Samsung has said that it's going to put more of a focus on its interchangeable lens cameras, and the company has just shown us its refreshed NX series: the DSLR-like NX20, the rangefinder-styled NX210, and the diminutive NX1000. All three of the cameras now feature 8fps continuous shooting and a maximum ISO of 12,800, and they've also been upgraded with Wi-Fi "Smart Camera" connectivity for uploading to Facebook, YouTube, and others straight from the device. Additionally, they all share the same Samsung-developed and Samsung-built 20.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor. That sensor is similar to what you'd see in a prosumer DSLR or Sony's NEX series of cameras, and the latter is the Samsung NX series' primary competition — both are trying to present compelling arguments to customers who are looking for more than a smartphone camera (something that's now replacing many point-and-shoots) and something that's less expensive, hefty, and complicated than a DSLR. Read on for our in-depth impressions of the $1,099.99 NX20, $899.99 NX210, and $699.99 NX1000, all of which are available now in the US with kit lenses, other than the NX1000, which will come out next month.
Note: the last photos in each sample picture gallery show off ISO samples up to 12,800.
We'll start off with the top of the line NX20, a camera that, at first blush, looks like some sort of Samsung DSLR. At $1,099.99 with a 18-55mm kit lens it's priced as such, but once you hold it in your hand you'll see that there's a big difference: the NX20 is smaller and lighter in every way than a traditional DSLR, no doubt thanks to the exclusion of a mirror and optical viewfinder. If you've used its predecessors, the NX11 and NX10, you'll be familiar with what's on offer here. The body itself includes a built-in SVGA electronic viewfinder, built-in flash, and a 614,000 dot AMOLED display. The latter is now articulating, which is always helpful for pulling off certain shots, and Samsung says that it has removed the gap between the display itself and the screen's surface, improving outdoor readability.
In practice, the NX20 was quite comfortable to use. While it's smaller than a DSLR, it isn't so much so that you lose valuable hand real estate to hold onto the camera with. This is particularly the case with many of the extremely lightweight NX mount lenses that Samsung offers, though the superb, $1,000 85mm f/1.4 adds enough weight to make camera handling a bit difficult. The NX20, like the rest of the NX series, uses Samsung's i-Function control scheme, which lets you control settings using an adjustment ring on the lens itself. The system is activated by clicking a button on the lens (conveniently placed if you hold the camera properly), and then the parameter that it changes depends on what mode you're in. If you're not a fan of the method — I think it works just fine — there's also a fairly standard rotation dial / directional pad on the back of the camera.
The control methods are all "enhanced" in a way because you can easily see what's being changed in the NX20's electronic viewfinder (EVF), allowing you to keep the camera up to your eye and change settings without a problem. The EVF, like Sony's NEX series and others, has a visual level overlay that shows if you're lopsided or tilted up or down — a nice little trick that optical viewfinders can't keep up with. Unfortunately, the EVF doesn't offer excellent visual quality. Sure, there's nothing wrong with it — it's only a notch or so below the NEX-7's viewfinder — but the view it offers just isn't quite right. I'm still waiting for an EVF that doesn't seem like it blocks me off from the action — until then I'll stick with an optical viewfinder. With the NX20 I found myself using the camera's pleasant AMOLED rear display more often. Thankfully, it's quite readable in direct sunlight.
Be sure to check the gallery above for a wide variety of photos taken with the NX20. Baseball fans out there will recognize the backdrop as Citi Field — Samsung thought the home of the Mets would provide a suitable playing ground to test the NX series on. As for shooting, autofocus was quick, and shutter lag was virtually non-existent (we're told it's down to 40ms). Samsung has upped the maximum ISO across the entire range to 12,800, and as you'd expect, you'd do well to avoid pushing it up to that limit unless you're a fan of extremely noisy photos. Things do look pretty good at ISO 1,600 and 3,200, however. The NX20 now offers a top shutter speed of 1/8000, though we're told that it's merely a digital shutter past 1/4000. Overall, there isn't too much to complain about on the NX20 other than its price. At $1,099.99 with a 18-55mm, f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, Samsung doesn't provide too compelling of a reason for consumers to pick it up instead of a true DSLR like the Nikon D5100 for $250 less. Yes, it's smaller and lighter, but with anything other than a pancake lens it still takes up too much space to make much of a difference.
The middle child, called the NX210, is much the same as its predecessor, the NX200, and, as such, you'd do well to check our hands-on from last year. I found the camera's ergonomics to be a bit disappointing — while it looks sleek, the tradeoff is that it's a bit sharp — especially where the grip ends and the bottom of the camera begins. The mode dial was also a bit mushy, and it was difficult to get enough leverage to rotate it with just one hand. However, most of this is unchanged from the NX200, so if you've used that camera and don't have a problem with the ergonomics, you'll be happy with the NX210.
So, what is new on the NX210? Well, it gets bumped up to 8fps continuous shooting, and like the rest of the refreshed NX series it offers 12,800 ISO. The major difference, however, are the new Wi-Fi "Smart Camera" features — something that's also been introduced across the board on the NX series. With this you can use AllShare to stream pictures and video from the camera to a Samsung TV, and there's also a remote viewing app for Android that lets you use your phone or tablet's display to see what the camera's seeing. Lastly, there are options to upload photos and videos to Facebook, SkyDrive, YouTube, and Picasa, or send them in an email straight from the camera. Check below for some sample photos taken on the NX210, which is available now in the US for $899.99 with a 15-55mm kit lens.
Last up is the NX1000, which takes a few cost-cutting measures to try and give Samsung a competitively-priced interchangeable-lens option. Unlike its brothers, it's made of plastic, and it comes with a cheaper 20-50mm, f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. It also has a slightly disappointing VGA-resolution, 3-inch LCD instead of the nicer AMOLEDs found on the NX20 and NX210. If you don't mind those downgrades, however, it does keep most of what matters — the same large, 20.3-megapixel sensor, 8fps continuous shooting, and 12,800 ISO. Also, thanks to its plastic construction, it's smaller than the NX210. Thanks to its more standard grip design, I also found it more comfortable to hold. Unfortunately, the NX1000 is going up against the recently-announced Sony NEX-F3, which has a built-in flash, an articulating screen, a better lens selection — and a $599.99 price tag. The NX1000 will come in white, black, and pink (with a color-matched lens and hotshoe-mountable flash) this June for $699.99.