Samsung NX100 Review

 
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Samsung NX100 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Bright color, but with fairly good hue accuracy overall.

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.
Saturation. The Samsung NX100 produces images with vibrant color using the standard, default settings. The camera pushes bright reds and blues, as well as some greens, dark brown and purples. Default saturation is 114.9% (14.9% oversaturated), which is higher than most recent competitors, but not dramatically so. You can of course tweak saturation to your liking, or choose a different color mode. See the comparison of alternate "Picture Wizard" options below. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. Here, when adjusted for the correct white balance, the Samsung NX100 did well on lighter skin tones, which were only slightly on the pinkish side conveying a healthy looking glow. Darker skin tones, however, showed a very strong shift toward orange. 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 NX100 did shift cyan toward blue, dark red toward orange, orange toward yellow and yellow toward green, but shifts were relatively minor to moderate. With an average "delta-C" color error of 4.63 after correction for saturation, overall hue accuracy was pretty good. Hue is "what color" the color is.

Picture Wizard
The Samsung NX100 offers nine preset "Picture Wizard" options, plus three custom options. You can adjust contrast, saturation, sharpness and color tone for any of the settings.

Picture Wizard Options

Mouse over the links above to see the effect of the presets on our Still Life target. You can click on a link to load the full resolution image.

Saturation Adjustment
Samsung NX100 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
Click to see NX10OUTBSAT1.JPG Click to see NX10OUTBSAT3.JPG Click to see NX10OUTBSAT5D.JPG Click to see NX10OUTBSAT7.JPG Click to see NX10OUTBSAT9.JPG
-4 -2 0 +2 +4

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 with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Noticeable pink casts with Auto, Incandescent and 2,600 Kelvin settings, though better performance with Manual. Average amount of positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+0.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV
2,600 Kelvin
+0.3 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was quite pink with the Auto, Incandescent and 2,600 Kelvin settings. Manual mode produced more accurate overall color, though it was a hint cool. The Samsung NX100 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +0.3 EV. Overall color looks fairly good, though you can see that oranges and reds are pushed. (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.)

Outdoors, daylight
Vibrant colors overall, though with a tendency toward a cool cast and slightly high contrast under harsh lighting. Better than average exposure accuracy in our Portrait shot, but our Far-field House shot was slightly overexposed.

Auto White Balance,
+0.3 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Samsung NX100 tended toward a slightly cool color balance when set to Auto white balance. The Manual setting does warm things up a little, and personal preference will come into play here. The NX100 required + 0.3 EV exposure compensation to keep facial tones reasonably bright on the model. The average for this shot is +0.7 EV, so that's pretty good. Still, there were quite a few blown highlights in her shirt and flowers. The NX100 overexposed our Far-field House shot at default exposure, leading to quite a few blown highlights in the white trim. Color balance was also a bit on the cool side. Default contrast is high, but fortunately, there's Smart Range and a contrast adjustment to help compensate. Overall, fair results here. See the Extremes section below.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,900 to 2,100 lines of strong detail in JPEGs, a bit more from ACR converted RAW files.

Strong detail to
1,900 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
2,100 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
2,000 lines horizontal
ACR processed SRW
Strong detail to
2,100 lines vertical
ACR processed SRW

In-camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart at the highest quality settings revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,900 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and about 2,100 lines per picture height in the vertical direction. Complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur until a little over 3,000 lines in both directions. An Adobe Camera RAW 6.3 conversion of our resolution chart showed slightly improved horizontal resolution but didn't really show significantly higher resolution in the vertical direction, though there were fewer artifacts near the limits. 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.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Pretty good sharpness overall, though fine detail is a little soft and there are minor edge-enhancement artifacts on some high-contrast subjects. Moderate noise suppression visible in the shadows.

Good definition of high-contrast
elements with some visible
sharpening artifacts.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The Samsung NX100 captures fairly sharp images overall, though some edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the thicker branches, roof and trim in the crop above left. (Most noticeable on edges of white trim against the brick; note the light halo there.) Fine detail such as the smaller branches and twigs show very little edge enhancement, but are also appear a little soft. The NX100 offers nine levels of sharpening though, so you can always tweak JPEG output to your taste. 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 some moderate noise suppression artifacts in the darkest areas of the model's hair, smudging individual strands together in the shadows and where local contrast is low. Overall, results are a bit below average for a modern APS-C sensor, and there is no way to reduce noise reduction at low ISOs with the NX100, unless you shoot RAW. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Samsung NX100 produces fairly sharp in-camera JPEGs, though fine detail can be a little soft. Often, more detail can be obtained from carefully processing RAW files than can be seen in the in-camera JPEGs. Take a look below, to see what we mean:

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.

It's a little difficult to tell because the camera JPEG is slightly overexposed, but you can see that the Samsung RAW Converter 4 conversion at default settings resulted in an image that is softer than the in-camera JPEG. (Normally, manufacturer provided converters produce results very similar to in-camera JPEGs at default settings, but Samsung RAW Converter 4 is a rebadged version of SilkyPix, so it probably doesn't implement the exact same image processing algorithms as the camera.) The bundled RAW converter has quite a few features and presets, but we found very good results by turning off sharping in the editor itself, and then applying strong unsharp masking of 500% with a radius of 0.3 when generating the output JPEG. (There's no interactive preview at 100% doing it that way, though, so it does take some experimentation.) A bit more detail can be seen with the sharpened version, but not much, probably due to noise reduction. The Adobe Camera Raw conversion (which was sharpened in Photoshop using unsharp masking of 400% with radius 0.3) revealed more fine detail than the camera JPEG and SilkyPix conversions, but it also shows a bit more noise at default settings, which is often the case. One of the advantages of shooting RAW is being able to decide for yourself the optimism trade-off between detail and noise, especially when the camera provides no or very limited control over noise reduction like the Samsung NX100.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise with good detail up to ISO 800, high noise at higher ISOs.

Default High ISO Noise Reduction (On)
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1,600 ISO 3,200
   
  ISO 6,400  

The Samsung NX100's images are quite clean at ISO 100, and ISO 200 is almost as clean, but there is subtle detail loss in low contrast areas even at base ISO. A more noticeable noise grain pattern emerges at ISO 400, though fine detail is very good, with just a hint of chroma noise creeping into the shadows. The grain pattern and chroma noise become stronger at ISO 800 and 1,600, though detail still remains relatively strong. At ISO 3,200, there is a noticeable increase in noise reduction which reduces chroma noise but flattens out a lot of fine detail in the hair, giving the image a stippled appearance. By ISO 6,400, noise and noise suppression efforts are very strong and the image is quite blurry with lots of chroma noise. Exposure levels dropped a bit as well at the higher ISOs. As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO.

A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). Unfortunately, Samsung doesn't have an NX prime lens with sufficient focal length for this shot, so we had to use the kit 20-50mm lens here. Luckily, it's pretty sharp at telephoto. 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.

As mentioned previously, the Samsung NX100's default noise reduction can be a little heavy-handed depending on the subject, even at base ISO. To make matters worse there are no noise reduction adjustments offered, except at ISO 3,200 and above, where On and Off are the only choices. Have a look at the crops below to see how much detail is lost to noise reduction at ISO 100:

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

The above crops compare in-camera JPEGs (left) to ACR converted RAW files (right). Both sets of shots were taken at ISO 100, and the converted RAW files have default noise reduction applied. A lot of digital cameras struggle with reproducing hair and fine detail in the red fabric's leaf pattern at higher ISOs, but usually not quite to this extent for a camera with an APS-C sensor at base ISO.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
Very high resolution with good overall detail, but somewhat high default contrast and limited dynamic range. Improved low-light performance with new firmware.

0 EV +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

Sunlight. The Samsung NX100 struggled a bit with the deliberately harsh lighting of this test, as do a lot of cameras. Strong highlights were clipped in the white shirt and flowers, which unfortunately is common. Shadow detail is pretty good, albeit a bit noisy. We preferred the +0.3 EV exposure overall, because the exposure of the skin tone in the face was better than 0 EV, without blowing out nearly as many highlights as with +0.7 EV. Depending on the photographer, you could lean one way or the other. Advanced users will want to shoot darker, to hold highlight detail. For those NX100 owners that are going to want to just print an image, the +0.3 image would probably produce the best-looking print with little or no tweaking. The bottom line though, is that the NX100 struggled in harsh lighting, producing ether a slightly dim face with good highlight retention in the shirt, or an well-exposed face with a lot of blown highlights in her shirt, suggesting low dynamic range.

Looking at the images more closely and running our dynamic range tests reveal extremely low dynamic range, but the tone curve masks that fact somewhat, with increased gradation in the shadows. Our eyes can see a wider range on the test chart, but it's an area that includes more image noise, which the program looks for and excludes.

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.)

Contrast Adjustment
The Samsung NX100's contrast adjustment wasn't much help in taming blown highlights in this harsh lighting.

Minimum Contrast
Contrast set to lowest,
Auto Exposure
Contrast set to lowest,
Auto Exposure

At its lowest contrast setting, the Samsung NX100 didn't do much better at preserving highlight detail. (It may look like it helped in the "Sunlit" Portrait shot above, but the better highlight retention is because of the lower exposure used in our Contrast series than the image we picked for best exposure of the face. You can see what we mean by looking at the Far-field House shot on the right, which still has about the same amount of highlights clipped as the default contrast using same exposure.) However, at the lowest contrast setting midtones and shadows were boosted quite a bit. The odd-looking coloration in the mannequin's face is due to drop in saturation where contrast was reduced, which is an unfortunate interaction.

Contrast Adjustment Examples
Click to see NX10OUTBCON1.JPG Click to see NX10OUTBCON3.JPG Click to see NX10OUTBCON5D.JPG Click to see NX10OUTBCON7.JPG Click to see NX10OUTBCON9.JPG
-4 -2 0 +2 +4

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 NX100's contrast adjustment helps very little with strong highlights here, 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.

Outdoor Portrait Smart Range Example
Off, ISO 100, 0 EV On, ISO 200, 0 EV
Highlights
Shadows
(Levels adjusted equally in Photoshop to show noise)

Smart Range is Samsung's name for their dynamic range enhancement technology. It works similar to Canon's Highlight Tone Priority, preserving highlights at the expense of noisier shadows. In the bright highlights, we do see much better detail handling. Despite the apparent brightness, very few highlights were clipped with Smart Range on in our Outdoor Portrait shot above. Smart Range doesn't seem to affect levels in the shadows much, darkening them just a touch in this example, but because it uses ISO 200 there is more noise visible. The NX100 attempts to compensate by applying stronger noise reduction, which leads to additional loss of detail and some blotchiness in the shadows.

Far Field Smart Range Example
Off, ISO 100, 0 EV On, ISO 200, 0 EV
Highlights
Shadows

This is a another example of Smart Range at work. Here again we can clearly see better highlight retention in the white trim with it enabled, though shadows are darker with less detail because of the higher ISO and increased noise reduction.


Face Detection
Off at 0 EV On at 0 EV Portrait Mode, 0 EV

Face Detection
Like most Point & Shoot cameras these days (and many DSLRs in Live View mode), the Samsung NX100 has the ability to detect faces, and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. The NX100 does it automatically in Portrait and Beauty Shot scene modes, or when Face Detection AF mode is selected. As you can see from the examples above, face detection worked fairly well, as the image with face detection enabled (center) was better exposed for the face without having to use exposure compensation, and white balance was a little warmer. Switching to Portrait Mode (from Aperture Priority) resulted in a slightly different exposure, though still brighter than the default exposure. Here, the camera boosted shutter speed to 1/80s (from 1/30s) presumably to help prevent subject motion blur, opened the aperture (from f/8 to f/5.6) for less depth-of-field to help make the subject stand out from the background, and raised ISO to 160 (from 100). The face is also noticeably softer, probably to reduce the appearance of blemishes.

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.)

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
100
Click to see NX100LL01003.JPG
4 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL01004.JPG
8 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL01005.JPG
15 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL01006.JPG
30 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL01007.JPG
30 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL01007XNR.JPG
30 s
f3.5
ISO
200
Click to see NX100LL02003.JPG
2 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL02004.JPG
4 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL02005.JPG
8 s
f3.5
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15 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL02007.JPG
30 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL02007XNR.JPG
30 s
f3.5
ISO
400
Click to see NX100LL04003.JPG
1 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL04004.JPG
2 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL04005.JPG
4 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL04006.JPG
8 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL04007.JPG
15 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL04007XNR.JPG
15 s
f3.5
ISO
800
Click to see NX100LL08003.JPG
0.5 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL08004.JPG
1 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL08005.JPG
2 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL08006.JPG
4 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL08007.JPG
8 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL08007XNR.JPG
8 s
f3.5
ISO
1600
Click to see NX100LL16003.JPG
1/4 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL16004.JPG
0.5 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL16005.JPG
1 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL16006.JPG
2 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL16007.JPG
4 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL16007XNR.JPG
4 s
f3.5
ISO
3200
Click to see NX100LL32003.JPG
1/8 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL32004.JPG
1/4 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL32005.JPG
0.5 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL32006.JPG
1 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL32007.JPG
2 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL32007XNR.JPG
2 s
f3.5
ISO
6400
Click to see NX100LL64003.JPG
1/15 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL64004.JPG
1/8 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL64005.JPG
1/4 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL64006.JPG
0.5 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL64007.JPG
1 s
f3.5
Click to see NX100LL64007XNR.JPG
1 s
f3.5

Low Light. The Samsung NX100 performed reasonably well in our low light test, though exposure metering was not reliable at the lowest light level, so we used manual exposure mode for these shots. The NX100's slowest shutter speed of 30 seconds combined with the kit lens' maximum aperture of f/3.5 resulted in slightly dim (but still usable) images at the lowest light level we test at (1/16 foot-candle) at ISO 100.

Firmware fix. Top is with original v1.01 firmware. Bottom with new v1.10 firmware. Both are ISO 800 at 1/16 fc, 8s, f/3.5.

With the original v1.01 firmware the camera shipped with, the Samsung NX100 was able to produce bright images down to the lowest light level at ISOs 200 and 400, but produced some very dark, odd-looking JPEG images at ISO 800 and above at the lowest light level. The matching RAW files looked okay for these odd-looking shots, so it appeared to be an issue with the image processing and not the sensor itself. We let Samsung know of this strange phenomenon. They were able to duplicate the issue, and provided us with v1.10 firmware that corrected the issue. See thumbnails at right. Kudos to Samsung for being so responsive. We've reshot all our low-light images above with this new firmware.

Noise is pretty well controlled up to ISO 400, though at higher ISOs there are moderate amounts of fine luminance noise and some blotchy chroma noise in the shadows. Auto white balance did a good job here, producing fairly neutral color balance, though there's a loss of overall color saturation at higher ISOs. Some horizontal banding is also visible at lower light levels and higher ISOs. We didn't notice any hot/dead pixels.

The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to between the 1/4 and 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted with the 20-50mm kit lens, which isn't as good as most SLRs using phase-detection AF, but reasonable for a compact system camera with a relatively slow (dim) kit lens. The NX100 was able to focus in complete darkness with its built-in focus assist lamp enabled.

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to their phase-detect AF systems, digital SLRs tend to do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects. The NX100 uses contrast-detect autofocus, as is found in most point & shoot cameras, so its low-light focusing ability is less than that of most SLRs with phase-detect systems. That said, though, the larger, more sensitive pixels of the NX100's sensor do better under dim lighting than do the tiny pixels of most point & shoots, (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

Output Quality

Print Quality

Good 20x30-inch prints from ISO 100-400; ISO 1,600 images are good at 11x14; ISO 6,400 shots are usable at 5x7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Samsung NX100 Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Samsung NX100 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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