Samsung NX30 Review
Overview by Eamon Hickey and Mike Tomkins
Preview posted: 01/02/2014
Shooter's Report by John Shafer
06/09/2014: Shooter's Report Part I: Getting Acquainted
07/17/2014: Shooter's Report Part II: Performance & Action Shooting
08/07/2014: Shooter's Report Part III: Final Thoughts
08/25/2014: Conclusion posted and review finalized!
Samsung NX30: Connected Flagship. Samsung's NX-series of mirrorless compact system cameras welcomes a new flagship with the NX30. Like its predecessor, the NX20, this new Samsung is styled like an SLR and it sports an improved version of the older camera's 20.3-megapixel APS-C format CMOS sensor. Much else is new, including Samsung's latest connectivity features, the improved hybrid AF system from the NX300, an extendable and tiltable electronic viewfinder, and a 3.5mm jack for external microphones.
Although it retains a characteristic family look, Samsung has taken a fresh pencil to the NX30's design, making it a bit bigger and heavier than the NX20 (13.2 oz without batteries compared to 12.0 oz for the NX20), however it's still relatively small and light when compared to most DSLRs. Among the biggest changes is the new deeper grip, which gives the camera a very secure feel in the hand. We like the Samsung NX30's handling and build, and aside from the slightly flimsy tilting EVF mechanism, the camera feels precisely and solidly made. However the same can't be said of the 18-55mm III kit lens which feels less robust, particularly when zooming, though that's not unusual for a kit lens.
Many of the NX30's controls have been slightly tweaked or repositioned, but the overall layout is largely the same as the NX20. One exception is a new top-deck drive mode dial, which lets you directly select single image or burst shooting as well as bracketing or the self-timer. Nice.
While the sensor in the Samsung NX30 continues with the 20.3-megapixel resolution we've seen in several previous NX cameras, the company says its performance has been improved, by moving to a new manufacturing process that uses copper, rather than the more common aluminum metal interconnects. The practical result is lower noise overall, which Samsung says allowed the increase the camera's maximum ISO to 25,600, and a claimed improvement to dynamic range at lower ISO settings. Although not exactly an intrinsic camera feature, we'll note here that the Samsung NX30 comes bundled with Photoshop Lightroom 5 in the U.S., rather than the Samsung Raw Converter 4.0 software that came with the NX20, a nice bonus for those who don't already own the Adobe software.
The NX30 also gets Samsung's latest AF system, a hybrid of contrast detection and on-chip phase detection, dubbed "Samsung NX AF System II" and first seen on the NX300. The system is comprised of 105 phase-detection AF points and 247 contrast-detection AF areas, and includes what we believe are three cross-type PDAF points arranged in a column in the center of the frame. 74 horizontal-type PDAF points surround the cross-type sensors, and 28 vertical-type points are arranged in two columns on the extreme left and right sides of the PDAF area. (We're still waiting to hear back from Samsung for confirmation and additional PDAF details, and will update this section when we do.) Together they form the basis of the same impressive hybrid AF system found on the NX300, where phase-detect AF points are used to focus very quickly, and contrast-detect AF is used to fine-tune focus for maximum accuracy. Also on the performance front, the NX30's maximum shutter speed is 1/8000s, and it can shoot at a burst rate of up to ~9 frames-per-second (up from ~8 fps on the NX20).
Perhaps the most noticeable new feature on the Samsung NX30 is its pull-out, tiltable electronic viewfinder, which boasts 2.4 million dot, XGA (1024x768) resolution. It can tilt up as far as 80 degrees, and offers 100% coverage, a magnification of about 0.96x (APS-C, 50mm eq.), an eye relief of 18.5mm, and a diopter adjustment of -4 to +1.0 m-1. (The NX20 had a fixed EVF with 1.44 million dot SVGA (800x600) resolution, but a higher magnification of 1.04x and a more generous diopter range of -4 to +4.0 m-1,) Like the NX20, there's an eye sensor, to automatically switch between using the EVF and monitor (though you can manually select the active display if you wish).
The EVF's tilting function works very handily, and it'll be especially useful for tripod and macro shooting in bright light where the articulating monitor might not be as easy to view.
That monitor is a new 3-inch Super AMOLED tilt-and-swivel touch sensitive display with 1.04 million dot resolution (288 ppi) in a 720x480 S-Stripe array, a significant upgrade from the NX20's 614k-dot PenTile AMOLED display which was not touch sensitive. The NX30's monitor can swivel 180 degrees horizontally and 270 degrees vertically.
Sitting above the EVF is a built-in flash with a guide number of 11 (meters) at ISO 100 offering the following flash modes: Smart Flash, Auto, Auto Red-eye Reduction, Fill in, Fill-in Red-eye Reduction, 1st Curtain sync, 2nd Curtain sync and Off. Coverage is rated at 28mm equivalent, and +/-2 EV of flash exposure compensation is available. X-Sync speed is 1/200s, and Auto FP High-Speed Sync for shutter speeds above 1/200s is available when Samsung's new SEF580A external flash is mounted in the NX30's standard ISO 518 hot shoe. The NX30's built-in flash can also act as a wireless commander to multiple off-camera SEF580A flash units, supporting 4 channels and 3 groups. Note that the NX30 is not compatible with Samsung's hot shoe-mount GPS10 GPS module and EM10 external microphone accessories.
Samsung has been a leader in providing its dedicated cameras with features for Internet connectivity and image sharing, and the NX30 introduces the next generation of these capabilities. They include "Tag & Go" and "Photo Beam," which let users transfer images to NFC enabled smartphones and other devices with a tap. Other capabilities include remote viewing and control of the NX30 from a smartphone, the ability to broadcast images to up to four smart devices simultaneously, automatic transfer of images to a smartphone or tablet, and Dropbox and Flickr integration in selected regions.
Several video enhancements round out the Samsung NX30's list of features. Like most cameras these days, the NX30 can record HD video with stereo sound, though the NX30 can record Full HD at up to 60p. Resolutions and frame rates supported are: 1920x1080 and 1280x720 both at 60p and 30p (the NX20 maxed out at 30p), 1920x810 at 24p, 640x480 at 30p, and 320x240 at 30p. Video files are in MP4 format (H.264 compression with AAC audio), with two quality options (High Quality and Normal, though bitrates are not specified). A number of Smart filters are supported in video mode including: Vignetting, Miniature, Colored Pencil, Watercolor, Wash Drawing, Oil Sketch, Ink Sketch, Acryl, Negative, and Selective, and may reduce frame rate. Maximum video file length is 29m:59s or 4GB for most modes, but 1080p60 is limited to 21m:15s recording time per clip.
A dedicated video record button is provided, and because there's no dedicated movie option on the mode dial, you can record video in any of the PASM modes, and make exposure adjustments like shutter speed and aperture during recording on the fly (though you can't change ISO during video recording, only beforehand). There is also a nice video recording "pause" feature, letting you combine multiple clips into one video file (you use the record button to initialize video recording, then use the OK button to pause/resume as you see fit, then finalize the video clip by pressing the record button again as you would normally).
Continuous AF is the only autofocus method available during movies, as there is no single-shot AF option. However, if the lens has an AF/MF switch (like the 18-55mm kit lens does), you can manually focus while recording videos (though you don't get magnified view or focus peaking during recording).
The NX30 also offers a "Multi Motion" option, which lets you select the playback speed of your videos. You can choose from 0.25x, 0.5x, x1, x5, x10 and x20, but the 0.25x setting is only available for VGA and QVGA resolutions, while the 0.5x option is supported for 1080p30, HD, VGA and QVGA. There's also an optional Digital Anti-Shake option (OIS is still supported if the lens offers it), and a Wind Cut filter as well.
The Samsung NX30 has built-in stereo mics and a 3.5mm jack for a standard external mic, as well as an audio level meter that appears on the display. Even better, audio input levels can be manually adjusted, however there's no headphone jack for monitoring. (And as mentioned previously, the NX30 does not support Samsung's EM10 external hot shoe mic which has a monitor jack.)
The NX30 can also stream uncompressed 1920x1080 30p Full HD video output through its Micro HDMI port, letting you connect it to large-screen displays, external video recorders, and other HDMI devices.
Other connectivity options include the aforementioned built-in Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b/g/n) with NFC, and a Micro USB 2.0 port which also provides for in-camera battery charging and supports an optional wired shutter release.
The Samsung NX30 uses Secure Digital memory cards for storage, with SD, SDHC, SDXC and UHS-I compatibility. Samsung recommends using a Class 6 or faster card, and up to 128MB capacity is guaranteed to be supported.
For power, the Samsung NX30 uses a proprietary BP-1410 rechargeable 7.6v 1410mAh lithium-ion battery pack with a CIPA rating of 360 shots per charge, and an AC adapter is included in the bundle for charging via USB. There's also a small flap in the battery compartment cover presumably for use with a dummy battery adapter, although we have not seen such an accessory announced.
The Samsung NX30 has been available since February 2014 bundled with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS III kit lens, at a suggested retail price of US$999.99, though current street price, as of August 2014, has dropped to as low as US$799.
Place your order with a trusted Imaging Resource affiliate now:
Samsung NX30 Shooter's Report Part I
This was my first opportunity to spend some quality time with a Samsung interchangeable lens camera, and I was really looking forward to it. On paper, Samsung NX cameras have a very competitive feature-set and excellent performance specs. I was excited to see how the NX30 performs compared to other mirrorless cameras I've used -- especially at action performance and image quality. Samsung sent me the NX30 in a kit with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 image-stabilized zoom lens. The camera is spec'd with a 20-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, built-in Wi-Fi with NFC, 9 frames per second high-speed burst, hybrid auto focus, a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF), 3-inch AMOLED touchscreen display, i-Function control system, and Full HD video at 60 frames per second. It definitely looks great on paper. But do those specs measure up to a great camera in real life?
In this first part of my NX30 shooter's report, I'll share my general, first-impressions of the camera -- handling, basic elements, image quality, and standout features -- especially the built-in Wi-Fi, electronic viewfinder and the i-Function controls.
The NX30 looks great on paper, but how does it handle in the real world?
Samsung NX30 Shooter's Report Part II
Performance & Action Shooting
I'm primarily an outdoor action-sports photographer who spends a lot of time way up in the mountains, I'm always interested in small, light cameras that have great action performance. The NX30 can shoot full-resolution raw bursts as fast as nine frames per second. That's fast -- faster than the Canon EOS 7D I've been using for most of my action shooting over the past few years.
The NX30 also has a hybrid autofocus system that combines contrast-detection and phase-detection autofocus for increased accuracy and speed. My contacts at Samsung assured me that the camera's action performance was amazing, and that I would be impressed. I've had a chance to shoot a lot of mountain biking with it now, and I am prepared to pass judgment. Read on to learn how the NX30 performed in my world -- a world dominated my mountain biking and other high-speed activities of doubtful value.
The NX30 gets pushed to the limit with action and sports photography.
Samsung NX30 Shooter's Report Part III
I spent over a month getting to know the Samsung NX30. I took nearly 3500 pictures with it, and I pushed it hard -- probably harder than most people ever will. It's a solid all-purpose enthusiast camera with great features, a travel-friendly body, and for the most part, the performance is great. Overall, I was very pleased with what I was able to do with it. I shot high-speed action, landscapes, food porn, people photos, low light photos, and video; and the NX30 handled most everything very well.
It wasn't all perfect, though. I had some problems with the camera locking up, the color wasn't exactly to my taste, and the continuous auto focus didn't live up to my expectations. For those who want all the nitty-gritty on the auto focus, I went into it in detail in part II of my NX30 Shooter's Report. Basically, it's okay for casual use with slow-moving subjects. But for anything that's moving quickly, it can't keep up at all. Don't expect to be able to track Formula One racing, or even your kid's soccer games with the NX30. To be fair, though, it's pretty much on par with most other mirrorless cameras. As a rule, when it comes to mirrorless cameras and continuous auto focus -- don't believe the hype. You can certainly take great action photos without continuous auto focus, though. You just need to pre-focus and plan them a little more carefully.
Read Part III for John's final thoughts on Samsung's flagship mirrorless camera.
Samsung NX30 Image Quality Comparison
See how the NX30's image quality compares to leading competitors
See our Image Quality Comparison page which compares crops of our laboratory Still Life target taken with the NX30 against the Samsung NX20, Canon T5i, Nikon D5300, Panasonic GX7 and Fujifilm X-E2. All of these models sit at relatively similar price points and/or category in their respective product lineups.
These comparisons are somewhat tricky to write, as the cameras vary in resolution, so bear that in mind as you're reading and drawing your own conclusions. (We generally try to match cameras in these comparisons based on price, given that most of us work to a budget, rather than setting out to buy a given number of megapixels.)
NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved: click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page
Read our Image Quality Comparison to see how the NX30 stacks up!
Samsung NX30 Print Quality
How does it look on paper?
The Samsung NX30 does a fine job in the print quality department indeed. For an APS-C sensor size, these print sizes rank up there with most of the better cameras in its class. Due to the high resolution 20MP sensor, prints at lower ISOs are possible at 30 x 40 inches with no visible signs of the pixelation seen in cameras with resolutions of 16MP and below, which is a good thing to keep in mind if these really large print sizes matter to your work. After about ISO 1,600, noise reduction starts to take its toll, but no worse than in most APS-C cameras, and looks far better than some. In fact, Samsung's noise reduction algorithms tend to smooth images as the noise reduction ramps up, rather than creating splotchiness like some of the other manufacturers. The smoothness eventually becomes washed out looking, but for some prints this is still acceptable, even sometimes larger than the sizes mentioned above.
Read our print quality analysis and find out how large you can print at each ISO!
Samsung NX30 Conclusion
A worthy option: solid performance and image quality at a great value
Samsung is an extremely large company with a vast portfolio of products and services from smartphones and tablets, to TVs and home theater systems, and even appliances. However, in the photographic world, more traditional players like Canon, Nikon and Sony tend to get the lion's share of attention, especially among customers. Samsung NX-mount cameras, however, shouldn't be overlooked, as they offer a lot of performance and great image quality at some very wallet-friendly prices, and the Samsung NX30 is no exception. Despite the 'flagship' moniker, Samsung's newest high-end NX camera packs a punch with its performance, at a very affordable street price more in line with upper entry-level to lower mid-level DSLRs.
With a slightly larger design than the previous NX20 model, the new NX30's deeper grip makes for a more comfortable and secure grip in the hand. Unlike the rather svelte and minimal exterior design of the similarly-sized Android-powered Galaxy NX, the Samsung NX30 maintains a more traditional, physical control-based design with over a dozen buttons, a full PASM mode dial, a dedicated drive mode dial, and front and rear dials for making adjustments to settings like aperture and shutter speed. If you're downsizing from a DSLR, or rather "ditching the DSLR," the learning curve with external controls and operability on the NX30 should be minimal. And, the tilting EVF provides some nice flexibility and ease of use whether you're shooting straight-on, at low angles, or simply prefer a top-down viewfinder shooting position.
Read our Samsung NX30 Conclusion for our final thoughts on the Samsung NX30!
In the Box
The Samsung NX30 retail package (as reviewed) contains the following items:
- Samsung NX30 body
- 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 III OIS kit lens (black)
- BP1410 Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery pack
- USB charger
- USB cable
- Body cap
- Hot shoe cover
- Lens cap
- Lens hood
- Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 DVD for Mac and Windows
- Quick Start Guide
- Quick Reference Guide
- CD-ROM with PDF User Manual
- Warranty card
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. 16GB Class 6 should be a minimum.
- Extra Samsung BP1410 Battery Pack (~$40)
- Small to medium DSLR/mirrorless bag
- Additional lenses