Monday, March 21, 2011

Samsung NX10 Mini Review

Samsung NX10 Mini Review
March 2011, Carl Garrard

Brief Overview

Sales Chatter- Samsungs' NX10 DILC  mirrorless camera was first to the photography market that incorporated a APS-C sized sensor. Along with that 14.6mp sensor they included 720p HD video, a 3" AMOLED screen, a 921k electronic viewfinder, ultrasonic noise reduction, and a host of good features and very good external controls and handling for a price w/kit lens at $699.99 USD.




Forewarning: I'm not yet a believer in the DILC (digital interchangeable lens camera) as a bonafide long term solution for a more compact large sensor system. There is no doubt in my mind that a DILC system is smaller and more lightweight than the smallest DSLR and lens outfit, however, that doesn't put it in the pocketable category no matter what model DILC you go with, and handling often suffers still. 


Some are smaller than others (Sony NEX), but none of the models I've used yet (Pen, NX, NEX, G1) have convinced me that this class of camera should take the place of a really good compact camera when you want a lightweight go anywhere solution. Still, they are very nice cameras and some have outstanding image quality. Now, back to our scheduled programming.

Review

Sales chatter and forewarning out of the way, let me get on with my comments on Samsung's NX10 after about a month's use with this camera. This camera was not a loaner from Samsung, I shelled out my own hard earned money to examine and review this camera.

The Immediately Obvious Pros:

Samsung's NX10 has a solid build quality, it's a dense reassuring quality,  and has a nice access door to hdmi etc. In terms of size is just about perfect: not too small, not too large, great for street shooting because the handling is very decent due to having plenty of room for your hands to access buttons and switches and keypads. I like that it has an included pop up flash that doesn't seem to add to the overall size at all.

Lots of buttons, great LCD well sorted

Many of its external controls are in the proper place, especially the control wheel and on/off switch. The EVF is very nice, good viewing size, small size penalty  to the body (better than add on evfs any day), decent contrast and brightness and pretty darn fast refresh rate with good eye relief. It's Ultrasonic Dust Reduction system can be a life saver.





The ultra high frequency eliminates dust and time sucking post processing of dust specks on your images.


The body itself is curvy, no snags in and out of bag or large coat pockets and feels very nice in the hand no matter how you hold it. Great grip! It has a gorgeous rear LCD, that AMOLED screen is one of, if not the, finest I've ever used.  Nice menu system layout and choice of color and design, easy to find items quickly and change settings on the fly.
 

Rest assured you  get excellent firmware upgrades and support from Samsung. The NX10 I used was upgraded to v1.20 by yours truly, its fast and easy to do. That upgrade added functionality and fixed bugs both. So it is indeed a better camera now and that comes free from Samsung.
 

The NX10 has very good battery life (class leading), and gave me all day shooting confidence. It has a very attractive price, giving the best dollar for performance value of all of the mirrorless cameras I've used yet. It has better handling than competitors, and leaves an honest refined impression.
 

The addition of the depth of field preview button, made me smile. Samsung clearly cares about enthusiasts! Another sign of that is the included standard hot shoe (many possibilities with that, including optical viewfinders) which gives the NX a lot of accessory options.
 

Size compared to the Sony A580
  

Overall impression of sacrifices compared to a  DSLR system was higher than any mirrorless I've tried yet. This means that although the camera was smaller and lighter, I didn't feel handling, features, or performance suffered much, and much less so than competitors cameras.

 



Samsung's NX10 is a great street shooter. It is unintimidating and small, has great handling, great features, and performs snappy. Today there are three available pancake lenses already which really adds value to the NX as a street shooting camera. It even has  my favorite kind of strap lugs that don't stick out of the body like a hard screw.
 

The NX system allows the use of almost all lens adapters (less Leica M mount), and the NX even has a decent 2x manual focus magnification feature you can activate to help you focus with manual lenses sharply. It is simple and elegant, yet techologically up to date which is by all means a very difficult balance to strike at the design level. Bravo.

It just feels like a camera, and it doesn't get in your way while shooting, yet it still feels compact. Balance and handling wise, Samsung has just about nailed it. None of the other DILC models I tried felt as well balanced. It's just darn fun to use and make photographs with.

I really liked the fact that is has a focus assist lamp that is built in (doesn't use the built in flash pulse, all cameras should have an AF assist lamp), which really aids in low light focusing. It's not the split beam type (which dominate) but it is still very good and much better than a pop up on board flash type. (If you don't think it's valuable to have one just remember that Olympus's pro level E5 doesn't even have one).

The included kit lens is smaller and lighter than images would left me to believe, and it includes image stabilization. Optically it is a very decent lens, no real issues that I could find worth throwing a tantrum over. It has HD video when needed and good quality, not stellar but good. Rolling shutter effects do show up but that is similar to all other large sensor cameras with video. So par for the course here. Lack of stereo sound didn't bug me in the slightest.

I like that the NX has in camera editing of photos, enough options there to have lots of fun with. It has screen adjustment for brightness, contrast and color. Also includes a noise reduction "off" setting that helps Jpegs retain more detail.
 

It is included with automatic lens distortion correction available with firmware 1.20, for all Samsung NX lenses. This is a particularly nice touch that saves post processing time.
 

I really like the sound of the mechanical shutter vs. an electronic one. I'm an analog fan so moving parts get me excited. It's not the best sounding shutter (see cons) but overall I was pleased.

A well written manual is included to guide you through the NX should you become confused ( I never did).

I like the image quality at lower iso's, it has realistic color, and good jpegs. Raw image quality is better of course, but this camera doesn't strike me as a shooter I'd like to rely on above ISO 800 all that often. This is because of the banding issue I found with it. Clearly Samsung needs to include a better sensor on future models (the NX11 has a similar sensor, tsk tsk!).


The Not So Immediately Obvious Cons

Heavy Raw file sizes hamper post processing speed, this is noticeable but not a deal breaker by any means.  Sensor performance at higher ISO's (less used settings however) leaves a lot to be desired. Color shifting and detail loss due to high amounts of noise were a disappointment but not nearly as disappointing as the next issue I found.
 

Image banding. The most evil of all image quality cons for me. I don't care if there are work arounds, today's digital cameras should never have image banding at all. I found banding at ISO 400 and up (mostly noticeable on underexposed images and ISO 1600 and up nearly all the time). This to me is the biggest bruise on the NX10. It's not a deal breaker though if you like to take time with exposure and don't mind "some" banding in "some" of your images. But to me, I never want to see banding ever, ever, again.


I'd like to see more magnification options available for manual focusing, 2x is a good start but I think Samsung should work on that. Last but not least the shutter sounds a bit like it struggles to complete it's cycle at times, I'd prefer a quicker snappier sound that doesn't sound like it is going to delay or stop altogether. That's a nitpick though, not an issue and I doubt many will notice or agree with me there. Worth mentioning though.


Handling wise , I'd like to see the AEL button located closer to where my thumb naturally falls, along with the EV (-/+) button, I don't think they are in the optimal position. Other buttons I'd like moved to a different and more visible location are the magnification buttons for image playback. They are oddly placed on top of the camera, which is fine for the video and drive buttons of which play dual duty.

Conclusion


Samsung's NX10 is the best of the DILC lot I've used, even with the Con's I mentioned above. You cant' help but smile when you pick it up and use it. It is pleasantly designed and well specified. Samsung did a great job refining a first tier product and it still remains my favorite DILC to use compared to the other models I mentioned briefly in this article. It has many strengths and very few weaknesses, and just one in particular though that happens to be at the very top of my no-no list. 


Practically speaking I found the NX10 to be peppy with quick and accurate autofocus with very decent shot to shot times. Image playback and review is pretty quick, and power up is fast as well. The solid build and fit/finish, good overall grip, handling, controls, and solid and large viewing EVF and AMOLED screen are stand outs. It's easy to use in Auto mode and has tons of cool features to play around with and keep you interested for much longer than a play at the photo retailer counter.

It makes generally good images, but falls short of APS-C expectations by today's standards. That's ok if you just want better than compact camera image quality.



If  Samsung want to dominate the DILC category they better get moving quick. Lots of pressure from the other manufacturers already exist and they certainly can't rely on their big electronics name. Samsung will do well if they listen to experienced users who have great advice on refinements for future cameras, and if they market them much more aggressively in the US and UK markets, following that up with great service and retailer support. Those are the keys to the NX success at any respectable level.


If that doesn't happen, then all the great things about the NX10 design will be for not.


Be safe, and happy shooting.


-C.Garrard

P.S.- If this article was helpful to you and you feel like you're in the mood to spread some cheer, please feel free to donate any amount (even .25 cents is not unwelcome!) to my PayPal Donate account here: CLICK ME   


Sample Images from the NX10






4 Comments:

Blogger Vladimir said...

Nice review. Exactly my thoughts. This Samsung with the new Sony sensor would be a great machine.

March 22, 2011 at 7:04 AM  
OpenID bryantakespictures said...

Nice review. If you ever decide you want to sell the NX10 to upgrade to the NX12(?), send me an email: brdavidson [at] gmail.com

I followed you here from AMW. Really enjoying the blog so far, keep it up.

March 23, 2011 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Thanks Bryan, I'll be selling the NX10 soon. It's not that I don't like it, because I really do. It's just that I need only so many cameras for my own photography. I don't need at this time another system camera and a bunch of lenses. I may never need a stop gap camera like the NX10 (or others) either. Guess we'll see how far they go.

I'm a DSLR or Compact camera kind of guy. That doesn't mean I can't be objective about those cameras and find value in them or like them, either.

Carl

April 11, 2011 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Selling the review unit if anyone is interested:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=320689832699&ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT

Carl

April 23, 2011 at 2:29 PM  

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