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Samsung NX300 review

CamerasReviews
9/10
by Nik Rawlinson, 11 Apr 2013Reviews
Samsung NX300 review
Best Buy

Compact system cameras – which pair pocket-sized bodies with swappable lenses – are quickly becoming the world’s most popular snappers. They’re outselling higher-end options across the Far East, and Europe looks set to follow. It’s no surprise, then, that this is the sector the most exciting new products inhabit.

What we have here is a perfect example. With specs and performance to rival a DSLR, the Samsung NX300 is packed with original features, and with graded degrees of hand-holding it’s sure to appeal to the novice just as much as the semi-pro user.

In short, and without wanting to spoil the ending, this is one camera you can’t afford to ignore.

Faster focus

Cameras live and die on their sensors and the lenses, and how each performs in the field. It’s good news on both fronts here. The APS-C sized sensor may sport the same 20.3-megapixel resolution as its three NX siblings, but it’s a brand new chip altogether, and the NX300 marks its debut.

It features combined phase and contrast detection autofocus, which together slash best focus times to just 0.08 seconds – an industry record which, along with the 8.6fps burst mode, means you have the best chance possible of freezing speeding subjects and tracking their progress.

This easily proved itself in my tests, when I took it to a rallycross track. It had no trouble at all focusing on the speeding cars, and whether I was panning with the action on a slower shutter speed, or keeping the camera static as the car passed in front, the hit rate for freezing the action was impressively high, and more often than not, any misses were more down to operator error.

Away from the track, it resolved detail extremely well throughout my tests, with fine elements such as hair, fur, lichen and flaking paint clearly and cleanly recorded. Edges were sharp and colour rendition was spot on with the recorded samples accurately capturing each original subject.

Lens options

The lens on my review sample was Samsung’s 18-55mm kit lens (equivalent to 27.7-84.7mm on a 35mm camera). It put in a good performance throughout my tests, although there was some fairly obvious barrel distortion in the RAW files that was very effectively corrected in-camera on the accompanying JPEG files. There was also a fall-off in the level of focus towards the very extreme corners and edges.

There was slight chromatic aberration, with a turquoise fringe along the edge of some sharp contrasts towards the outer portions of the frame. However, out in the field these imperfections were impossible to spot in my regular test shots, and overall the images appeared sharp, with a high level of detail across the frame.

The lens isn’t small when compared to rival lenses from Nikon’s 1-series and Panasonic’s powered kit lens for its Micro Four Thirds system cameras. If you’ve not come across one, it’s roughly the same length as a regular 18-55mm DSLR lens from Nikon or Canon, so protrudes a fair way from the already quite chunky body.

If you need something smaller, you can opt instead for the 20-50mm lens bundle, and save yourself around £30 in the process. The payoff, though, is that in doing so you’ll be trimming the zoom range from just over 3x, to 2.5x, ultimately reducing reach and field of view.

In all, Samsung’s compatible lens lineup now stretches to nine units, along with a new 3D lens that works exclusively on the NX300 for both movies and stills.

Advanced features

There are innovations on just about every surface of the NX300. Turn to the rear and you’ll find a 3.3in AMOLED screen. It’s bright enough to use in full sunlight, tilts up and down, and is touch-sensitive, so you can largely disregard the hardware buttons. This is a boon when using the hybrid control screen, on which you can directly drag settings such as aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity to their required position.

Samsung has clearly thought carefully about how to make what is, at heart, a professional camera, appealing and easy to use for the novice.

The regular aperture and shutter priority modes are supplemented not only by full auto, but also a new lens priority setting. This makes use of the i-Function button on the lens barrel to call up a screen overlay that lets you either twist the end of the barrel or directly drag a slider on the screen to blur or sharpen the parts of the frame surrounding your focused subject.

In effect, you’re playing with the aperture, widening it to shorten the depth of field and vice versa. For less confident users, though, it will ease the process of achieving a professional result without understanding the mechanics or the reason why, and even for the less green-fingered it’s a speedy way to make significant changes without much thought.

Likewise, when you’re pushed for time the smart modes for shooting blurred water, streaking headlights and the like will save you a lot of experimentation or calculating the exposure with a light meter.

Low light performance

Low light performance is excellent. Naturally there’s no evidence of grain or interference at the lowest end of the scale – 100 ISO – and you can safely push it up to 800 ISO before you start to notice any loss of detail in the darker parts of the image. Areas of flat colour start to show some grain at 1600 ISO, but fine detail such as the writing on a spirit miniature bottle remains clear as far as 6400 ISO.

This is impressive, as I’d have expected to see noise affecting the overall clarity of the image at far lower sensitivities, which makes the NX300 a highly versatile performer, and good for working in lower light conditions without resorting to longer exposures or digging out the bundled bolt-on flash.

Wireless connectivity

Wi-Fi first appeared on last year’s NX210, and it’s supplemented by NFC on the NX300 for sharing pictures with suitably equipped tablets and smartphones. The existing PC backup feature, which uses the camera’s 2.4GHz and 5GHz dual-band Wi-Fi to offload your images to Windows, now works on the Mac, too; cloud backup sends your pictures to SkyDrive (not Dropbox, as used by the Samsung Galaxy Camera); and a Direct Link button on the camera top plate will send your images to whichever Wi-Fi service or destination you choose, without you needing to trawl through the menus.

Verdict

Samsung set the bar high when it settled the specs of the NX300, and it didn’t disappoint. In every respect it’s seemingly looked at the state of its rivals and asked how it can push itself further. Low light performance is among the best you could hope for on an APS-C sensor. The lens is sharp and with the handy i-Function feature can act as a central control for each of your most frequently tweaked settings. The scene modes are easy to use and produce good results. Apart from the barrel distortion on RAW files, it’s difficult to find anything to dislike.

Not only does the NX300 represent a significant step up from its predecessors – it’s also slightly cheaper. The NX210 hit the streets at £640, but somehow Samsung has managed to shave a full £41 off that figure for the NX300, while bundling an identical lens. It’s even cheaper if you opt for the shorter 20-50mm unit.

It’s up against some very strong competition – particularly in the shape of Nikon’s super-fast, truly compact J3 and Panasonic’s pro-grade Lumix G5 – but as a unified package that will cater just as well for advanced photographers as the first-timer, this is as good a bet as any. It won’t disappoint.


ISO performance

The full frame test scene at 100 ISO is shown above (click it for the full sized version). ISO sensitivity test shots were then taken at progressively higher ISO settings and crops taken from the full size JPEG photos. These crops are displayed in the slideshow below.

f/8 at 1/25 sec, 100 ISO. A very clean starting point, with no hint of grain at the lowest sensitivity.
f/8 at 1/50 sec, 200 ISO. There's seemingly no change between 100 ISO and 200 ISO, with accurate colours and an absence of grain here.
f/8 at 1/100 sec, 400 ISO. Upping the sensitivity again causes no problems, with the NX300 producing a sharp, grain-free image.
f/8 at 1/200 sec, 800 ISO. Very close inspection at 800 ISO reveals the first minor degradation within the image as some detail is lost.
f/8 at 1/400 sec, 1600 ISO. Very slight grain is starting to become apparent in flat areas of colour, such as the white backcloth behind and beneath the test subjects.
f/8 at 1/800 sec, 3200 ISO. Although the grain is now becoming clearer in the backcloth and other areas of flat colour, fine detail such as the writing on the spirit bottle remains clear and easy to read.
f/8 at 1/1,600 sec, 6400 ISO. Some otherwise flat edges are starting to lose their crispness. In particular, the darker parts of the spice box. However, the writing on the bottle remains clearly legible.
f/8 at 1/3,200 sec, 12,800 ISO. By the time we get to 12,800 ISO there’s a lot of grain within the image. However, the captured colours remain accurate and all but the very smallest writing remains legible on the bottle.
f/8 at 1/6,000 sec, 25,600 ISO. The NX300 selected its shortest possible shutter speed at the highest sensitivity – 1/6,000 second. The result contained considerable grain with some false colours also evident across the frame.


Detail performance

The NX300 resolves detail extremely well. In this image, it’s easy to make out individual strands of fur, as well as beads of sweat on the cat’s nose when viewed at full size. Click on the picture for the full sized version.


Lens distortion

The 18-55mm kit lens exhibited barrel distortion when shooting the grid at wide angle, from its closest rated focusing distance. However, this was only evident in the RAW files as the camera did a good job of flattening out the bulge when producing the in-camera JPEGs. Click on the picture for the full sized version.


Dynamic range

The NX300’s Rich Tones mode very effectively maximises the amount of detail captured in the shadow areas without overcooking the scene as a whole. The result is accurate colours and more balanced illumination. Click on the picture for the full sized version.


Lens limits

Image taken with zoom lens at 18mm (27.7mm in 35mm equivalent]. Click on the picture for the full sized version.

Image taken with zoom lens at 55mm (84.7mm in 35mm equivalent]. Click on the picture for the full sized version.

The 18-55mm kit lens used in my tests delivers just over 3x zoom. Samsung also optionally bundles the NX300 with a 20-50mm kit lens, which is cheaper and doesn’t protrude so far from the camera body.


Sample photos

When used over short distances, the flash cast fairly strong shadows in my tests, as can be seen when comparing it to the same scene shot under studio lighting. Click on the picture for the full sized version.


With a minimum focusing time of just 0.08 seconds, the NX300 makes it easy to capture fast moving subjects, such as this rallycross car. Click on the picture for the full sized version.


Colours were realistic under all lighting conditions in my tests, and it maintained even illumination when shooting a highly reflective subject under direct sunlight. Click on the picture for the full sized version.


The lens priority feature makes it easy to pull your subject forward from its surroundings without using traditional aperture settings. Click on the picture for the full sized version.


Minimum focusing distance on the 18-55mm kit lens is a fairly chunky 28cm, but it’s still able to create an attractive shallow depth of field. Click on the picture for the full sized version.


Specifications

Manufacturer and model

Samsung NX300

Image sensor

APS-C CMOS, 20.3-megapixel

Resolutions

[3:2] 5,472 x 3,648, [16:9] 5,472 x 3,080, [1:1] 3,648 x 3,648

Zoom

3.0x / 2.5x depending on kit lens

Focal length (35mm)

18 - 55mm  (27.7 - 84.7mm equiv.) / 20 - 50mm (30.8 - 77mm equiv.) depending on kit lens

Maximum aperture

f/3.5 - 5.6

Shutter speed range

4 - 1/6000 sec

Autofocus

Phase detection and Contrast AF

Manual focus

Yes

Exposure control

PASM, Auto, Scene modes, Lens priority

Exposure metering

Multi, Centre-weighted, Spot-metering, 221 points

Image stabilisation

Lens shift (dependent upon lens)

ISO range

100 – 25,600 ISO

LCD monitor

 3.31in (8.4cm) AMOLED, 768k dots

Viewfinder

Optional extra

Flash

28mm wide angle (35mm equiv.)

Drive modes

Single, burst mode up to 8.6fps

Image formats

JPEG, Raw

Video

Full HD 1,920 x 1,080, 60p MP4

Memory card slot

SD, SDHC, SDXC

Supplied memory

N/A

Battery

1,030mAh Li-ion rechargeable

Ports

mini HDMI, micro-USB, Wi-Fi, NFC

Dimensions (W x H x D)

122 x 63.7 x 40.7mm

Weight (body only)

284g excluding battery

Accessories

External flash, AC adapter / USB cable, battery, software CD-ROM, Adobe Lightroom DVD-ROM, Quick Start Guide, Strap

Software

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, iLauncher, Adobe Reader

Warranty

12 months

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