Samsung NX300 Review
The NX300 is Samsung's new flagship compact system camera, replacing last year's NX210 model. The metal-bodied NX300 features a new 20.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, new Hybrid Auto Focus (AF) system with both phase and contrast detection, expanded ISO range of 100-25,600, 1080p HD movie recording, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, tilting 3.3-inch AMOLED touch-screen, 8.6fps continuous shooting, 1/6000th shutter speed, 3D Panoramas and Samsung's unique i-Function lens. The i-Function button on compatible lenses allows users to control the NX300 by scrolling through five manual settings and using the focus ring to change the parameters for each setting. The NX300 also has a special i-Scene lens priority mode, which allows users to adjust the depth-of-field and use the intelli-Zoom function. The Samsung NX300 is available in black, white or brown and costs £599 / $750 with either the 20-50mm lens or the 18-55mm OIS III lens.
Ease of Use
The Samsung NX300 looks very similar to its predecessor at first glance, but boasts a number of significant improvements and new features. The NX300 retains the same angular and sharp-edged design which appeals more to the serious photography enthusiast than upgraders from a simpler compact camera. It again uses an APS-C sized sensor, 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 series. The NX300's sensor offers the same 20.3 megapixel count as the previous NX210, but now includes on-sensor phase detection AF sensors which promise to make the auto-focusing system even quicker and more reliable.
The Samsung NX300 has a mostly-metal body with a metal lens mount, which goes some way to explaining why it's priced at a more mid-level point. First impressions of the NX300 are positive, with similarly good build quality that we've come to expect from recent Samsung compact system cameras, although most of the buttons are plastic rather than metal. The NX300 has a functional look with a two-tone black and silver colourway on our review sample, sharp edges and a tactile curved faux-leather handgrip on the front that has a textured area where your fingers rest and a smaller area on the rear panel for your thumb to sit.
At, 122 x 63.7 x 40.7mm the NX300 is slightly bigger than its predecessor, and heavier too at 284g for the body-only. 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 provided for by a supplied accessory (SEF-15A) which slots into the hotshoe 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.
We tested the NX300 with the Samsung 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS III lens, which has the built-in i-Functionality and a metal mount. The 18-55mm is also optically stabilised, important as the NX system doesn't offer in-body stabilisation. We'd advise choosing the 18-55mm lens rather than the alternative 20-50mm lens for this reason, which doesn't offer OIS, unless you really need the latter's smaller dimensions.
The 18-55mm kit lens features Samsung's now standard i-Function button, 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 five available settings - shutter speed and/or aperture, exposure compensation and/or white balance, ISO and the intelli-Zoom function. The latter two settings can optionally be turned on or off in the main menu, allowing a degree of user customisation.
While the i-Function button does provide a quick way of accessing certain key settings, we 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 NX300 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 control wheel to perform the same actions, something that we found ourselves doing by default.
On the front of the Samsung NX300 is a small focus-assist and self-timer indicator lamp, plastic lens release button, and the metal NX lens mount. Located on the bottom of the camera is the shared SD / SDHC / SDXC memory card slot and battery compartment, protected by a plastic lockable cover. The BP1130 (1130mAh) battery provides up to 320 shots under the CIPA testing standard. Also found on the bottom of the camera is a metal tripod mount which is commendably located in-line with the centre of the lens.
Large metal neck strap eyelets are located on top of the NX300 at the sides, with the left one rather annoyingly located on the actual grip, which digs into your hand a little. The rear is dominated by the tilting 3.3 inch AMOLED screen. On the left side of the body is a slot for the built-in microphone. On the right is a plastic cover that houses a USB port and an HDMI port for connecting the NX300 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.
The NX300 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 NX300 has a so-called Smart Shoe that will accept compatible Samsung flashguns (currently the SEF-42A, SEF-20A and SEF-15A models) and other accessories such as the previously mentioned EVF and the GPS unit (GPS10). Also found on top of the NX300 are two holes for the stereo sound, a small dial for setting the shutter speed and zooming into and out of images during playback, and a tactile shutter button encircled by the on/off switch. The new Direct Link button can be configured to quickly access one of the six different Wi-fi modes.
There's a traditional round shooting mode dial with a positive click for the different exposure modes located on the far-right, which is a typical feature of DSLR cameras and enables you to quickly change between the various options. The usual selection of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual are available for the more experienced photographers, and the more beginner-friendly Smart Auto, Smart Scene and Lens Priority modes are also accessed via this dial.
Smart Auto is Samsung's equivalent of the intelligent auto modes now found on most competitors models. You simply point the NX300 at a scene or subject and the camera hopefully recognizes it from 16 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 NX300's operation merely a case of point and shoot.
In practice the Smart Auto system works very well, with the NX300 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 via the Smart Scene option).
|Front||Tilting AMOLED Screen|
The NX300 can record high-resolution Full HD 1080p 1920x1080 and 720p 1280x720 movies at either 50p or 25p. There's also a more cinematic 1920x810 pixel, 24fps mode and a 640x480 at 25p mode available. 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 NX300 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 NX300 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, x0.5, x1, x5, x10 and 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 and the noise of the AF system is a little intrusive. 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 NX300's shooting modes is the Wi-Fi setting. 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. Samsung’s AllShare Play and Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud services provide free storage space that's accessible by anyone with an account. MobileLink allows you to directly send images to a compatible smartphone or tablet, while Remote Viewfinder utilises a smartphone as a live image previewer. Finally TV Link takes the place of a physical HDMI connection by playing back photos on any device that's connected to the same wireless access point as the camera.
On the left of the body are is the NFC logo. The NX300 is one of the very first 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, the NX300 has a new 3.3-inch, 768,000-dot rear screen, incorporating AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology that provides a number of key advantages over traditional AMOLED screens. These include easier viewing in bright sunshine and a very wide viewing angle, 10,000 times faster refresh rate than conventional LCDs, less power consumption and a high contrast ratio of 10,000:1. The screen now tilts up by 90º and down by 45º, allowing you to take shots from above your head or below your waist more easily, although we'd have liked to have seen a screen that also flipped out to the side.
The NX300 is the first Samsung compact system camera to offer a touchscreen interface, and its a very responsive one at that, with just the lightest of touches enough. You can still operate everything on the camera without having to push and prod the AMOLED screen at all, but you'd be missing out on a lot of genuinely useful functionality which really improves the overall shooting experience.
The most immediately noticeable function is the ability to focus on your main subject simply by touching it on the AMOLED. It is a little too easy to accidentally press the screen and set the focus point to the wrong area for the current subject, but a simple tap in the middle of the AMOLED will center the AF point (or you can turn this feature off altogether). In the Tracking AF mode, the NX300 cleverly follows the chosen subject around the screen using the the AF tracking function. If the subject exits the frame entirely, simply recompose and tap it again to start focusing. Impressive stuff that makes focusing on off-center subjects fast and intuitive. One touch shot automatically focuses on the subject and fires the shutter with a single tap on the screen.
All of the menu options can be changed via the touchscreen interface. You can also control image playback by touching the screen, with the ability to tap a thumbnail to see the full-size version and scroll through your images by dragging them from side to side.
To the right of the AMOLED is a familiar round navigation pad with four buttons above and two below. Starting at the top are handily placed buttons for instant movie recording and setting the exposure compensation, then the self-explanatory Menu button. Unfortunately there's no dedicated button for locking the exposure.
The fourth button is the useful Fn, which now 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 AMOLED screen, the navigation wheel and/or the shutter speed dial on top of the camera.
Used in combination with the four directions on the navigation pad that set the Display, which cycles through the various display modes on the AMOLED screen, Auto-focusing mode, ISO and Self-timer/Drive, you can access most of the NX300's key options with one press of a button, although changing them takes a couple more presses.
The main menu system on the NX300 is very straight-forward to use. There are five main menus - Camera, Movie, Custom, and Settings - presented as a column of vertical icons, and due to the large AMOLED 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 NX300 strangely lacks its predecessor's rear circular control wheel, which was used for, amongst other things, changing the aperture by turning it from left to right and back again. This control's absence makes it harder to use the Manual shooting mode, as you now use the Zoom dial on the top of the camera to set the shutter speed, and then hold down the exposure mode button while using the Zoom dial to change the aperture, which is a little awkward in practice.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
Completing the rear controls are buttons for playing back and deleting your images, with the latter also doubling up as the Custom button, which activates the Optical Preview (essentially a digital Depth of Field Preview) by default and can be alternatively set to either One Touch White Balance or One Touch RAW+.
The NX300, like several of its rivals, now features a new Hybrid Auto Focus (AF) system. This combines phase- and contrast-detection autofocus methods to deliver an auto-focus system that's a little snappier and more accurate than the conventional contrast-detection system used by the NX210, particularly in low-light.
There are four AF Area modes on offer, including Selection AF with a selectable focus area, Multi AF, Face Detection, and Self-Portrait Tracking, with Single, Continuous and Manual AF Modes available. Manual focusing is assisted by the 'enlarged display' function. Once you have selected manual focus mode on the lens barrel, turning the manual focus ring automatically increases the magnification on the AMOLED display by 5x, 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. New to the NX300 is the popular Focus Peaking function, which outlines the in-focus subject in white, red or green, with three strengths available (low, normal and high).
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 NX300 on to being ready to take a photo is impressively quick at less than a second. The NX300 successfully achieves focus virtually all of the time with the 18-55mm kit lens, helped by the AF assist lamp - the NX300 doesn't have any notable problems locking onto the subject in low-light situations. 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 AMOLED blackout between each image. Storing a single RAW image takes around 3 seconds, and it no longer lock up the camera while the file is being written to memory either, a massive improvement on the previous NX210 model.
The Samsung NX300 has a very good Burst mode which enables you to take 8.6 frames per second for up to 12 JPEG images at the highest image quality, or 6 RAW images. You can also choose a slower 5fps rate for 15 JPEGs. After the buffer is filled, you can continue taking shots, just at a slower rate, another big improvement on the NX210. 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 NX300 has a 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 28 onscreen at the same time), zoom in and out up to 6.8x magnification, view slideshows, delete and protect an image and set the print order. The Edit Image option offers a number of different ways to alter the look of an already-captured photo, including cropping, resizing, rotating, changing the photo style, face retouch, red-eye fix and applying 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.