Samsung NX200 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Realistic saturation, with very good overall hue accuracy.
|In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links to see results across the ISO range.|
Skin tones. The Samsung NX200 did well with Caucasian skin tones, rendering them with a pinkish tint that is realistic-looking. Darker skin tones had a slightly orange push, but overall skin tones were quite pleasing in simulated daylight. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The Samsung NX200 shifted orange toward yellow moderately, but other shifts in color were relatively minor; even the cyan to blue shift we normally see was pretty small. Mean "delta-C" color error at base ISO was only 3.71 after correction for saturation, which is quite good, much better than average. Hue is "what color" the color is.
Samsung NX200 lets you adjust image saturation (as well as contrast and sharpness) in nine steps. As can be seen below, the saturation adjustment was quite effective and covers a useful range, but it does impact contrast somewhat, at least for some colors. This is not uncommon though, as it's pretty tricky not to impact contrast when adjusting saturation so much.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with every other saturation setting, including the default and the two extremes. Click on any thumbnail above, then click again to see the full-sized image.
|See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm cast with Auto, blue cast with Incandescent, and green cast 2,600 Kelvin, though good performance with Manual white balance. Average amount of positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was quite warm with the Auto setting. The Incandescent setting produced a pretty strong blue cast, and the 2,600 Kelvin setting produced a strong green cast. Manual white balance was pretty accurate though, just very slightly greenish. The Samsung NX200 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +0.3 EV. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)
Good colors overall, though slightly high contrast under harsh lighting. Better than average exposure accuracy.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
The Samsung NX200 produced good colors when set to Auto white balance in our "Sunlit" Portrait test, and the Manual setting produced similar results. The NX200 required +0.3 EV exposure compensation to keep facial tones reasonably bright on the mannequin. The average for this shot is about +0.7 EV, so that's pretty good. Default contrast is a little high, though, so quite a few highlights in her shirt and flowers were blown. The NX200 did a good job with our Far-field shot, with good overall exposure and natural-looking colors, though some bright highlights were clipped here as well.
Very high resolution, 2,200 to 2,300 lines of strong detail in JPEGs, about the same from ACR converted RAW files.
|Strong detail to
2,300 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
2,200 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
2,300 lines horizontal
ACR processed SRW
|Strong detail to
2,200 lines vertical
ACR processed SRW
In-camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart at the highest quality setting revealed sharp, distinct line patterns to about 2,300 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,200 lines per picture height in the vertical direction. Complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur until a little over 3,400 lines in the horizontal direction, and about 3,300 lines in the vertical. An Adobe Camera Raw 6.6 conversion of a matching RAW file showed very similar resolution along with a lot more color moiré, so the NX200 did a great job at extracting maximum high-contrast resolution at base ISO. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Very good sharpness and detail overall, though with some visible edge-enhancement artifacts on some high-contrast subjects. Low levels of noise suppression generally leaves excellent detail at base ISO.
|Very good definition of
though with some visible
|Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast but
the NX200 does better than most here.
Sharpness. The Samsung NX200 captures sharp, detailed images, though some edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the sharpening halos around the thicker branches and pine cones in the crop above left. Fine detail such as the smaller twigs and pine needles show very little edge enhancement, yet show excellent detail, likely the result of a fairly weak low-pass filter and a light-handed approach to noise reduction at base ISO. Overall, very good results here. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows relatively minor noise suppression in the darkest areas of the model's hair, as most individual strands of hair are well defined except in very low contrast areas. Overall, detail is very good for an APS-C sensor at base ISO, especially one with 20 megapixels of resolution. Excellent results here, and a major improvement over the NX100. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Samsung NX200 produces sharp, detailed in-camera JPEGs. Let's see how the bundled RAW converter and Adobe Camera Raw perform on the same image:
In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above, and clicking on the link will load the full resolution image.
Here, you can see that the Samsung RAW Converter 4 conversion at default settings resulted in an image that is quite a bit softer than the in-camera JPEG. (Normally, manufacturer provided converters produce results very similar to in-camera JPEGs at default settings, but Samsung Raw Converter 4 is a rebadged version of SilkyPix, so it probably doesn't implement the exact same image processing algorithms as the camera.) The bundled RAW converter has quite a few features and presets, but we found that turning off sharping in the editor itself, and then applying a strong Unsharp Mask of 300% with a radius of 0.6 when generating the output JPEG produced best results. Even sharpened, the camera produced better fine detail than the bundled converter, as the software's noise reduction tends to flatten fine detail. The Adobe Camera Raw 6.6 conversion (which was sharpened in Photoshop using USM of 200% with a radius of 0.6) revealed slightly better detail than the camera JPEG, though not a whole lot, but there are less noticeable sharpening artifacts. The ACR conversion also shows more noise in flat areas, which is often the case. One of the advantages of shooting RAW is being able to decide for yourself the optimum trade-off between detail and noise, especially when the camera provides very limited control over noise reduction like the NX200. At low ISOs, though, the Samsung NX200 generally does a fine job (pardon the pun) at extracting the excellent detail captured by its 20-megapixel sensor, even if default sharpening is a bit high.
ISO & Noise Performance
Very good detail vs noise tradeoff to ISO 1,600, though strong noise reduction and high chroma noise at higher ISOs.
Default High ISO Noise Reduction (On)
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||ISO 3,200|
|ISO 6,400||ISO 12,800|
The Samsung NX200's light-handed approach to noise reduction at lower ISOs leaves a lot of fine detail intact up to ISO 400, though some luminance noise is visible even at base ISO. At ISO 800, luminance noise reduction is noticeably stronger smudging some hairs together, but fine detail is still very good. Some chroma noise is visible in the shadows, though, and this gets worse at higher ISOs. Naturally, luminance and chrominance noise is higher at ISO 1,600, but fine detail is still pretty good. Chroma noise becomes quite strong at ISO 3,200 though, with noticeable color blotching, as well as an obvious drop in fine detail from more aggressive noise reduction. This of course worsens at ISO 6,400 where fine detail is smudged away to give a stippled effect, while chroma noise is spread out into larger, brighter color blotches and bands. At 12,800, chroma noise is extremely high with much of the hair and shadows taking on strong purple and green colors, while strong noise reduction has reduced the image to something that resembles an impressionistic painting. Horizontal banding was also quite noticeable.
There are also what look to be aliasing artifacts in areas of fine vertical detail and high local contrast, such as in the strands of hair on the model's forehead at lower ISOs (see ISO 100 crop at right). We've seen similar artifacts in images from other cameras, especially Canon consumer SLRs, so they're not that unusual. The aberrations are very subtle to be sure, but they're something to be aware of if you plan to make very large prints of similar subject matter from JPEGs. They also appear in RAW files processed with Adobe Camera Raw, a further indication that the NX200's low pass (anti-aliasing) filter isn't very strong.
Overall, though, a much better performance than the NX100, especially at lower ISOs where the NX100's overaggressive noise reduction blurred-away too much detail. Compared to recent APS-C competitors, the NX200 does extremely well at lower ISOs, but chroma noise in the shadows and relatively unsophisticated noise reduction leave much to be desired at higher ISOs. As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO.
A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, Olympus Zuiko 55mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). For the Samsung NX200, we used the very sharp 60mm f/2.8 Macro ED OIS NX. To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. If you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us about it; we already know it. :-) The focus target position will simply have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.
Red Channel NR. Although the Samsung NX200 does much better at preserving fine detail at base ISO than its predecessor, it still struggled with the low-contrast detail in our red leaf cloth. And like the NX100, the NX200 doesn't provide much control over noise reduction either: only Off and On options for both High ISO NR and Long Term NR are offered. The user manual doesn't mention which ISO setting High ISO NR kicks in at, but from our Still Life ISO/NR series, it looks like it's ISO 6,400, so turning it off is no help at lower ISOs, and it's not really off at 6,400 and above either. Have a look at the crops below to see how much subtle detail is lost in the red leaf pattern to noise reduction even at ISO 100:
|In-Camera JPEG, ISO 100
High ISO NR = "Off"
|Converted RAW, ISO 100
Adobe Camera Raw, Default NR
The above crops compare an in-camera JPEG (left) to an ACR converted RAW file (right). Both shots were taken at ISO 100, and the converted RAW file has default noise reduction applied.
Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range, and low light tests
Very high resolution with good detail, but somewhat high default contrast and limited dynamic range. Good low-light performance, though Auto white balance struggled.
|0 EV||+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV|
Sunlight. The Samsung NX200 struggled a bit with the deliberately harsh lighting of this test, as do a lot of cameras. Quite a few highlights are clipped in the white shirt and flowers, while some shadows are still quite dark, though noise in shadows is actually pretty good. We preferred the +0.3 EV exposure overall, because the exposure of skin tones in the face was better than 0 EV. Depending on the photographer, you could lean one way or the other. Advanced users will want to shoot darker, to hold highlight detail. For those NX200 owners that are going to want to just print an image, the +0.3 EV image would probably produce the best-looking print with little or no tweaking. The bottom line though, is that the NX200 struggled in harsh lighting, producing either a slightly dim face with better highlight retention in the shirt, or a well-exposed face with a lot of blown highlights in her shirt and flowers.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)
The Samsung NX200's contrast adjustment wasn't much help in taming blown highlights in this harsh lighting.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the Samsung NX200 didn't do much better at preserving highlight detail. (It may look like it helped in the "Sunlit" Portrait shot above, but the better highlight retention is because of the lower exposure used in our Contrast series than the image we picked for best exposure of the face. You can see what we mean by looking at the Far-field shot on the right, which still has about the same amount of highlights clipped as the default contrast using same exposure.) However, at the lowest contrast setting midtones and shadows were boosted quite a bit. The odd-looking coloration in the mannequin's face is due to drop in saturation where contrast was reduced, which is an unfortunate interaction.
|Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with every other contrast setting, including the default and two extremes. It's pretty hard to evaluate small differences in contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image. It's nice that Samsung offers such a wide range of settings, but as mentioned previously, the NX200's contrast adjustment helps very little with strong highlights, working mostly in the midtones and shadows. Also mentioned previously, there is some interaction with saturation, most noticeable in the facial tones and flowers at the lower contrast settings.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
A key parameter in a digital camera is its Dynamic Range, the range of brightness that can be faithfully recorded. At the upper end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is dictated by the point at which the RGB data "saturates" at values of 255, 255, 255. At the lower end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is determined by the point at which there ceases to be any useful difference between adjacent tonal steps. Note the use of the qualifier "useful" in there: While it's tempting to evaluate dynamic range as the maximum number of tonal steps that can be discerned at all, that measure of dynamic range has very little relevance to real-world photography. What we care about as photographers is how much detail we can pull out of the shadows before image noise becomes too objectionable. This, of course, is a very subjective matter, and will vary with the application and even the subject matter in question. (Noise will be much more visible in subjects with large areas of flat tints and subtle shading than it would in subjects with strong, highly contrasting surface texture.)
What makes most sense then, is to specify useful dynamic range in terms of the point at which image noise reaches some agreed-upon threshold. To this end, Imatest computes a number of different dynamic range measurements, based on a variety of image noise thresholds. The noise thresholds are specified in terms of f-stops of equivalent luminance variation in the final image file, and dynamic range is computed for noise thresholds of 1.0 (low image quality), 0.5 (medium image quality), 0.25 (medium-high image quality) and 0.1 (high image quality). For most photographers and most applications, the noise thresholds of 0.5 and 0.25 f-stops are probably the most relevant to the production of acceptable-quality finished images, but many noise-sensitive shooters will insist on the 0.1 f-stop limit for their most critical work. A full discussion of all the data Imatest produces is really beyond the scope of this review: Visit the Imatest website for details of what the program measures, how it performs its computations, and how to interpret its output.
JPEG. The graph at right (click for a larger version) was generated using Imatest's dynamic range analysis for an in-camera NX200 JPEG file with a nominally-exposed density step target (Stouffer 4110). At default settings and ISO 200 (we found dynamic range was optimal at ISO 200, not ISO 100), the graph shows 10.5 f-stops of total dynamic range, with 7.52 f-stops at the "High" quality level. These scores aren't bad for a JPEG. Compared to the Sony NEX-7 which also has an APS-C size CMOS sensor, the NX200 scored about the same at the "High" quality level (7.62 vs 7.52 f-stops), but total dynamic range was quite a bit lower (10.5 vs 11.9 f-stops). Compared to most Micro Four Thirds CSCs, the NX200 scored well. Note though that this measurement has a margin of error of about 1/3 f-stop, so differences of less than 0.33 can be ignored.
RAW. The graph at right is from the same Stouffer 4110 stepchart image captured as a RAW (.SRW) file, processed with Adobe Camera Raw. The Samsung NX200's processed RAW file scored only slightly better than the matching in-camera JPEG overall, with a score at the highest quality level that increased to only 7.89 from 7.52 f-stops, while total dynamic range increased to 11.2 from 10.5 f-stops. Compare that to the Sony NEX-7, which scored 9.38 f-stops at the highest quality level, and 13 f-stops total dynamic range. As always, it's worth noting here that Adobe Camera Raw's default noise reduction settings reduced overall noise relative to the levels in the in-camera JPEG (compare the noise plots in the bottom left of the graphs), which tends to boost the dynamic range numbers for the High Quality threshold.
Smart Range is Samsung's name for their dynamic range enhancement technology. It works similar to Canon's Highlight Tone Priority, preserving highlights at the expense of noisier shadows.
Despite the apparent brightness, very few highlights were clipped with Smart Range set to On in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot above. Smart Range doesn't affect levels in the shadows much, just boosting saturation, but because it uses ISO 200 there's more noise. The NX200 attempts to compensate by applying stronger noise reduction, which leads to some loss of detail in the shadows.
Far-field Smart Range Example
Smart Range didn't appear to work with our Far-field shot, producing an overexposed image with brighter shadows while highlights were still clipped. ISO was not boosted either. Our test shots were taken with firmware 1.01, but Samsung has since released 1.02 and 1.03, so it's possible this issue has been corrected.
|Off at 0 EV||On at 0 EV||Auto, 0 EV|
Face Detection. Like most cameras these days, the Samsung NX200 has the ability to detect faces (up to 10 in a scene), and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see from the examples above, face detection worked fairly well, as the images with face detection enabled were better exposed for the face without having to use exposure compensation, though both exposures were a bit too bright. Simply enabling face detection (center image) dropped shutter speed from 1/40s to 1/30s to brighten the face, while full Auto mode selected a faster shutter speed of 1/100s presumably to help prevent subject motion blur, opened the aperture (from f/8 to f/5.6) for less depth-of-field to help isolate the subject from the background, and raised ISO to 200 (from 100) to achieve a brighter image.
Low Light. The Samsung NX200 performed reasonably well in our low light test, though exposure metering was not reliable at the lowest light level, so we used manual exposure mode for these shots. The NX200's slowest shutter speed of 30 seconds combined with the kit lens' maximum aperture of f/3.5 resulted in slightly dim (but still usable) images at the lowest light level we test at (1/16 foot-candle) at ISO 100. Noise was pretty well controlled up to ISO 800, though at higher ISOs there are moderate amounts of fine luminance noise and some chroma noise in the shadows.
Auto white balance did a good job here at higher light levels, producing fairly neutral color balance, though there's a strong blue-green bias at lower light levels at ISOs up to 800. Interestingly, the color shift is not present when High ISO NR and Long Term NR are turned Off (right-most column). Some horizontal banding visible at very high ISOs (starting at ISO 3,200), but that's not unusual. We didn't notice any issues with hot/dead pixels except when NR was turned Off, where they're expected.
The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject almost down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted with the 18-55mm kit lens, which is very good for a compact system camera with a relatively slow (dim) kit lens. The NX200 was able to focus in complete darkness with its built-in focus assist lamp enabled.
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to their phase-detect AF systems, digital SLRs tend to do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects. The NX200 uses contrast-detect autofocus, as is found in most point & shoot cameras, so its low-light focusing ability is less than that of most SLRs with phase-detect systems. That said, though, the larger, more sensitive pixels of the NX200's sensor do better under dim lighting than do the tiny pixels of most point & shoots, (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
ISO 200 shots are quite good at 24 x 36 inches, albeit with minor softening apparent in our red swatch.
ISO 400 shots look impressive at 20 x 30, while 24 x 36 inch prints are still quite good for wall display.
ISO 800 images look good at 16 x 20 inches, save for certain reds, which are a little softer.
ISO 1,600 images are also very good at 16 x 20, with the exception of losing all contrast detail in our red swatch.
ISO 3,200 images suffer from noise suppression, and look too soft printed at 13 x 19; they become better at 11 x 14.
ISO 6,400 shots are a little smudgy at 8 x 10, but look very good with good color at 5 x 7
ISO 12,800 images are not usable and this setting best avoided.
Overall, a very impressive performance from the Samsung NX200. Printing a great 24 x 36 inch print is nothing to sneeze at. There's still an abrupt drop in quality at ISO 3,200, but it still manages to make an acceptable print up to at least 5 x 7 at ISO 6,400.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)