Samsung NX3000 Review
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The Samsung NX3000 is a new entry-level mirrorless compact system camera. The plastic-bodied NX3000 features a 20.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, 3-inch flip-up LCD screen with wink-shot mode, ISO range of 100-25,600, 1080p HD movie recording, built-in Wi-Fi and Near Field Communication (NFC) connectivity, 5fps continuous shooting, 1/4000th second top shutter speed, Sweep Panoramas and Samsung's unique i-Function lens. The Samsung NX3000 is available in White, Black and Brown and costs £350 / $529 in a kit with the new 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 Power Zoom ED OIS lens and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5.
Ease of Use
The NX3000 employs the same 20.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor as all the other NX-series cameras (apart from the NX Mini), which is around 1.5x physically larger than the Micro Four Thirds system and promises to rival the image quality of the majority of DSLRs, whilst still maintaining a small camera body that is very similar to the likes of the comparable Sony NEX, Olympus PEN, Fujifilm X and Panasonic G-series.
The all-plastic NX3000 does at least have a metal lens mount and tripod socket, very commendable considering its budget price-tag. First impressions of the NX3000 are positive, with satisfying build quality. Our review sample has a functional look with an attractive, slightly retro two-tone black and silver colourway and subtly rounded edges. There's a faux-leather textured area which covers the front of the camera, including the tactile curved handgrip, which sadly isn't very deep. The same leatherette finish extends around the right-hand flank and covers the small rear thumb panel too.
Measuring 117.4 x 65.9 x 39mm and weighing 230g without the battery fitted, the NX3000 is slightly smaller and lighter than the NX2000 that it replaces. Once again there's no viewfinder or built-in pop-up flash, and while beginners probably won't notice the lack of an EVF, being more used to holding a camera at arm's length than holding one up to their eye, they will undoubtedly miss having a flash, while the reverse is probably true for more experienced photographers.
Flash is instead provided for by a supplied accessory (SEF-8, guide number of 8 meters at ISO 100) which slots into the Smart Shoe on top of the camera, which adds to the bulk of the camera and isn't as well integrated as some of its main rivals. Another accessory is the EM10 external microphone, which features adjustable levels, a built-in headphone jack and no external cabling and is commendably compatible with all the Samsung NX models, including the NX3000. Note that there is no external EVF option for the NX3000.
We tested the NX3000 with the new Samsung 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 Power Zoom ED OIS lens, which has the built-in i-Functionality, a metal mount and more crucially optical stabilisation, important as the NX system doesn't offer in-body stabilisation. It's also smaller and more compact than the 20-50mm kit lens that shipped with the NX2000. Samsung's now standard i-Function button is present and correct, an innocuous looking button on the lens barrel which when pressed activates a sub-menu of key options and allows you to change them simply by turning the focus ring. Consecutive presses of the i-Function button moves through the four available settings - shutter speed and/or aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, and white balance.
While the i-Function button does provide a quick way of accessing certain key settings, we still can't help feeling that the idea is best suited to a camera with an electronic viewfinder where you can hold it up to your eye, press the button and turn the focus ring with your left hand, and grip the camera with your right. Holding the NX3000 at arm's length to view the settings while pressing the i-Function button and rotating the focus ring just seems a little cumbersome, especially when you can also use the rear controls to perform the same actions, something that we found ourselves doing by default.
Protruding metal neck strap eyelets are located on the NX3000 at the sides, with the rear dominated by the new flip-up 3 inch LCD screen. The left side of the body is devoid of any controls, while on the right is a plastic cover that houses a HDMI port for connecting the NX3000 to a HD television or monitor and a USB port. The latter port can be used as a remote socket for use with the SR2NX02 remote shutter release.
On the front of the Samsung NX3000 is a small focus-assist and self-timer indicator lamp, lens release button, and the metal NX lens mount. Located on the bottom of the camera is the shared MicroSD / MicroSDHC / MicroSDXC memory card slot and battery compartment, protected by a plastic lockable cover. The BP740AE (1130mAh) battery provides up to 370 shots under the CIPA testing standard. Also found on the bottom of the camera is a metal tripod mount which is located in-line with the centre of the lens.
The NX3000 uses the same built-in dust-removal system as the original NX100 and NX10 models, which vibrates the sensor 60,000 times per second to remove any unwanted specks from appearing in your images. By default this feature is turned off, something of an oversight by Samsung, so make sure to enable it so that it works every time you start-up the camera (it only takes about one second). You can also perform a manual sensor clean at any point.
The NX3000 has a so-called Smart Shoe that will accept compatible Samsung flashguns and other accessories. Also found on top of the NX3000 are two holes for the stereo sound and one for the speaker, a tactile shutter button, small on/off switch, and the Mobile button, which can be configured to quickly access one of the Wi-fi modes.
Completing the top of the NX3000 is a traditional shooting mode dial The usual selection of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual are available for the more experienced photographers in the Expert mode, and the more beginner-friendly Smart Auto and Smart Scene modes, plus the Wi-fi menu (more on this later).
Smart Auto is Samsung's equivalent of the intelligent auto modes now found on most competitors models. You simply point the NX3000 at a scene or subject and the camera hopefully recognizes it from commonly used presets and automatically adjusts its settings to deliver optimum results. This means that it's not necessary for the user to manually delve into scene modes to call up the likes of 'landscape' or 'flower', essentially making the NX3000's operation merely a case of point and shoot.
In practice the Smart Auto system works very well, with the NX3000 usually picking the most appropriate combination of settings for the current situation. Obviously not all situations are covered by the scene modes that the system uses, but it does work for the majority of the time. It makes it possible for the less experienced photographer to easily take well-exposed, sharp pictures of people, scenery and close-ups by simply pointing and shooting the camera and is more intuitive than the traditional scene modes (which are still available).
The NX3000 can record high-resolution Full HD 1080p 1920x1080 and 720p 1280x720 movies in the 16:9 aspect ratio and standard VGA 640x480 or 320x260 movies in the 4:3 aspect ratio, all using the H.264 format at 30/25 frames per second. The Movie mode is accessed via the dedicated one-touch record button on the rear of the camera. Stereo sound is recorded during video capture via the small internal mics on top of of the camera. The HDMI port allows you to connect the NX3000 to a high-def TV set, but unfortunately Samsung have decided to cut costs and not include a HDMI cable as standard in the box, which means that you'll have to purchase one separately to take advantage of this camera's HD connectivity.
You can shoot movies using any of the creative modes, giving you lots of control over exposure, and you can also change the aperture and shutter speed during recording, albeit at the expense of recording the mechanism on the soundtrack. The NX3000 offers the ability to set the white balance, metering and use any of the Picture Wizard settings during video recording as well as still images, which instantly lends an interesting art-house effect to your home movies. You can set a video to be played back at various slower or faster speeds (x0.25, x1, x5, x10, x20), the self-timer and image stabilizer can be used, a fade-in or out can be set, and a voice clip can be added.
You can also use a zoom lens during recording with the focusing set as for still images by half-pressing the shutter button. On the negative side, you'll find that if you choose continuous auto-focus, areas of the video will be blurred before becoming sharp again as the camera tries to refocus. Using manual focus is trickier but will ultimately produce better looking and sounding movies. On a more positive note, having the AF system is better than not being able to auto-focus at all, as with some DSLR cameras that offer video recording.
Completing the NX3000's shooting modes is the Wi-Fi mode. The NX3000 offers built-in Wi-Fi, with an array of options available. Users can email their images, upload them directly to Facebook, Picasa, Photobucket and YouTube, or instantly copy them to a home PC via Auto Backup. GroupShare connects the camera to multiple smartphones, while MobileLink allows you to directly send images to a compatible smartphone or tablet and Remote Viewfinder utilises a smartphone as a live image previewer. Home Monitor essentially allows you to use the camera as a baby monitor or security device by pairing it with a smartphone, while Samsung Link allows you to copy your photos to Samsung's cloud service.
On the left of the body is the NFC logo. The NX3000 is the latest compact system cameras to feature NFC (Near Field Communication) technology (the same technology that's used for mobile payments), which allows you to connect the camera to a compatible internet enabled device or another NFC enabled camera by simply tapping them together.
Turning to the rear of the NX3000, we find a 3-inch, 460k dot LCD screen, one of the main differences between the NX3000 and the NX2000, which had a much larger, higher-res screen with a touchscreen interface. One plus point in the NX3000's favour is that the screen can be flipped-forwards through 180 degrees to make the ubiquitous selfie even easier to take, especially as you only have to wink at the camera to trip the shutter! You can also cleverly turn the camera on by simply flipping the screen up.
Instead of a touchscreen, the NX3000 uses a suite of physical controls located to the right of its screen. In addition to the one-touch movie record button, there are Menu and Function buttons which above a traditional navigation pad, which can also be spun left and right to select the aperture/shutter speed and other operations. Underneath that is a Playback button and a Custom/Delete button.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The main menu system on the NX3000 is very straight-forward to use. There are four main menus - Camera, Movie, Custom, Settings - presented as a row of horizontal icons, and due to the large LCD screen and restricting the number of on-screen choices to five, the various options and icons are clear and legible. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Unfortunately Samsung have chosen not to supply it in printed format, so you can't carry it with you for easy reference.
The Function menu provides quick and easy access to virtually all of the most important camera settings (12 in total) via the very useful Smart Panel. This is an intuitive graphical interface that allows you to move around and choose the main camera settings via a combination of the LCD screen and the navigation wheel.
Unlike a conventional DSLR camera which uses a phase detection auto-focus system, the NX3000 employs the same Contrast AF system that is commonly used by compact cameras. Thankfully this decision hasn't resulted in a slow and unpredictable AF - quite the contrary in fact. The Samsung NX3000's focusing speed is on a par with most DSLRs, with an autofocus algorithm that delivers precise autofocusing in as little as 100ms. As well as the out-and-out speed, there were also very few occasions when the NX3000 failed to lock onto the subject, especially when using the centre AF point, which can be usefully set to one of four different sizes.
There are three AF Area modes on offer, including Selection AF with a selectable focus area, Multi AF, and Tracking AF, with Single, Continuous and Manual AF Modes available. Manual focusing is assisted by the 'enlarged display' function. Once you have selected manual focus mode, the zoom ring on the lens barrel automatically changes to control the focusing distance, with the +/- zoom buttons setting the focal distance. Turning the manual focus ring then automatically increases the magnification on the LCD display, which is a big help in getting the focus spot on. This is real, non-interpolated magnification, very useful for accurate manual focusing - provided you find a way to steady the camera. The screen cleverly returns to normal magnification when you stop using the manual focus ring for a few seconds.
Metering options include Multi, Center-weighted and Spot, while the ISO range runs from 100-25,600. There are 7 white balance presets plus Auto and Custom settings and the ability to set a precise Kelvin value, and if you can't make up your mind the white balance, exposure and even the Picture Wizard settings can all be bracketed.
The start-up time from turning the NX3000 on to being ready to take a photo is impressively quick at around one second. It takes about 1 second to store a single full-resolution JPEG image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card, with a brief blackout between each image. Storing a single RAW image takes around 3 seconds, and it doesn't lock up the camera while the file is being written to memory.
The Samsung NX3000 has a good Burst mode which enables you to take 5 frames per second for both JPEG and RAW images, but be prepared to wait for quite a long time for the camera to process all the images. There's also a special Burst mode that records 30 frames per second, albeit only at 5 megapixel JPEG resolution, with slower 15 and 10fps options also available.
Once you have captured a photo the Samsung NX3000 has a fairly good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (up to 40 onscreen at the same time), zoom in and out up to 14.2x magnification, view slideshows, delete and protect an image and set the print order. The Image Edit option offers a number of different ways to alter the look of an already-captured photo, including redeye fix, backlight, changing the photo style, resizing, rotating, face retouch and apply smart filters. The DISP button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there are small RGBY histograms available.