Samsung NX200 Camera review

Despite the vast scope of Samsung's business interests, it was something of a late entrant into the digital camera market when it launched its first model in 2002. For the first few years, it really didn't seem to be taking digital photography all that seriously, probably thinking what the film manufacturers all hoped; that it was just a passing fad and that everyone would soon return to traditional film photography. It wasn't until 2006 with the launch of its NV ("New Vision") series and its partnership with lens manufacturer, Schneider Kreuznach, that Samsung really started to become a major player in the digital camera industry. Six years later, it is one of the most successful and prolific camera manufacturers, with a range of over two dozen compact cameras, a dozen or so video camcorders and its highly regarded series of compact system cameras (CSC), the NX System, in which it currently fields six models. I'm taking a look at one of these today - the NX200.

Launched in late 2011, the NX200 is a second-generation model in the NX series, following on from the popular NX100 which was launched in 2010. Samsung surprised a lot of people by opting to use a full-sized APS-C sensor in its CSC range, and the NX200 is equipped with a 20.3-megapixel CMOS imaging sensor measuring 23.5 x 15.7mm, giving it one of the highest resolutions of any current CSC camera and easily beating rival models such as the Panasonic GX1 (16-megapixel), the Olympus Pen E-P3 (12.3-megapixel), the Pentax K-01 (16.3-megapixel) and the Nikon 1 J1 (10.1-megapixel), which I reviewed a few weeks ago. Only the flagship model of Sony's CSC range, the NEX-7, has a higher resolution at 24.3-megapixel, but that's nearly twice the price.

Not that the NX200 is a particularly cheap camera; at £549, including the kit 20-50mm lens seen here, it is one of the more expensive CSCs on the market, costing more than the Pentax Q (£349), the Nikon 1 J1 (£375), the Panasonic GF5 (£500) and the Sony NEX-5 (£530), but it is cheaper than the Nikon 1 V1 (£630), the Olympus E-P3 (£640) and the Pentax K-01 (£680).

For your money, you do get a very well made camera. The body shell is aluminium on the front and top with a plastic back and underside, and a metal surround for the lens mount. The build quality is excellent, with tight panel seams and well-mounted controls, and the whole thing feels substantial and business-like. It weighs 271g without a lens but including the battery and memory card, or 398g including the standard 20-50mm zoom lens. The shape of the body is very reminiscent of Samsung's NV-series compacts from the mid-2000s, with a flat top panel and rounded ends, and the shape incorporates a substantial handgrip with a textured surface, as well as a thumb grip panel on the rear.

The NX200 features a 3in AMOLED monitor with a resolution of 614,000 dots. It's exceptionally sharp but rather disappointingly it's a little too dim to be viewed in direct sunlight. It's worth noting also that the NX200 has no built-in flash, although it does have a hot-shoe that will accept any external flashgun, and a small folding flashgun is available as part of the NX range.

Some CSCs have simple controls like those of a compact camera, but the NX200 offers a greater level of complexity, approaching that of a mid-range DSLR. It has a mode dial recessed into the top panel with a full range of automatic and manual exposure options, including scene modes, a sweep panorama feature, digital filter effects and 'Magic Frame' mode, which composites a variety of novelty frames onto your photo.

Most adjustments can be made quickly, thanks to a function button and graphical menu. There is also the "iFn" mode, which allows quick camera adjustments to be made by pressing a function button mounted on the side of the lens. Exposure adjustment is via the rotary bezel around the D-pad, and a small adjustment wheel on the top panel next to the mode dial, which is used for both adjustments in shutter and aperture priority modes.

The NX200 offers a very wide range of exposure control, with shutter speeds of 30 seconds to 1/4000th of a second, and the 20-50mm kit lens has a minimum aperture of f/22 and a maximum of f/3.5-5.6. Further versatility is added by the Picture Wizard function, which offers a range of customisable pre-sets for picture tone. Like all the best cameras, the NX200 offers several different ways to accomplish the same thing, so you can tailor the way you use the camera to your own preference.

The NX200's overall performance is good, although there are a few issues. In its default setup, the camera will run a quick sensor-cleaning routine on start-up, which takes a couple of seconds. It's a good idea and helps keep dust off the sensor, but it can be annoying if you're trying to snap something in a hurry. Fortunately this feature can be turned off in the menu, in which case the camera can start up and take a picture in well under two seconds. In single-shot mode its shot-to-shot time is approximately 1.3 seconds, which is slower than I was expecting, mostly due to the slightly sluggish AF system. It has two continuous shooting modes, a low speed at 3fps which appears to be able to run for several dozen shots, and a high-speed 7fps mode, which shoots for seven frames but then locks the camera up for 12 seconds while it writes to the memory card. The only major problem I found with the camera's performance was in raw mode, where after just a few shots the camera would lock up for up to nine seconds, displaying a "processing..." notice on the monitor. Since menu or playback functions cannot be used while this is going on, it makes the camera frustrating to use in this mode.

Battery duration is about average for the class. It is powered by a 1,030mAh li-ion rechargeable which Samsung claims is good for 320 shots. I took about 250 shots plus some video clips while testing and the battery indicator was still showing two out of three bars, so that may be a bit on the conservative side.

Like most compact system cameras the NX200 uses contrast detection autofocus. It features single-point, multi-point, face detection and subject tracking AF, and works a little slowly but accurately in most normal lighting conditions. However, I found that it quickly ran into problems while shooting a live rock gig, where the rapidly changing light levels caused it to fail frequently enough to be a problem.

I'll usually forgive a camera a few minor niggles as long as the image quality is good enough, and I'm happy to report that the NX200 earns itself a full pardon. I was initially a little sceptical about its 20.3-megapixel resolution, since adding megapixels seldom results in any significant improvement in image quality, but the NX200 pulls it off without a hitch. The level of fine detail it captures rivals that of any full-sized DSLR, and its high-ISO noise control would put many of them to shame. At settings up to 400 ISO, it produces effectively no noise at all; 800 ISO has a light dusting that becomes progressively worse at higher settings; but it will turn out a perfectly useable image at 6,400 ISO and even the maximum 12,800 ISO isn't a complete disaster.

Colour reproduction and dynamic range earn a special mention; both are exceptionally good, and will come as a major revelation to anyone expecting this camera to perform like a compact. The Schneider Kreuznach kit lens is also above reproach, producing pin-sharp detail right across the frame, with no corner blurring, optical distortion or chromatic aberration. If only all kit lenses were this good!

This review wouldn't be complete without a brief mention of the video recording mode; the NX can record in full HD 1,920 x 1,080 resolution at 30fps with stereo audio recorded via a pair of microphones on the top plate. Video quality is very good, as one might expect, although the audio quality is a bit tinny and the automatic level control goes bananas if you try to record loud music. The microphones are also very susceptible to wind noise, turning a slight breeze into a loud whistling sound. Manual zoom can of course be used while recording, and video files are recorded in H.264 format.

Verdict

For general enthusiast-level photography the NX200 is a superb camera. It offers all of the image quality and most of the features of a full-sized DSLR, handling and build quality are excellent and overall performance is, for the most part, quite good. The only handicaps are poor low-light focussing and very slow raw processing, but if you can cope with these, then this is a great all-round camera.

Pros: Image quality, dynamic range, high-ISO noise.

Cons: Relatively expensive, slow raw mode, poor low-light focusing.

Score: 9/10

Manufacturer: Samsung

Price: £549.00 with kit 20-50mm lens

Test Photos - ISO performance

This is the full frame at 100 ISO. As usual, all these ISO test shots were done using tungsten studio lights and manual white balance.

100 ISO, f/8, 1/2 sec. As you can see the results at the minimum ISO setting are superb, with perfectly smooth colour.

200 ISO, f/8, 1/4 sec. At 200 ISO the results are pretty much identical.

400 ISO, f/8, 1/8 sec. There's a hint of colour mottling at 400 ISO but no noise at all.

800 ISO, f/8, 1/15 sec. At 800 ISO there is a slight dusting of noise beginning to creep in, but it's barely noticeable.

1600 ISO, f/8, 1/30 sec. There's a little more noise at 1600 ISO, but still not enough to cause a real problem.

3200 ISO, f/8, 1/60 sec. At 3200 ISO the noise reduction is reducing the fine detail, but colour reproduction remains fairly accurate.

6400 ISO, f/8, 1/125 sec. Noise is very visible at 6400 ISO, and image quality is suffering, but the picture is still quite printable.

12800 ISO, f/8, 1/250 sec. At the maximum 12800 ISO there is a lot of noise, but then you'd only be using this setting in extreme circumstances anyway.

This is the full frame at the maximum 12800 ISO setting.

Lens distortion and detail performance

The Schneider Kreuznach 20-50mm kit lens does an excellent job, producing no optical distortion even at the wide angle end.

This crop from the centre of the frame shows excellent sharpness and contrast.

A corner crop from the same frame shows no blurring or chromatic aberration.

Above is the usual shot I take with all cameras and below is a detailed crop from it. As you can see, the amount of detail that the NX200 records is outstanding, comparable to a good mid-range DSLR and far better than any compact

Dynamic range, colour, low-light, panoramic.

The dynamic range produced by the big APS-C sensor is outstanding, with loads of shadow detail and only the brightest highlights blown out.

Colour reproduction is rich and well-saturated, but still retains detail even in the bright areas.

The NX200's main weakness is low-light focusing. It took several tries to get this shot of the fantastic Ozric Tentacles.

The NX200 has a very good sweep panorama feature.

Specifications:

Manufacturer

Samsung

Model

NX200

Image sensor

APS-C CMOS, 23.5 x 15.7mm

Max. resolution

20.3 megapixels

Zoom

By lens

Focal length (35mm)

By lens

Maximum aperture

By lens

Shutter speeds

30 sec - 1/4000th

Auto-Focus

Contrast detection

Manual focus

Yes

Exposure control

PASM, Smart Auto, Scene modes

Exposure metering

TTL multi-zone, C/W, spot

Image stabilisation

Optical stabilisation on some NX lenses

ISO range

100 - 12800

LCD monitor

7.6cm (3in) AMOLED, 614k dots

Viewfinder

N/A

Flash

N/A

Drive modes

Single, continuous (3 or 7fps), burst mode

Image formats

JPEG, Raw

Video

1920 x 1080 HD, stereo audio, H.264

Memory card slot

SD/SDHC/SDXC

Supplied memory

N/A

Battery

1030mAh li-ion, 320 shots (CIPA)

Ports

USB 2.0, Mini HDMI

Dimensions (W x H x D)

116.5 x 62.5 x 36.9mm not inc. lens

Weight (body only)

271g inc. battery and card, no lens.

Accessories

Neck strap, lens cap, software disk

Software

Intelli-studio 3.0, Samsung RAW Converter 4

Warranty

12 months