Samsung NX200 20.3Mp APS-C compact system camera
A serious take
Review Samsung's NX200 compact system camera (CSC) is not a mere upgrade of its predecessor but a game-changer for the company’s place in the mirrorless cameras market. Not only does the NX200 look completely different to the NX100 but Samsung has also upped its game and provided this newcomer with head-turning specs designed to attract enthusiasts and semi-pro users.
Mirrorless magnificence: Samsung's NX200
The NX200 features an aluminium frame with a 20.3Mp APS-C CMOS sensor, a boosted ISO range of 100-12800 and high-speed performance including 7fps continuous shooting. Add to that ultra-fast auto focusing, 1080p HD movie recording and a growing family of i-Function lenses and there’s a lot to like. All this comes at with a £600 price tag though but you should be able to find the 18-55mm lens kit for £100 less if you shop around. Still, it’s quite a jump from its NX-series predecessors – do the improvements justify the increased cost though?
The new NX is as much better and more professional looking camera than any previously released model. Samsung has abandoned the toyish, futuristic, plasticky looks of the NX100 for a new scaled-down, sleek and functional design with the unquestioned appeal of an all-metal body and a metal lens mount.
APS-C with a 20.3Mp resolution takes some beating in a body this size
Handling has also been improved with a protruding and texturised front grip that makes the camera feels secure and stable in the hand. The NX200 has a good selection of useful controls at the back, including direct movie recording, exposure compensation and the Fn button, which gives quick access to most of the camera’s functions and settings in virtually one or two steps.
The Fn button brings up a newly designed smart panel on the screen that can be easily navigated through the control wheel at the top. For the most frequent settings Samsung provides and even quicker shortcut in the shape of its unique and ingenious i-Function mode provided on the lens that gives immediate access to Aperture, Shutter Speed, EV, ISO, WB and i-Zoom.
A fixed LCD panel leaves room for an articulating upgrade in the next model
Compared to previous versions, iFunction 2 featured on the NX200 certainly increases the customisation and speed of operation, as the iFn button placed on the lens can now be user-defined to control one or all the five settings available. The settings themselves can be changed by either turning the lens focusing ring or using the rear scrolling wheel.
Alternatively, you can tweak from the Menu button on the back panel that activates the camera’s main functions: a well-organised, user friendly and clear system. The top plate has also seen a change from the NX100 with a more ergonomically placed mode dial and the power switch now surrounding the shutter release.
Samsung's days of tacky tech snappers seem to be behind it
Another nice touch is the provision of an optical preview to check depth of field as an alter ego of the delete button. My only design complaint is that the operation of the scrolling wheel and the four-way navpad – which rest just underneath the base of your thumb when holding the camera – is not firm enough, making it very easy to inadvertently reset the parameters available on the pad.
Like its predecessor, the NX200 relies on a very bright and clear 3in, 614k-dot screen. There’s no viewfinder but the hotshoe could accommodate one, however, Samsung hasn't such an accessory yet. Like many CSCs, there’s no built-in flash either but at least a small external flash is included in the kit box that makes use of the hotshoe and does a decent job for its size.
Beside flash, the hotshoe accommodates a GPS module, but no viewfinder, as yet
While the use of APS-C CMOS sensors is widespread sensor, the NX200’s 20.3Mp score ranks it among the highest resolution models on the CSC market. Interestingly though, despite the massive megapixel count, Samsung has customised the sensor with a new conversion, colour filtering and more light-efficient microlenses to help minimise the impact of noise in a bid to deliver image quality in the DSLR league.
The outcome is surprisingly detailed and sharp images throughout the conventional ISO range, with only the highest settings (ISO 6400 and 12800) being adversely affected by noise. Colour reproduction is also consistent and images have a pleasant neutral tone that is a breath of fresh air in a market dominated by over-saturation and over-vividness of colours. A by-product of the improved light capturing technology of this sensor is the brilliant low-light and night time performance of the camera.
Aside from the traditional choice of PASM modes, the NX200 also offers more consumer-friendly selections, such as a comprehensive Scene Mode; a point-and-shoot equivalent Smart Auto; a lens-specific iScene mode that helps you select the most appropriate scene for each lens; two Panorama modes that are so easy and smooth to work that even my two-year-old son could use and a Magic mode, which comprises of 12 fun frames and 10 reasonably well-designed creative filters. The NX200 also has a good range of useful in-camera editing tools including resizing, face retouch, rotating, red-eye fix and the application of smart filters post shooting.
18-55mm kit lens (35mm equivalent: 27-84mm)
In the process
The speed achievements of this small camera are quite remarkable. Start-up time is less than a second and processing times are very fast in JPEG, although the opposite is true in RAW format but that’s typical of this class of camera. Besides a continuous shooting rate of 7fps in normal Burst mode, if you don’t mind a reduced resolution, you can opt for an increased speed of 30fps at 5Mp. Battery life is nothing to write home about and in line with the declared rating of just over 300 shots.
A basic flash is supplied with the camera
Despite using the normally slower contrast detection system usually found in compact cameras, Samsung has tweaked it to achieve DSLR speed results, with commendable precision, responsiveness and reliability. The NX200 offers a choice of four AF modes, including Selection AF, which lets you select the focus area, Multi AF, Face Detection, and Self-Portrait Tracking, with Single and Continuous focus options.
There is also a Manual AF Modes with a focus assist feature that, mercifully, is automatically activated as soon as you turn the lens focus ring and reverts to normal view once you set the focus. The assist can be turned off or set to different magnifications in the menu and is a great tool for fine-detail focusing.
The standard fare 18-55mm kit lens will get you started
Until recently, the lack of lenses had been an issue for anyone considering the NX range of cameras. Thankfully, in the past year Samsung has added five new lenses to the existing range and now notches up an enviable selection for a compact system camera. This is in addition to the Pentax K-mount compatibility, achieved using an adaptor, and the company’s statement of more lenses in the pipeline.
I tested the camera with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS kit lens (27-82.5mm equivalent), a good and accurate zoom; the 60mm 1:1 f/2.4 OIS (90mm equivalent), a fast and well-built Macro lens and the 16mm f/2.4 Pancake lens (24mm equivalent), a light, bright optic, particularly well-suited to low-light and shallow depth of field work but equally good for landscape and architecture shots.
A good range of NX lenses is available with more promised
A major improvement over previous NX models and an easy selling point for this new release is the provision of a Full HD 1080p Video Mode. The video recording benefits from full manual controls, use of all creative modes and some extra features such as image stabilisation, fad-in/fade/out, self timer and additional voice clips. Footage is crisp and detailed but some blurring can occur with continuous focus, as well as the barrel movement being registered by the very sensitive mic.
A major player in the making?
Overall, the NX200 is arguably the most accomplished and grown-up camera Samsung has produced to date. Its price is perfectly in line with the current crop of CSCs, such as the Sony NEX, Olympus PEN, Nikon 1 and Panasonic Lumix MFT alternatives, with the potential to eat into the DSLR entry-level market too.
Moreover, the NX200’s performance and image quality equals and, at times, surpasses those of most of its rival CSCs and, crucially, Samsung has expanded its array of lenses to make the NX a truly versatile and complete system. To me, it looks like Samsung’s photographic endeavours have finally come of age and it’s ready to challenge the big names out there. ®
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