Samsung NX300 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Realistic saturation levels with excellent 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 NX300 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, as long as you don't adjust contrast. 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 NX300 shifts cyan toward blue and orange toward yellow a bit, but other shifts in color were very minor; even the cyan to blue shift we normally see is very small. Mean "delta-C" color error at base ISO is only 3.69 after correction for saturation, which is excellent, much better than average. Hue is "what color" the color is.
Samsung NX300 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
The Samsung NX300's Manual white balance setting worked well indoors, but other settings produced strong color casts. Slightly higher than average exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance is a bit too cool with the Auto setting, with a bluish cast. The Incandescent setting resulted in a fairly strong red cast, and the 2,600 Kelvin setting produced a strong green tint. Manual white balance produced very good results, though. The Samsung NX300 required +0.7 EV exposure compensation, which is slightly higher than the +0.3 EV average required by most cameras for this shot. (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.)
Somewhat cool colors with slightly high contrast under harsh lighting. About average exposure accuracy.
|Manual White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
The Samsung NX300 produced pleasant skintones with both Auto and Manual white balances in our "Sunlit" Portrait test, with Manual mode offering just slightly more realistic colors. The NX300 required +0.7 EV exposure compensation to keep facial tones bright on the mannequin, which is above average for this shot. Default contrast is a little high, though, so quite a few highlights in her shirt and flowers are blown, though there weren't many lost shadows. The NX300 did a good job with our Far-field shot, producing just a slightly dim exposure, though colors are somewhat cool. The Samsung NX300 preserved all but the brightest highlights here, though it did generate some very dark and strongly posterized shadows. The dark shadows in the leaves for example are quite clean but become abruptly posterized with no color at the lowest light levels. Still, that shouldn't be a problem unless you're trying to recover very underexposed shots.
Very high resolution, about 2,500 lines of strong detail in JPEGs, about the same from ACR converted RAW files.
|Strong detail to
~2,500 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
~2,500 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
~2,500 lines horizontal
ACR processed SRW
|Strong detail to
~2,500 lines vertical
ACR processed SRW
An in-camera JPEG of our laboratory resolution chart at the highest quality setting reveals sharp, distinct line patterns to about 2,500 lines per picture height in both the horizontal and vertical directions. Complete extinction of the pattern doesn't occur before the limit of our chart (4,000 lines) in the horizontal direction, and at about 3,800 lines in the vertical. An Adobe Camera Raw conversion of the matching RAW file shows similar resolution, but with a lot more color moiré than in-camera JPEGs, as if often the case. Interestingly, the vertical pattern in the ACR conversion is extinguished at about 3,300 lines, so the camera holds on to a bit more detail in this case. 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.
PDAF Sensor Artifacts?
We often see the effects of imperfect bad pixel substitution algorithms in our resolution target, but the result is usually just limited to one or a small cluster of pixels with the incorrect color or brightness. However with the NX300, we noticed a repeating red/cyan false color pattern in our RES shots, as you can see above (saturation was boosted in the above image to make the pattern more visible). Because of the repeating pattern, we believe these artifacts are not due to random faulty pixels, but rather they are likely the result of the embedded phase-detect AF pixels which span a wide area across the central portion of the sensor. Although we saw signs of them in some of our other JPEG test shots, related artifacts in real-world subjects were very subtle and difficult to spot, so we don't think they'll be an issue for the vast majority of photos (unless your business is photographing test charts). And if you shoot RAW, it's even less of an issue because Adobe Camera Raw (and Lightroom which is bundled with the camera) does a better job at substituting for the AF pixels during RAW conversion, producing images with little (a single pixel or tiny group with incorrect color) or no signs of AF pixel substitution.
Sharpness & Detail
Very good sharpness and detail overall, with fairly minor edge-enhancement artifacts visible around high-contrast subjects. Low levels of noise suppression generally leaves excellent detail at base ISO.
|Very good definition of
with less visible sharpening
artifacts than its predecessor.
|Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast but
the NX300 does better than most here.
Sharpness. The Samsung NX300 captures sharp, detailed images with slightly less obvious edge enhancement artifacts than the NX200. Yes, sharpening halos are still visible on high-contrast subjects such as the thicker branches and pine cones in the crop above left, but they aren't quite a strong as its predecessor. Fine detail such as the smaller twigs and pine needles show very little edge enhancement, yet show excellent detail. Overall, excellent 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 as well. 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.
Aliasing Artifacts. There are however what look to be aliasing artifacts and "jaggies" 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 previous models, 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. They also appear in RAW files processed with Adobe Camera Raw, a further indication that the NX300's low pass (anti-aliasing) filter isn't very strong.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Samsung NX300 produces sharp, detailed in-camera JPEGs. Let's see how Adobe Camera Raw performs with 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.
Samsung appears to have discontinued Samsung Raw Converter 4 which was a rebadged version of SilkyPix, now that they are bundling Adobe Lightroom with their new NX models. Adobe Camera Raw uses the same conversion algorithms, so we used it for our RAW conversion above.
The Adobe Camera Raw conversion (which was sharpened in Photoshop also using USM of 300% with a radius of 0.3) reveals slightly better detail than the camera JPEG, though not a whole lot, with fewer sharpening artifacts. The ACR conversion also shows more natural color, more chromatic aberration, as well as a touch more noise, though noise levels are actually quite low at base ISO. At lower ISOs, the Samsung NX300 generally does a great job at capturing the excellent detail offered by its 20-megapixel sensor in its JPEGs.
ISO & Noise Performance
Very good detail vs noise tradeoff to ISO 3,200.
Default High ISO Noise Reduction
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||ISO 3,200|
|ISO 6,400||ISO 12,800||ISO 25,600|
ISOs 100 through 400 are very clean and detailed, with just a slight uptick in luminance noise as ISO rises. At ISO 800, noise reduction is a bit stronger which softens the image slightly, but fine detail is still very good, and there's no sign of chroma noise. Naturally, noise is higher at ISO 1,600 so the processor is working harder blurring away more fine detail in the process, but a lot is still intact, and chroma noise is still not an issue. At ISO 3,200, a larger drop in find detail occurs with stronger noise processing, however we don't see the chroma noise that was so objectionable in its predecessor. ISO 6,400 shows more luminance noise as well as hints of chroma noise, thought there is some fine detail left. At 12,800, it seems Samsung has dialed back on the chroma noise reduction significantly, leaving larger blotches of yellow and purple, and luminance noise is stronger as well. ISO 25,600 is very noisy, leaving the mannequin's hair and skin with obvious blotches of strong purple and yellow chroma noise, with darker shadows and faded colors as well.
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 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). For the Samsung NX300, we used the very sharp 60mm f/2.8 Macro ED SSA 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.
Revamped NR. The NX300 has taken a different approach to chrominance noise reduction compared to its predecessor. Have a look at the crops below to see what we mean.
|ISO 3,200 JPEGs, default NR|
As you can see, the NX300 does a much better job controlling chroma noise than did the NX200. Gone are the cloudy blotches of color that plagued the NX200's shadow areas at high ISOs, but as seen in our red leaf swatch, detail was lost in the bargain, particularly in the red channel. Unlike the NX200's more limited "Off" and "On" NR options, the NX300 offers four noise settings, however all four of them apply strong chroma noise reduction, resulting in little difference in our red leaf swatch. See our High ISO NR crops page for examples.
|ISO 800 ACR converted RAW, no NR|
It's not just the processing, though. The NX300's sensor does produce slightly lower levels of noise most noticeable at low to moderate ISOs as shown by these ISO 800 RAW conversion crops with no 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 NX300 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 (apart from the posterization mentioned in very deep shadows). We preferred the +0.7 EV exposure overall, because the exposure of skintones in the face is better than at default 0 EV and +0.3 EV exposure compensation. 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 NX300 owners that are going to want to just print an image, the +0.7 EV image would probably produce the best-looking print with little or no tweaking. The bottom line though, is that the NX300 struggled in harsh lighting, producing either a slightly dim face with better highlight retention in the shirt, or a well-exposed face with more 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 NX300's contrast adjustment help tame blown highlights and dark shadows in this harsh lighting, however it impacted saturation.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the Samsung NX300 did a better job at preserving highlight detail, though it worked mostly on midtones and shadows. 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 NX300'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.
Just like most point & shoot cameras these days, the Samsung NX300 has the ability to detect faces, and adjust exposure and focus accordingly.
Face Detect: Off
Face Detect: On
As you can see from the examples above, it works fairly well, as the center image with face detection enabled is better exposed for the face than the left image where face detection was not employed. Full Auto mode (right) is even brighter (perhaps a bit too bright), employing a larger aperture than we normally use for this shot (f/3.5 vs f/8) as well as boosting ISO to 200.
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 NX300 JPEG file with a nominally-exposed density step target (Stouffer 4110). At default settings and ISO 100, the graph shows 9.88 f-stops of total dynamic range, with 9.35 f-stops at the "High" quality level. Roll-off at the highlight end of the curve is fairly gradual, but at the low end, some steps are spread out, indicative of a tendency of the deepest shadows to break up into discrete levels, which can be seen when manipulating levels in our outdoor shots. These scores aren't bad for a camera JPEG considering the score didn't drop until the High Quality threshold, but the NX300 tends to clip shadows probably in an attempt to hide noise. Compared to the NX200, the NX300 scored much better at the "High" quality level (9.35 vs 7.97 f-stops), but total dynamic range was still a bit low at 9.88 vs 9.76 f-stops. Note 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 NX300's processed RAW file scored slightly higher than the matching in-camera JPEG at the highest quality level, with about a half f-stop increase from 9.35 f-stops to 9.8, however total dynamic range increased significantly from 9.88 to 12.5 f-stops, and the score didn't drop at the Low and Medium Quality thresholds. These are very good results for an APS-C-based compact system camera. As an example, the Sony NEX-6 scored insignificantly higher with 9.92 f-stops at the highest quality level and 12.7 f-stops total dynamic range. It's worth noting here that Adobe Camera Raw's default noise reduction settings usually reduce overall noise relative to the levels in the in-camera JPEG, which tends to boost the dynamic range numbers for the High Quality threshold.
Dynamic Range Expansion settings
The Samsung NX300 now offers two dynamic range expansion options: Smart Range + and HDR. Smart Range+ is works similar to Canon's Highlight Tone Priority, preserving highlights at the expense of noisier shadows. The new HDR mode captures two different exposures and merges them for greater tonal range than what is possible in a single exposure. Note that there is no control over the strength of these settings.
There aren't many clipped highlights to begin with at default exposure in this shot, but Smart Range+ definitely improved overall exposure, boosting shadows and midtones without blowing additional highlights despite the apparent brightness. But because it boosted ISO to 200 there's slightly more noise. The NX300 attempts to compensate by applying stronger noise reduction, which leads to a slight loss in detail.
The new HDR setting works differently by combining two exposures, but the resulting image here looks rather unnatural. (HDR modes in general are not meant for portraits, though. We take them because lighting is better controlled in the lab versus our Far-field shots below.) Note that the HDR image is noticeably cropped as a result of the alignment process.
Dynamic Range Expansion: Far-field
Here, you can see Smart Range+ and HDR at work with our Far-field shot. Smart Range+ boosted shadows and midtones while keep highlights intact, but again, details are a little less crisp due to the higher ISO. HDR mode had a more dramatic effect bringing out a lot of shadow detail and brightening the overall exposure without blowing highlights. Interestingly, we don't see any ghosting from movement within the frame between the two exposures. We captured some additional shots with rapidly moving subjects within the frame and confirmed that the NX300's HDR mode actually does attempt to process movement out, similar to Sony's Anti Motion Blur technology. It's not always 100% successful though, so ghosting is still possible but is less likely or noticeable.
Low Light. The Samsung NX300 performed reasonably well in our low light test. The NX300's slowest shutter speed of 30 seconds captured bright images at the lowest light level we test at (1/16 foot-candle) at ISO 100. Noise is well controlled up to ISO 3,200, though at higher ISOs there are moderate amounts of fine luminance noise and strong chroma noise at the highest ISOs.
Auto white balance did a good job here at higher light levels, producing fairly neutral if slightly cool color balance.
We didn't notice any significant horizontal banding (pattern noise), and only a hint of heat blooming from the bottom right at very high ISOs. We did however notice a few hot pixels here and there especially when long exposure noire reduction was disabled where they're expected, as well as the issue with PDAF pixels causing alternating red and cyan artifacts in the resolution target again.
The Samsung NX300's autofocus system was only able to focus down to just above the 1/4 foot-candle light level unassisted with an f/2.8 lens, which isn't very good for an APS-C sensored CSC. The NX300 was however 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 larger sensors, compact system cameras like the Samsung NX300 tend to do better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects. (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.)
Terrific 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 100/200; ISO 1600 capable of a good 13 x 19; ISO 12,800 prints a nice 5 x 7.
ISO 400 prints a very good 24 x 36 inch print, with only mild softening in our target red swatch, and wall display prints possible up to 30 x 40 inches.
ISO 800 yields a nice, popping 20 x 30, with the only exception being the aforementioned (and typical) softening in our red swatch.
ISO 1,600 starts to show more obvious signs of aggressive noise processing algorithms and warrants a reduction to 13 x 19 inch prints, as anything higher loses out in fine detail from the processing.
ISO 3,200 shows even more noise reduction signs, as the default camera processing attempts to smooth everything out and renders a somewhat pleasing but still washed-out look at larger print sizes. Best to remain at 11 x 14 inches and below here for critical applications.
ISO 6,400 makes a nice 8 x 10 inch print, with full color still coming through for this ISO.
ISO 12,800 prints at 5 x 7 have some minor splotchiness in flatter areas, but still makes a nice print for such a high ISO.
ISO 25,600 prints at 4 x 6 have a scorched look and this setting is best avoided.
The Samsung NX300 can certainly hold its head high in the print quality arena. At a current street price of below $600 as of this writing, this camera should truly be considered in the "wow" department for image quality. To be able to print great 30 x 40's at this price is astounding, and we are betting that Samsung will turn some consumers' heads with this offering (and probably turn some manufacturers' heads as well). It should also be noted that from ISO 1600 - 6400, the sizes that were larger than what we could officially call "good" still had a more pleasing quality than is generally the case for most all cameras in this class, and for some instances the camera will be able to yield higher sizes for certain subject matter or less critical applications. Always keep in mind that we shoot our basic image quality test shots with the sharp reference lenses from our lab and not the kit lenses that come bundled with the cameras, so results with kit lenses may vary somewhat.
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.)