|Kit Lens:||2.50x zoom
|Dimensions:||4.8 x 2.5 x 1.6 in.
(122 x 64 x 41 mm)
|Weight:||9.9 oz (280 g)|
Samsung NX300 Hands-on Preview
by Mike Tomkins and Dan Havlik
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 forgo a few features for street shooter anonymity. Back in 2011, Samsung answered that need, dropping the electronic viewfinder from the then-flagship NX11, and creating 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. Slated for availability in the first quarter of 2013 with list pricing of around US$750 including a 20-50mm kit lens, the Samsung NX300 looks to offer quite a proposition for aspiring street photographers. (Note that the lens shown above isn't the kit lens, but rather an optional 18-55mm zoom.)
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 leather-grained finish wrapping around the entire front of the body. This gives it a much cleaner, rather retro aesthetic. Two body colors will be offered in the US market: either black or white, both of which are mated to brushed silver top and bottom plates. 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 won't be quite so noticeable.
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 Canon, Nikon and Sony with similar technology. The NX300 marks Samsung's first foray into on-chip PDAF, and it will be interesting indeed to see how the Korean consumer electronics giant's system implementation compares. Much like its rivals' systems, the NX300 pairs both contrast detection and phase detection, likely using the phase detect pixels -- we don't yet know how many there are -- to get in the ballpark, and contrast detection to fine-tune focus. Sony and Nikon's systems performed admirably, achieving focus quickly and reliably, but Canon's underwhelmed us, so the mere existence of hybrid autofocus with phase detection is no guarantee of greatness.
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 one frame-per-second boost in burst shooting speed to nine fps, along with a one-stop increase in maximum ISO sensitivity thanks to improved noise reduction. Sensitivity now ranges from ISO 100 to 25,600 equivalents, plus the obligatory Auto ISO function. 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.
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 eleven first-party lens models, although a few of these are closely related. Ignoring the duplicates, there's a choice of five zooms (12-24mm 18-55mm, 18-200mm, 20-50mm, and 50-200mm) and five primes (16mm, 20mm, 30mm, 60mm, and 85mm). One further lens -- a 45mm prime -- has been announced but isn't yet shipping. 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.
There's also one brand-new optic (shown at right) that -- although it's related to an existing one -- definitely deserves to be considered in its own right. The new 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 applies only when used with the NX300 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 has 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.
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, which allows you to extract a single-eye view at a later time, if needed.
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. What we haven't yet been able to confirm is the effective interocular distance of the lens, which will determine how effective its 3D effect will be.
It's an interesting concept, and one we're keen to compare to the alternatives, such as Panasonic's 12.5mm f/12 3D lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras, which we looked at in our review of the Panasonic GF2 mirrorless. Pricing for the optic is set at around US$500, or approximately $200 more than the 2D-only version of the same lens.
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 new 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.
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 should greatly increase both the variety of networks you can connect to, and your chances of managing a stable, high-speed connection suitable for transferring large images. The NX300 is Wi-Fi Direct-certified.
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. (We don't yet have any specifics as to which networks will be supported, but it's a fairly safe bet that the dominant Facebook will be on the list.) 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.
And there are plenty of changes in other areas, too. The fastest shutter speed is now 1/6,000 second, up from 1/4,000 second in the NX210. Samsung says it has 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 Samsung 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.
Images are still stored on Secure Digital cards including the latest SDHC and SDXC types, but 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.
Connectivity includes HDMI 1.4a high definition video output as in the earlier camera, but the supplied battery type has been changed. The Samsung NX300 now accepts proprietary BP1130 lithium ion packs rated for 1,130mAh, where the NX210 used BP1030 packs with a 1,030 mAh rating. Information on battery life hadn't been provided at press time, and it wasn't immediately clear whether the new battery pack is interchangeable with the older pack.
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.)
As noted previously, the Samsung NX300 ships in the first quarter of 2013, priced at about US$750 with the 20-50mm kit lens.
Hands-On with a Pre-Production Samsung NX300
by Dan Havlik
"Retro" is the predominant buzzword in digital camera design today, with many new models going for a vintage, analog feel. And the NX300 takes it 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.
At Samsung's launch event, I got most of my hands-on time with the classic-looking black-and-silver two-tone model and, -- for my money -- that's the more handsome of the two. (Though some may prefer the more modern-looking white model.) The NX300's handgrip is large but rounded and smoothly sculpted, making it easy to hold but unobtrusive. While the NX300 is a mix of metal and polycarbonate, the top-plate is stainless steel, giving the camera a high-end feel.
From the rear, what most impresses about the Samsung NX300, is its very large, 3.3-inch AMOLED tilt screen, which tilts down 30 degrees and up 90 degrees. It's a touchscreen, as well, and though the NX300 wasn't as responsive as an iPhone, Samsung's simple and clear user interface made changing settings by touch relatively easy. You can also use NX300's traditional buttons and controls for quickly adjusting the settings, if touchscreens aren't your thing.
In terms of operational speed, the pre-production Samsung NX300 seemed fast and responsive. We've had issues with overall sluggishness in Samsung's previous NX-series CSCs, and while it's too early to tell whether it's improved, we're optimistic based on our hands-on time with it. For one, Samsung's new DRIMe IV image processor showed lots of promise with the NX300 capable of firing off photo bursts of up to 8.6 frames per second with full autofocus. The NX300 started to slow down after one of these multi-frame bursts as its buffer filled, but we need to spend more lab time with the camera to see if that will be an issue -- or if it's just a pre-production kink.
While the main benefit of the DRIMe IV processor is that it allows the camera to shoot in full 1080p at both 60 fps and 30 fps -- along with both 2D and 3D stills and video with Samsung's new 45mm 2D/3D lens -- it seemed quicker on the draw on all fronts. Also zippy, the camera's new Hybrid Auto Focus system merges a 257-point Contrast AF with a 105-point Phase Detection AF.
Samsung's Jay Kelbley boasted to the press that the Samsung NX300 was now the fastest focusing camera on the market. That's a big claim, and one we're eager to fully test in the IR lab soon. True or not, my hands-on time with the NX300 certainly seems like Samsung is making a step in the right direction.
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