Samsung NX30 Field Test Part III

Final thoughts: A worthy option with solid performance and image quality at a great value

By John Shafer | Posted: 08/07/2014

Looking southeast from Antelope Island, towards Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Mountains.
NX30 + 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED OIS Lens: 113mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 200, +1EV.
(Note: This image has been re-touched and edited. Click image to view the unedited version.)
©2014 John Shafer - all rights reserved

I spent over a month getting to know the Samsung NX30. I took nearly 3500 pictures with it, and I pushed it hard -- probably harder than most people ever will. It's a solid all-purpose enthusiast camera with great features, a travel-friendly body, and for the most part, the performance is great. Overall, I was very pleased with what I was able to do with it. I shot high-speed action, landscapes, food porn, people photos, low light photos, and video; and the NX30 handled most everything very well.

It wasn't all perfect, though. I had some problems with the camera locking up, the color wasn't exactly to my taste, and the continuous auto focus didn't live up to my expectations. For those who want all the nitty-gritty on the auto focus, I went into it in detail in part II of my NX30 Field Test. Basically, it's okay for casual use with slow-moving subjects. But for anything that's moving quickly, it can't keep up at all. Don't expect to be able to track Formula One racing, or even your kid's soccer games with the NX30. To be fair, though, it's pretty much on par with most other mirrorless cameras. As a rule, when it comes to mirrorless cameras and continuous auto focus -- don't believe the hype. You can certainly take great action photos without continuous auto focus, though. You just need to pre-focus and plan them a little more carefully.

Although the NX30's continuous AF can't keep up with fast action, pre-focusing and using the 9 FPS high-speed burst produces excellent action photos.
NX30 + 18-55mm Kit Lens: 37mm, f/4.5, 1/800s, ISO 800.

(Note: This image has been re-touched and edited. Click image to view the unedited version.)
©2014 John Shafer - all rights reserved

The NX30 Lockup Problem

The biggest problem I encountered with the NX30 was an intermittent lockup that completely shut the camera down. Luckily, it turned out to be a strange memory card conflict. Every once in a while when I pressed the Playback button to review photos, the camera would freeze. The only way I could make it work again was to pull the battery. At first I thought I was trying to view burst sets too soon after I shot them as the camera was still writing the data to the memory card. However, I soon realized it could lock up even when I shot a single frame. And regardless, a camera shouldn't freeze up like that.

After testing two cameras, updating the firmware and trying multiple memory cards, I'm pretty confident it's a conflict with a very specific memory card -- the Lexar Platinum II SDHC 200X Class 10 card -- and I tried other memory cards with faster and slower write speeds and did not experience this issue. If you experience a lockup when you try to review photos, try a different memory card. Hopefully that will eliminate the problem.

Wasatch wildflowers
NX30 + 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED OIS Lens: 130mm, f/11, 1/200s, ISO 200, +0.3EV.

(Note: This image has been re-touched and edited. Click image to view the unedited version.)
©2014 John Shafer - all rights reserved

NX30 Image Quality

Overall, I thought the NX30's image quality was very good. Noise was very controlled for an APS-C sensor camera, and I found it quite usable up to ISO 3200. Your results may vary, of course -- what's acceptable to some may not be acceptable to others. But for me, shooting RAW and pushing my images fairly hard in Lightroom and Photoshop, I was quite pleased with what I was able to get out of the NX30. Even when I did a lot of post-processing on ISO 1600 and 3200 images, I got surprisingly good results. Yes, you can see noise at 100% on the computer. However, that's not really the best way to evaluate image quality. For serious image quality analysis, I always make prints. In this case, I made a couple of 8.5 x 11-inch prints of edited ISO 1600 and 3200 files, and I thought they looked great.

I check real-world image quality by making prints. These photos were both shot RAW and pushed hard in post. The left image was shot at ISO 1600 and the right was shot at ISO 3200. This photo of the prints is also a high ISO NX30 image: NX30 + 18-55mm Kit Lens: 52mm, f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 3200.
©2014 John Shafer - all rights reserved

At ISO 800 and lower the NX30 produces excellent quality -- especially if you shoot in RAW mode. The 20-megapixel sensor captures tons of detail with a wide dynamic range for nice subtle tones. I was impressed with the quality of the NX30's JPEG files, too -- especially their tonal range. In good, even light, with proper exposure, the JPEGs look great. However, as is the case with all images processed in the camera, the NX30's JPEG files don't deliver the same amount of detail and dynamic range as the RAW files (see comparison, below). So if you're the kind of photographer who wants detail and shading in all parts of your image, regardless of the light, then I highly recommend shooting RAW. Shooting RAW is also a godsend when you blow an exposure. Even photos that are under or over-exposed by a couple of stops are often recoverable if you shot them in RAW mode. RAW files do require more work on the computer, but in my opinion, it's absolutely worth it.

NX30 JPG vs. RAW:  In this Lightroom Compare screenshot you see JPEG (left) and RAW (right) versions of the same image with the exact same adjustments applied. Notice all the extra highlight detail in the sky on the RAW image. You might also notice that the power pole is straightened in the JPEG. That's because of the in-camera lens corrections the NX30 applies to JPEG images: NX30 + 18-55mm Kit Lens: 18mm, f/11, 1/150s, ISO 100.
©2014 John Shafer - all rights reserved

Although I do think the NX30 has good image quality, post-processing the RAW files was sometimes a challenge. This may seem nit-picky to some, but I struggled with a blue/red hue issue; and I also had trouble with flat, somewhat muddy highlights. The blue/red cast was most noticeable in outdoor landscapes with lots of sky, mountains and neutral tones. I talked to Dave Etchells, the Big Kahuna at Imaging-Resource, and he suggested Samsung may have given the camera a slight blue/red bias to make the sky look bluer, which it does. And that makes sense. However, it also makes neutral content like rocks, dirt and mountains look a bit pink to my eye. And when I tried to tune out the pink in Lightroom and Photoshop, I often ended up making the rest of the image look a cool and under-saturated. For most users this subtle color bias probably won't matter. But for photographers who are sticklers for color accuracy -- especially landscape photographers - it may be a problem.

These are subtle nuances but some of you may notice that there's a bit of a pink tint in this image; and the mountains in the background are a tad flat -- and this is after significant editing in Lightroom and Photoshop: NX30 + 18-55mm Kit Lens: 18mm, f/11, 1/150s, ISO 100, +0.6EV.
(Note: This image has been re-touched and edited. Click image to view the unedited version.)
©2014 John Shafer - all rights reserved

The highlight issue is something of a double-edged sword. I am very impressed with the amount of highlight detail in my NX30 RAW files. Even the JPEG images have an impressive amount of highlight information. On the other hand, I found it difficult to refine the highlights in post to get some real white and give brighter details some snap. Like the hue problem, this is a high-end post-processing issue that probably won't matter to most users. But if you're a RAW shooter who cares about subtle details in the sky, snow, wedding dresses, etc., then you may find the NX30 requires some extra effort when you're processing your photos.   

I love the subtle tonal detail in this photo -- especially in the salt flats. This is a good example of the Samsung NX30 image quality at its best. There's still a bit of a blue/red tint, though.
NX30 + 18-55mm Kit Lens: 40mm, f/11, 1/125s, ISO 100, +1EV.

(Note: This image has been re-touched and edited. Click image to view the unedited version.)
©2014 John Shafer - all rights reserved

Shooting Video with the NX30

The Samsung NX30 isn't just for still photos. It's a great video camera, as well. The full HD (1920 x 1080) 60p video looks super smooth, sharp and can be slowed down to 30 frames per second for lossless slow-motion video. That's great for action sports enthusiasts who want slow-mo action of their buddies on their mountain bikes, snowboards, skateboards, etc. It's also a pretty cool tool for analyzing your golf swing or ski turns.

One of the main reasons I like the NX30 for video is the built-in electronic viewfinder. I don't think most people realize how valuable a good EVF is for recording video. It adds a third point of contact helping keep the camera -- and your video footage - smooth and steady. With traditional digital SLRs you have to buy an accessory viewfinder or some sort of video rig to get the same kind of stability. It's really nice that the NX30 has it built right in.

For more serious videographers, there's also a microphone input so you can add a wireless lavalier or shotgun mic. Check out this short, undoctored mountain bike sample video to get an idea of what the NX30 is capable of:

Samsung NX30 Sample Video
A short sample video shot handheld with Samsung's NX30 mirrorless camera. The video was recorded at 1920 x 1080 60p but for easier viewing was rendered at 720p. No editing was done except for the addition of transitions and a 1/3 frame-rate change to the slow motion clip.
Download the full 1080p resolution MP4 video clips below:

How the NX30 Compares to the Competition

It's a great time to be shopping for an interchangeable lens camera. There's a huge variety of options, and it's hard to find a really bad camera these days. That being the case, I thought it would be useful to compare the NX30 to the competition. In this case, that means interchangeable lens cameras with eye-level viewfinders (optical or electronic) and built-in Wi-Fi, that sell for about $800 with a lens. The main mirrorless competitors are the Olympus OM-D E-M10 (about $799 with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom), the Sony Alpha A6000 (about $799 with 16-50mm) and the Panasonic Lumix G6 (about $750 with 14-42mm). There's only one comparably spec'd DSLR in that price range, the Nikon D5300, which sells for around $850 with an 18-55mm kit zoom.

Yes, I do take some people pictures. Having her first Oreo cookie was serious business for my little niece.
NX30 + 18-55mm Kit Lens: 40mm, f/7.1, 1/60s, ISO 200, +0.3EV.

(Note: This image has been re-touched and edited. Click image to view the unedited version.)
©2014 John Shafer - all rights reserved

I expected one of the main challenges for Samsung would be the number of lenses available for their NX system. If you compare the NX30 to the Nikon D5300, that's definitely true -- Nikon makes over 70 lenses for their SLR cameras. However, compared to other mirrorless camera systems, Samsung compares pretty well. They currently make 18 lenses by my count, including the new 16-50mm f/2-2.8, one of the fastest zoom lenses available. Sony has 17 E-mount lenses for their APS-C sensor mirrorless cameras. But they also have third-party lens options and adapters so you can use all of their DSLR lenses, as well. The Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras share the same lens mount and have the most lens options of all the mirrorless cameras - over 40 available lenses between them and other members of the Micro Four Thirds organization. With an adapter, you can also use any of the many Four Thirds-mount DSLR lenses. So if lens options are your most important deciding factor, then the NX30 is up against some tough competition.

Samsung does hit many of the important marks with their 18 NX lenses. The NX lens lineup includes the aforementioned 16-50mm f/2-2.8 standard zoom, about ten primes, and an 18-200mm all-purpose/travel zoom. What they're missing is fast zooms -- both wide-angle and telephoto. Samsung has made a solid start but they need to add a fast-aperture wide-angle zoom and something like a 50-200mm f/2.8 -- especially if they want to attract photographers who are also looking at Nikon and Canon digital SLRs. For this review, I mostly used the 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 kit lens and 50-200mm f/4-5.6, and I'm quite happy with the photos I got with those two lenses. If I were to buy the NX30, I'd get the 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 and the 16-50mm f/2-2.8. I think those two lenses would serve my needs pretty well. That said, I found the 18-55mm kit lens and the 50-200mm telephoto zoom were surprisingly good -- definitely a lot better than I expected.

This photo is a great example of how well the NX30's 20-megapixel APS-C sensor captures detail. Make sure to click on the photo to see the unedited, full-size image.
NX30 + 18-55mm Kit Lens: 52mm, f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 400.
(Note: This image has been re-touched and edited. Click image to view the unedited version.)
©2014 John Shafer - all rights reserved

As far as size goes, the NX30 is bigger than most comparably-priced mirrorless cameras -- especially the Olympus and Panasonic models. Because of their smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor, the Panasonic and Olympus lenses are smaller, making the whole system lighter and more compact. In my opinion, the NX30 is more of a DSLR replacement than a compact travel camera, although it is smaller and lighter than the vast majority of digital SLRs. In that respect, I think Samsung has done an excellent job with the NX30. It's quite a bit more portable than the average DSLR and offers excellent speed and quality at a competitive price point. Overall image quality is great, as is the low-light performance. And the video feature-set is excellent -- at least from this video hack's perspective.  The only area where the NX30 falls short, in my opinion, is continuous auto focus. And that's just because I'm a serious sports shooter. Most photographers won't be as obsessed with continuous auto focus performance as I am. But if you are a sports photographer and need top notch continuous auto focus, digital SLRs are still where it's at.

Abandoned truck in Nevada's eastern desert
NX30 + 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED OIS Lens: 100mm, f/5.0, 1/250s, ISO 100, +0.6EV.

(Note: This image has been re-touched and edited. Click image to view the unedited version.)
©2014 John Shafer - all rights reserved

Final Thoughts on the Samsung NX30

It's easy to get lost in the nitty-gritty details when writing a review. I had a couple of issues with the Samsung NX30 but when I step back and look at all the photos I took with it, I feel very good about the camera. The NX30 helped me make some great photos! The sensor delivers beautiful image quality in most circumstances, the 9 frames per second burst is excellent for shooting action, I love the built-in Wi-Fi, and the compact body makes it easy to take the camera everywhere.

Ultimately, I come away from this review impressed, and I think Samsung's NX mirrorless camera line deserves more attention. The NX30 is a great alternative to entry-level and mid-range DSLRs, and a solid mirrorless option. It has competitive image quality, better features and great performance compared to most comparably-priced cameras. It may not have the brand-appeal or pedigree of some other mirrorless cameras, but the NX30 is certainly a worthy option.


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