Samsung NX30 Review
Samsung NX30 Shooter's Report Part I
A comfortable, lightweight camera with great specs and performance
By John Shafer | Posted: 06/09/2014
NX30 + 18-55mm Kit Lens: 48mm, f/6.3, 1/100s, ISO 200, -0.3EV
This was my first opportunity to spend some quality time with a Samsung interchangeable lens camera, and I was really looking forward to it. On paper, Samsung NX cameras have a very competitive feature-set and excellent performance specs. I was excited to see how the NX30 performs compared to other mirrorless cameras I've used -- especially at action performance and image quality. Samsung sent me the NX30 in a kit with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 image-stabilized zoom lens. The camera is spec'd with a 20-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, built-in Wi-Fi with NFC, 9 frames per second high-speed burst, hybrid auto focus, a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF), 3-inch AMOLED touchscreen display, i-Function control system, and Full HD video at 60 frames per second. It definitely looks great on paper. But do those specs measure up to a great camera in real life?
NX30 + 18-55mm Kit Lens: 29mm, f/5.6, 1/100s, ISO 200, +0.3EV.
In this first part of my NX30 shooter's report, I'll share my general, first-impressions of the camera -- handling, basic elements, image quality, and standout features -- especially the built-in Wi-Fi, electronic viewfinder and the i-Function controls.
I spent my first few days with the NX30, shooting with the standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 ED OIS kit lens. It's a solid, basic zoom and it has surprisingly good image quality for an inexpensive kit lens. However, with that slow variable aperture and short (but typical) zoom range, it is a somewhat limited lens. I think it's fine for general snapshot and travel photography. But for anything more technical or serious, I'd prefer to have either a longer zoom (I really like 18-200mm zooms for APS-C sensor cameras) or more lenses. That said, I did take plenty of photos with the 18-55mm lens that I'm happy with -- family stuff, street photos, landscape, food porn for Instagram, and even some action photography. Like I said, it's very good for a kit lens. It may not have a lot of range or a fast aperture, but it's sharp from edge to edge, it's got nice snappy contrast, and the bokeh is surprisingly good for a variable aperture lens. Of course, I would have preferred to shoot with Samsung's new 16-50mm f/2-2.8 S ED OIS zoom -- one of the fastest zoom lenses available. However, it's US$1,200 and the 18-55mm is what most buyers will start with, so that makes it a good lens for me to start with, too.
In the hand
The first thing I noticed when I opened the box was the NX30 is much smaller and lighter than I expected. Because of the bulging EVF on top of the camera and the large (larger than some mirrorless cameras, anyway) APS-C sensor, I expected it to be bigger. However, sometimes first impressions can be misleading. Just to make sure my touchy-feely impressions were accurate, I consulted the Internet to find out how it compares to some other cameras. It turns out the NX30 isn't as small as I thought -- possibly because I've been shooting with a couple of larger DSLRs lately. It's definitely smaller than most DSLRs, including Canon's advanced entry-level camera, the EOS Rebel T5i / 700D. However, it's actually a bit larger than the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 / 100D, currently the smallest DSLR on the market. And compared to the comparably-spec'd Sony A6000 mirrorless camera, it's positively huge. That said, it still felt pretty small and light to me. Part of that is the 18-55mm kit lens, which is quite light and constructed mostly of plastic (thankfully, it does have a metal lens mount). The NX30 body is also very light and feels a bit plasticky, too. I don't have a problem with the feel but I know there are plenty of photographers who require their cameras to feel burly and metallic. For me, as long as it gets the job done and doesn't break, I've got no complaints.
In the end, even though the NX30 is bigger than I initially thought, I found it to be quite portable, which means you're less likely to get lazy and leave it at home. It was especially nice for me to carry in my pack while mountain biking, where every ounce counts. It was a lot easier on my back and legs than the big DSLRs I usually ride with.
Spring Mountain Biking In Park City: This photo includes my lovely wife and favorite mountain biking partner and model, Jenni.
(NX30 + 18-55mm Kit Lens: 18mm, f/3.5, 1/1250s, ISO 200, +0.3EV)
With the exception of Samsung's i-Function feature, which I'll get to later, the NX30's controls are pretty much standard for an intermediate DSLR. It has a mode dial with PASM, Auto, "Smart" scene modes, "Lens Priority," two user-programmable custom modes, and a Wi-Fi setting for accessing the camera's Wi-Fi options. For exposure control there's one control dial behind the shutter release, and on the rear there's an exposure compensation button along with a 4-way controller and dial that functions as a second exposure control when you're in full manual exposure mode.
Samsung NX30 Top Deck Controls: The NX30 has a mode dial with PASM shooting modes, Auto, user-customizable modes, and a Wi-Fi position for accessing the camera's Wi-Fi features. Note that it also has a dedicated "Drive dial" for accessing the self-timer, bracketing and high-speed burst shooting modes.
The NX30 also has a beautiful 3-inch AMOLED touchscreen display that offers access to a bunch of functions just by touching the screen. The most useful of those features is focus -- just touch where you want to focus on the display, and that's where the camera focuses. Combine that with the fully articulated display, and the NX30 is a great self-portrait camera -- just flip the monitor around so it's facing the front of the camera, touch the screen where you want it to focus (usually on an eye), and then press the shutter release.
Some photographers will no doubt view this as blasphemy, but over the past few years I've come to prefer electronic viewfinders to optical viewfinders. Five years ago, the quality of most EVFs was pretty poor. They were grainy, lacked saturation and contrast, and they refreshed too slowly and blacked-out when you used the burst mode. That's not the case anymore, though. In 2014, a good EVF is bright, sharp and quick, and arguably a better tool than a traditional optical viewfinder, allowing you to view the histogram and all the other data and info you'd usually have to check the monitor to see. The EVF is especially good for shooting video because it helps smooth out handheld video -- and unlike the optical viewfinder on a traditional DSLR, it actually works when you're recording video. The Samsung NX30 has a very interesting, one-of-a-kind EVF that can be pulled out and tilted up to 80 degrees for shooting awkward angles. I used it to shoot some very low ground cover flowers in my backyard and it worked very well, allowing me to keep the camera up to my eye so it was more steady and I could frame the photo more comfortably than if I tried to lay on my stomach or use just the monitor.
Samsung NX30 Tiltable Electronic Viewfinder: The NX30's 2.4M-dot EVF is quite nice and the unique tilting ability is really nice when you want to shoot at low angles and keep your eye to the viewfinder.
One of the most interesting features on the Samsung NX30 is the i-Function control system. I neglected it at first because it's not at all a standard camera control. However, I'm now making a conscious effort to use it because I think it's great. Basically, there's an iFn button on the lens barrel that gives you quick, single-button access to important camera settings like aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO and white balance. And if the mode dial is set to i (Lens Priority), the i-Function button offers i-Contrast and i-Depth controls -- self-explanatory, user friendly contrast and depth-of-field controls for less experienced photographers who want more creative control.
Samsung NX30 i-Function Controls: The iFn button on the lens barrel of selected Samsung lenses (left) gives quick access to regularly used settings like aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO, etc. The UI for the i-Function controls is very intuitive (right) and it's nice that you can also use it while you're using the EVF.
I especially like the i-Function controls because I think the NX30's standard exposure controls fall a bit short of perfect. And as I get more comfortable with using the iFn button and it becomes more intuitive, I am less concerned with the awkwardly-placed exposure compensation button and the dual-purpose exposure control dial / 4-way controller on the back of the camera.
Last but by no means least -- the NX30 has a very sophisticated built-in Wi-Fi system that you can use to transfer photos and videos to a smartphone, backup photos to the cloud or your computer, or use your smartphone as a wireless remote control -- you can even use the camera as a wireless baby monitor. I started using in-camera Wi-Fi a few years ago with an Eye-Fi card, and now I don't want to live without it. I mostly use it to share photos to Instagram and Facebook via my phone, although I also appreciate being able to use my phone as a wireless remote control.
Samsung Mobile App Screenshots: Screenshots of Samsung's Smart Camera app, installed on my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. The app interfaces with the NX30's Wi-Fi features. On the left is the MobileLink screen, which displays photos stored on the camera. So what you're seeing are actually images on the camera. The checked image is one I'm about to wirelessly transfer to my phone so I can share it on Instagram. On the right is the Remote Viewfinder screen -- that's a live view image of me, wirelessly streamed from the camera to my phone. You can see in the image that I'm in the process of making the screenshot you see above. Don't think too hard about it -- it will make you dizzy. Sample photos using both Wi-Fi features are below.
To use the NX30's built-in Wi-Fi you have to install the Samsung Smart Camera App on your phone and connect your phone to the camera's Wi-Fi network. I found the connection process with the NX30 to be a bit fiddly, but I did get it to connect. To be honest, I've had some difficulty with the built-in Wi-Fi on most cameras. While the NX30 wasn't the easiest I've used, it wasn't the worst, either. Once you've got your phone to recognize the camera, it's a lot easier to connect. And if you have a phone with NFC (Near Field Communication), all you have to do to reconnect is tap the back of the phone on the NFC badge on the left side of the camera and they will automatically connect. Then it's just a matter of selecting the photos you want to save to your phone. Once you've saved them, you can treat them exactly as you'd treat a photo you took with your phone.
My standard practice is to process them with Snapseed and then upload to my Instagram account. Even the best smartphone can't compare to a good point-and-shoot, let alone a camera like the NX30. I love being able to use a camera with great image quality and depth-of-field control for my 'food porn' photos. The NX30's built-in Wi-Fi means I don't have to wait for a computer to share them to Instagram.
Samsung's Remote Viewfinder wireless remote option is very impressive. It allows you to use your phone as a remote control, via the Samsung Smart Camera App -- complete with live view display. It isn't just a simple remote, either. You can choose the shooting mode, manually adjust aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance -- even use the touch focus feature to control where the camera focuses. Here's a picture I took of myself with the NX30, using the app on my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. The Remote Viewfinder feature takes selfies to a whole new level.
The Samsung NX30 is a very nice camera, with a lot of performance and cool features packed into a reasonably compact package. I shot a pretty good variety of subjects in a wide range of conditions with it in the first week, and for the most part, I was pleased with the results. I especially liked having the built-in Wi-Fi to feed my Instagram habit.
The guys at Imaging Resource HQ sent me a couple of new lenses to use with it so I've been able to expand my shooting options and in the next installment of my shooter's report, I'll get into a more technical evaluation of the NX30's performance features, including speed, auto focus, exposure and image quality.
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.