The Samsung NX300 follows on from the NX210 and is the new flagship model in the company’s NX-series. Have the latest developments and improvements made it a better performing system? We find out in the Samsung NX300 review...
Samsung has taken a different approach with its latest flagship model, opting against the idea of a chunky handgrip and electronic viewfinder, yet the NX300 is a model that boasts the most impressive specification we’ve seen from any NX-series camera to date.
Samsung NX300 review – Features
When the Samsung NX300‘s predecessor was launched a year ago in the form of the NX210, the key talking points were its 8fps burst rate, ability to shoot compressed Raw files and Wi-fi connectivity. The Samsung NX300 is not so much a subtle upgrade, but a much more significant improvement.
At its heart of the NX300 lies a new 3:2 aspect 20.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor. Though the resolution and the physical dimensions of the chip (23.5×15.7mm) haven’t changed, the ISO range has broadened to 100-25600 – equivalent to a 1EV gain over the Samsung NX210.
The maximum permitted shutter speed and continuous burst rate have also been increased on the Samsung NX300. Previously on the NX210 the fastest you could shoot at was 1/4000sec, but this is now up rated to 1/6000sec with the option to shoot a continuous burst at 8.6fps. By uniting the renewed sensor with the DRIMe IV imaging engine, Samsung claim the NX300 is capable of producing better colour reproduction and more effective noise reduction.
Autofocus is an area where NX-series CSCs have struggled to perform well in the past. Samsung has stepped up to its competition with the NX300 by incorporating a new hybrid AF system that promises faster AF response. Though this is not new technology (other CSCs with hybrid AF systems include the Canon EOS M and Sony NEX-5R), it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
The pairing of contrast detect AF and phase detection AF should see an improvement in AF speed and accuracy, with the phase detection being used to identify focus and contrast detect taking over to fine-tune the focusing. Single and continuous AF modes are provided, and there are four AF area modes to choose from including selection AF, multi AF, face detection and self-portrait AF.
The rear of the Samsung NX300 features a 3.3in AMOLED touch screen complete with a 768k-dot resolution. Again, this is an improvement when it’s compared to the NX210’s 3in, 614k-dot display. The hinge at the bottom of the NX300’s touch screen also allows it to be pulled out and tilted when shooting at low or high angles – a welcomed addition for the consumer that this camera is aimed at.
Samsung’s i-function technology is featured on the 18-55mm II f/3.5-5.6 OIS lens that the NX300 is bundled with. The idea of this is that you can touch the i-Fn button on the lens to cycle through common variables before rotating the focus ring to apply new settings. There are 14 different settings to choose from within the NX300’s smart mode.
These include a ‘panorama’ function that combines a series of photos to create a panoramic image in camera, a ‘rich tones’ function that merges multiple images with different exposures to create photos with a wide dynamic range and ‘creative shot’, which studies a scene before it applies what it thinks is the best filter available.
Improving on its Wi-fi capabilities, the Samsung NX300 also features NFC (Near field communication). A late development to the camera after the initial pre-production models were rolled out, NFC allows users to touch the camera with NFC enabled devices to share images by touch.
To take full advantage of the Wi-fi capabilities of the camera, Samsung NX300 users are requested to download Samsung’s Smart Camera App – a free download for Android and iOS devices from Google Play and the iTunes store.
Not forgetting HD video, the Samsung NX300 shoots Full HD movies in the MP4 format at 50, 25 and 24p using H.264 compression. Samsung has also taken the opportunity to update the battery on the NX300 and it now uses a BP1130 lithium ion battery pack.
Samsung NX300 review – Design
Although the Samsung NX300 adopts the basic shape and body styling from the NX210, it’s fractionally chunkier and more aesthetically pleasing to look at in its two-tone black and silver finish. The faux leather plastic at the front contributes to a high-end appearance, however it doesn’t feel like a premium product in the hand and lacks the premium finish of other compact system cameras at similar price points.
That said, the handgrip is of a good size and the smooth curved grip makes it feel comfortable and well balanced in the hand. We also like the way you don’t have to uncomfortably bridge your finger to trigger the shutter – the index finger rests flat over the shutter button, leaving the thumb to operate the mode dial and buttons at the rear.
The arrangement of the buttons on the Samsung NX300 hasn’t changed greatly, but we would prefer to see metal buttons rather than plastic ones – a strategy other manufactures are using to improve the feel of their products in the hand. Playback and delete buttons are found below the dpad, whereas the menu, function button and exposure compensation are all controlled from above.
The small scroll dial on the top plate can be used to change shutter speed and aperture settings on the fly and beside this is a Direct Link button that enables a chosen wireless function. For a majority of our setting changes we used the cameras i-Function facility, though how much use this sees is dependent on user and whether they like the idea of using the focus ring to operate camera settings.
The Samsung NX300 can be operated using the touch screen or the buttons. To ensure it’s easy to navigate, the menu system features bright white text on a black background and there’s very little you can’t setup on the camera using the screen. All the icons are displayed at a good size and the main menu is split into four basic categories. The screen sits proud from the back of the camera but can be flipped out smoothly and pushed back effortlessly.
With no built-in flash, the only way of illuminating a subject with artificial light is to plug in an external flash via the NX300’s hotshoe. The NX300 is bundled with Samsung’s SEF8A flash (guide number of 8 at ISO 100), but if a more powerful flash is required the NX300 is compatible with Samsung’s range of flashguns, including the ED-SEF 220A (£110) and ED-SEF42A (£170).
Samsung NX300 review – Performance
The most noticeable improvement on the Samsung NX300 is the speed and accuracy of its autofocus system. On previous NX-series CSCs the contrast-detect AF system has often struggled to acquire focus quickly in poor light, but thankfully this is no longer an issue. The hybrid AF system on the NX300 is now faster than the older contrast-detect system on previous NX-series cameras and this was particularly noticeable when shooting in low light.
A bright green AF-assist beam at the front of the camera aids focusing in extremely dark conditions and most importantly, the NX300 is now up to speed in terms of its AF with some of its closest competition in the market.
The Samsung NX300 features a fast autofocus system which, combined with the touch screen, provides an intuitive user experience. It’s one of the most responsive touch screens we’ve used and requires the lightest of touches to confirm settings or scroll through photos in playback mode. Touching the display rather than using the dpad buttons makes for a faster way of positioning the AF target over your subject. Be wary though that the AF point can’t be positioned at the very top and bottom of the frame like it can on some other CSCs.
Navigating the camera with the touch screen is very quick and easy. For smart phone and tablet users who are familiar with operating a device in this way, the Samsung NX300 will be a camera that’s easy to pick up and use from the moment go. Setting the mode dial to Wi-fi gives users a number of ways to share images. Provided you’re within a Wi-fi hotspot, images and video can be sent via email directly from the camera.
Alternatively, the Samsung NX300’s Autoshare feature can be used to send every picture you take to your mobile phone via a Wifi connection. The mobile link worked without any problems with our iOS devices and images were imported straight to our camera roll, taking approximately two seconds to transfer each image with a fast Wi-fi connection.
The Samsung NX300’s remote viewfinder function also worked without a hitch and would be useful for capturing group shots when you don’t want to rely on using the self-timer. However, the Samsung Camera app only gives you the option to trigger the shutter and doesn’t allow you to adjust camera settings such as shutter speed, aperture or ISO.
Loaded with a class 10 SDHC memory card, the NX300 manages to record 12 Fine JPEGs at 8.5fps before the buffer interrupts shooting. Set to Raw, the camera rattles out five frames and after rigorous testing we found our review sample’s burst initially started off slow and gradually got up to its full 8.6fps speed after the first two frames had been captured – something we expect to be fixed with a new firmware update.
Samsung NX300 review – Image Quality
A majority of our shots were taken with the Samsung NX300’s image quality set to Raw&Super Fine JPEG. JPEGs appear sharper than Raw files under close inspection and the latter would benefit from some additional sharpening in post-processing. The contrast boost that JPEGs receive is also very noticeable when the two are viewed side-by-side, however Raw files produce more detail in the shadows. We also identified that JPEGs are very fractionally richer than Raw files in terms of colour.
There was little to fault with the metering system other than it had a tendency to underexpose slightly when photographing bright scenes that contained a bright white background. To compensate for this we dialed in +1EV exposure compensation to produce slightly brighter results. The Samsung NX300’s auto white balance also put in a sterling performance and recorded faithful colours, with no signs of any colour cast. To read the NX300’s Raw files we opened images into Adobe Camera Raw 7.4.
Inspecting our images closely revealed the 20.3MP CMOS sensor produces superb levels of detail and we produced even sharper results when we swapped the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6mm III lens for the new 45mm f/1.8. At ISO 100, the Samsung NX300 recorded 30 lines per millimeter on our resolution test chart – a very respectable performance for an APS-C sized sensor.
Studying our Raw files for noise after turning the sharpening and noise reduction controls off within Camera Raw revealed noise-free results between ISO 100-800. Noise creeps into images at ISO 1600 but doesn’t have a detrimental effect on the overall quality of an image unless you’re viewing at 100% or closer. At ISO 3200, colour noise is more evident, particularly in the shadows. This was quickly removed in Camera Raw by setting the noise reduction luminance slider to a value of 15 and the colour slider to 30. As the sensitivity is increased, more colour noise is evident. ISO 6400 is the limit at which we’d want to push the sensitivity for the fear of noise degrading the quality of images.
Samsung NX300 review – Verdict
To make the Samsung NX300 a better camera than those that have been released before it, Samsung has carefully listened to the feedback from its consumers. Price and performance have been two areas in the past where NX-series cameras have been marked down, but both of these areas have seen improvement with this latest release. Looking at price first, the Samsung NX300 is significantly cheaper than the NX20 when it was launched and it’s also cheaper than the NX210 that it replaces. Costing £599 with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at the time of review, the camera represents good value for money when you consider the performance is now up to speed with today’s expected standard and it boasts a comprehensive set of features and connectivity options.
In the early days of the NX-series there were only a handful of NX-mount lenses to choose from. Samsung has gradually developed the lens range to give its users a wider choice. Though the lens range isn’t as vast as Panasonic’s G-series lens lineup, there are eleven lenses available for the NX system covering focal lengths from 12mm through to 200mm. During our testing we used the NX300 with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, 20mm f/2.8, 45mm f/1.8 and 85mm f/1.4 lenses. Our pick of the bunch was the new 45mm f/1.8. We found the nature of its small size and lightweight design well suited to the NX300, while the fast maximum aperture was particularly good for creating images with a shallower depth of field.
Although we have no complaints in terms of the Samsung NX300’s operation and performance, the build quality is one area that could be improved in the future. It’s not that the camera isn’t finished to a high standard; it just lacks the premium feel that we expect from a flagship model in a company’s range. Replacing some of the plastic parts of the camera with metal would help to give the product the premium feel that we feel it deserves.
Overall, the Samsung NX300 is an enjoyable CSC to use and it has come on a long way from previous NX-series cameras. It’ll make a good choice for those stepping up to a compact system camera from a compact and the good news is, it’s not a difficult interchangeable lens camera to use or get familiar with. The NX300 produces great images from its APS-C sensor, offers high-speed shooting and finally has an AF performance to challenge the competition in the compact system camera market.
Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of sample images from the Samsung NX300. For more, visit the Samsung NX300 review sample image gallery.
Samsung has taken a different approach with its latest flagship model,
opting against the idea of a chunky handgrip and electronic viewfinder,
yet the NX300 is a model that boasts the most impressive specification
we’ve seen from any NX-series camera to date. Watch our video review to find out more.