the remote app features are of particular interest, it may be worth trying them out first with your particular tablet or smartphone to ensure smooth operation.
Software for wirelessly backing images up to a Windows PC is also included, along with widgets built into the camera for emailing images or uploading to social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Picasa and Photobucket direct from the camera. The Samsung NX20 can be connected to a network by entering the password for your network, or via WPS, where a button on the access point is pressed to link the devices.
Selecting images for upload is easy, and the transfer takes seconds. Entering passwords, email addresses and messages can take some time, though. A touchscreen interface could be a real asset here, rather than the cumbersome and time consuming text entry system, which is reminiscent of those found on arcade games for entering your name next to a high score.
Once everything is set up, only messages take time to enter. The Samsung NX20's built-in GPS can also geo-tag images automatically, so your Facebook friends will know that the picture you just uploaded of your lunch was taken in an exotic foreign setting.
Because shooting high contrast scenes can be difficult, Samsung has provided a 'Smart range' feature that aims to increase the dynamic range visible in the final image. This feature isn't customisable, and only 'On' and 'Off' settings are included. This feature brightens shadows and darkens highlights, but without the result looking too obvious, resulting in natural-looking images.
A fully articulated 3-inch AMOLED screen with a resolution of 614,000 dots provides a clear and vibrant view for composition, even when taking images from difficult angles. The AMOLED technology makes for a bright, clear image, but the reflective protective coating applied to the screen can make this screen difficult to see clearly in very bright conditions.
Luckily an electronic viewfinder with a resolution of 144,000 dots is provided on the Samsung NX20, which makes composing in bright conditions much easier. A proximity sensor automatically switches the view between the screen and EVF as your eye is brought to the finder, which saves fiddling around with switches every time the viewfinder is used.
1080p high-definition video clips can be recorded at 30 frames per second for up to 25 minutes in MPEG-4 format. Autofocus is engaged during recording, although it can be a little slow to keep up with rapidly changing distances.
Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes are all selectable from the menu, and values can be set before recording. Stereo sound is recorded by the camera's built-in microphones, and an additional EM10 external mic can be attached to the hotshoe for better sound quality. Unfortunately there is no standard connection for 3.5mm or XLR microphone connections.
A small pop-up flash is built into the Samsung NX20, which provides enough illumination for fill-in at close quarters. Because a hotshoe connection is provided, a more powerful dedicated flashgun such as the Samsung ED-SEF42A can be used to provide greater flexibility.
Build quality and handling
Styled like a miniature DSLR, with the EVF protruding from the top of the body, the plastics used throughout the construction of the Samsung NX20's body have a rigid, high quality feel to them, while helping to keep the weight of the camera down to 341g (0.75lbs) without a battery and memory card installed.
A sculpted finger grip provides an excellent hold over the camera, thanks to the rubberised areas on the front and rear.
At 122mm (4.8 inches) wide and 40mm (1.56 inches) deep without a lens attached, the Samsung NX20 is a little large to be classed as pocketable, unless your pockets are really large, although it is almost there when paired with one of Samsung's pancake-type lenses.
Controls are all laid out within easy reach of finger or thumb, and a dedicated video recording button sits just above the thumb grip. Although this button is recessed slightly, it can be easily activated accidentally, resulting in recording of unwanted video clips of the floor, or the inside of a bag or pocket.
A knurled dial on the top provides access to various exposure programs and a dedicated video recording mode. Each turn of this dial is accompanied with an animated sequence on the screen, or in the viewfinder. Although this looks nice, it can struggle to keep up with the turning of the dial, adding a little lag between changing modes.
A small thumb-wheel on top of the camera and one on the rear provide great, quick access for exposure adjustments.
The screen is reversible, so it can be stowed away for protection when using the viewfinder. The eyepiece on the EVF is made from hard plastic, rather than rubber. This has the advantage of not smearing the surface of spectacles when brought to the eye.
A clear piece of plastic covers the viewfinder area, and is angled up slightly. In bright conditions, reflections can be seen on this plastic cover if the camera isn't completely shaded by one's eye socket, which can be an issue for glasses wearers using the EVF.
The 1300mAh Li-Ion battery provides plenty of power for a typical day's shooting. During testing it was still showing a full charge after taking 450 shots using the raw+JPEG quality setting.
A little time spent setting up the Samsung NX20 as you prefer will pay dividends. Images straight from the camera tend to have quite subdued colour and contrast, but this can be adjusted easily, via the provided presets, or manually to your taste.
The 221 segment evaluative metering system yields accurate exposures in a wide range of conditions, only requiring compensation for some high-contrast scenes, or subjects that are predominantly light or dark.
Auto white balance also performs well, leaving enough of a cast to retain the atmosphere of the conditions. Under cloudy conditions, images can have quite a strong cool cast, which can be remedied by selecting either the daylight or cloudy white balance presets.
For accurate colour under artificial lighting, the appropriate preset does an excellent job of correcting colour casts if the correction applied by the automatic setting isn't to your taste.
The benefits of a large APS-C sensor really show with the noise performance of the Samsung NX20. Images taken at sensitivities up to ISO 800 show no significant signs of noise. Noise is even difficult to spot with the ISO raised to 1600, although a little softening can be seen in areas of fine detail, due to noise reduction.
At higher sensitivities, softening due to noise reduction increases, but even ISO 3200 should be able to make respectable A4 (11.7 x 8.3-inch) sized prints. The lack of coloured noise speckles at ISO 6400 means that images still look good, despite obvious softening due to noise reduction.
Although ISO 12800 shows much higher noise levels, and should be reserved for times where picture taking isn't otherwise possible, images taken at this setting should be more than adequate for sharing at low resolutions on the web, or for postcard sized prints.
Autofocus on the Samsung NX20 is reasonably quick when shooting still images, locking onto static subjects quickly and accurately. Tracking moving subjects can be a challenge, though.
During video, autofocus is slow, and there is no confirmation on the screen of when the camera has achieved focus, or even where it has focused in the frame. Low light AF performance is pretty good for a compact system camera, only hunting in very dark conditions.
Colours can be quite subdued using default settings.
Default settings can result in quite muted colours, so it's well worth playing with colour settings in-camera to improve saturation and contrast.
The Samsung NX20's 20.3 megapixel CMOS sensor captures ample detail for large prints, even at relatively high sensitivities.
Two dials are provided to provide quick access for manual adjustments.
Plenty of detail is captured by the 20.3 megapixel CMOS sensor.
Autofocus is plenty fast enough for static subjects, but tracking moving subjects can be a challenge.
The Samsung NX20 holds its own well as far as Dynamic Range is concerned.
Several preset colour settings are available to boost the saturation and contrast, or adjustments can be made manually.
The large APS-C sensor makes blurring backgrounds easier than with a small sensor like those found in a compact camera.
The articulated screen is great for taking images from tricky angles.
Performance at high sensitivities is very good.
Auto white balance can leave images taken under overcast with a slight cool cast.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
The Samsung NX20 is quite an interesting proposition, since it delivers very good quality images, especially at high ISOs. The combination of Wi-Fi connectivity with the ability to share images direct from the camera is currently unique to Samsung. Since extra value is added to these features by owning compatible Android mobile devices, the true value of this connectivity may not be realised without the appropriate additional hardware.
The large APS-C CMOS sensor delivers excellent quality images, even at high ISO sensitivities. The camera is ruggedly built with some great features, including the articulated AMOLED screen, Wi-Fi connectivity features, GPS, built-in EVF and Full HD video recording.
Reflective materials used to protect the articulated screen and EVF can cause issues composing images in bright conditions. Care may need to be taken to ensure your Android device will work with the Wi-Fi features, especially if this is a major selling point for you, since compatibility isn't guaranteed.
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The price is in line with premium cameras from other manufacturers, and the specification is in line with most competitors, even without the addition of Wi-Fi and GPS. Although the features on offer may be enough to tempt advanced photographers away from the current crop of high-end consumer DSLRs, the NX lens range is quite limited, with no lenses wider than 16mm or more telephoto than 200mm currently available.
Overall the Samsung NX20 is a great camera to use, and it is more than capable of delivering great quality images. Although the Wi-Fi connectivity features may grab headlines, the underlying camera is a quality piece of kit that should win over many fans.
The Samsung NX20 offers an exciting feature set, excellent quality at high sensitivities, good ergonomics and features to satisfy the needs of both experienced and novice photographers alike in a compact body.