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Samsung NX100 Overview

by Dan Havlik, Zig Weidelich, Shawn Barnett, and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 03/18/2011

Even casual observers of the digital camera market have to be surprised by the flood of compact system camera (CSC or mirrorless) models that have hit stores in the past year. One of the most recent CSC bodies is the 14.6-megapixel Samsung NX100, a handsome, slim model that uses an APS-C size CMOS image sensor. While that image sensor is about the size of imaging chips in most digital SLRs, the NX100's camera body is decidedly smaller than Samsung's other two entries in the CSC category: the DSLR-like NX5 and NX10 from last year.

The design of the Samsung NX100, which ships with a small 20-50mm (f/3.5-5.6) lens, is more akin to diminutive compact system cameras such as Olympus' PEN-series models, and the Panasonic Lumix GF1 and GF2, which use smaller Micro Four Thirds sensors. Interestingly, the tiniest SLR on the market right now is Sony's petite NEX-5 which, like the NX100, uses an APS-C size sensor.

But while it fits into the general CSC category, the Samsung NX100 is distinctly its own camera. For one, though it vaguely resembles rangefinder-style models such as the Olympus PENs and the Panasonic GFs, its curving polycarbonate body has a different look and feel than its competitors. Less stylishly retro, perhaps, but classic (and classy) in its own right.

Of course, there's a whole lot more to a digital camera than its body. As mentioned already, the Samsung NX100 is based around a 14.6 MP CMOS sensor like its siblings the NX5 and NX10. It also retains the 3-inch, VGA-resolution AMOLED display on back like that of the NX10. To reduce its size, the NX100 ditches the built-in electronic viewfinder of the NX5 and NX10. Instead, it adopts an optional hotshoe-mounted electronic viewfinder that mates into an accessory port just below the shoe -- an innovation pioneered by the Panasonic Lumix GF1, and later mimicked by the Olympus E-P2 and subsequent models, making Samsung the latest to join the party.

Also intriguing is the i-Function feature on the NX100's 20-50mm f/3.5-5.6 ED kit lens, which lets you quickly change important settings such as White Balance, ISO, and exposure with the touch of a button on the lens barrel. The camera offers a range of shooting modes including Smart Auto, Lens Priority, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Scene, and Movie, with the latter capturing H.264 clips at up to 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) resolution. On the downside, the camera has no built-in flash, though an optional external flash can be mounted on the hotshoe.

Scene modes include Beauty shot, Children, Close Up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Night, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Sound Picture. Lens Priority mode automatically selects scene modes and chooses camera settings based on the lens type attached -- for example, a telephoto lens might prompt higher ISO sensitivity and shutter speeds automatically to help prevent blur from camera shake.

Data is stored on Secure Digital cards, including SDHC types, with a maximum capacity of 32GB supported. Battery life is rated at 420 shots or 210 minutes of playback, to Samsung's testing standards. When recording movies, battery life is rated at 130 minutes. Body dimensions are 120.5 x 71 x 34.5mm, and the Samsung NX100 weighs 282g body only.

The Samsung NX100 has a street price of about US$499.99 which includes the 20-50mm kit lens.

 

Samsung NX100 User Report

by Dan Havlik

Even if you've seen other compact system cameras before, the Samsung NX100 may make you go "wow." That's just what happened when I pulled the camera out at a bar recently and placed it on the counter. "Wow!' a friend of mine exclaimed as she reached over to touch the silver metallic top of the NX100. "It's so...it's so..." And then the words escaped her. That's an understandable response since the Samsung NX100 doesn't really look like much else on the market right now. It doesn't have the retro rangefinder style of the Olympus PEN cameras, nor does it sport the utilitarian edginess of Panasonic's LUMIX GF models. It also looks a lot different from the diminutive Sony NEX-5, which is one of the strangest looking models we've seen. The Samsung NX100 is not just unique in its design, it also offers a host of shooting features and options exclusive to Samsung's latest imaging products. Let's take a look in the User's Report below.

Look and feel. According to Samsung's press release for the NX100, the design of the camera was "inspired by the simple shape of dew forming on a leaf, which can been seen on the camera's shutter button and curved body." I have no idea what this means exactly but it sounds nice and the Samsung NX100 is a very nice camera to look at and shoot with. It's available in black or brown, both of which retain the silver top plate, giving the Samsung NX100 a subtle duo-tone look.

The slightly curving body is functional as well as aesthetically pleasing, giving you a place to grip the camera in lieu of an actual handgrip. While a rubberized grip may have ruined the smooth polycarbonate surface of the camera, it would have made it easier to hold. This is definitely a camera you'll want to keep a firm grip on at all times even if you're wearing the neckstrap. It's a bit slick but not unwieldy.

The dimensions of the Samsung NX100, 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 inches (121 x 71 x 35mm), are about on par with the Olympus EP-2, but since it's not made of stainless steel like that model, it's quite a bit lighter at 9.9 ounces (282 grams). In terms of direct competitor in design and build, I'd match it against the Olympus EPL-2, a lower priced PEN camera that has a polycarbonate build.

Though the E-PL2 is an easier camera to hold thanks to its more pronounced rubber handgrip, I liked the clean look and feel of the slightly larger Samsung NX100 better, though I'm not exactly sure why. It must be all those smooth curving lines in the NX100 that brings out the minimalist in me. Though that sleek, stripped down look is more pronounced because, as mentioned already, the camera has no built-in flash. Add an external flash to the Samsung NX100's hotshoe and everything changes.

Controls. The controls on the Samsung NX100 continue with the camera's Spartan but functional design. The first thing that draws your attention, as well it should, is the generously sized silver shutter button that's positioned on the right curving shoulder of the camera. I have big hands and would've liked the button to be a scooch further towards the lens so my forefinger could extend more fully, but that's a minor quibble. Those with smaller hands will probably be fine with the shutter being right where it is.

Also on the silver top panel is the large and easy-to-read mode dial. Half of the knurled dial is inset in the top panel, letting you make adjustments on it with your thumb. The Samsung NX100's mode dial includes settings for Smart Auto, Lens Priority, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Scene, and Movie. Next to the mode dial is a small silver jog dial that lets you adjust shutter speed in some shooting modes and the frame size when selecting a focus area manually. In Playback mode, it lets you zoom in on images to inspect detail or pull back to view your shots in a grid of thumbnails.

Most of the Samsung NX100's controls are on the rear of the camera including small buttons for Playback, Delete, Menu and all the various top-line functions. The circular navigation wheel on back gives you access to other important features such as AF-MF, WB, ISO, and the Self-timer and Continuous mode. While this set-up is pretty standard, there are no conspicuously absent controls, unlike some competing models such as the Sony NEX-5 and NEX-3, which force you to dive into menus to change ISO.

The Samsung NX100's 3-inch, VGA-resolution AMOLED is similar to the screens on the NX5 and NX10 and its fairly decent if not particularly sharp. To make the NX100 smaller than its DSLR-like stablemates, Samsung has ditched the built-in electronic viewfinder so you're dependent on the AMOLED display to compose your shots. There is an optional hotshoe-mounted electronic viewfinder for the Samsung NX100 that mates into an accessory port just below the shoe but that costs $199 extra and makes the camera larger.

A hinged plastic port door on the left covers the AV Out/USB, remote, DC-IN, and HDMI ports, and just behind it is a Custom White Balance button, quite oddly placed. Pressing this button brings up a dialog to set Custom White Balance. Pressing the shutter button takes a reading and sets the white balance to the custom setting.

And finally, the one other control you'll be accessing a lot isn't even on the Samsung NX100 itself; it's on the 20-50mm kit lens that comes with the camera. Called i-Function, the button resides on the lens barrel and lets you quickly change important settings such as White Balance, ISO, and exposure.

Sensor. The Samsung NX100 is based around an APS-C size, 14.6-megapixel CMOS image sensor we suspect is the same one used in the NX5 and NX10. Maximum image resolution is 4,592 x 3,056 pixels and while for most compact cameras that high resolution would likely lead to poor image quality in low light, the DSLR-size sensor in the NX100 should be able to keep noise levels down at high ISOs. (More about our test results later.)

Lens. The kit lens that ships with the Samsung NX100 is a 20-50mm f/3.5-5.6 ED with the aforementioned i-Function button on the barrel that lets you quickly change basic camera settings. Otherwise, the design of this relatively compact lens is similar to the kit lens on the Olympus PEN models in that it you can retract and lock it down via a switch on the barrel, which helps make it smaller for transport.

At first only the 20-50mm lens was available for the Samsung NX100, but recently others started shipping a including a small and light 20mm Pancake lens, a 60mm Macro lens, and a 18-200mm Super Zoom lens. Samsung says it will expand the line-up further in the second half of this year with three more lens introductions for the NX100.

Modes. The Samsung NX100 is chock full of specialty modes and features, some familiar and some new and different. Available on the mode dial are Smart Auto, Lens Priority, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Scene, and Movie, with the latter capturing H.264 clips at up to 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) resolution. Lens Priority mode is something we haven't exactly seen before. It automatically selects scene modes and chooses camera settings based on the lens type attached -- for example, a telephoto lens might prompt higher ISO sensitivity and shutter speeds automatically to help prevent blur from camera shake. In the Scene Mode menu accessible via the mode dial, you can choose between Beauty shot, Children, Close Up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Night, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Sound Picture.

Filters and Fixes. One thing I really enjoyed about shooting with the Samsung NX100 is its many user-friendly correction and enhancement tools. You can call up the various filters and fixes by hitting the Function (Fn) button on the back of the camera while in Playback mode, which then presents a menu of options at the bottom of the screen. Choices include Red-eye fix, Backlight correction, Photo Style Selector (more about this later), Resize, Rotate, Face Retouch, and Smart Filter (more about this later too).

The process of running your images through these editing tools with the Samsung NX100 is about as simple and clear as I've seen on a consumer camera, giving you the effect of the enhancements in real time on the display and then automatically keeping the original and saving the edited image as a separate file on the memory card. Meanwhile, when you hit the Samsung NX100's Function button in shooting mode, you can adjust a range of settings as well including Photo Size, Quality, AF Area, Metering, Smart Range, Optical Image Stabilization, and Picture Wizard. Overall, I found Samsung's menu system to be one of the easiest I've tried for making quick and often robust changes to my images. I'll discuss this more in the Shooting section below.

Storage and battery. The Samsung NX100 stores data on Secure Digital cards, including SDHC types, with a maximum capacity of 32GB supported. The Samsung NX100 draws its power from a proprietary rechargeable BP1310 battery. Battery life is rated at 420 shots or 210 minutes of playback, to Samsung's testing standards. When recording movies, battery life is rated at 130 minutes.

Connectivity. For viewing images and movies on the latest high-def displays, the Samsung NX100 includes HDMI high-definition video output, plus a standard AV Out/USB port. There's also an accessory port for the optional electronic viewfinder (mentioned earlier) and GPS module (GPS10, $199) for geo-tagging your images.

 

Shooting with the Samsung NX100

by Dan Havlik

Though I've enjoyed shooting with the recent crop of compact system cameras, I haven't found one yet that gives me the combination of speed and image quality I get with even an entry-level DSLR. And while the stylish and relatively compact Samsung NX100 ($499), which boasts a DSLR-size APS-C 14.2MP CMOS sensor, came close to the DSLR experience for me during a month of testing, it's a different animal altogether; as well it should be.

CSC cameras such as the Samsung NX100, Olympus PEN cameras, Panasonic LUMIX GF series, and Sony's NEX models have caught on with photographers, in large part because of how much they're unlike DSLRs. Where even consumer-level DSLRs take their cues from imposing, serious professional models such as Canon's celebrated 1D line or Nikon's popular D3 models, CSC cameras harken back to the loose, candid appeal of rangefinders with their discreet rectangular bodies and unobtrusive picture-taking demeanor.

CSCs are also smaller than most DSLRs making them easier to tuck into a bag or backpack for a day of shooting. So what you may give up in autofocus speed and image quality with a CSC camera, you make up in style, attitude, and pure whimsy. These cameras can be a blast to shoot with and the Samsung NX100 was one of the most fun models I've tried yet.

As mentioned earlier in this report, the Samsung NX100 has just the right combination of retro and future styling for me, giving it a classic (and classy) appeal. Though I tested a black version of the camera, I think I prefer the distinctive dark brown option, which is in keeping with the nature theme Samsung's designers said they were going for with this camera.

Street Shooting. Since traditional rangefinder cameras have always appealed to street photographers--I think the term is self-explanatory--I brought the Samsung NX100 along for several recent photo jaunts through New York City. Unfortunately, winter storms pummeled the New York City area just while I was working on this review so my street shooting trips were short and cold.

Dynamic Range. The Samsung NX100 produced images with great color and what looks like good dynamic range, but turns out to be a well-crafted tone curve (see Sunlight section on Exposure tab).

The dimensions of the Samsung NX100, 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 inches (121 x 71 x 35mm) were well suited to my large hands, made even larger by the wool Etre Touchy Gloves--with exposed thumb and forefingers for gadgets--I like to use for winter shooting. As I mentioned earlier in this review, while I appreciated the clean, uninterrupted curved surface of the NX100, it's a bit slick especially in cold weather. Since there's no rubberized handgrip, this is a camera you have to keep a firm hold on at all times. Its polycarbonate body also feels a lot flimsier than the stainless steel Olympus PEN EP-1 and EP-2.

The Samsung NX100's slippery body is offset by the i-Function button on the 20-50mm lens. Though it's not exactly a revolutionary feature, i-Function is a smart one in that it allows you to change key settings without adjusting your hold on the camera. The ability to quickly adjust a range of creative functions is why I think the NX100 will appeal to more advanced photographers compared to competing models which offer a camera-controlled photographic experience on the surface and then ask you to dig through menus to make manual changes.

The Samsung NX100's recessed knurled mode dial was easy to turn with my thumb as I strode down 23rd Street on an overcast, snowy day. As an experiment, I decided to hold the camera at my chest, point it to the crowds of pedestrians coming my way, and just click away inconspicuously to see if I could capture any "happy accidents."

Fast Performer. The NX100's autofocus was faster than average for a CSC camera. Though sometimes the camera had trouble freezing action, I was able to snare this image of a group of dancers in mid-move.

Autofocus Speed. I didn't capture anything too noteworthy using this shoot-from-the-hip method -- lots of backs of heads and off-kilter shots -- but I was pleasantly surprised with how fast the camera could autofocus. Slow contrast detection-based autofocus systems have been the bugaboo for many CSC cameras. In my field testing -- which jibed with Imaging Resource's lab results -- I found the Samsung NX100's AF to be on the fast side of average. Lab test results rated full autofocus shutter lag using Selection AF mode (single AF point) at 0.43 second and Multi AF lag to be 0.44. Not bad.

Cycle times, however, were a bit slow. Single shot was rated at 1.06 seconds per frame in our lab testing with the buffer clear in three seconds. In high-speed continuous mode, the Samsung NX100 could capture 30 images at 30fps but image size dropped down to 1.4MP and it took 8 seconds for the buffer to clear. In full resolution continuous mode, the Samsung NX100 could capture eight large/fine JPEGs at 2.87fps with the buffer clearing in four seconds; in RAW mode, four frames at 2.94 fps with the buffer clearing in a slow 12 seconds.

I played with several of the main settings including the three manual modes -- Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and full Manual (nice!). I also enjoyed the Smart Auto function that lets the Samsung NX100 automatically pick a setting based on the type of scene it detects. Like most cameras with this type of "smart" or "intelligent" mode, results weren't always accurate -- sometimes it would choose landscape for a close-up -- but it was on target about 60 percent of the time. Be forewarned, though: if you keep it in Smart Auto the camera will continue to adjust itself as you carry it, which can drain the battery more rapidly.

Dancing Feet. The Samsung NX100's 720p HD video mode can produce crisp clips even of fast moving action such as this group of performers. Pan too quickly, though, and your footage will get wobbly.

Video and Special Effects. The Samsung NX100's 720p, HD video mode is accessed on the Mode dial, though I wish it could be engaged just by hitting a button on the camera as with some competing cameras. The Mode dial turn takes a little extra time, but it didn't cause me to miss shooting some HD footage of a group of lively street dancers in Madison Square Park who were performing to promote a local gym.

I panned slowly in this clip so the distracting jello effect that comes from recording HD off a CMOS sensor using a "rolling shutter" is minimal. (Rolling shutter is common in cameras that use CMOS sensors to record video but the severity of the effect ranges from model to model.) Pan too quickly with the Samsung NX100 when you're shooting HD and you'll see some seriously wobbly rolling shutter effects that might make you seasick. As with the Samsung NX10, this occurred both in live view and playback of the image clips. Other than that, I found the NX100's HD video clips to be crisp and full of detail. On the downside, there is only a monaural mic built in and no port to add a stereo microphone.

Flat Iron. The NX100's in-camera Autumn effect turned a generic shot of New York's Flat Iron building into a classic-looking photo.

Later, I captured some images of the classic Flatiron Building on the corner 5th Avenue and 23rd Street and while the shots looked, ahem, flat because of the dull overcast light, I ran one through the Autumn filter in the Photo Style Selector in Playback mode and got a very stylish, retro look.

Chelsea Morning. The Samsung NX100's 20-50mm (31-77mm, equivalent) lens was almost wide enough to capture the entire Chelsea Hotel with just enough zoom to zero in on the famous sign.

Further down 23rd Street, I captured stills of the ornate (and infamous) Chelsea Hotel, which has been home to many writers, artists , and rock musicians over the years. When pulled back to 20mm on the kit lens--which converts to 31mm because of the approximately 1.5x magnification of the APS-C sensor--I could capture some but not all of the hotel. Zooming in to 77mm equivalent allowed me to shoot snaps of the hotel's famous sign and New Orleans-style iron lattice work.

Later, I ran some of my images through the Samsung NX100's Smart Filter feature in image playback and got interesting results. Options include Vignetting, Miniature (which simulates the effect of a tilt-shift lens), Fish-Eye, Sketch (which transforms an image into a black-and-white etching), Defog, Halftone Dots (sort of an arty pixelization), and Soft Focus.

Images I captured from the window of my office looking down on the street after a snowstorm were quite dramatic after I ran them through the Miniature filter, making the people and the snow plows look like toys while defocusing the surrounding area.

In Miniature. The NX100's in-camera miniature filter produced a dramatic tilt-shift effect on this snowstorm scene in New York City.

While certainly not as impressive as using a digital SLR with a real tilt-shift lens (which costs an arm and a leg, by the way), the Samsung NX100's Miniature filter was the best approximation of this effect I've seen on a consumer camera.

Image Quality. Overall image quality from the Samsung NX100 was quite good but with some bumps here and there. Let's start with the good points: The color, tone curve, and detail from images shot with the NX100 in good lighting were quite good from a camera in this class.

Even though I shot with the Samsung NX100 on dreary, wintry days, images popped without being oversaturated. I thought the same about the 720p HD video clips I shot despite the heavy incidence of wobbly rolling shutter effects, as mentioned earlier, during aggressive panning.

Low Light. Low light images shot at ISO 3,200 were noisier than we had hoped for in a camera with an APS-C size sensor.

In my testing in low light, image quality was only so-so when shooting at ISO 1,600. Noise levels from the NX100 at ISO 1,600 were only a bit better than what I found from smaller-sensored Micro Four Thirds camera such as the Olympus EP-2 and Panasonic GF-1 when it really should have blown those cameras away because of its APS-C size imaging chip. Indeed, noise levels from the NX100 are actually higher than they are from the Olympus E-PL2. Even ISO 100 shots are very soft in the camera JPEGs, while RAW images at the same setting have a good deal of detail.

Sketch Book. I was able to save this crunchy bar shot by running it through the Samsung NX100's Sketch filter.

Images I shot at ISO 3,200 with the Samsung NX100 were only fair; chroma noise in the shadow areas was much higher than what you'd find with most entry-level DSLRs; while ISO 6,400 shots were pretty bad.

Cat Nip. This was one of the cleaner shots I captured at ISO 3,200. In lower light though, images got noisy. Note the extreme noise suppression that makes everything look like a painting.

Our lab reported much worse results at both ISO 3,200 and 6,400, with the images so riddled with noise they were described as almost "freakish." This is a shame because, as mentioned previously in this review, the Samsung NX100 has no built-in flash so you're dependent on the camera's ability to shoot in low light at high ISOs.

Compared to a DSLR. Again, it's an apples-to-oranges comparison when you're stacking a CSC camera against a DSLR, but with such a large sensor in the Samsung NX100, you'd expect it to do better. The kit lens was about on par with what you'd get with a digital SLR, a little better than most at this price point. Images were slightly soft in corners, less at telephoto, but not bad at all. Chromatic aberration was almost non-existent at both the wide and telephoto lengths and geometric distortion was negligible, thanks to post-capture in-camera processing.

Times Square. The NX100 did a good job in adding some visual pop on a dreary winter day in this shot of Times Square.

Our lab tests show the Auto White Balance was a little warm, though in my shooting experience I didn't find the effect too noticeable. Incandescent White Balance seemed about right while Manual was slightly blue. We were all disappointed with the Macro image results we got with the Samsung NX100 and 20-50mm lens; images were soft and the point of focus seemed off a smidge. Noise suppression was quite overactive, even at ISO 100, blurring images unnecessarily, but printing those same images showed it not to be as big a factor. What we learned, though, was that images processed through Adobe Camera RAW look considerably better, such that we can recommend the camera to those willing to shoot and develop RAW through at least Adobe Camera RAW via Photoshop or Lightroom.

In a Nutshell. There's a lot to like in the Samsung NX100 but there also a few things that seem a bit off. In terms of looks, speed and features, the NX100 is one of the best compact system cameras on the market; fun to shoot with and easy to use in a stylish camera package. While image quality in good light is among the best we've seen in a camera in this class, the NX100 is not the most versatile performer, stumbling in dim conditions at high ISOs. We got disappointingly soft results when shooting close-ups in Macro mode, but otherwise the lens was pretty good for a kit lens. As you'll see in the crops below, high ISO image quality doesn't compare that well against today's competition, but high-ISO JPEGs nonetheless print pretty well. And we found a hidden gem for those willing to shoot RAW: as with many of these cameras, enthusiasts will be disappointed with high-ISO JPEG output, but since they're more likely to shoot RAW, we think they'll be quite happy, so long as they're invested in suitable RAW conversion software.

 

Samsung NX100 Image Quality

Most digital SLRs will produce a reasonable ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do at ISO 1,600. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. I also choose 1,600 because I like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Samsung NX100 versus Olympus E-PL2 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX100 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-PL2 at ISO 1,600
Noise in the shadows is noticeably worse in the Samsung NX100 images, despite the camera's tendency toward excessive noise suppression. Nevertheless, the NX100 does seem to have better detail overall, with the exception of our difficult red leaf swatch. Still, it's not the best performance when you consider that the NX100 is an APS-C sensor, while the E-PL2 has a Micro Four Thirds sensor, which is quite a bit smaller. The higher resolution of the NX100's sensor (14.6 vs 12.3 megapixels) might explain the heavier noise suppression, but the Sony NEX-5 (below) does better as well.

Samsung NX100 versus Panasonic GF2 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX100 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF2 at ISO 1,600
The Samsung NX100 again shows more noise in the shadows, but the Panasonic GF2's image is very soft from noise suppression. Colors are also quite desaturated in the GF2's ISO 1,600 shot, while they remain more vivid in the NX100.


Samsung NX100 versus Samsung NX10 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX100 at ISO 1,600
Samsung NX10 at ISO 1,600
Performance is quite comparable to the NX100's predecessor, the NX10, which is why we think they're using the same sensor.


Samsung NX100 versus Sony NEX-5 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX100 at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-5 at ISO 1,600
The Sony NEX-5 demonstrates a little better how an APS-C image should look, though it's a bit overaggressive in its noise suppression, particularly in the shadows behind the bottle, which appear blurred. We prefer the Sony's rendering of the mosaic image as well. And though they both blur the red leaf swatch, it's a lot closer to the pattern than the NX100.


Samsung NX100 versus Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX100 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600
The Nikon D5000's ISO 1,600 image quality is a little better, if softer, thanks to the less aggressive noise suppression. Its sensor is also lower res than the NX100. Detail is better most noticeably in the red leaf swatch.


Detail: Samsung NX100 versus Olympus E-PL2, Panasonic GF2, Samsung NX100, Sony NEX-5, Nikon D5000

Samsung
NX100
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Olympus
E-PL2
ISO 200
ISO 3,200
Panasonic
GF2
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Samsung
NX10
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Sony
NEX-5
ISO 200
ISO 3,200
Nikon
D5000
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Detail comparison. Looking at high-contrast detail can also be informative, so we prepare these crops from the lowest ISO and ISO 3,200 in this case. Again the Samsung NX100 appears to be most similar to its predecessor, the NX10. It outperforms the 12-megapixel Nikon D5000 at ISO 100, but is bested by the E-PL2 and Sony NEX-5 at both ISO 100 and 3,200. For an APS-C sensor, detail isn't quite up to where we'd expect.


Overall, results are disappointing for an APS-C camera in 2011, with quality just a little lower than the competition. The shame is that you can't adjust the noise suppression in the output files, and RAW files processed through Samsung's RAW converter aren't much better; only when using Adobe Camera RAW do we get the results below, which are admirable. We see noticeably better image quality than is evident in the JPEGs. See the crops below for a sample of ISO 100 images processed through Adobe Camera RAW (taken from our Image Quality section).

In-Camera JPEG, ISO 100
100% crops
Converted RAW, ISO 100
100% crops

The above crops compare in-camera JPEGs to ACR converted RAW files. Both sets of shots were taken at ISO 100, and the converted RAW files have default noise reduction applied. A lot of digital cameras struggle with reproducing hair and fine detail in the red fabric's leaf pattern at higher ISOs, but usually not quite to this extent for a camera with an APS-C sensor at base ISO. To make matters worse there are no noise reduction adjustments offered, except at ISO 3,200 and above, where On and Off are the only choices.

 

Samsung NX100 Print Quality

Peeping at pixels onscreen worked for lower resolution cameras, but today's high-resolution cameras require printing. It's when we print the JPEG images that we get to the truly relevant performance of a camera's lens, sensor, and processor.

ISO 100 shots are a little soft at 20x30. Some high-contrast detail is pretty good, but low-contrast detail is softened noticeably at this size, just as we saw onscreen. Printing at 16x24 looks a little better, averaging out high and low-contrast detail reasonably well.

ISO 200 images likewise look soft at 20x30, but much better at 16x24.

ISO 400 shots look about the same, better at 16x24, but usable at 20x30 inches.

ISO 800 shots are still quite good at 16x24 inches, except for the low-contrast detail, which looks better printed at 13x19 inches.

ISO 1,600 images are a little rough at 13x19 inches, but still usable. Things tighten up quite a bit at 11x14, save for a little noise in the shadows.

ISO 3,200 files lose image quality rather abruptly, becoming usable at 8x10 for wall display, and better at 5x7. The image exposure is also darker overall.

ISO 6,400 shots are not usable at 8x10, but acceptable at 5x7, if a little dark.

All told, shots from the Samsung NX100 follow a good pattern, producing quality printable images from ISO 100 to 800 at very large sizes, with quality falling off rapidly after 1,600. Still, even its highest ISO files can make a good 5x7-inch print with only a little adjustment when necessary. Printed results, in short, go a long way toward redeeming the JPEG performance of the Samsung NX100 compared to what we saw in our crops.

 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories



 

Samsung NX100 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Attractive CSC camera design that combines old school and new school good looks
  • Large APS-C size image sensor provides excellent image quality in good light with attractive color
  • Logical layout of controls including a generously sized shutter button
  • Relatively fast contrast-detection based autofocus system
  • Fast shutter lag
  • Helpful i-Function button on lens barrel lets you change important settings without removing your hand
  • Excellent, easy-to-read and navigate menu system
  • Fun Smart Filters, Photo Styles, and in-camera software fixes make tweaking shots a snap
  • Manual and creative control available without digging through menus
  • Very little geometric distortion
  • Low chromatic aberration
  • Very good resolution
  • Sharp corners at telephoto, only mild softness at wide-angle
  • Very good monitor accuracy
  • Good, slightly pumped color
  • Impressive RAW quality, more so at low ISOs where the camera's JPEGs are unnecessarily soft
  • Samsung's Smart Range dynamic range technology works well to retain highlight detail
  • Aperture control in movies
  • 720p HD movies encoded using efficient H.264 codec
  • Fast download speed
  • Slick camera body is easy to drop
  • Polycarbonate build not as sturdy as some competing models
  • No built-in flash
  • No built-in viewfinder
  • Kit lens not as wide as most
  • Wobbly rolling shutter effect during aggressive panning when shooting HD
  • Rolling shutter also affects live view mode
  • Disappointingly noisy JPEG images at high ISOs
  • Auto White Balance made photos look excessively warm
  • Soft results in Macro mode
  • Camera had trouble freezing action shots; some blurring
  • Barrel distortion at wide-angle is well corrected, but leaves artifacts such as jagged edges in corners
  • Contrast setting impacts saturation and vice versa
  • Auto WB too pink in tungsten lighting
  • Soft JPEGs due to overaggressive noise suppression lack some detail at large print sizes and onscreen (RAW shooters are rewarded with significantly better quality)
  • Little control over noise reduction (On/Off, over ISO 3200 only)
  • Shallow buffer depths
  • Slow buffer clearing with RAW images
  • Slow shot-to-shot cycle time
  • Some issues with very low-light performance at ISO 800-6400, though a firmware patch fixed that

At first it was hard to know what to make of the Samsung NX100 digital camera. On the one hand, this stylish CSC (compact system camera) model is one of the best cameras we've seen in this class with an attractive, simple design that's comfortable to shoot with, not to mention the "wow" factor of its sleek good looks. The smart design of the Samsung NX100 extends to its smart interface that's easy to read and a pleasure to navigate. (We wish all camera manufacturers would take a page from Samsung's user-friendly playbook.) The Samsung NX100 also has one of the fastest autofocus systems in the CSC market, which is saying a lot since slow contrast detection-based AF has plagued some competing models. We also liked the helpful i-Function button the 20-50mm kit lens, which lets you change important camera settings without removing your hand from the lens. In-camera Smart Filters and Photo Styles were clever additions with the Miniature setting offering one of the best canned tilt-shift effects we've seen.

The Samsung NX100 is not with out its problems, especially in regards to JPEG image quality. For one, though the camera excels in good light, it struggles at high ISOs in low light, which is a shame since it uses a large APS-C sensor. When shooting 720p HD, the Samsung NX100 produced crisp high-def footage that suffered from a wobbly rolling shutter effect when we panned aggressively; indeed, rolling shutter also affects the live view image while you're composing your shots, so beware of motion sickness. We also weren't too pleased with the kit lens's Macro mode, though the overall performance of the kit lens was actually decent once we looked at the RAW images. The key negative with the Samsung NX100 is its heavy-handed noise suppression even at its lowest ISO setting, compounded by the inability to adjust the noise-suppression settings. Nevertheless, printed results from these disappointingly soft JPEGs are reasonably good, so most users will be happy with the output. Enthusiasts wanting the greater sharpness--often significantly greater--should absolutely shoot RAW with the Samsung NX100.

It took a little more work to reach this conclusion, given the very soft images we saw onscreen, but following our usual procedures revealed a camera with hidden qualities that cannot be denied. Fast autofocus, good industrial design, an innovative interface, and good RAW and printed image quality combine to overcome the Samsung NX100's few shortcomings, making it a Dave's Pick.