A Review on Samsung NX10: Hybrid Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera

Samsung has selected me once again to review their latest imaging product: NX10. Anyone in the photographic field would have heard about this latest hybrid model that boasts the largest image sensor for a mirrorless interchangeable lens digital camera.

Again, to keep up with my tradition, I did up this first-hand review within 24 hours of obtaining the set (but only got to write and post this a few days later). Some might say that I should give more time to learn about the camera, but in this era of comsumerism, products must be intuitive enough to be used out of the box without flipping through the manual. For NX10, I only had to flip the manual ONCE to find out one particular function that eluded me. Otherwise, I am exploring this camera rather well wthout any assistance. Of course, one will uncover more and more good (or bad) things, but like everything else you do, the 20-80 rule comes into play: I only need 20% of the review period to experience 80% of the camera features. So you can take it that this review is 80% accurate. The remaining 20% would be shared over the course of the next 2 weeks.

The NX10 is designed like a traditional DSLR, except it's slimmer. It has an on/off switch on the shutter release button, a command dial, several hardware buttons, a pop-up flash, a hotshoe, a mode dial, and even a preview button. The grip is certainly too small for my hands, but it should fit well on a small lady's hand.

(below right: ISO 200, f2, 1/13s)

The immediate impression I had when I switch on the NX10 was: "this camera is fast". This comment is relative to the experience I had with all the compact cameras, including mirrorless hybrids like the micro four-thirds. It proves that there are still room for technology enhancement to match the expectations of a DSLR user (like myself). Obviously, the NX10, like every other wannabes, have not attained it, but NX10 seems to take the small lead at this moment.

The nice touches:

1. Samsung logo shows only when you switch off the cam. Little things like this show that Samsung means business. Obviously if you show the logo when the cam is activated, you would have a startup lag, so Samsung put it at the end. And the startup is fast: you can take a shot within a second of startup.

2. Live view is fantastic. It's lag-free: from the bright scenes to the dark scenes, the refresh rate is kept up to show you real life details. It works in low light, I can literally see the scene as is, without any artificial boost or reduction of refresh rate.

3. Electronic manual focus is responsive, lag-free. It almost feels natural.

4. The provided 30mm f2 lens is sharp and delivers nice depth of field.

5. It has a depth-of-field preview button that is customisable. I set it to "one-button WB" and I think it's a really useful alternative. Nikon should have this.

6. The "menu" button positioned on the left doubles up as a "back" button, which works pretty logical too.

7. The camera gets warm on prolonged use, but the heat doesn't build up excessively.

8. During video recording, I can still adjust aperture and do manual focus, although the audio picks up the focusing motor. Shutter speed is fixed at 1/30s (30fps).

9. The camera processor speed doesn't feel very sluggish. For instance, I can move from one photo to the next very quickly (I have experienced worse from a proper DSLR manufacturer), or I can apply an image effect and it gets saved within seconds. The funny thing is that the menu navigation, which doesn't take up much processor power, is laggy.

10. A small but very important design behaviour about the NX10 is that, after I made a setting change (e.g. change from MF to AF), I can just half-press the shutter and the selection is committed and I'm ready to shoot. For that, I applaud Samsung for incorporating what a real photographer needs.

11. NX10 has a handful of unique and useful features. For instance, when selecting the self-portrait mode, the NX10 lets out a beacon that indicates whether faces are detected. When the beacon beeps rapidly, it means faces are within the frame and you can trigger the shutter. I thought it's a really novel way in the absence of a tiltable screen.

Another popular feature in many consumer cameras is the beauty shot mode. Here, the NX10 adds 2 customised parameters to set the intensity of the post-processing: face tone and face retouch.

I also like the burst shooting mode, where the NX10 captures 30 individual images in 1 second at 1.4mp. There are also WB bracketing, and the NX10 takes one shot and post-processes into 3 images.

The Picture Wizard is also quite an easy to use feature to let you adjust the colour, saturation, sharpness and contrast. There are 9 presets and 3 custom styles, from which you can adjust on top of the presets. Best of all, the settings do not get reset to defaults, there is no need to remember to save them, yet you can easily reset to defaults when you needed. I don't remember such implementation on other models.

(below left: ISO 400, f2, 1/750s)
The NX10 is not without any limitations, but it's generally due to the fact that the camera does not have a mirror viewfinder and relies on the live view monitor for all shooting operations. As such, the NX10 can never attain the response of a digital SLR. This cannot be helped, for if you were to use the live view function on a DSLR, the performance would be worse due to the clumsiness of the mirror mechanism. Still, I want to highlight my opinions. After all, the NX10 wants to be DSLR-like, if not, why do they want to throw in an APS-C sensor that is on-par with most DSLRs in the market? Anyway, I believe this list may be of interest to readers who are led to think that these hybrid cameras could replace DSLRs. No doubt these hybrids offer photography in a different level, giving the user fun and convenience on top of enabling the same creative flexibility of a true DSLR.

So, what's limiting about the NX10?

1. Live view blackout after shot. The shutter release response is actually quite good. It would feel almost like a DSLR, if not for the blackout period after the shot. It's not worse than the competition. In fact, you can take it as a plus point. After all, I did mention earlier that the NX10 feels like a fast camera. But combined with the electronic blackout, the NX10 experience is banished to "compact cam"-like.

2. Extremely disappointing electronic viewfinder (EVF). To degrade the experience further, Samsung's EVF is nowhere the standard of the AMOLED 3" monitor. The colour shifts are very apparent when you change the viewing angle. And while you can see details in low light on the monitor, you can't see anything on the EVF, which, by the way, cannot be disabled. So whenever an object is sensed by the proximity sensor, the screen switches from the monitor to the EVF. Good thing for compact cam users is that the EVF will not be an important feature, and maybe that's why Samsung is not putting in any emphasis for this feature.

3. When using manual focusing during video recording, I can hear the focusing motor very distinctly, so you can forget about doing pro-like video recording unless you abandon the creative controls or if you dub over the audio tracks during post-production. Under certain conditions, there will be constant flicker when shooting indoors under fluorescent lighting, which doesn't occur on the Samsung ST550.

4. NX10 has the majority of the buttons located on the right side. The left side has only the flash and the menu buttons. While it seems like Samsung designed it for one-hand use, it's not quite possible to navigate purely with one hand. You still require to support the cam with the other hand, especially when trying to press the buttons on top of the camera, i.e. the zoom buttons. So I would rather the buttons be spaced out on both sides so that the left fingers can also work out.

5. While the AF speed is generally fast, there are times when it requires a bit of hunting. Post note: After more use, I'd say that the AF logic would need some improvements (read: not consistently fast, depending on the scenes).

6. The buffer isn't DSLR standard. At Super Fine setting, the buffer is filled after 13 shots. With RAW, the buffer is filled after 3 shots. Thereafter, shooting is still possible but the continuous rate drops.

7. Image noise is not as well controlled as the competing DSLR makers, but being able to shoot at ISO 3200 presents great shooting possibilities.

I just realised that there is just one small design feature that very few cameras in the market have: backlit buttons! I hope this will be the norm for new models in future, especially when cameras are evolving to cater to low-light photography. Perhaps Samsung might want to consider this feature in future models.

(below: ISO 1600, f2, 1/125s)

Final words:

I may sound rather critical in my review. After all, I should not expect DSLR performance on the NX10. Most other reviewers would simply "moderate" their reviews to make the review set sound good. Make no mistake: I quite like the product that Samsung has painstakingly developed. It's a bold step, in fact, being one of the few makers that releases a completely new camera system on its own (Ricoh is the other maker with GXR, while Sony is working in progress), Samsung has done a great job at meeting the modern consumers' demands and expectations. Besides, why compare the NX10 with the point-and-shoot, when a majority of the purchasers are comparing these hybrids with the DSLRs.

No one expected Samsung to release a good enough hybrid camera at first attempt. The micro four-third makers didn't get their first product right. Lumix G1 doesn't have video recording. Olympus E-P1 doesn't have a built-in flash. But in my opinion, Samsung has got it right at first go. NX10 is a hybrid camera that tries hard to match the expectations of the DSLR in terms of features and performance, within current technological means. The only glaring weaknesses on the NX10 would be the poor EVF and the not-so-pro video output (although probably sufficient from the lay people).

I am very happy to have had the chance to review the NX10, a milestone in hybrid camera market. Samsung has proven that it doesn't need decades of experience to get the product right. All it needs is to identify the usage patterns and needs of today's consumers, who are more sophisticated, wants professional controls with consumer-level fun factor.

Now that I'm done with the review, I can enjoy playing with the camera over the rest of the loan period. I'll try to share more images representative of the NX10 quality.

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