The 20.3-megapixel Samsung NX200 doesn't do things in half measures. Is the latest NX-series CSC as good as it promises, or does the NX200 have its share of issues? The What Digital Camera Samsung NX200 review...
Samsung NX200 review – Features
Who said the megapixel race was dead? Second only to the huge resolution of Sony’s 24.3-megapixel NEX-7, the Samsung NX200 has a massive 20.3-megapixel resolution – making it the second most resolute CSC that money can buy. But you won’t find the Samsung’s sensor in any other model so it’s not directly comparable to any competitors or other NX-series models.
There’s no doubting that the NX200 is a change of gear for Samsung. The NX100 which it replaces was almost half the cost of the latest £699 model, so there’s plenty more on board to get your money’s worth.
The NX200’s DRIMIII processing engine assists in recording images from ISO 100-12,800 at full resolution, can capture shots at 7fps and also offers 1080p movie clips as MP4 files. Autofocus has a quoted 100milisecond response time that’s super-fast and a host of Smart Filters, Magic Frames, Scene modes and Picture Wizard settings complement the more traditional P/S/A/M manual shooting modes.
There are also a couple of standout features that you’ll find throughout the whole Samsung NX range too: the 614k-dot OLED screen on the NX200’s rear is fantastic quality and superior to competitors’ LCD equivalents; and each NX lens comes equipped with an i-Function (iFn) function button to quickly access common settings and then adjust them using the lens’ focus ring. The i-Fn concept is a firm stamp of Samsung’s individuality that sets the model’s control process apart from the competition – plus the latest i-Fn 2.0 adds i-Zoom and customisation options to the list of settings.
However there’s no built-in viewfinder and while a small flash is included in the box to add to the camera’s hotshoe fitting there’s not one built into the body itself. The NX200 sits firmly in the compact-styled CSC market sector, where it’s comparable in price and format to the latest Panasonic Lumix GX1 and Sony NEX-5N models.
Samsung NX200 review – Design
There’s no doubt that the NX200 pushes things forward in terms of design. The previous NX100 may have looked ‘pretty’ but lacked features and was a rather chunky beast. The NX200, on the other hand, trims the design down to a sensible size, is constructed from an aluminium frame and has a prominent front grip that makes holding the camera all the better. This may make it look altogether more ‘normal’ in that it’s similar to the competition – but we’re glad to see functionality prevail.
A function (Fn) button on the rear of the camera brings up a ‘Smart Menu’ that shows all the main settings much like the display screen on a DSLR camera. From here it’s easy to jump around plenty of controls: Shutter, Aperture, Exposure Comp, ISO, White Balance, Picture Wizard, Colour Space, Metering, AF Mode, AF Area, Photo Size, Quality, Drive, Smart Range, Image Stabilisation and Flash. Like we say, it’s exhaustive and you won’t struggle to find the settings you need at the press of a button or two.
For a shorter and more immediate control method there’s the lens’ i-Function mode that provides access to Aperture, Shutter Speed, EV, ISO, WB and i-Zoom. What’s great about the latest 2.0 release, however, is that each of these options can be turned on or off from within the menu so the i-Fn button can, if you should so wish, control just a single function or five different ones.
So far so good. However the placement of the thumbwheel on the top of the camera is just a short throw from the main mode dial and feels a little awkward to use. Firstly the thumb needs to travel over the main dial to reach it, and secondly it needs to be used in tandem with the likes of the press-and-hold exposure compensation button – it’s like Twister with your fingers, though this is the only control that doesn’t feel quite right.
The NX200’s lack of a viewfinder is to be expected for the type of camera it is but, at least at present, there’s no hotshoe-based electronic viewfinder available. The EVF10 works with the previous NX100 by connecting to an accessory port, but there’s no such fitting on the NX200 – hence the incompatibility.
Taking a leaf out of the Sony NEX-series’ books, the NX200 also opts to include a flash in the box rather the building one into the body. This helps to save some space by design, and there’s also no need to always have the flash attached if you choose not to. The ability to purchase a larger, more powerful flash is also a bonus as most CSCs at this level fail to have any hotshoe fitting whatsoever.
One complaint we previously levelled at the NX-series was its lack of lenses. But that was some twelve months ago and now there’re nine lenses available and yet more promised in the future. The only downside to the lenses as far as we see it is that they can be large in size. The 60mm f/2.8 macro lens, for example, looks the same size as a DSLR lens. That’s one ‘penalty’ for using an APS-C sensor size in a camera such as this – the NX-series, much like the Sony NEX series, is never going to be as compact as the Nikon 1, Lumix G or Olympus PEN models of this world. For some this will have little impact, while for others it’ll be a reason to avoid this system in place of a smaller alternative.
Samsung NX200 review – Performance
Amid the NX200’s specifications Samsung has brought attention to lots of speed quotations. A 640milisecond startup time, 400ms shot-to-shot time and 100ms focus acquisition time make the camera sound like quite the speed demon. Although the startup time is good and focusing, which we’ll cover in more detail later, is decent there are other issues that mean the NX200 comes up a little short: A Raw & JPEG shot, for example, takes between eight to nine seconds to process the files to the card. Now that’s a long time, though is reduced to one to two seconds when shooting JPEG Fine only. It’s still possible to shoot other frames during processing, but other than aperture, shutter and exposure compensation all other settings are locked down. During that waiting time you’re unable to adjust the ISO sensitivity for example and the wait time extends considerably if you’re bracketing three frames or shooting short bursts. In excess of three frames and the screen blacks out and just displays a ‘Processing’ notice. This is the NX200’s single biggest issue and it feels limiting to have such controls out of bounds. If a camera is going to use a 20-megapixel sensor then it needs the processing and buffer power to make light work of multiple shots – we only need to look at the Sony NEX-7 to see how that’s done.
In an almost contradictory form, however, the NX200’s 7fps burst shooting mode does a decent job. Full resolution files can be whirred off at the fastest rate and we maxed out at 11 frames before the camera pauses to concentrate on processing. These 11 frames cleared the buffer in 20 seconds. A slower 3fps burst is also available, or there’s a JPEG-only electronic shutter mode that can capture 5MP images at 10, 15 or 30fps.
Focusing modes offer a choice between Selection AF for moving a single
point around the screen, Multi AF where the camera selects the focus
area, plus both Face Detection and Self-Portrait AF for faces. When it comes to autofocus speed the NX200 is responsive and fast, though not quite the very fastest compared to some competitors. In good light and at wideangle settings the 100ms (0.1sec) autofocus acquisition time is on the money, though different scenarios, lighting and focal lengths will cause this to slip. But the camera finds low contrast and low light scenarios problematic. Of course using a contrast-detection AF system, in the same way that all CSCs do (the Nikon 1 series is the only slight exception), means this can be a general problem for all such cameras – but the NX200 seems to struggle more. As the option to shoot ISO 12,800 is available we’d have liked greater sensitivity to subtle contrast shifts in dim conditions. On occasion slight contrast variations in good light also go unnoticed, meaning the focus system isn’t always accurate. The camera can deploy a bright green AF lamp that has its uses, but this wasn’t 100 per cent successful in assisting focus plus it’s so very bright that leaving it activated removes any chance of subtlety. Stick with good light though and the NX200 is both fast and able.
A complaint we had with the previous NX100 model was the poor battery life and, unfortunately, this is an ongoing issue for the NX200. A number of charges were required and a full day’s shooting was not possible from a full battery as all that Raw processing takes its toll. When using a mixture of flash, image playback, movie and Raw capture the first charge only latest for 120 shots or so, increased to 220 shots after deactivating Raw capture. That’s short of the quoted 350 shots per charge. The ‘three bar’ battery display is also poor in providing feedback – an accurate percentage system would provide a far more user-friendly system.
Samsung NX200 review – Image Quality
Samsung NX200: ISO, Image Noise & Sharpness
When a sensor packs in the megapixels it does ring a few bells as to whether image quality will hold up. A sensor dense with ‘pixels’ means less light is available for each and therefore the signal isn’t as strong or ‘clean’ as it could be. Small sensors’ image quality will tend to suffer more from this phenomenon, whereas the large APS-C sensor in the NX200 is less susceptible. In fact the NX200’s low ISO shots are a wonderful sight to behold – the camera blew any preconceptions we may have had out of the water.
There’s bags of detail on offer from ISO 100-200, and detail is still very good from ISO 400-800. ISO 1600 is still more than usable and while ISO 3200 may lack the bite of the lower settings it’s acceptable for use. In the menus the Auto ISO tops out at ISO 3200, and for good reason: ISO 6400 should be used for emergencies only and, frankly, we’d rather that the ISO 12,800 setting wasn’t even available as it’s a soft and blotchy to the point of near-writeoff. But not to dwell on this single highest-ISO negative, as we’re otherwise very impressed with the detail the NX200 can reproduce.
Image noise is controlled well at the low ISO settings, but the presence of colour noise in JPEG images is something that can’t be ignored. There’s a trace amount at ISO 400, some is visible by ISO 800, begins to get in the way come ISO 1600 and is a problem thereafter for colour images.
All things considered and the NX200 has lots of promise for landscape and portrait work, particularly when matched up with one of its more pro-spec lenses. High ISO settings don’t quite beat the Sony NEX series, however, but the Samsung has more than shown the Sony range its match at the lowest ISO settings.
Samsung NX200: Tone & Exposure
In use the NX200 showed little to no exposure issues throughout a variety of scenarios and the rear OLED screen is great in playback to assess shots. Bright sunlight can cause a few issues, but this is to be expected from a non-viewfinder camera.
Tones can look a little flat straight from camera, but there’s plenty of scope for post production or even in-camera adjustment: The inclusion of the Picture Wizard mode provides a variety of pre-sets and custom options to adjust colour tone, saturation, sharpness and contrast.
Samsung NX200: White Balance & Colour
Auto White Balance can err towards either cool or warm casts from time to time, but not so much so that it becomes a problem. The inclusion of Picture Wizard pre-sets and customisation, seven white balance pre-sets, custom white balance with seven steps across the amber/blue/green/magenta axese, manual white balance (K) adjustment and WB bracketing do mean there’s a lot of user control. Colour is consistent between shots and only begins to differ when shooting at ISO 800 or above due to processing muting the colour palette somewhat.
Samsung NX200: Raw & JPEG
At the lower ISO settings the JPEG files don’t have the need to be over-processed and, as such, the push in sharpenss, contrast and mid-tones makes them attractive straight from camera. Move up the scale to ISO 800 and beyond, however, and the Raw files are far sharper than their JPEG counterparts at the expense of additional grain-like image noise. Where applicable the JPEG files also identify and correct for chromatic aberration to great effect – whereas Raw files will need user processing to remove these colour fringes. For the imaging fanatic the inclusion of Raw shooting will make all the difference, though the NX200’s JPEGs also look great straight from camera.
Samsung NX200 review – Movie/Video Mode
Samsung NX200: Movie/Video Quality
The NX200’s maximum 1080p movie mode can capture files at 30 frames per second, output as MP4 files. This form of compression is higher (i.e. less desirable) than the likes of competitors’ AVCHD formats and the NX200’s compression averages at around 12Mbit/second. Although improved compared to its NX100 predecessor, the amount of data being channeled into files isn’t up there with the likes of the Sony NEX-5N and NEX-7’s 28Mbps AVCHD capture.
Specs are one thing but it’s the real-world results that matter the most. The NX200’s final video clips are of good enough quality, though just not the very best available on the market.
The NX200 also offers other fun features such as a 5x, 10x or 20x ‘Multi Motion’ option for sped-up capture, or 0.5x at 720p30 and 0.25x when recording 480p (640×480) files is also available.
Samsung NX200: Movie/Video Focusing modes
When not in manual focus (MF), movie mode offers either single or continuous autofocus. The continuous mode can over- and under-focus slightly which shows in playback and as the C-AF moves quicker than most competitor CSCs the focusing wasn’t always accurate in all situations.
Samsung NX200: Movie/Video Manual Control
An area where the NX200 amps things up over its predecessor: the NX200 offers full manual control with a selection of P/S/A/M movie modes. All of these can either be pre-set prior to capture or – and this is the interesting part – adjusted during capture. There aren’t too many other models out there to offer this level of control and that gives the camera a big plus point for movie fanatics.
Samsung NX200: Movie/Video Sound
Stereo sound is recorded at 32,000Hz from a microphone where the left and right channels are divided to the two sides of the NX200’s hotshoe. As much as we’d have liked a 3.5mm microphone input, in particular at this price point and in order to avoid the obvious lens autofocusing sounds, Samsung hasn’t provided one.
Internal menus offer a ‘Fader’ option to control sound fading in, out, or both during recording and a Wind Cut option is also available.
Value & Verdict
Samsung NX200 review – Value
The NX200’s £699 asking price makes it among the priciest non-viewfinder CSCs on the market. Only the Olympus E-P3 commands a higher price and the forthcoming Panasonic GX1‘s power zoom kit is also of a similar standing. What you’re really paying for is the Samsung’s high resolution but if that’s not of interest then the camera may struggle to hold your attention. Considered in context and, in terms of price, the NX200 can be found sandwiched between the Nikon 1 V1 and Sony NEX-5N cameras price-wise.
Samsung NX200 review – Verdict
The NX200 is a big step beyond the NX100. The design and layout don’t disappoint and the camera is a breeze to use. Image quality is also phenomenal at the lower ISO settings – something we didn’t anticipate considering the high resolution – and high ISO settings are decent (though not quite the best from a CSC). The camera’s OLED screen is excellent, the inclusion of a hotshoe means expansion is possible and the i-Fn lenses add to the user experience.
But there are areas where the NX200 comes up short: low-light focusing is a frustration; Raw file processing is far too slow; and the battery life is poor. If it wasn’t for these three points and if a hotshoe-mounted electronic viewfinder became available then there’d be little else out there that could take the on the NX200 and win.
If you’re considering the Samsung system then the APS-C sensor will deliver quality in droves, but such a sensor size means a larger system overall compared to the likes of Micro Four Thirds and similar systems. Landscape enthusiasts and the like will love the otherwise compact size – just be sure to bag a second battery and there’s little the NX200 can’t do.