Samsung NX300 Review

The Samsung NX300 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) with a 20.3MP APS-C sized sensor. While perhaps Samsung may not be the most familiar name to camera buyers, they’ve been in the camera business for a while now. In fact in 2009 they were the third best selling cameras in the compact camera segment of the market. They are also the world’s largest Smartphone manufacturer, the world’s largest memory chip maker, second only to Apple in tablet PC sales and a leader in display technology. These skills (and R&D resources) mean that Samsung is also a strong contender in the digital camera business, since modern cameras are essentially dedicated computer systems!

Technically, the NX300 hits most of the right buttons when it comes to camera features, including:

  • 20.3MP APS-C CMOS Sensor
  • DRIMe IV Image Processor
  • 1/6000s shutter speed
  • 3D Still & Video Capture Capability
  • Full HD 1080p 60fps Video Capture
  • 3.31" AMOLED Tilt Touch Screen Display
  • Touch AF and Touch Control
  • Hybrid (phase + contrast) AF System
  • Dual Channel (2.4 and 5GHz) Wi-Fi
  • Camera control via Samsung SMART CAMERA App

The NX300 uses Samsung NX mount lenses. These lenses are designed and built by Samsung in Korea and in recent tests of a number of NX prime lenses, they compared very favorably with similar Sony NEX mount lenses. The NX300 is normally sold with one of two lenses, either the Samsung 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OIS or the Samsung 20-50mm F3.5-5.6 ED II. The 18-55 has optical stabilization and is 65.1mm (2.56") long, while the 20-50 is a collapsible design which is only 39.8mm (1.57") long when retracted but which isn’t stabilized. All comments on image quality in this review are based on images shot with the 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OIS.

Who the Samsung NX300 is for

The NX300 would be for someone moving up from a Smartphone to an interchangeable lens camera, but who wants something smaller, lighter and more familiar than a traditional DSLR. It could also make a good second camera for a DSLR user who wanted something smaller and lighter with excellent WiFi connection to a tablet or Smartphone.

Using the Samsung NX300


Samsung NX300 body (no lens attached) – 4.8″ × 2.5″ × 1.6″ (122 × 64 × 41 mm)

The NX300 has a combination of traditional controls and a touch sensitive LCD (actually an AMOLED screen). On the top of the camera is a fairly familiar control dial with positions for the usual PASM modes (program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual). There’s also a fully auto mode which tries to optimize the camera settings for the scene being shot and is the mode to pick for quick “snapshots”. Smart Mode is also an automatic mode, but in smart mode you tell the camera the type of scene you are shooting (e.g. Macro, Landscape, Sunset, Fireworks etc.). Smart mode also allows you to shoot sweep panoramas and has a “best face” option which shoots multiple images of a group of people and allows you to chose the best faces from those images, which it then stitches together to make a single “best shot.” This is great if one or more people in the group blink, since you can simply select the best shot in which each person’s eyes are open!

There’s also an “i” lens priority mode which is sort of an auto mode which allows you to adjust the lens aperture via the focus ring after depressing the “i” button on the lens, to create from “sharpen” to “defocus” via a slider. These terms relate to depth of field, not image sharpness. Actually all this appears to do is to use smaller apertures the more you move the slider to the “sharpen” end of the scale so it’s nothing you can’t do in aperture priority mode. Maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t quite see the point…

The top of the camera also has the shutter release surrounded by the on/off switch and a vertical scroll wheel used to zoom in and out on a displayed image during playback and change values in shooting mode. The video start/stop button is angled back and is directly below the mode dial. It’s the button with a red dot in the center (see above image).

Also on the dial is a “WiFi” position which allows you to chose for a number of WiFi related options such as remote shutter release, sending images to a smartphone, automatically backing up images to a smartphone, sending photos via email, uploading images to an image sharing website and sending images to a WiFi direct printer. There’s also a “direct link” button on the top of the camera that can be programmed to directly access one of the WiFi functions (AutoShare, MobileLink, Remote Viewfinder, Auto Backup, Email, SNS & Cloud, AllShare Play).

Most of the rear of the camera is taken up by the 3.31" AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) screen which tilts up by 90 degrees and down by 45 degrees to make low and high angle shooting easier. AMOLED vs LCD is a complex question. AMOLED displays have a wider color gamut and consume less power as well as having higher intrinsic contrast. On the other hand LCDs can be easier to read in bright sunlight. In general there’s no clear “winner.” The NX300 display is excellent, sharp with bright colors. It can be a little tricky to read in direct bright sunlight, but so can many LCD screens.

Also on the back of the NX300 are a set of control buttons for functions such as exposure compensation setting, menu recall, playback, image delete and one button that brings up the Smart Panel which allows easy access to several different camera parameters which can be selected and changed either via the touch screen or via the direction buttons and scroll wheel.

The 4 direction buttons also double as direct access buttons for selection of ISO, AF mode, screen display information and shooting mode (single shot, continuous, timer etc).

In general there are usually several ways in which to change a camera parameter. Pretty much everything can be done either entirely using the touch screen, or entirely via buttons and scroll wheels – and often via a combination of both!

In addition, Samsung “i-function” lenses allow change of aperture, shutter speed, white balance and ISO setting by pressing the “i” button on the lens and rotating the focusing ring.

The NX300 has no built in flash, but it does have a hotshoe and a very tiny hotshoe mounting flash (the SEF-8A) is supplied with the camera. The Guide Number (GN) is around 8m (ISO 100), so it’s comparable to the built in flash on most small DSLRs.

The NX300 uses a BP1130 Li-ion battery which is recharged in the camera via the USB connection. No separate battery charger is provided, though 3rd party battery chargers for the BP1130 are available.

Though the NX300 does not have any built in GPS function, using autoshare via WiFi enables images to be automatically backed up on your WiFi device and tagged with GPS data from the device (Smartphone, Tablet, or other).

Images can be saved as both JPEG and/or RAW files and the NX300 ships with a version of Lightroom 4.0 for conversion of the RAW files. Lightroom is a very useful program, worth about $100. The current version is Lightroom 5, but Lightroom 4 is a good start. One thing to note though is that Lightroom 4.o will not run on a Windows XP (or earlier) system, so unless you have Vista, Windows 7 (SP1) or Windows 8, you won’t be able to run it. The Mac version requires Mac OS X v10.6.8, v10.7, or v10.8. If you don’t have a compatible OS, you’ll have to do the RAW conversion some other way. If your image editor/converter doesn’t support the NX300 file format you can, for example, convert the files to DNG using the free Adobe Camera Raw and DNG Converter, then use a DNG compatible image editor.

Samsung NX300 Performance


Samsung NX 300. 100% crops from images shot at ISO 3200 to ISO 25600

Image noise is very low from ISO 100-800 and only slightly higher at ISO 1600. ISO 3200 is still very good as can be seen in the 100% crop above. At ISO 6400 there is some evident “granularity” to the image which gets significantly more noticeable at ISO 12800 along with increased chrominance noise. At ISO 25600 the image starts to fall apart when looked at closely, with smearing of detail and color “blotches” in areas of uniform color. However even at ISO 25600 the image is fine when viewed at a small size, such as on a webpage or in a 4×6″ print. Overall I’d say noise performance is excellent and comparable to a camera like the EOS 70D.


Exposure and dynamic range were good as shown by this image, shot at ISO 12800.
Shadow detail is captured and highlights are not blown out

Sensor resolution is excellent, as you would expect from a 20MP sensor. While I didn’t do any quantitative testing of dynamic range it looked to me to be comparable to that that of cameras like the EOS 7D and 70D.


NX300 with 18-55/3.5-5.6 OIS lens, 18mm f3.5. 100% crop from image center showing excellent resolution

The NX300 I tested was supplied with the 18-55/3.5-5.6 OIS kit lens. At 18mm the center of the frame was very sharp, even wide open at f3.5. Stopping down really didn’t show any significant improvement in image sharpness. The corners of the image were a little soft wide open. At f8 they were pretty good and sharpness peaked in the corners at f11. At the 55mm end of the zoom range both the center and corners of the image peaked in sharpness at f11. Wide open, the center was slightly soft and slightly low in contrast, though still better than the corners,

Chromatic aberration was well controlled. Slight color fringing was observable at the edges of the frame at 18mm and 55mm, but the fringes were small and unlikely to be of concern. They can be digitally corrected if desired.

There’s noticeable barrel distortion at 18mm which pretty much disappears by 28mm and then as you zoom to 55mm mild pincushion distortion appears. Again, digital correction is reasonably effective and easy to apply in most image editors.

Image stabilization was around 2 stops. By current standards this isn’t exceptional performance, but it’s still a useful aid when handholding the camera at slower shutter speeds.

WiFi connection was extremely easy, as least as far as connecting to my Android powered Galaxy 4 Media Player. All that was required was to load the Samsung App on my Android device, select WiFi on the camera and the rest was automatic. Significantly more simple than a number of other WiFi enabled camera’s I’ve used. The NX300 also has NFC (Near Field Communication) which I was unable to test because I don’t have any other NFC enabled devices.

Video capability was up the the standard you’d expect from a camera in this class, with 1080HD (1920×1080) resolution at either 60fps or 30fps. 24fps is also available, but only at a resolution of 1920 × 810. This may be because 24fps is meant to give a “cinematic” look and 1920×810 simulates widescreen movies with a 2.35:1 format ratio. The sound from the internal stereo microphones was OK but for better quality and less camera noise you’d need an external microphone and that means a mic mounted in the hotshoe like the Samsung ED-EM10. Autofocus isn’t the absolute fastest in class but is usually pretty accurate with occasional hunting if the subject distance changes rapidly or unexpectedly.

Conclusions


The Samsung NX300 and 18-55 OIS lens are available in black or white.
The body is also available in brown with a black kit lens

The samsung_nx300_18-55 is a well thought out and well executed mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC). Performance is certainly on a par with APS-C cameras from more well known makers like Nikon, Canon and Sony. The user interface is well designed and the WiFi connectivity is excellent and easy to implement. An EVF, or even the option of a hotshoe mounted ECF would have been nice, but many users will be quite happy with the lilting touch sensitive AMOLED screen, even if some squinting in bright sunlight is required.

Any downsides? Well, maybe a couple. As yet Samsung don’t have a huge selection of NX lenses, and 3rd party lens makers like Sigma and Tamron aren’t making lenses with the NX mount. Their longest current lens is a 50-200mm F4.0-5.6 ED OIS II for example and the shortest focal length of any lens is 18mm. However they do have some interesting lenses (30/2 pancake, an 85/1.4 and a 45/1.8 2D/3D lens for example), so for some users, the lens selection may be enough – and I’m sure more lenses will be introduced.

Another possible “downside” for a MILC is image stabilization in the lens rather than in the body. Currently only 3 NX lenses are stabilized (OIS), whereas with body based stabilization all lenses are stabilized. This is also something to consider if you want to mount older manual focus lenses from other systems on the NX300 via 3rd party adapters.

However taken overall, for the photographer with modest lens requirements (e.g. the 18-200 OIS zoom ) or for someone who wants a small MILC for street work (maybe using the 30/2), the NX300 is an attractive camera, especially if WiFi and image sharing is something that’s important – and it is for many photographers moving from a Smartphone to a “real” camera!

Alternatives

There’s no shortage of MILCs in the under $700 price range. For example there’s the olympus_E-PL5. It has a 4/3 sensor with image stabilization built into the body, WiFi and a touch screen LCD. With a larger APS-C sensor there’s the sony_nex5-kit1. There’s no WiFi though and it has image stabilization in the lens.

samsung_nx300_18-55.

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    • Samsung does like a promising entrant to the market and if they price their product right, the cameras would sell.

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    • The NX300 can be found right now, with the 20-50 kit lens, for just under $500 if you shop around among the reputable vendors. That's a pretty good price I think, and certainly competitive in its segment of the MILC marketplace.

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    • Good review. I was very happy with my Samsung NX 200 as my first entry into the mirrorless realm. The RAW image files were really excellent quality. The build was very decent too. The main reason I changed to Sony NEX when I upgraded was to obtain focus peaking since I use many older prime lenses with adapters (and older eyes). The sweep pano mode was attractive as well.  Still, Samsung makes a nice camera for the money. The shape of the NX300 looks better to grip than NX200 was as well.

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