Review: Samsung NX20's well-rounded features appeal to both enthusiasts and snapshooters
At a Glance
Samsung first entered the mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera (also known as compact system camera) market a couple of years ago, and has followed up with several models, including the 20-megapixel NX20. The Samsung NX20 ($1100 with 18-55mm lens) currently occupies the top slot of the company's NX line, with the entry-level NX1000 at the other end of the spectrum.
A few of the NX20's standout features include an APS-C-size CMOS sensor, an electronic viewfinder, a built-in pop-up flash, and an AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) LCD—the latter trio of features not always found on cameras in this price range. As a bonus, the NX20, like most other current Samsung cameras, is equipped with Wi-Fi.
Slightly larger than other mirrorless cameras in its class and compared with its NX1000 sibling, the NX20 has a DSLR-like look and feel. The body measures 4.8 by 3.63 by 1.56 inches and weighs about 0.75 pound (without the battery, SD/SDHC/SDXC media card, or lens). The camera's midsize grip provides a solid handhold, but it's too big to fit easily inside a pocket. Although photographers with large hands will be comfortable holding the camera, they may find the buttons a little too small for easy operation.
This class of compact cameras generally does not have as wide a selection of lenses as classic DSLRs do. Samsung offers nine lenses, including the 18-55mm kit lens and others ranging from a 16mm f/2.4 pancake lens to a 85mm f/1.4 prime to a 50-200mm f/4.0-5.6 image-stabilized zoom. A 1.5x crop factor is applied for the effective focal length (meaning the 50-200mm lens actually delivers a focal range of 75-300mm). Available accessories include an external flash, microphone, and remote shutter release; an HDMI cable is necessary for showing stills and videos on an HDTV.
Design and build
Overall, the camera is well built, but the kit lens feels a little less sturdy. More annoying is that the zoom mechanism is somewhat stiff and difficult to move smoothly through the full focal range of the lens. That's not a huge issue for still shooting, but it presents a problem when you're zooming during a video shoot.
The electronic viewfinder is large and bright, as is the excellent 3-inch AMOLED monitor. The screen handles outdoor shooting in bright sunlight well, thanks in large part to the elimination of the air gap between the display and the protective covering. In addition, the LCD screen is fully articulated, so even if there's a little reflection from the sun, angling the LCD will usually counteract the effect. Of course, the main benefit of an articulated LCD such as this one is the convenience of tilting and twisting it instead of your body or head for overhead and low-angle shooting.
The NX20's control layout is fairly standard and includes lots of external controls. Most of the external buttons and dials will be familiar to photographers who shoot with advanced cameras. The top of the grip is home to the on/off switch, which is so tightly placed that there's little chance you'll power the camera on accidentally. At the same time, the switch isn't that easy to flick back and forth when you're turning the camera on and off.
Additional top-of-grip controls include a jog dial, a dedicated metering button to change metering modes quickly, a green button that basically resets various functions (such as white balance, flash EV, and AF selection point), and a dedicated video button. Unlike the power switch, the video button is all too easy to activate when you're gripping the camera normally.
The mode dial has a good feel to it and easily switches from one mode to another—though not so easily that you'll inadvertently knock it out of position. Mode options include manual, semimanual, and automatic exposure modes, as well as lens priority mode (more about this shortly), custom settings, scenes, and Wi-Fi. The rear panel also offers a number of controls, including a dedicated exposure compensation button, a four-way controller, and playback, menu, AE lock, delete, and Fn (function) buttons.
Features and functions
The NX20 offers a broad feature set designed to provide manual controls for enthusiasts as well as automatic and smart options for snapshooters. Beyond its full complement of standard features, the NX20 has a few interesting options.
Lens priority mode is a unique twist on the more traditional quick menu. Pressing the lens's iFn button, available on the kit's 18-55mm lens among others, calls up a mode-dependent menu. You can make adjustments to one or more settings via the lens focus ring or the camera's jog dial. For example, by default, when the camera is set to shutter priority, you can use the iFn button to call up and change the shutter speed. You can customize iFn options too, but if you don't mind taking your eye away from the viewfinder and your finger off the shutter, just press the Fn (function) button on the back of the camera to call up a full menu of setting options on the LCD screen.
Other notable features include a virtual level to help keep horizons straight, a useful on-screen guide, and a trio of user-customizable shooting modes.
Samsung is in many ways ahead of the curve with its Wi-Fi implementation. It's not perfect—and Sony also does a good job with Wi-Fi in cameras such as its NEX-6—but sharing images wirelessly with Samsung's smart cameras is pretty easy.
It helps to have a bit of Wi-Fi knowledge for setup, especially since the instructions make the process appear more complicated than it is. The biggest frustration is not having a touchscreen for entering data on the virtual keyboard.
Once the camera is connected to the network, you can wirelessly back up images to a computer, email them, share them to a TV Link-enabled television, or share them directly on sites such as Facebook, PhotoBucket, Picasa, or YouTube, or on Microsoft SkyDrive. Typing in passwords and email addresses is the most difficult aspect of using the NX20’s Wi-Fi. Otherwise, it’s pretty straightforward: Emailing one or several images requires nothing more than entering an email address, selecting the photos, and tapping Send. It’s direct, efficient, and, seriously, a no-brainer. Other options are just about as effortless.
Two free apps are available for iOS and Android: Samsung Remote Viewfinder and Samsung MobileLink. The former provides remote access to basic camera operations such as the shutter, while MobileLink helps you view and/or transfer images to an iOS device. I tested MobileLink on an iPhone 4S, and it worked seamlessly.
This camera captures video in full 1920-by-1080-pixel HD resolution at 30 frames per second in MPEG-4 (H.264). Also available are 1920 by 810 (for HDTV at 24 fps), 1280 by 720 (30 fps), 640 by 480 (30 fps), and a 30-second low-resolution option for sharing on the Web. Full manual and semimanual exposure controls are available, and you can use some of the NX20's creative effects when filming as well. You can capture and play back video at different speeds for a bit of creativity. Image quality in daylight is good, with accurate exposures and generally smooth playback. Stereo sound is decent, but you'll need the optional microphone for better audio.
The NX20's performance is a mixed bag, with slightly sluggish startup times and a brief delay when activating video. On the other hand, the camera has a top shutter speed of 1/8000 second, albeit with an electronic shutter rather than the mechanical shutter, which maxes out at 1/4000 second. The camera can clip along at up to 8 frames per second, filling the buffer with about 11 full resolution JPEGs or about eight raw images. That's not bad, but patience is required while it saves the images, even when you're using a fast card. Autofocus, particularly in good light, is generally responsive. Shot-to-shot and flash recycling times are respectable.
Image quality is quite pleasing, with natural but well-saturated colors. In our tests, exposures were pretty much on the mark under average conditions; and even without activating the camera's dynamic range feature, the NX20 managed to hold on to shadow and highlight detail in most test shots.
The best images were those shot in daylight at lower ISOs. While the NX20's ISO ranges from 100 to 12800, images were less likely to show image noise between ISO 100 and 400, although 800 and 1600 ISO levels are still usable. Go beyond those settings to ISO 6400 and 12,800, and it's best to show them on the Web or in snapshot-size prints. At lower ISOs, test shots were mostly noise-free, generally sharp, and well detailed.
The Samsung NX20 holds its own against the competition and even exceeds other mirrorless interchangeable-lens models thanks to its well-implemented Wi-Fi features. A pleasure to shoot with, the NX20 has a well-rounded feature set that will appeal to enthusiasts and snapshooters alike, particularly those who want a stable, larger-body camera. Perhaps the biggest drawback is its shooting performance.
Photos by Theano Nikitas. All rights reserved.