Samsung NX300 review

The Samsung NX300 is a speedy mirrorless compact that captures excellent images and offers well-executed integrated Wi-Fi for easy online photo sharing.
Photo of Samsung NX300

The Samsung NX300 ($799.99 list with 18-55mm lens) is the latest midrange entry in Samsung’s mirrorless camera line. Its 20-megapixel APS-C image sensor is the same size found in consumer D-SLRs, and its image quality and performance are among the best in its class. When you add in well-executed Wi-Fi support and a tilting OLED display you have a camera that earns our Editors’ Choice award for compact interchangeable lens cameras, replacing the recently discontinued Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5.

Design and Features
Samsung has joined the recent retro-design trend with the NX300; its chrome top and bottom plates are accented by a leatherette in black, white, or brown. If you choose a black or white body the included 18-55mm kit lens will match, but you’ll have to live with a black lens and a brown body if you go with that kit. There are two kits available; we reviewed the camera bundled with the optically stabilized 18-55mm NX Standard Zoom, but you can opt to pair it with the smaller, non-stabilized 20-50mm f/3.5-5.6 ED II NX for $750.

The NX300 measures 2.5 by 4.8 by 1.6 inches and weighs 11.5 ounces without a lens. It’s similar in size and shape to the APS-C-sensor Sony Alpha NEX-5R (2.4 by 4.4 by 1.6 inches, 9.7 ounces). Both the NX300 and NEX-5R lack a built-in flash, but a small external unit is included with both. The 5R has one advantage over the Samsung—it works with Sony’s excellent OLED FDAEV1S Electronic Viewfinder for eye-level shooting. NX300 users are restricted to the rear display for image framing and review.

Even though the large OLED display is hinged, if the sun hits it directly, it’s very difficult to see what’s going on. You can alter the position of the display to alleviate this, and in normal conditions the display is excellent, packing a 768k-dot resolution into its 3.3-inch widescreen frame. It’s also touch sensitive, and extremely responsive; giving you direct access to shooting controls, allowing you to change the point of focus, and letting you swipe through images when reviewing your shots. It’s not quite as sharp as the 921k-dot LCD on the Sony Alpha NEX-6, however.

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The NEX-6 also includes a built-in viewfinder and flash; it’s more expensive than the NX300, but if you aren’t willing to live without an eye-level finder it’s an excellent choice among the current slate of compact interchangeable lens cameras. If you want to stay within the NX system and demand an eye-level viewfinder the NX20 is your only option among current models; just be aware that its LCD finder isn’t as impressive as those found in Sony NEX cameras.

In addition to the touch interface, the NX300 gives you a number of physical controls with which to adjust settings. Up top you’ll find the a power switch that surrounds the shutter release, a mode dial, a control wheel, and the Direct Link Wi-Fi button. Other controls on the rear include buttons to adjust exposure compentation, set the drive mode and self-timer, change the autofocus mode, and adjust the ISO. There’s also an Fn button that brings up an overlay menu that gives you touch control over additional settings, including white balance, metering, and the autofocus area.

If you’re using the included kit lens or another lens with Samsung’s iFn button on the barrel you’ll have one more way to adjust settings when shooting. Pressing that button allows you to adjust aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, and white balance—all using the lens’s manual focus ring. If you opt to focus manually this still works, you just won’t be able to focus and adjust settings simultaneously. Fans of manual focus, or those who use the NX series as a platform for vintage lenses will be happy to know that Samsung has added focus peaking as an aid to this model. When you use a lens in manual focus mode the center of the frame is magnified and in-focus edges are highlighted in white. Sony has long employed this as a manual focus aid in its NEX series, and Ricoh implemented a similar function in the unique GXR lens module system.

Samsung has been a class leader in Wi-Fi implementation, going as far as bringing the Android-powered Galaxy Camera to market with always-on 4G connectivity. The NX300 isn’t quite as ambitious, but it does support dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi. You can use it along with the free Samsung Smart Camera app for iOS and Android to transfer photos from the camera to your phone or tablet, or to use your device as a remote viewfinder that can adjust settings and fire the NX300′s shutter. The camera creates a Wi-Fi hotspot that your phone or tablet connects to in order to share photos, and if your phone supports NFC, the pairing process is simplified.

You can also connect the NX300 directly to your own Wi-Fi network or a hotspot and upload photos and video clips to Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, and SkyDrive, or share them via email. Typing in passwords and addresses on the large touch-screen display is easy. To access the wireless features turn the Mode dial to Wi-Fi, or tap the Direct Link button—it can be customized to take you directly to your most-used method of sharing. Samsung’s Wi-Fi has been traditionally easy to use and configure—you don’t have to plug the NX300 into a computer to get cloud sharing setup as you do with the Canon EOS 6D D-SLR. There are other mirrorless cameras on the market with Wi-Fi; Sony has its NEX-5R and NEX-6, and Panasonic has announced, but not yet released, the Lumix GF6 and G6.

The NX300 is the first camera to support the 45mm f/1.8 2D/3D lens. This fast prime is identical to the 45mm f/1.8, but adds support for 3D photo and video via a dual internal shutter system. The NX lens system is fairly well rounded, and includes two optics that have won our Editors’ Choice award—the compact 30mm NX Pancake and the wide-angle 12-24mm f/4-5.6 ED zoom.

Performance and Conclusions
The NX300 is a speedy camera. It starts and shoots in just about 1.1 seconds, records a mere 0.1-second shutter lag, and can rattle off a burst of 16 JPG shots at 7.2 frames per second. It focuses in very dim light in about 1.4 seconds, and if you shoot Raw or Raw+JPG the 7fps bursts are limited to 5 shots. The Panasonic G5 is a bit slower to start and shoot—it takes about 1.8 seconds and notches a 0.2-second shutter lag, but focuses in about 0.8-second in dim light. Its burst shooting rate is slower at about 5 frames per second, but it can keep that pace for about 33 JPG or 9 Raw shots.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the 18-55mm kit lens. It’s one of the better  included lenses I’ve tested. At 18mm f/3.5 it records 2,095 lines per picture height using our center-weighted testing method, better than the 1,800 lines required for a sharp image. The edges at that setting aren’t terrible—1,536 lines. If you’re after images that are sharp from edge to edge, stopping the lens down to f/8 delivers an average score of 2,360 lines with edges that are better than 1,900 lines. The lens does introduce some barrel distortion at 18mm, but if you shoot JPG photos the NX300 will automatically correct it. Shooting Raw shows that the actual distortion is 2.7 percent, which will be noticeable in the field; it causes straight lines to curve outwards. Raw shooters can correct for this using a slider tool in Photoshop Lightroom, a $150 software package that is included with the camera.

Zooming to 35mm reduces the maximum aperture to f/4.5, and drops overall sharpness to 1,857 lines. The edges are a bit more even with the rest of the frame at that setting, notching 1,648 lines; stopping down to f/8 improves overall sharpness to 2,306 lines and the edges to 1,916. Distortion is more controlled here, showing a modest 1.5 percent of the pincushion variety, which makes lines appear to curve in rather than out. At the maximum 55mm f/5.6 focal length the lens stays sharp at 1,971 lines, with edges at a respectable 1,775 lines. Stopping down to f/8 improves the score to 2,241 lines with an impressive score of 2,000 lines at the edges. Pincushion distortion is a bit more noticeable here at 2 percent.

The NX300 keeps noise under control through ISO 3200. At ISO 6400 it only slightly exceeds our 1.5 percent noise threshold, recording photos that are 1.7 percent noise. It’s not the best camera that we’ve seen, but it’s a solid performer. I compared its photos side-by-side with those from the Sony Alpha NEX-6, which controls noise through ISO 6400—one f-stop better than the NX300. Image detail is actually pretty close, with the NEX-6 owning only a slight advantage through 6400. If you shoot Raw you’ll be able to control noise to your liking via the included Lightroom software. Once again, the NEX-6 has a slight advantage; its Raw files show a bit more detail at ISO 6400, and it’s a coin toss as to which camera shows more noise. At the absurdly high setting of ISO 12800 the NX300 Raw files show a bit more color noise than the NEX-6, which is still exhibiting grainy luminance noise. If you’re shooting at 6400 or below don’t fret—any real-world advantage that the NEX-6 enjoys is negated by its 16-megapixel resolution, but be prepared to work with images shot at ISO 12800 or 25600 in Lightroom if you’re concerned about getting the most quality you can out of the camera prior to printing. Bumping the default Color Noise Reduction setting of 25 to a 45 (out of 100) alleviates this issue, without noticeably degrading the image. In short, you can push the ISO on the NX300 when needed and get results that are only slightly lagging behind the NEX-6.

Video is recorded in MP4 format at up to 1080p60 quality. You can also capture at 1080p30, 810p24, 720p60, 720p30, 480p30, and 240p30. Video is extremely sharp, with accurate colors, and the NX300 is quick to refocus when recording. The 60p frame rate keeps motion smooth, helpful for capturing action. The camera doesn’t pick up the noise of the lens focusing, but if you want to get better sound quality than the integrated stereo microphone can capture you’ll need to use Samsung’s $130 EM10 NX microphone; a third-party mic isn’t an option since there’s no standard analog input. You do get a micro HDMI port to connect to an HDTV and a micro USB port for charging and computer connectivity; there’s no dedicated battery charger included, so you’ll have to plug the NX300 into the wall to recharge the battery. SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported.

The Samsung NX300 is an impressive mirrorless camera. It’s the best NX body that we’ve tested to date, and is supported by a lens system with some impressively sharp optics. Built-in Wi-Fi allows you to get your images on the Internet right after you’ve shot them, and serious shutterbugs can tinker with Raw files using the included Adobe Lightroom software to perfect each and every shot. It’s the only NX camera that’s compatible with the 45mm 2D/3D lens, which will allow you to create your own memories to watch on a 3D HDTV. The NX300 is capable of impressive burst shooting, focuses quickly, and its images run neck and neck with one of the best high-ISO mirrorless cameras that we’ve tested, the Sony NEX-6. If you feel lost without the ability to put the camera up to your eye to take a shot, the NX300 is simply not the right camera for you—there’s no EVF and no way to add an external one. As long as you’re happy using the rear display to compose photos, the NX300 is a winner.

Specifications
Dimensions 2.5 x 4.8 x 1.6 inches
Interface Ports micro USB, micro HDMI
Megapixels 20 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.14 seconds
LCD dots 768000
LCD size 3.3 inches
Lines Per Picture Height 2095
Touch Screen Yes
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 25600
Type Compact Interchangeable Lens
Sensor Type CMOS
Optical Zoom 3 x
Boot time 1.1 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 27 mm
Weight 11.5 oz
Lens Mount Samsung NX
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
LCD Aspect Ratio 16
Image Stabilization In-Lens
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 82.5 mm
Shutter Lag 0.1 seconds
Sensor Size 23.5 x 15.7 (APS-C) mm
GPS No
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
The Samsung NX300 is a speedy mirrorless compact that captures excellent images and offers well-executed integrated Wi-Fi for easy online photo sharing.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc