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Samsung NX300 Review

by Dan Havlik and
Preview posted 01/03/2013
Review posted

Samsung NX300 Review -- Front quarter view

Big, bulky cameras aren't for everybody. You don't need chunky, SLR-like styling to get interchangeable-lens versatility, and some of us are more than happy to forego a few features for street shooter anonymity. Back in 2011, Samsung answered that need, dropped the electronic viewfinder from the then-flagship NX11, and created the stealthy NX200 mirrorless.

The Samsung NX300 is the latest successor to the NX200, and unlike last year's NX210, it makes some pretty significant changes throughout. Nutshell view: It's gotten a little bigger, but should be quite a bit faster and more versatile than its predecessor. With street pricing of about US$650 for the 20-50mm kit, or US$700 for the 18-55mm OIS kit, the Samsung NX300 offers quite a proposition for aspiring street photographers.

The guts of the Samsung NX300 have seen some serious tweaks from the previous model. The NX300's CMOS image sensor is still APS-C-sized, and has the same 20.3MP of resolution as its predecessor -- in fact, all of Samsung's newest CSCs have the same number of pixels. Nevertheless, it's an entirely new chip, and boasts a new feature: on-chip, phase-detection autofocus, which is designed to lock in on a subject more quickly and more consistently for sharper, candid pictures.

Other changes to the Samsung NX300 include a slight makeover with a new two-tone finish in two stylish configurations: a black camera body with silver accents, or a white body with silver accents. The NX300 also adds a gorgeous, 3.3-inch, tilting AMOLED, touchscreen display on back.

Samsung's been on the cutting edge of adding relatively easy-to-use wireless features to its cameras and the NX300 builds on that Wi-Fi reputation. One of the Samsung NX300's new Wi-Fi tools is its dedicated Direct Link button, which lets you quickly share your images across social networks. The other main addition is Near-Field Communications, which allows extremely easy pairing with Android devices -- and it doesn't even use any power on the camera!

Let's take a quick look around the Samsung NX300's new body design.

Walkaround. As we've mentioned, the Samsung NX300 follows in the footsteps of the NX200 and NX210, which differed largely in the latter's added Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity. Both models shared much the same body, but the NX300 goes its own route with a brand-new body, albeit one that retains much of the basic layout laid down in its predecessors.

Samsung NX300 review -- Front view

Seen from the front, there's clearly a new aesthetic at play here, but the changes are really just a matter of styling. The Samsung NX300's body has more of a retro look, with a pseudo-leather effect wrapped around its midsection -- it's actually plastic, not leather or rubber -- crowned with a handsome, brushed aluminum top panel. The bottom panel mirrors that on top in its aesthetic, but it's actually made of plastic.

There is but one control on the front surface of the Samsung NX300: the lens release button seen at left of the mount (as seen from behind the camera). Above and to the right of the mount is the combined autofocus assist lamp and self-timer indicator. Lugs for the included neck strap can be seen jutting from the left of the camera body, and angled forwards around 45 degrees on its right.

Samsung NX300 review -- Top view

Moving to the top deck, the Samsung NX300's brushed aluminum crown is seen in all its glory. It still hosts a flash hot shoe bookended by two single-hole ports for the stereo microphone, but the speaker port that formerly sat just to one side of the rightmost port is now gone, shifted to the left side of the camera body.

All top deck controls are clustered above the handgrip. The Shutter button encircled by a Power dial sits just where it did at the front of the handgrip, easily within reach of your index finger. (It's not ideally angled for comfort, though, but rather points straight upwards.) Behind sit the Playback Zoom dial -- also used for certain menu and settings functions -- and the Mode dial, right where they were in the earlier camera. The selection of exposure modes on the latter has changed, though, with Smart Auto mode now listed as simply Auto, the dedicated Movie and Magic Frame modes dropped altogether, the Wi-Fi mode from the NX210 retained, and the Scene mode replaced by a Smart mode (indicated simply with an 'S' inside a camera icon).

Finally, there's one new control on the top deck: The Direct Link button. This is used to access the camera's Wi-Fi functionality, and it essentially duplicates the Wi-Fi position on the Mode dial. The difference: You can define only one specific Wi-Fi function to be accessed by the button, and changing it requires a trawl through the menu system. The Mode dial's Wi-Fi position, by contrast, lets you access all but one Wi-Fi function, making your selection via the touch-screen AMOLED monitor.

Samsung NX300 review -- Rear view

The most significant changes, though, are reserved for the rear panel. There's a generous new 3.31-inch AMOLED monitor, larger than the 3.0-inch displays found on most cameras these days, and unlike the display found on the NX200 and NX210, it's also articulated. It can be tilted upwards by 90 degrees, or downwards by 30 degrees, which is plenty for shooting from the hip, down low to the ground, or high above your head. It doesn't allow self-portraits, though.

The new panel has double the resolution of those on the NX200 and NX210, but lags behind the best LCDs found on interchangeable-lens cameras these days in terms of dot count. That's countered somewhat by the use of a PenTile matrix, which has 2.4 subpixels (or 'dots') per pixel, rather than the more typical 3-4 subpixels. Still, the slight graininess and rainbow shimmer on high contrast edges that are typical of PenTile displays can both be seen here. Long story short: If you like PenTile displays, you'll be fine. If you dislike them, you'll find it better than the lower-res PenTile displays of old, but you'll likely still prefer a standard LCD.

Samsung has actually dropped a control from the rear of the NX300, incidentally. There's no longer a dial around the Four-way controller, whose buttons are also now separate, rather than the rocker-style circular button of the previous model. There's still an OK button at center, and the alternate functions for each direction of the pad are unchanged. So, too, are the Menu, Function, Playback, and Delete buttons which form the corners of a rectangle around the Four-way controller cluster. (They're a little tighter-spaced, though.)

There are two other differences to be found on the rear of the Samsung NX300. Most noticeably, the Video button now sits on an angled bevel at the very top right corner of the thumb grip, making it harder to bump, but also harder to press without shaking the camera. Previously, it sat right above the Exposure Compensation button, which hasn't moved. And finally, the card access lamp / charge LED has moved from its former location between the Movie and Exposure Compensation buttons, and now sits right above and to the left of the Playback button.

Samsung NX300 review -- Right view

The rightmost end of the Samsung NX300 is little-changed. The small, plastic, hinged door for the connectivity compartment now sits just slightly lower on the side of the handgrip, and beneath it sits a Type-D Micro HDMI connector, instead of the earlier Type-C Mini connector. It also plays host to a USB 2.0 High Speed port, just as in the earlier cameras.

Samsung NX300 review -- Left view

The leftmost end of the body, though, shows two more changes. One is the aforementioned speaker port, with a single, unusually large hole near the base of the camera body. Above and behind this is the new NFC antenna, which sits beneath the NX300's outer shell beneath its logo. It doesn't use any power at all -- it's simply a reactive tag, much like those you can purchase and place around your home to perform various functions. Even with the camera switched off, holding your NFC-compatible Android phone just so alongside the NFC tag will either launch Google's Play Store page for the Samsung app used to communicate with the NX300, or if it's already installed, will launch the app.

Shooting with the Samsung NX300

by Dan Havlik, with additional gallery photos by Mike Tomkins
Samsung NX300 Review -- Sample photo

When the Samsung NX300 really gets it right, it can capture color and detail that rival many digital SLRs.

Samsung is nothing if not consistent with its recent NX-series compact system cameras. While there was a major design overhaul and features upgrade when the Samsung NX200 replaced the NX100 in 2011, the company has since settled into a groove with its rangefinder-style mirrorless cameras. The Samsung NX300 is the latest iteration of these street-shooting compact system cameras, offering a classic but modern look in a compact, fully featured body.

I've tested several of the company's previous models in the past, and had a chance to shoot with the NX300 in the field. The following are my thoughts on the latest Smart Camera model from Samsung.

In the hand. "Retro" is still a major buzzword in digital camera design today, with many new models going for a vintage, analog feel. The Samsung NX300 takes the trend one step further with a sleek, throwback look that Samsung is calling "retro modern." All marketing jargon aside, the Samsung NX300 is an attractive compact system camera with a stylish and comfortable camera body, sporting a generous grip wrapped in textured faux leather.

The Samsung NX300 comes in two color schemes: a classic-looking, black-and-silver two-tone model and a white-and-silver model. I tested out the black version and, for my money, that's the more handsome of the two. (Though some may prefer the more modern-looking white model.) The silver accents on both versions are the top and bottom plates, and they're hint at the duality of this camera.

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image
The Samsung NX300 paired with the basic 18-55mm kit lens did a very good job capturing the wide expanse of the Hudson River in this landscape shot.

The Samsung NX300 is slightly bigger than its predecessor, with dimensions of 4.8 x 2.5 x 1.6 inches (122 x 63.7 x 40.7mm) and its noticeably heavier too, at around 10 ounces (without the battery). But, as was noted earlier, once the Samsung 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS III NX i-Function kit lens is attached and the battery is loaded into the NX300, the added bulk is less noticeable, with the full kit weighing 19.4 ounces (549 g). In contrast, the Canon SL1, which is reputed to be the smallest and lightest DSLR on the market, still weighs more than the NX300, tipping the scales at 22 ounces (623 g) with its 18-55mm kit lens attached.

The Samsung NX300 is not a terribly expensive CSC, with a list price as low as US$750, though you can find it for even less at retail. To cut down on weight (and, presumably, cost), the NX300's body is a mix of metal and polycarbonate. The top-plate is brushed aluminum, giving the camera a high-end feel while the bottom plate is silver plastic, making it feel less luxurious. In particular, the plastic battery/SD card cover feels flimsy, despite having a thin metal plate on the bottom inside of the door. Also, while the handgrip has an attractive leather-grained finish that wraps around the entire body of the NX300, when you hold the camera it's clear that it's not actually leather (nor even rubber), but textured plastic. (And it creaks a little underhand, if given a light squeeze.)

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image
Candid street shots were a breeze thanks to the NX300's improved speed and its ability to handle tricky lighting.

Overall though, the slim-profile Samsung NX300 has good balance, even with a zoom lens attached. I tried it both with the 18-55mm OIS lens, and with the 45mm F1.8 2D/3D lens, two of the three available kit lens options. While there's no way you can fit an NX300 with those configurations into your pocket, they create a highly portable and less conspicuous rig than, say, a DSLR kit with similar lens.

Want to learn more about the Samsung NX300's 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OIS III kit lens?
Click here to see our optical test results.

Controls. The layout of controls on the Samsung NX300 is similar to the previous model, but with a couple of changes. For one, as mentioned already, there's now a Direct Link button on top of the camera, identified with a familiar Wi-Fi icon consisting of several curved lines emanating outwards from a dot. The speaker has been moved from the top plate to an unusually large port on the rounded left side of camera. The shutter button with its surrounding On/Off power lever is also now slightly smaller. Otherwise though, the control layout on top of the NX300 looks a lot like it did previously.

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image
Shooting wide-screen shots was a snap with the NX300 thanks to its panorama mode, in which you simply hold down the shutter and "sweep" the camera across your subject.

Settings are labeled slightly differently on the NX300's mode dial from the previous camera. AUTO replaces SMART for the NX300's Smart Auto mode, which automatically selects a pre-set scene mode depending on the situation you're shooting in.

Samsung NX300 Review -- Sample photo

Many cameras would completely blow out the sky in shots like this, but the NX300 did a good job of picking up detail in the trees in the foreground and on the building, all while maintaining the blue in the sky.

There's also no longer a dedicated Video mode setting on the NX300's dial. Instead, video is controlled via the red-dotted, direct video button, which has been moved to the upper right rear of the camera, on top of a rubber thumb rest. I felt it was a good spot, as on the previous model, I accidentally hit the video button from time to time. My fellow reviewer, Mike Tomkins, found it uncomfortably small and close to the corner of the camera, however, complaining that it was difficult for him to start video capture without moving the camera.

Controls on the rear of the Samsung NX300 are also small, which isn't my preference but they make room for the large, new tilting display. (More about that in a moment.) A four-way keypad on the rear of the NX300 has replaced the rocker dial on the previous model, and it's a welcome change, giving you quick access to changing key settings including ISO, autofocus modes, and burst shooting options.

More advanced photographers might find the Samsung NX300's relatively basic set-up of buttons and controls to be a turn-off, but I liked that Samsung has kept them -- and even added a few more -- despite introducing touchscreen control with this model.

Tilting touchscreen display. The Samsung NX300's 3.31-inch, touchscreen monitor uses a fairly nice, high-res display. And that's a good thing: you'll be using it extensively, since the NX300 has no built-in electronic viewfinder. (If you want an EVF on your Samsung camera, you'll need to go with the NX20 or the new Galaxy NX.)

The screen is a fold-out, tilting type, capable of being positioned facing downwards by 30 degrees, or upwards by 90 degrees. It's a handy feature for composing overhead or down-low shots from difficult angles. I used it for macro work of flowers, preventing my shadow from blocking the sun by extending the camera in front of me, and composing the shot on the tilted up screen.

Unfortunately, the display doesn't flip all the way up or side-swivel for self-portraits, but it makes up for that limitation with its large size, wide aspect ratio and excellent resolution. With 768,000 dots of resolution, the Samsung NX300's display offers more detail than the 3-inch screens of the previous two cameras, the NX200 and NX210, which had 614,000-dot resolution.

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image
The tilting touchscreen display on the NX300 allowed me to get low-angle, street shots without having to get down on my knees in the street.

That difference is definitely noticeable: My images looked great in playback, and menus were clear and easy to read, which helped with the touch control feature. The PenTile array -- often a divisive feature -- does give the display a slight graininess, though, along with a very subtle rainbow shimmer on high-contrast edges such as text.

While the Samsung NX300's touchscreen wasn't as responsive as an iPhone, the simple and clear user interface made changing settings by touch relatively easy. When touchscreens first started appearing on cameras, I found them to be slow, buggy, and disruptive to the picture-taking process. The NX300's touch panel is a good example of where that seems to be changing: touch control is there if you need it but doesn't get in the way when you don't. There are also ample external controls to make changes as well.

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image
In the NX300's macro mode, I was able to lock the camera's autofocus on the flower on the right and recompose the shot, so the rest of the background to the left is blurred out.

Unfortunately, the touch screen is quite prone to fingerprints, and it's not the brightest I've seen, either. Those two features conspire to make it a bit tricky to see under direct sunlight, although a quick wipe with a lens cloth and the shade of a hand are enough to resolve the problem.

Samsung NX300 Review -- Sample photo

The dynamic range in images I captured with the NX300 was quite good, with the camera able to capture the levels of darkness and light in this late afternoon street shot.

Autofocus. Overall, I was impressed with the Samsung NX300's Hybrid AF system, which melds both 105-point phase detection and 247-point contrast detection: it's further proof that mirrorless, compact system cameras have put their autofocus woes behind them. In our testing, both in the field and the lab, the NX300's Hybrid AF system was quick and quiet, locking in on a subject and snapping off a shot in a split second. It's not quite the quickest Hybrid AF system we've seen, but it's certainly speedy enough to handle most shooting situations.

In our lab testing, the NX300 performed best in Center AF mode, where it achieved focus lock in just 0.116 second. That's faster than both the Canon SL1 digital SLR and the mirrorless Olympus EM-5 compact system camera! When using Multi-area AF mode, the NX300's AF was a bit slower than those two cameras, but most photographers will probably be satisfied with its speed. When you pre-focus the Samsung NX300, shutter lag is just 0.071 second, which is just fractionally better than the Canon SL1 DSLR, and slightly slower than the Olympus EM-5.

In real world use, I felt that the Samsung NX300's autofocus system was more than fast enough. I was able to quickly lock in and freeze candid shots or street photos on the fly, which is what this camera seems particularly well-suited for. It did struggle a little with locking focus in low light shooting conditions, although I didn't feel this was a significant issue -- it's a common bugaboo for mirrorless cameras.

Performance. We've had issues with the overall sluggishness of past Samsung NX-series compact system cameras, but the NX300 is noticeably faster than its predecessors. In real world use, it feels about average for the current crop of compact system cameras, and quite good compared to the previous generation. That's thanks to Samsung's new DRIMe IV image processor, which is clearly a marked improvement.

Just how fast is the Samsung NX300? Find out by clicking here to see our full battery
of rigorous, objective speed and operation tests conducted in the IR Lab.

While the NX300 is now fairly zippy overall, you'll want to enable its continuous shooting mode if you plan to rattle off a burst of images. In single-shot mode, burst shooting performance is sluggish and irregular, averaging just 0.9 frames per second for JPEG images, and 0.6 fps for raw shots. Enable continuous mode, and you'll get a much zippier 8.1 frames per second for as many as 14 frames, so long as you're shooting in JPEG format. Raw shooters will be frustrated by a burst depth of just five frames, though, even if the 7.1 fps burst rate is still respectable. The Olympus E-M5 is faster, but only slightly. The Canon SL1, on the other hand, only averages about 4fps in burst mode.

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image
The NX300's burst mode can shoot continuous high-speed bursts at three extremely swift frame rates: up to 10 shots per second (for up to three seconds), 15 shots per second (for two seconds), or 30 shots per second (one second). The catch is that resolution is reduced to only five megapixels.

If want to shoot really fast moving subjects, you might want to use the Samsung NX300's Burst mode. This lets you capture continuous high-speed bursts at one of three rates: 10, 15, or 30 fps, all with a limit of 30 frames. The trade-off is that image size is reduced to just five megapixels.

While I wouldn't, necessarily, recommend the NX300 for serious sports or fast action shooting, the maximum shutter speed has increased to 1/6000 second, and this coupled with its improved burst-shooting performance makes it a more capable all-around shooter. While it might be slightly slower than some competing models, Samsung has done enough to improve the speed of the NX300 overall that the differences are less relevant now. In short, the Samsung NX300 gets the job done in a hurry.

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image
The NX300 is so quiet to use, I didn't disturb this nervous squirrel.

Interface. I've been a fan of the clear, logical menu system that Samsung has used in the last few generations of its NX cameras, and the NX300 continues that quick-and-easy tradition. I sped through the menu system and was able to change features easily on the fly. I liked having the option of scrolling through menus either by using the touchscreen or the the various physical buttons and controls.

Samsung NX300 Review -- Sample photo

Image quality. The Samsung NX300 continues to improve on the already-very-good image quality of its predecessors. One thing Samsung has done with NX300 -- which we wish more manufacturers would consider with their follow-up models -- is to maintain the same resolution while improving the camera sensor. The 20.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor in the NX300 might have the same number of pixels as those of the NX210 and NX200 before it, but it's a totally new chip which produces noticeably better results. And, for me, it boasts plenty enough pixels for a camera in this class.

You can view the IR Lab's in-depth Samsung NX300 image quality test results by clicking here,
but be sure to read further on for side-by-side comparisons against the NX300's top competitors.

I've already mentioned that the NX300's new sensor adds on-chip phase-detection autofocus, which is a big plus for speeding up the the camera's AF system, but overall image quality has improved from the new CMOS imager, as well. In particular, the NX300 is better in low light and at high ISOs than previous models in its line. Photos at up to ISO 3200 equivalent with the NX300 looked remarkably clean, with only moderate chroma and luminance noise in the shadow areas. This is partly down to improvements in the image sensor, and partly to more powerful noise reduction algorithms. And while the latter also knock out a little detail in areas of your images where there is subtle contrast, the NX300 performed better than most in this respect.

Samsung NX300 Review -- Sample photo

At lower ISOs in good, outdoor light, the Samsung NX300's JPEG images were quite nice, with lots of resolution and detail. (There's even more detail to be found in the NX300's raw images, although it comes accompanied by a little more noise.) Color and hue accuracy were perfect in JPEGs that I captured of flowers and scenery in a city park. I thought that the NX300 tended to underexpose JPEG images slightly, but I find that preferable to some consumer cameras, which default to producing brighter, punchier images with blown highlights. With that said, in images with high contrast -- such as shots I captured of the Guggenheim Museum during midday sun -- detail in the building's shadowed exterior and in the bright, cloud-filled sky, was lacking when I zoomed in to 100%. JPEG dynamic range was about average for a CSC in this class, and in raw shooting, dynamic range was very good indeed.

I didn't find the NX300 and the 18-55mm OIS kit lens I primarily used while testing to be particularly good for fast action. While, as noted in the previous section, the camera's speed and performance have improved from the previously models, the NX300 had trouble capturing sharp images of an outdoor basketball game I shot, despite it's ability to fire off a burst of approximately 8 full-resolution images per second in Continuous High shooting mode.

Part of the problem -- as was the case with the Panasonic GH3 and other compact system cameras I've tested -- is that the camera's live view is not available during shooting in these fast modes. The result is you can't see the action you're photographing, just the images as they're being recorded. Consequently, it's hard to tell if the NX300's autofocus is keeping up with the moving subject, making it a case of "spray and pray." The result was quite a few out of focus shots, likely caused by the autofocus point slipping off my subject briefly.

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image

Overall though, I found the Samsung NX300's image quality to be above average for CSC's in this class and noticeably improved from previous models in this line, which struggled with noise at higher ISOs. The NX300's were very clean, almost to a fault, even at ISO 3200. On bright days at ISO 100, you couldn't ask for better image quality from a mirrorless camera.

How do the Samsung NX300's noise reduction options stack up?
Click here to see a comparison of JPEG NR modes against NR-free raw files.

Video. The NX300's better-placed direct video button -- just about the thumb-rest where you won't accidentally trigger it -- gets its movie mode rolling immediately, and I liked that full program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual exposure control was also available when shooting video, giving me ways to creatively adjust the settings for different results.

I've mentioned that Samsung's new DRIMe IV processor does a good job of speeding up the NX300's overall performance, and there are added video benefits as well. For one, it allows the Samsung NX300 to shoot in full 1080p HD at both 60fps and 30fps. (There's also a 24fps option for a more cinematic look, but resolution is rather bizarrely set at 1920 x 810 pixels, with an even wider aspect ratio similar to CinemaScope film.)

Samsung NX300 sample video
1,920 x 1,080, MP4, Progressive - Download Original (36.9MB MOV)

The addition of 60p high-definition shooting is a big plus for shooting sports with the NX300. And, let's face it, most of the best action footage you're going to capture on video is likely to be sport-related since, generally speaking, life moves kind of slow. I shot a basketball game with the NX300 and despite the movement of the players, my HD footage looked smooth. Samsung's done a good job of fixing some of the "rolling shutter" video issues from earlier cameras in this line. Even when I panned very quickly and aggressively while shooting with HD video with the NX300, I saw barely any of the wobbly, "jell-o" effect that plagued older NX models.

The new DRIMe IV processor also powers the Samsung NX300's 3D capabilities, giving it the ability to shoot both 2D and 3D stills and video with Samsung's 45mm 2D/3D lens. Since I don't have a 3D TV, I left it to my colleague Mike Tomkins to take a look at the 3D video aspects of the NX300, but as a two-dimensional video shooter, it produced very crisp, high-resolution footage that looked great in playback on my HDTV. While the NX300's HD footage got noticeably grainier and noisier in low light when shooting at higher ISOs -- I personally wouldn't shoot higher than ISO 3200 video with this camera -- results were cleaner than this NX300's recent predecessors. Sound quality from the built-in stereo microphone was decent, but wind noise was noticeable without the "Wind Cut" feature, which is not turned on by default.

Wi-Fi. Samsung's cameras have the best built-in wireless connectivity on the market right now, bar none. That doesn't mean the Samsung NX300's Wi-Fi features are perfect, though, or as simple as the sort of untethered photo sharing you get from even basic smartphones, but they're a step ahead of the competition.

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image

The Samsung NX300 uses an 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi radio, and is Wi-Fi Direct compatible, so you can connect to a wireless network or have the camera act as an access point itself. Note that it doesn't have built-in cellular connectivity as is in Samsung's Galaxy Camera and Galaxy NX, which both run Google's Android operating system. It does manage a lot with the Wi-Fi connectivity it does have, though, and it can certainly work with a cell phone's hot spot if your plan has sufficient bandwidth and data transfer available.

Easy pairing (on Android, at least). An important improvement is that Samsung has added a dedicated Direct Link Wi-Fi button on top of the NX300, helping you quickly share images with an Android or iOS-based mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. Located right on the camera's top plate behind the shutter button and next to the mode dial, the Direct Link hot-key button is marked by that familiar cone-shaped Wi-Fi icon. Equally important is the addition of Near-Field Communications technology, although this is of benefit only for Android users with compatible phones, since Apple has still shunned the technology in its devices. (NFC is also available on some Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows Phone devices, but these don't support Samsung's software, which is available only on iOS and Android.)

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image

If you hold your NFC-compatible Android device alongside the left side of the NX300 body, this simple gesture will take you near-instantly to the Google Play store to install the Samsung software, and if it's already installed, the same gesture will open the software and initiate a connection to the camera. And best of all, providing this function doesn't even waste any battery power: the NFC tag works even with the camera powered off and the battery removed.

Samsung NX300 Review -- MobileLink screenshot

Using the MobileLink mode and selecting photos from your Android smartphone -- in this case, an HTC One X+ -- this is the largest preview you can get before download a full-sized image.

Autoshare. Once you've opened the Samsung Smart Camera App on your smart device using NFC, or by finding it in your list of installed apps, you hit the Direct Link button to initiate a connection. By default, it will start the Autoshare function, and any photos you capture after the function is enabled will be transferred to your phone automatically. In this mode, there's no way to access already-captured photos and videos, nor any indication as to how you'd switch modes. The Samsung app shows only a list of thumbnails captured since the camera was paired, and a button to take you to your device's built-in gallery app.

Alternatively, you can reconfigure the Direct Link button to call up other functions such as MobileLink (which lets you quickly select and share images already stored on the camera to your mobile device), Remote Viewfinder (which provides a remote live view and shutter control), Auto Backup (for PC transfer when in range of your home Wi-Fi network), email, and cloud sharing.

MobileLink. For MobileLink transfer, you can opt to select images from either the camera or the smart device. When selecting from the camera's screen, you're shown a list of thumbnails for still images and videos, and can tap on the images to select them. There's no indication of this, but you can also use the zoom dial on the top deck to switch to a full-screen, single-image view. Here too, you can select or deselect images for transfer, and switch between images. There's no way to zoom in beyond the full-screen view, however, and there's a good half-second lag when switching between videos, which are shown even though they can't be transferred in MobileLink mode. The interface is still preferable to that on the smart device, which shows absolutely microscopic thumbnails of each image, and zooms in to only-slightly-less-tiny previews if you tap and hold on a thumbnail.

Remote Viewfinder. The Remote Viewfinder mode provides a remote live view which is scaled to fit the screen (and orientation) of your smart device. The remainder of the screen is given over to the few available remote controls: a Shutter release, Flash control (off / auto), Self-timer control (off / 2 seconds / 10 seconds), and a resolution control (with a choice of full resolution, or 1920 x 1080 pixels). You can also choose whether to save photos to the camera only, or to mirror them to your phone as well, but the latter only works at greatly reduced resolution. Depending on the aspect ratio, you're limited to 1024x576 (16:9), 960x640 (3:2), and 1024x1024 (1:1).

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image

Frustratingly, all other functionality is disabled during Remote Viewfinder mode, even if you use the physical controls on the camera body. That includes even the camera's autofocus, which can't be used during Remote Viewfinder operation, either by tapping on your smart device screen, or half-pressing the camera's shutter button. Instead, you have to focus manually using the fly-by-wire lens ring, which is the only physical control that retains its standard function. Suffice to say, it rather defeats the purpose of using a remote viewfinder if you have to stay right next to the camera to nursemaid its focus position. The function is thus useful only for scenes were you can lock focus ahead of time and rely on your subject being within your depth of field.

Slow to switch functions. And switching between these various modes requires that the Wi-Fi connection be dropped and reestablished, a process which takes at least several seconds. That leads to a rather fragmented feel, with each piece of the smart device puzzle firmly separated from the others.

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image

Direct to the cloud (or your network). As well as all its smart device functionality, you can also connect the camera directly to a wireless network. Once connected, you can upload photos to Facebook, Picasa, and YouTube or Microsoft's SkyDrive Cloud-based storage service via the SNS & Cloud tool, email your images to any email address, or invoke Auto Backup to copy your 1000 most recent files to a computer. The latter requires i-Launcher and PC Auto Backup apps to be installed on your computer. I appreciated the fact that Samsung has made it simple to email images directly from the NX300. Backing up my NX300 photos to a computer connected via a Wi-Fi network was relatively painless, too.

Samsung NX300 Review -- Sample photo

Unfortunately, all of these Direct Link-button options are hidden rather unintuitively beneath a Key Mapping menu item in your camera's menu, though. A much easier way to get to the additional Wi-Fi functionality is to turn the Mode dial to the "Wi-Fi" position, which will call up a touch interface on the rear display that helps you choose among a few options. (Although strangely, the Direct Link function is missing from this touchscreen menu.)

Touchscreen control. While the NX300's touchscreen interface is fairly responsive, the various Wi-Fi touch tools are sluggish to use, and take a few seconds to engage. The touchscreen makes the NX300 a lot easier to set up than previous models, though, and I breezed through entering a short user name and password via the virtual keyboard on the rear display. (On earlier non-touch-based NX cameras, hunting and pecking out info using physical buttons was a nightmare.) It's still painful for longer and more complex passwords, however, because there's no way to view the whole password on-screen at once. Instead, you can only see the most recently-entered character.

There are also a few too many options to choose from, some of which would better be combined. We'd like to see Samsung refine the smart device features in particular, making it so that you can control more camera features remotely, view larger previews from your remote device, and switch between live capture and image review / transfer from the smart device without first having to disconnect and re-pair the devices.

While the NX300's Wi-Fi functionality is far from perfect, it's certainly quite a bit more functional than most of what's gone before. While we'd like, some day, to have a camera perform as adeptly without wires as a smartphone, Samsung is leading the pack to make this happen. Both the Samsung Galaxy Camera and Galaxy NX come pretty close, as far as cellular-connected devices go. And as far as compact system cameras with built-in Wi-Fi are concerned, the Samsung NX300 is, mostly, a step in the right direction.

Samsung NX300 review -- Sample image

 

Samsung NX300 Review -- Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

The most immediately-apparent difference when you compare the Samsung NX300 to earlier models is its styling. While the basic layout is little-changed from the NX200 and NX210, the NX300 has a new two-tone finish with a single panel with faux-leather texture, wrapping around the entire front of the body. This gives it a much cleaner, rather retro aesthetic. Two body colors are offered in the US market: either black or white, both of which are mated to brushed silver top and bottom plates. The top plate is a solid piece of aluminum, while the bottom plate is plastic. There are a few other notable changes on the outside. On the rear panel is a larger, touch screen display that's now articulated on one axis, there's a new Direct Link button on the top deck, the nearby speaker grille has vanished, and the movie record button has been relocated inside a more prominent thumb grip.

The increase in size is relatively modest, but body-only weight has increased quite a bit. With dimensions of 4.8 x 2.5 x 1.6 inches (122 x 63.7 x 40.7mm), the NX300 body is around 0.2 inches (5.5mm) wider, a little less than 0.1 inches (1.2mm) taller, and a touch under 0.2 inches (4.1mm) deeper than its predecessor. It tips the scales at 9.9 ounces (280g) without battery, about two ounces (57.8g) more than the NX210. That's a little more than 25% heavier, although once you attach a lens and place battery and flash card in the camera, the difference isn't quite so noticeable.

Samsung NX300 review -- Hybrid autofocus system coverage

On-sensor phase detect autofocus. On the inside, the changes are much more significant. There's a brand-new 3:2 aspect, 20.3 effective megapixel APS-C CMOS image sensor, and while the resolution and size are unchanged from the chip used in the NX200 and NX210, the NX300's chip sports a brand-new capability. Since Fujifilm debuted on-chip phase-detection autofocus in some of its fixed-lens cameras back in 2010, we've seen several interchangeable-lens cameras from rivals with similar technology. The NX300 marks Samsung's first foray into on-chip PDAF, and it's interesting to see how the Korean consumer electronics giant's system implementation compares. (Spoiler alert: The answer is "pretty well".)

Like many competing systems, the NX300 pairs both contrast detection and phase detection. The 105-point phase-detect AF system is used to get in the ballpark, then the 247-point contrast detection AF system takes over to fine-tune focus. Systems such as these can be very hit or miss. Some perform admirably, and others underwhelm us: The mere existence of hybrid autofocus with phase detection is no guarantee of greatness. Thankfully, Samsung's system performs very well, locking focus quickly and reliably.

As noted on the Exposure page, we saw artifacts in a handful of our test images which we believe are likely caused by these new on-chip phase detect pixels. We didn't notice any sign of these in our gallery shots, however, and even in the lab shots noticed them largely because we knew where to look, after first stumbling upon them in our res shot. We mention these largely because our inner geeks find them interesting, and some readers may feel the same. We don't expect them to prove even slightly troubling for real-world shooting.

Samsung NX300 Review -- DRIMe IV image processor

Improved performance. The NX300 also has a brand-new DRIMe IV image processor which Samsung says it developed in-house. (The NX200 had a DRIMe III processor, and we believe this was shared by the NX210, although we've not seen Samsung directly state which variant that model used.) The newer sensor and processor together give the Samsung NX300 a 1.5 frame-per-second boost in burst shooting speed to 8.1 fps in compressed JPEG mode. That actually betters Samsung's claimed 1fps increase, although it lags the claimed burst rate of 8.6 fps by around half a frame per second. You can shoot as many as 14 frames at this rate, though. In raw shooting, there's a still worthwhile 1 fps increase to 7.1 fps (1.5 fps less than claimed by Samsung), but the burst depth is just five frames.

Higher sensitivity. Samsung promised a one-stop increase in maximum ISO sensitivity thanks to improved noise reduction, and that gelled nicely with what we saw in testing. Sensitivity now ranges from ISO 100 to 25,600 equivalents, plus an Auto ISO function whose upper limit can be manually set from ISO 200 to 3200 equivalents. Samsung says that DRIMe IV also allows better color reproduction, as well as Full HD (1080p) high-definition video capture with a higher frame rate of 60 fps.

Samsung NX-mount. The sensor sits behind a standard Samsung NX mirrorless lens mount as seen in past NX-series compact system cameras. As well as third-party options, Samsung currently offers a selection of twelve first-party lens models, although a few of these are closely related. These include five zooms (12-24mm 18-55mm, 18-200mm, 20-50mm, and 50-200mm), and six primes (16mm, 20mm, 30mm, 45mm, 60mm, and 85mm). Many of the lenses feature Samsung's i.Function technology, which allows camera settings to be adjusted quickly using the fly-by-wire lens ring and a dedicated i.Function button in concert.

Samsung 3D lens

True 3D imaging. There's also an unusual 2D/3D optic (shown at right) that -- although it's related to an existing one -- definitely deserves to be considered in its own right. The NX 45mm f/1.8 2D/3D lens is based on the 45mm prime we just mentioned, which was unveiled at the Photokina 2012 tradeshow. The key difference will be obvious from the name, and thus far applies only when used with the NX300 or NX2000 body. The 45mm 2D/3D lens allows the NX300 to provide a true 3D image from a single, monocular optic, without the need for panning as in some cameras -- and that means it also allows for 3D video!

The way the 3D effect is achieved is reminiscent of a system shown by Canadian firm ISee3D several years ago, but we understand that Samsung has developed the design in-house. The basic structure of the lens is similar to the existing 2D-only version, but features two retractable liquid crystal displays that swing into the optical path when the lens is switched to 3D mode. These LCDs alternately black out incoming light on one or the other side of the lens, allowing the camera to record the stereo pair from which to create a 3D image using two subsequent exposures. When in 2D mode with the LCDs retracted, the lens operates just as the 2D-only version would, and indeed it can be used on other NX-mount bodies in this mode. Samsung tells us that only the NX300 and NX2000 have the processing speed necessary to handle the 3D functionality of the lens, however, and so there's no plan to allow existing NX-mount bodies to shoot with it in 3D.

Samsung NX300 review -- 3D sample image
The 3D effect can be surprisingly convincing, with the right shot. (Usually, it's a shot with a great separation in foreground and background subjects; the abbreviated depth-of-field doubtless helps reinforce the perception of depth.)
Click to download the .MPO (Multi Picture Object) file which you can view on your 3D-capable display.

The 3D videos are recorded at the Samsung NX300's maximum Full HD frame rate of 60 progressive-scan 1,920 x 1,080 pixel frames per second, but with one or the other LCD shutter active at 1/60th second intervals, so that you effectively end up with two 1080p30 streams providing left and right-eye views. These streams can be saved in one of two menu-selected formats: either for side-by-side viewing, or as a single file with interleaved views for each eye on subsequent frames. 3D videos use the same H.264 compression which the NX300 uses for its 2D videos.

You can also save 4.1-megapixel 3D still images in MPO (Multi Picture Object) format, which is essentially two JPEGs wrapped in a single container. And if you decide you'd prefer a 2D still, there's no need to extract it -- a 2D copy is saved simultaneously. It uses the same 4.1 megapixel resolution, though, so it's a lot coarser than a regular still would've been.

The 3D lens catch. There's an interesting side-effect of the design of this lens: effectively, you have two apertures that are applied together when in 3D mode. There's the aperture of the lens itself, of course, but you also have to account for the two liquid crystal shutters that sit in the optical path. Their presence means that although the lens physically has an f/1.8 maximum aperture, your depth of field is equivalent to that provided by an f/3.5 lens, since the shutters are alternately allowing light only from one side or other, blocking roughly half the incoming light. Together, they also reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor by about a factor of six, yielding a light level roughly equivalent to that provided by an f/5.6 lens.

Unfortunately, Samsung hasn't stated the effective interocular distance of the lens, which determines the effectiveness of its 3D. We do know that it's relatively narrow, though -- the front element of the lens is only around 24mm across, after all. Subjectively speaking, the 3D effect obtained is still pretty convincing, at least with the right subject.

Samsung NX300 review -- 3D sample image
Moving subjects typically don't work very well at all for still imaging with Samsung's 3D lens. Here, my son -- who was getting a little fed up with being the ISO standard 3D test subject du jour -- looked away from his hand between the left-eye and right-eye exposures. The result is disconcerting as an animated GIF, but not nearly as bad as when it's viewed on a 3D-capable HDTV, where your brain simply doesn't understand what it is seeing. Looking at shots like these rapidly made me feel rather nauseous.
Click to download the .MPO (Multi Picture Object) file which you can view on your 3D-capable display.

Not for moving subjects. The Samsung 3D lens brings with it some very significant caveats. For one thing, since exposures for each eye happen sequentially, there can be a significant delay between them. The exact delay will vary with shutter speed, but for a 1/60th second exposure, we measured around a 1/30th second delay between exposures. The lag can be very problematic with moving subjects -- and we don't just mean sports here.

If your subject simply moves their eyes between exposures, that can be enough to ruin a shot. (Or at least, cause you to have to retouch the shot by hand to get a workable result.) If there's motion between the exposures, the result is a picture which seems to flicker between the two views. Your brain doesn't expect each eye to see a different scene, and presenting it with an image where it does so can be a rather nauseating experience.

And it's not just subject motion that's an issue. You also forego any exposure control whatsoever. The aperture seems to be fixed at f/6.0 at all times. (We have a handful of shots which list f/1.8, but this would appear to be a bug, as even in a completely dark room we couldn't force the camera wider than f/6.0.) Both shutter speed and ISO sensitivity remain under automatic control at all times, and the shutter speed selected often ranges well beyond the handholdable, as far as 1/6th second -- even when higher ISO sensitivities were available. The maximum ISO sensitivity is just ISO 1,600, as well.

Samsung NX300 review -- 3D sample image
The motion issue was also a problem with street scenes (due to moving pedestrians / traffic). The lens also isn't terribly useful handheld after early dusk; shutter speeds simply aren't fast enough, and you can't control any exposure variables manually to compensate. If you can mount the camera on a tripod and scare away any moving subjects though, good results can be achieved even in fairly low light.
Click to download the .MPO (Multi Picture Object) file which you can view on your 3D-capable display.

By default, you can't even apply exposure compensation or adjust white balance, but disabling 3D Auto mode will at least raise these limitations. It will also provide access to Samsung's Picture Wizard effects, allowing you to combine 3D photography with 12 different filter types, three of which can be manually defined.

Overall, though, the result is an often-frustrating experience, to put it nicely. We found still image 3D photography was occasionally very fun, but mostly that was only in brightly-lit conditions (think: full sunlight), and even then only with relatively static subjects. We did get some usable shots in lower light, but only with an an absolutely static subject, and with the camera either on a tripod or braced against something. The occasional keeper shot in 3D mode made it all worthwhile, but we'd like to see the exposure control limitations lifted.

For 3D video capture, the experience was more pleasant. That's partly because we're more used to exposure control limitations with video, and partly because we didn't experience the same issues with moving subjects -- doubtless because your eyes don't have time to linger on slight differences between each eye's view with a moving subject. Motion was a little choppy for subjects which quickly cross the frame, but for the right subject moving towards or away from the camera, the effect was very convincing indeed.

3D video looks pretty good, if you have the right hardware to show it. You have a choice of encoding as either side-by-side or packed video, depending on what your HDTV supports. Side-by-side fits two eye views into a single video, then relies on your TV to split and stretch them to create a single 3D video. In the process, linear resolution on the horizontal axis is halved. Packed video simply includes two Full HD streams, and uses the same frame rate as side-by-side video, so gives the same sensation of motion with much better resolution. The downside: a doubling of file sizes versus side-by-side.
A side-by-side video is available on YouTube above, if your computer has the right hardware to view it. If not, you can get the original side-by-side 3D video here, and a sample packed 3D video here.

You have a choice of two encoding formats, and depending on your TV, the type you need to use may be dictated for you. The two views either encoded side-by-side in a single video (the default), or as a single container housing two separate videos (aka frame-packed). The latter is definitely the better option, because it gives you two Full HD (1920 x 1080) streams at 29.97 frames per second. With side-by-side encoding, you get a single Full HD stream at 29.97 frames per second, which is then split at its horizontal center by your TV. Each side of the video is stretched to the full screen width, halving horizontal resolution in the process. The only advantage is that you also get half the file size.

With my HDTV, the dual-stream format was also better because the TV recognized it instantly. With the side-by-side format, I always missed the first couple of seconds of video. The TV took a while to recognize it as a 3D stream, meaning I had to rewind once it was recognized if I wanted to see the start in 3D. And of course, the hardware you use to view the 3D imagery is going to play a significant part in other respects, too. My judgements were made on a 55-inch LG 55LA6900 which uses passive 3D glasses. Your mileage with other displays may vary, especially when it comes to perception of motion in 3D videos.

Samsung NX300 Review -- AMOLED monitor articulation

Touch-screen display. We've already mentioned that the Samsung NX300 has a larger, tilting display, but that's not the only change. As well as gaining a third-inch of diagonal size, the 3.31" (84mm) AMOLED display is now a touch screen, and has both a wider aspect ratio and a higher total dot count. It still uses a PenTile subpixel matrix, with an 800 x 400 pixel resolution, and a total dot count of around 768,000. (By way of contrast, the NX200 and NX210 had VGA resolution with approximately 614,000 dots.) And although the NX300 now offers touch-screen control, allowing for direct interactions such as identifying your subject for focusing with a tap of the finger, fans of physical controls will be happy to see that these all remain as well.

Better Wi-Fi. The key upgrade in the earlier NX210 model was the addition of built-in wireless networking connectivity, and the Samsung NX300 doesn't just retain this, but gives it quite an overhaul. The earlier camera was only single-channel capable -- we're presuming 2.4GHz -- but the new camera offers 802.11b/g/n compatibility with dual-channel 2.4 / 5GHz capability. That greatly increases both the variety of networks you can connect to, and your chances of managing a stable, high-speed connection suitable for transferring large images.

Social networking is one of the big drivers of in-camera Wi-Fi, and Samsung recognizes this by providing a new, dedicated Direct Link button on the top deck that lets you share your creations on social networks. The NX300 can share images and/or videos with Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, SkyDrive, and AllShare Play, or send them via email. It can also pair with a Wi-Fi Direct compatible device and share content directly with it, or allow other devices on the network to access its content via DLNA transfer.

The NX300 can also be controlled remotely from Android or iOS smartphones and tablets, with a live-view feed provided on the remote device, and you can -- of course -- download your images to phone or tablet, as well. An AutoShare function automatically sends every photo to your phone when Wi-Fi is enabled, while a Mobile Link function lets you browse and select images for manual transfer.

Samsung NX300 Review -- Bundled flash

Other changes. And there are plenty of changes in other areas, too. The fastest shutter speed is now 1/6000 second, up from 1/4000 second in the NX210. Samsung has also upgraded the Smart Camera functionality, adding 14 different Smart Modes (Beauty Face, Landscape, Macro, Action Freeze, Rich Tone, Panorama, Waterfall, Silhouette, Sunset, Night, Fireworks, Light Trace, Creative Shot, and Best Face), as well as an i-Depth function that the company says offers depth-of-field control directly from i-Function lenses.

Features held over from the NX210 include an intelligent flash hot shoe -- but no internal strobe -- and an autofocus assist lamp on the front panel. A small SEF-8A flash strobe is included in the product bundle, with a guide number of 8 meters at ISO 100. It has coverage approximately equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera, and folds down snug against the top of the lens when not in use.

How does the Samsung NX300's bundled SEF-8A flash perform?
Click here to see our flash test results.

Storage. Images are stored on Secure Digital cards, including the latest SDHC and SDXC types, and Samsung has also added support for higher-speed UHS-I badged cards. Images can be stored in either raw or JPEG compressed formats, and the latter allows a choice of the native 3:2 aspect ratio plus 16:9 and 1:1-aspect crops. Movies are saved in a .MP4 container using MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 compression, and include AAC audio.

Samsung NX300 Review -- Connectivity

Connectivity. Connections include USB 2.0 High Speed data and a Micro (Type D) HDMI 1.4a high definition video output (the NX200 used a Mini HDMI connector). The Micro USB port also doubles as a charging terminal, with the battery being charged in-camera. Samsung's documentation states that the camera can't be recharged from a computer, but if you plug it in with the power switched off, it does illuminate the charging LED, suggesting that a charge is being taken -- albeit perhaps rather slower than with the dedicated charger.

The in-camera charging design means that if you have multiple batteries, you can't leave one charging while using the other, unless you buy a dedicated charger. Should you want to do so, you'll need to pick up the BC3NX01, which as of this writing (late September 2013) hadn't gone on sale, although it could be preordered for US$24.

Power. The battery type supplied with the Samsung NX300 has been changed from those of its nearest predecessors. The Samsung NX300 now accepts proprietary BP1130 lithium ion packs rated for 1,130mAh, where the NX200 and NX210 used BP1030 packs with a 1,030 mAh rating. (You can still use these packs, if you are upgrading from an NX200 or NX210, however.)

Samsung NX300 Review -- Power and storage

The new battery is CIPA-rated at 320 shots per charge, or 330 shots using Samsung's internal standard.

Software. One final change of note can be found in the software bundle, and it's one we wholeheartedly support. In place of Samsung's own Intelli-Studio and Raw Converter software, the NX300 now comes bundled with Samsung iLauncher and the extremely popular Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

The latter has been well-received by photographers for a reason, and even if you happen to own it already, it can't hurt to own another license to use on a second desktop or notebook! (Adobe's license allows use on one desktop and one notebook, but not two machines of the same type, and nor for simultaneous use on two machines.) Note, though, that you're not receiving the current release of Lightroom. The NX300 ships with Lightroom 4.1, and can be updated to v4.4.1 free of charge. The current release, version 5, would be a $79 paid upgrade from Adobe.

 

Samsung NX300 Review -- Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Samsung NX300 with the Samsung NX200, Canon SL1, Nikon D5200, Olympus E-P5 and Sony NEX-6.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Samsung NX300 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 100

Samsung NX300 at ISO 100
Samsung NX200 at ISO 100

A year and a half separates the release of the NX300 from its predecessor, but for image quality here at base ISO, not much has changed. With the same sensor size and resolution we see minor differences in sharpening and color -- and perhaps noise processing algorithms -- but for the most part they both turn in strong performances here.


Samsung NX300 versus Canon SL1 at ISO 100

Samsung NX300 at ISO 100
Canon SL1 at ISO 100

The NX300 has roughly two more megapixels than the SL1, and it certainly seems to make enough of a difference, especially in the detail of the mosaic tiles. The NX300 images look crisper in general and in all areas, except for a slightly less detailed rendition of the red fabric swatch.


Samsung NX300 versus Nikon D5200 at ISO 100

Samsung NX300 at ISO 100
Nikon D5200 at ISO 100

Nikons tend to do better at resolving our difficult red fabric swatch than most other manufacturers, and this is clearly on display above. The D5200 also has roughly four more megapixels, and it does resolve a bit more detail, but Nikon's more conservative approach to sharpening and local contrast mean the NX300's images looks crisper, at least at default JPEG settings.


Samsung NX300 versus Olympus E-P5 at base ISO

Samsung NX300 at ISO 100
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 200

Similar results between these two cameras at base ISO. Both apply more default sharpening compared to the Nikon, with the NX300 appearing slightly sharper and cleaner than the E-P5 overall. But both cameras deliver sharp, appealing images here.


Samsung NX300 versus Sony NEX-6 at ISO 100

Samsung NX300 at ISO 100
Sony NEX-6 at ISO 100

Certainly a close and interesting match here. The NEX-6 has roughly four fewer megapixels, but still wins the battle in the red leaf swatch of fabric. Good overall performance delivered here from both cameras.



Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1,600, 3,200, and 6,400. 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. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Samsung NX300 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX300 at ISO 1,600
Samsung NX200 at ISO 1,600

Looking at the bottle crop and the shadow behind it, we can see the NX300 does a much better job at reducing chroma noise than its predecessor. Unfortunately, the bottle and the red-leaf fabric start to look like a watercolor as a result of this new processing algorithm. The NX300's mosaic crop actually shows slightly better detail despite the reduced chroma blotching, though it's not quite as crisp looking.


Samsung NX300 versus Canon SL1 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX300 at ISO 1,600
Canon SL1 at ISO 1,600

The NX300 turns in a slightly better performance in general here, as the SL1 has some odd splotchiness going on in the mosaic tile crop, and more noise in the shadows.


Samsung NX300 versus Nikon D5200 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX300 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D5200 at ISO 1,600

The D5200 is soft and noisy in comparison, and only really shines in the red leaf swatch.


Samsung NX300 versus Olympus E-P5 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX300 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 1,600

Noise reduction takes on different issues for each of these cameras. The E-P5 leaves more chroma noise in darker areas and smudges the grout lines a bit more in the mosaic tile, but it does a bit better in the red leaf swatch.


Samsung NX300 versus Sony NEX-6 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX300 at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-6 at ISO 1,600

The NEX-6 renders a little less fine detail and shows a bit more noise than the NX300, but does noticeably better in red-leaf swatch.



These days, ISO 3,200 is a very viable shooting option for many cameras, so let's take a look at some comparisons there.

Samsung NX300 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 3,200

Samsung NX300 at ISO 3,200
Samsung NX200 at ISO 3,200

The NX300 really starts to turn into a watercolor filter here, but the image is certainly superior to all the noise left behind by its predecessor the NX200.


Samsung NX300 versus Canon SL1 at ISO 3,200

Samsung NX300 at ISO 3,200
Canon SL1 at ISO 3,200

Yet again, the new smoother noise processing algorithm in the NX300 is far more pleasing to the eye than the noise left untouched by the SL1's JPEG engine.


Samsung NX300 versus Nikon D5200 at ISO 3,200

Samsung NX300 at ISO 3,200
Nikon D5200 at ISO 3,200

The D5200 is quite noisy here. There is more detail in the red fabric swatch, but it's noisy detail at best. The NX300 images here are certainly not perfect, but are preferable to most of the other cameras' noise processing attempts.


Samsung NX300 versus Olympus E-P5 at ISO 3,200

Samsung NX300 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-P5 at ISO 3,200

The E-P5 shows a good deal of processing artifacts in the bottle crop and splotches in the mosaic at the expense of rendering fine detail. While its images appear a bit crisper, the NX300 manages to hold onto more detail in the mosaic crop.


Samsung NX300 versus Sony NEX-6 at ISO 3,200

Samsung NX300 at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-6 at ISO 3,200

The NX300 manages to render slightly better detail in the mosaic crop while the NEX-6 shows more noise, splotchiness and random artifacts. The Sony however still does better with our red-leaf fabric.



Detail: Samsung NX300 versus Samsung NX200, Canon SL1, Nikon D5200, Olympus E-P5, and Sony NEX-6.

Samsung
NX300

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Samsung
NX200

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
SL1

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
D5200

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Olympus
E-P5

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
NEX-6

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. Olympus' 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds models like the E-P5 do extremely well here at ISO 6,400, and the Sony NEX-6 does a nice job with high-contrast detail as well. As we saw in the crop tables above, this detail comes with a pricetag of increased noise in other areas, but strictly looking at this table, the E-P5 and the NEX-6 are the clear winners in high-contrast detail as sensitivity rises. Stay tuned...as high ISO performance gets better and better, we will soon need to add ISO 12,800 to this table.

 

Samsung NX300 Review -- Print Quality

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 100/200 produces excellent prints at 30 x 40 inches with super-sharp detail and vibrant colors, and is capable of a wall-mountable print up to a whopping 40 x 60 inches.

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 anti-noise processing.

ISO 3,200 shows even more signs of noise reduction, 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 sensitivity.

ISO 12,800 prints at 5 x 7 have some minor splotchiness in flatter areas, but still make a nice print for such a high sensitivity.

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 as low as $650 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 of its rivals' 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 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.

 

In the Box

The Samsung NX300 retail package (as reviewed) contains the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Samsung NX300 Conclusion

Pro: Cons:
  • Attractive "modern retro" camera design blends old with new
  • Very good image quality, with reduced noise from new sensor
  • Consistent and logical control layout coupled with touch-screen operation
  • Clear, simple user interface and menu system
  • Better-placed one-touch Movie button above thumb rest
  • Larger, higher-res AMOLED display
  • Articulated AMOLED monitor tilts up 90 degrees, down 30 degrees for versatility
  • Very fast Hybrid phase / contrast-detect autofocus consistently yields sharp photos
  • Excellent continuous mode speeds (but see Con re: raw buffer depth)
  • Super high-speed burst mode can shoot up to 30fps (but at reduced 5-megapixel resolution)
  • Decent kit lens performance
  • Much improved handling of chroma noise in high ISO JPEGs (but at the expense of detail especially in the red channel)
  • Very good dynamic range in raw files
  • Raw files now losslessly compressed
  • Excellent hue accuracy with manual white balance
  • Automatically suppresses chromatic aberration, optionally corrects geometric distortion in JPEGs
  • Excellent HD video quality at 60p and 30p with virtually no wobbly rolling shutter effects when you pan
  • New in-camera HDR mode (but only combines two shots)
  • Fully-featured Wi-Fi wireless networking functionality with simple NFC setup
  • Bundled with Adobe Lightroom (albeit the previous release)
  • Slightly bigger and heavier than the previous model
  • Leather-look body panel creaks, is made of hard plastic
  • Gorgeous metal top deck emphasizes the less sophisticated feel of the rest of the body
  • Battery / SD card door is flimsy
  • Tilting screen doesn't cater to self-portraits
  • Touchscreen attracts fingerprints
  • Display is rather dim even with brightness at maximum
  • No built-in viewfinder, no option to add an electronic viewfinder
  • Slow single-shot cycle times
  • Burst depth is very limited if shooting in raw or raw+JPEG formats
  • Sluggish buffer clearing
  • Autofocus can struggle in low light
  • Lens selection is still fairly limited
  • No built-in flash (albeit bundled with small, weak external flash)
  • Live view not available during high speed continuous and super high speed bursts
  • Chroma noise reduction is quite strong (and turning NR down doesn't help much)
  • Contrast setting affects saturation
  • Wi-Fi features are fragmented and overly complex, duplicated hardware Wi-Fi controls are confusing
  • Wi-Fi is rather sluggish to connect
  • Slightly below average battery life

Samsung's continued improvements to its street shooting-style NX compact system cameras make these models more and more appealing to a range of photographers. The Samsung NX300 is not only one of the newest models in the line, it's the most fully-realized of any Samsung mirrorless camera we've reviewed so far. Not to mention, it's among the better compact system cameras on the market, when its price tag and image quality are factored into the equation.

The NX300 is a great looking camera, with a portable design that combines classic rangefinder style with a modern digital camera. The brushed aluminum top deck gives a feeling of quality which, sadly, isn't matched by a slightly creaky midsection and flimsy battery door. The larger, higher-resolution 3.31-inch AMOLED, tilting, touch-screen display on the NX300's back is bold and rich. It might even make you forget that the NX300 has no electronic viewfinder, nor any support for adding one. It does get a bit dim in direct sunlight, though, and is something of a fingerprint magnet.

Unlike its direct predecessors, the Samsung NX300 is a pretty fast all-around performer. While the new APS-C-sized, CMOS image sensor hasn't gained in resolution, the NX300's new Hybrid AF system -- enabled thanks to the sensor's on-chip phase detection pixels -- is significantly quicker to lock focus, especially in single-point mode. And the new DRIMe IV processor has noticeably improved continuous shooting performance. That said, the NX300 is still slow in single-shot mode, and the raw buffer depth is very limited. Live view also drops out during burst shooting, leaving you trying to track framing based on your reviewed images. These issues conspire to make the NX300 a poor choice for sports shooting.

The new 20.3 megapixel sensor in the NX300 produces noticeably better photos than in earlier models, showing a noticeable step forward in image noise. This is further helped by refined noise reduction algorithms, although these do occasionally trample on image detail, especially in the red channel at higher sensitivities. In good light at lower ISOs, however, this was not an issue with the Samsung NX300 capturing beautiful images with tons of detail and excellent color and hue accuracy. The NX300 also produces excellent HD video quality at 60p and 30p with no tell-tale wobbly rolling shutter effects, even when panning quickly and aggressively.

The NX300's built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity make for quick setup, and the feature set is rich, including remote live view, automatic transfer and backup, cloud connectivity, and more. It's also unnecessarily complex and fragmented, though. Still, once you get the hang of how it works, the NX300 does a good job of getting your images off the camera and onto the Internet. We think the consumer photographers who'll buy this model will appreciate that.

Overall, the Samsung NX300's impressive feature set, stylish design, high image and video quality, performance boost, and generous wireless features make it an easy Dave's Pick.

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