Samsung NX20 Review

June 21, 2012 | Mark Goldstein |


The NX20 is one of the world's first Wi-Fi enabled compact system cameras (alongside the new Samsung NX210 and NX1000 models), allowing users to connect to wireless networks in a number of different ways without any additional cards or devices. The DSLR-like NX20 features a 20.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, SVGA 1.44k resolution electronic viewfinder, a 3-inch swivelling AMOLED screen, an ISO range of 100-12800, built-in pop-up flash, full 1080p HD movie recording with stereo sound, 8fps continuous shooting, top shutter speed of 1/8000th second, 3D stills and panoramas, and support for Samsung's unique i-Function 2.0 lenses. The i-Function button on compatible lenses allows users to control the NX20 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 NX20 also has a special i-Scene lens priority mode, which allows users to select the scene modes, Smart Filters and the intelli-Zoom function. The NX20 has a wide range of manual controls plus a Smart Auto function which automatically selects the best shooting mode, while the Smart Range feature captures detail in both the bright and dark areas of the picture. Available in black, the Samsung NX20 retails for £899.99 / $1099.99 with the new 18-55mm OIS III kit lens.

Ease of Use

The NX20 is similar in design to the older NX11, which is still being sold alongside the newer model. First impressions of the NX20 are positive, although it is significantly more expensive than both the NX10 and 11 were on launch. The NX20 feels like more of a mass-market device than its price-tag might suggest, with an all-plastic body that weighs just under 350g. This isn't to say that the NX20 isn't well-built though, and you'll certainly appreciate the NX20's lack of bulk during a long day's shooting. At 122 x 89.6 x 39.5mm, the NX20 isn't that much bigger than some Micro Four Thirds cameras, impressive given the physically larger APS-C sensor inside. The depth and weight obviously increase when the supplied metal mounted 18-55mm OIS III kit lens is fitted, making the NX20 instantly more DSLR-like, but fitting a slimmer optic like the 30mm pancake lens creates a much more compact combination.

The lenses are still the main area where the NX20 suffers in comparison to the Micro Four Thirds cameras, especially if you're looking for the smallest overall package. The NX20 is relatively tiny when twinned with the 30mm pancake lens, but the 18-55mm and especially the 50-200mm lens are quite a lot bigger and heavier than their MFT's equivalents. This is completely understandable given the larger sensor that lies at the heart of the NX20, and is the trade-off for the image quality advantages that an APS-C sensor offers. Only you can decide if size and portability or image quality is more important to you.

The upgraded 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, white balance and ISO. The latter two settings can optionally be turned on or off in the main menu, allowing a degree of user customisation. The i-Function button provides a quick way of accessing certain key settings, and is well suited to the NX20 with its 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 NX20 at arm's length to view the settings while pressing the i-Function button and rotating the focus ring is more cumbersome, especially when you can also use the rear control wheel to perform the same actions, something that I found myself doing by default.

Optical image stabilisation is supplied via the lenses, rather than being built-in to the NX20's body. It can be turned on and off via the OIS menu option, rather than via a more handy switch on the lens barrel, with two different modes available. When enabled, the NX20 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds when the camera is hand held. In practice I found that it does make a noticeable difference. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. Thankfully leaving the anti-shake system on all the time didn't affect the battery-life too badly, achieving around 350 shots before needing to be recharged.

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Front Rear

One area where the NX20 shines is styling and layout. It has a clean and modern DSLR-like design rather than the retro look of Olympus' PEN series, whilst being more curved and "organic" than the Panasonic G-series or Sony NEX models. Perhaps more importantly it also offer a logical and intuitive interface, striking a great balance between providing easy access to the main features and achieving an uncluttered control system whilst still managing to cater for both beginners and more competent prosumers alike. Samsung have redesigned the camera's grip, which in comparison to the NX11 is more pronounced and taller. The NX20 is also better constructed than you'd expect given its relatively small size and light weight, certainly on a par with a lot of entry-level DSLRs.

Large metal neck strap eyelets are located on top of the NX20 at the sides, with the rear dominated by the swivelling 3 inch AMOLED screen. The generous, textured black plastic hand-grip is on the left-front of the camera with a thumb-grip on the rear finished in the same rubberised material. When it comes to storing your photographs the NX20 uses SD / SDHC / SDXC cards, with the memory card slot sharing the battery compartment like most cameras do. On the right side of the body, viewed from the rear, is a plastic cover that houses two different ports - a shared USB / AV Out port and a mini HDMI for connecting the NX20 to a HD television or monitor, Sadly the NX11's remote socket for use with an optional remote shutter release has been removed, perhaps to make way for the hinged screen.

On the front of the Samsung NX20 is a small focus-assist and self-timer indicator lamp, lens release button, a metal lens mount, rubberised hand-grip, and a handy and unexpected Depth of Field Preview button. Located on the bottom of the camera is the battery compartment protected by a plastic lockable cover. The BP1310 battery provides up to 360 shots under the CIPA testing standard, on a par with most of the NX20's main rivals. 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 mount.

The NX20 features a built-in electronic viewfinder. The mere mention of an EVF is usually enough to elicit loud groans from any serious photographer, as they have traditionally been poorly implemented in the past, with low-res, grainy displays that were only really suitable for still subjects. Thankfully the electronic viewfinder on the NX20 is much better than most other systems, although not quite as good as the Panasonic cameras. It has a 0.68x magnification and offers 100% field of view and the resolution is an impressive 1.44K dots, resulting in a detailed and bright display that should persuade most non-believers to use it.

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Front Tilting LCD Screen

There's also a handy eye sensor underneath the EVF which switches seamlessly between the LCD screen and the EVF when you hold it up to your eye, saving battery power and removing the unwanted distraction of the LCD display. As the EVF is reading the same signal from the image sensor as the rear LCD screen, it can also display similar information - for example, you can view and operate the Function Menu and see all the current settings, giving quick access to all the key camera settings while it's held up to your eye.

The NX20's 3-inch, 614,000-dot rear LCD screen is very impressive, 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. Crucially it also now offers the same flexibility of certain key rivals, like the Panasonic G3 / GH2's swiveling LCD screen, and is a very welcome addition, particularly when shooting video or stills from more unusual angles.

The NX20 has a built-in dust-removal system that 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 NX20 has a built-in pop-up flash which is activated by a switch on the top of the camera. This useful pop-up unit offers a range of flash synchronisation modes, guide number of 11 at ISO 100, an X-sync speed of 1/180 to 1/8000 second, and coverage for a 28mm wide lens. The NX20 also offers a flash hotshoe that will accept compatible Samsung flashguns (currently just the SEF-42A and SEF-20A models).

Also found on top of the NX20 are the stereo microphones either side of the flash, metering button, on/off switch, and small but tactile shutter button. The Green button is used in conjunction with other controls to reset them to default values, for example exposure compensation. There's a traditional round shooting mode dial with a positive click for the different exposure modes, 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 and Smart Auto mode are also accessed via this dial.

Smart Auto is Samsung's equivalent of the intelligent auto modes on competitors from Panasonic (its Lumix range), Sony (the latest T-series Cyber-shots) and Canon (Digital IXUS family). You simply point the NX20 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', making the NX20's operation merely a case of point and shoot. In practice the Smart Auto system works very well, with the NX20 usually picking the most appropriate combination of settings for the current situation. Obviously not all situations are covered by the 16 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).

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Top Pop-up Flash

When the i-Scene shooting mode is selected, the NX100 automatically recognises 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.

The NX20 is one of the first compact system cameras to offer 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. 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 uutilises 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.

Completing the camera's top-plate is a control dial which is used for, amongst other things, changing the aperture and shutter speed by turning from left to right and back again. As with the shooting mode dial, this is a common feature found on 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 Manual mode you use the new control ring that encircles the rear navigation pad to change the aperture, which is more convenient than the system employed by the NX11. If you prefer to use this ring rather than the top dial, it also changes the shutter speed and aperture too in those priority modes.

The NX20 can record 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. There's also a special 1920 x 810 Cine mode that records at 24fps. The Movie mode is accessed either by selecting the Movie option on the shooting mode dial and then pressing the shutter button to begin recording, or via the new and much more convenient one-touch record button on the rear of the camera. Stereo sound is recorded during video capture via the small internal mics on the top of of the camera. The HDMI port allows you to connect the NX20 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.

The NX20 offers full control over ISO speed, metering, white balance, timer settings and exposure during video recording via the Programme, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual shooting modes, and all of the various Smart Filters and Picture Wizard settings can be applied (and the selective color options too). Multi-Motion recording can either slow down (by 05x or 0.25x) or speed up (by 5x, 10x or 20x) the video, the quality can be set to Normal or High. Three auto-focus modes are available - single, continuous and manual - and there are three manual focus assist options to help you achieve accurate focusing. Finally, the optical image stabiliser also works for video recording as well as stills.

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Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Turning to the rear of the NX20, to the right of the large LCD screen that we've already mentioned is a familiar round navigation pad with four buttons above and two below. Starting at the top are very handily placed buttons for setting the exposure compensation and locking the exposure, then the Menu button. The main menu system on the NX20 is very straight-forward to use, with five main menus presented as a row of horizontal icons, much like Canon's DSLR camera range. The Fn button provides quick and easy access to 14 of the most important camera settings, which are presented as a HUD-type display in the EVF or LCD screen. Used in combination with the four directions on the navigation pad that set the Display mode, AF Mode, ISO and Timer options, you really can access most of the NX20'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 accessing the new Custom mode during shooting. By default this opens the Picture Wizard menu, but it can be reconfigured to either the white balance or AF area settings.

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. The NX20 also has a useful AF Priority function that begins focusing as soon as you point the camera. 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 6 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.

Unlike a conventional DSLR camera which uses a phase detection auto-focus system, the NX20 employs the same Contrast AF system that is commonly used by compact cameras. As with the EVF, 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 NX20's focusing speed is fast enough for you not to notice it - not quite as quick as the new Olympus OM-D E-M5, but snappy nonetheless. There were also very few occasions when the NX20 failed to lock onto the subject, especially when using the centre AF point, which can be usefully set to one of four different sizes.

The start-up time from turning the NX20 on to being ready to take a photo is impressively quick at around 1 second. It takes about 1 second to store a 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 4 seconds, but thankfully it doesn't stop you shooting another image while the first file is being written to memory, although subsequent shots do slow down the camera and any attempt to use the menu system results in the dreaded "Processing" message appearing. The Samsung NX20 has a great Burst mode which enables you to take 8 frames per second for 11 JPEG images at the highest image quality, or 8 RAW images, but again the "Processing" message appears to lock you out. The interesting Burst mode shoots at 10, 15 or 30fps for 30 shots with a single press of the shutter button, but only for small JPEGs.

Once you have captured a photo the Samsung NX20 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, share and protect an image and set the print order. There are a number of different ways to alter the look of an already-captured photo, including smart filters, redeye fix, backlight, changing the photo style, resizing, rotating, face retouch, brightness, contrast and vignetting. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, there are small brightness and RGB histograms available, and the Highlight option makes any blown-out highlights areas flash on the LCD screen.