Samsung NX200 Review
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The NX200 is the latest mirrorless compact system camera from Samsung, following last year's NX100 model. The remodelled, metal-bodied NX200 features a 20.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, high speed capture and fast auto focusing, ISO range of 100-12,800, 1080p HD movie recording, 3-inch AMOLED screen, 7fps continuous shooting, 3D Panoramas and Samsung's unique i-Function lens. The i-Function button on compatible lenses allows users to control the NX200 by scrolling through manual settings (shutter speed, aperture, EV, WB, and ISO) and using the focus ring to change the parameters for each setting. The NX200 also has a special i-Scene lens priority mode, which allows users to select the scene modes, six different Smart Filters and the intelli-Zoom function. The Samsung NX200 costs £699 / $899 in a kit with the 18-55mm lens or the 20-50mm lens (UK only).
Ease of Use
The new NX200 represents a significant move away from its curvier and more consumer-focused predecessor, the NX100, sporting a more angular and harder-edged design that is designed to appeal more to the serious photography enthusiast than upgraders from a simpler compact camera. To that end, the NX200 moves away from the 14.6 megapixel sensor used in the NX100 and NX10, employing a new 20 megapixel APS-C CMOS that is around 1.5x physically larger than the Micro Four Thirds system and promises to rival 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 and Panasonic G-series. Since the launch of the NX100, things have moved on at a rapid pace, with the Sony NEX-7 turning heads, Olympus and Panasonic reducing the overall size of a Micro Four Thirds camera, and Nikon and Pentax joining the fray with even smaller interchangeable lens models (and even smaller sensors).
Unlike the all-plastic NX100, the Samsung NX200 has a mostly-metal body with a metal lens mount, which goes some way to explaining why the NX200 has jumped up in price to a more mid-level £699 / $899. First impressions of the NX200 are very positive, with even better build quality that we've come to expect from recent Samsung cameras. The NX200 has a more functional look the more futuristic NX100, with a serious all-black colour, sharper edges and a much more tactile curved handgrip that has a textured area where your fingers rest and a rubberised finish to the rest of the grip. The NX200 offers a logical and intuitive interface that strikes a good balance between providing easy access to the main features and achieving an uncluttered control system, whilst still managing to cater for both beginner and prosumer alike.
At 116.5 x 62.5 x 36.6mm, the NX200 is actually marginally smaller than its predecessor. 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 an optional accessory (SEF-15A) which slots into the Smart Shoe on top of the camera, but it's an extra expense, adds to the bulk of the camera, and obviously isn't as well integrated as some of its main rivals. There's also an optional EVF (EVF10) which slots into the same connector, with the same caveats regarding cost and size, and you can obviously only use the EVF or the flash at one time. Neither are provided in the standard kit or were additionally provided for this review, so we can't comment further on their performance.
We tested the NX200 with the Samsung 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, which originally shipped with the NX10 but which now has the built-in i-Functionality. Although bigger than the newer, retractable 20-50mm lens which also ships in kit form with the NX200, the 18-55mm is optically stabilised, important as the NX system doesn't offer in-body stabilisation. We'd advise choosing the 18-55mm lens rather than the 20-50mm for this reason, unless you really need the latter's smaller dimensions.
The i-Function button is a rather innocuous looking addition to 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, white balance and ISO. These settings can optionally be turned on or off in the main menu, allowing a degree of user customisation. In the i-Scene shooting mode, the i-Fn button cycles through the various scene modes and six of the ten filter effects that the camera offers and also allows you to use the intelli-Zoom function, which crops the image without any interpolation to (1.2x, 1.4x, 1.7x, or 2.0x the original.
While the i-Function button does provide a quick way of accessing certain key settings, I 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 NX200 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 I found myself doing by default.
Large metal neck strap eyelets are located on top of the NX200 at the sides, with the rear dominated by the fixed 3 inch LCD screen. On the left side of the body there are no controls. On the right is a plastic cover that houses a HDMI port for connecting the NX200 to a HD television or monitor and a DC In / AV Out port. Note that there is no remote socket for use with the optional remote shutter release, as on the NX100.
On the front of the Samsung NX200 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 SD / SDHC / SDXC memory card slot and battery compartment, protected by a plastic lockable cover. The BP1030B (1030mAh) battery provides up to 320 shots under the CIPA testing standard, a 100-shot reduction from the NX100. Also found on the bottom of the camera is a metal tripod mount which is commendably located in-line with the centre of the base.
The NX200 uses the same built-in dust-removal system as the NX100 and NX10, 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 NX200 has a so-called Smart Shoe that will accept compatible Samsung flashguns (currently the SEF-42A, SEF-20A and new SEF-15A models) and other accessories such as the previously mentioned EVF and the GPS unit (GPS10). Also found on top of the NX200 are four holes for the speaker, holes marked left and right 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.
There's a traditional round dial with a positive click for the different exposure modes, now 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 Scene modes, Smart Auto and i-Scene mode are also accessed via this dial.
When the i-Scene shooting mode is selected, the NX200 automatically recognise what type of lens has been attached and suggests a list of scene modes to choose from that are tailored to that specific lens. While this helps to narrow down the usual vast number of choices, it would have been more effective if combined with the Smart Auto shooting mode, rather than being a stand-alone mode, as you still have to pick from the scene modes that are presented to you. This shooting mode now also lets you select six of the ten filter effects that the camera offers.
Smart Auto is Samsung's equivalent of the intelligent auto modes now found on most competitors models. You simply point the NX200 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 NX200's operation merely a case of point and shoot.
In practice the Smart Auto system works very well, with the NX200 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).
Also found on the mode dial is the familiar Video icon. The NX200 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 frames per second (you can optionally shoot 720p at 60fps).
The Movie mode is accessed by selecting the Movie option on the shooting mode dial and then pressing the shutter button to begin recording, or via the new 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 NX200 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 NX200 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 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 a lot of current DSLR cameras that offer video recording. Hand-holding the NX200 during movie recording inevitably leads to obvious shake, so for best results you'll need a dedicated video tripod.
Completing the NX200's shooting modes are the Panorama and Magic modes. The former captures either a Live Panorama, which allows you to also capture subject movement at several points during a sweeping panorama, or a 3D panorama. The latter mode provides a choice of 10 Smart Filters and 12 Magic Frames, including Soft Focus for a warm ambience and Half-Tone Dot for a comic-book look.
Turning to the rear of the NX200, the 3-inch, 614,000-dot rear LCD screen is the same impressive unit from the NX100, incorporating AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology that provides a number of key advantages over traditional LCD 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.
To the right of the LCD is a familiar round navigation pad with four buttons above and two below. Starting at the top are very handily placed buttons for instant movie recording and setting the exposure compensation, then the self-explanatory Menu button. Unfortunately the NX100's AEL button for locking the exposure has been sacrificed to make room for the Movie Record button.
The main menu system on the NX200 is very straight-forward to use. There are five main menus - Camera, Movie, Custom, Settings and GPS - presented as a row of horizontal icons, and due to the large LCD screen and restricting the number of on-screen choices to six, 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 fourth button is the useful Fn, which now provides quick and easy access to virtually all of the most important camera settings (16 in total) via the brand new and 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, 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 LCD screen, Auto-focusing mode, ISO and Self-timer/Drive, you really can access most of the NX200's key options with one press of a button, although changing them takes a couple more presses. 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+.
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Surrounding the four navigation pad buttons is a circular control wheel which is used for, amongst other things, changing the aperture by turning from left to right and back again. As with the shooting mode dial, this is a common feature found on some DSLR cameras, so you'll be right at home if you've used a DSLR before - compact camera users will need to become accustomed to using this dial. In the Shutter Priority and Manual modes things are actually unexpectedly easy, as the Zoom dial on top of the camera comes into play. You simply turn the rear control wheel to change the aperture and use the Zoom dial to set the shutter speed.
Unlike a conventional DSLR camera which uses a phase detection auto-focus system, the NX200 employs the same Contrast AF system that is commonly used by compact cameras. Experienced photographers will now be tutting loudly at the thought of having to use a traditionally slower system, but thankfully this decision hasn't resulted in a slow and unpredictable AF - quite the contrary in fact. The Samsung NX200's focusing speed is now on a par with most DSLRs, with a new 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 NX200 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 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 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 100-12800. 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 NX200 on to being ready to take a photo is impressively quick at less than a second. The NX200 successfully achieves focus virtually all of the time with the 18-55mm kit lens, helped by the AF assist lamp - the NX200 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 LCD blackout between each image. Storing a single RAW image takes around 6 seconds, and unfortunately it does lock up the camera while the file is being written to memory- you'll quickly grow tired of seeing the onscreen message "Processing" when shooting in the RAW format.
The Samsung NX200 has a very good Burst mode which enables you to take 7 frames per second for up to 11 JPEG images at the highest image quality, or 8 RAW images, but again be prepared to wait for a long time for the camera to process all the images - it's so slow for RAW images that an on-screen progress bar appears! 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 NX200 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.