Samsung NX3000 Field Test
Samsung NX3000 Field Test
High image quality, retro design and a nice feature mix
By Jason Schnieder | Posted: 01/02/2015
The Samsung NX3000 is the entry-level member of Samsung's popular family of interchangeable-lens NX APS-C-format Compact System Cameras. It's solid, well-made, and beautifully finished, and it's a genuine fashion statement, especially the gleaming white test sample I received. Its neo-retro design in lustrous enamel clad in a faux leather textured material offset by a classic chrome-finished top plate is definitely eye-catching, and I wish I had a buck for every person who stopped to ask, "Wow, that's a cool-looking camera; what is it?" Fortunately, it's not just a pretty face. That beautiful body is ergonomically contoured, fits perfectly in small or large hands, and is extremely well balanced when fitted with either the standard short zoom Samsung 16-50mm (24.6-77mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 Power Zoom ED OIS lens or the 45mm f/1.8 2D/3D lens (69.3mm equivalent) high-speed portrait lens that was furnished as an alternative.
1/50s / f/13 / ISO 3200 / 63mm eq. (16-50mm PZ kit lens)
With such features as a 20.3 MP APS-C CMOS sensor capable of full-res-bursts at up to 5 fps (up to 30 fps at 5MP resolution) and Full HD 1080p video capture at 30 and 25 fps, the NX3000 is definitely no slouch in terms of sheer image quality or responsiveness, and under most shooting conditions the 35-zone contrast-based AF system performs well, achieving sharp focus very quickly, which causes the focusing zone in use to turn green, accompanied by a discreet chirp if enabled. For the record, it provides sensitivity settings of ISO 100-25600 plus an Auto ISO setting, and offers a Dynamic Range Expansion mode that allows you to create HDR images by combining several images taken at different exposures, yielding more natural-looking images of scenes with an extended brightness range. Despite some if its impressive specs though, its entry-level status is evident in some respects. The 3.0-inch Tilting LCD Monitor delivers a moderate resolution (by today's standards) of 460.8k dots and there's no optional EVF that slides into the camera's dedicated 7-contact hot shoe. That honor is reserved for the cute, fairly powerful little Sigma SEF8A accessory flash (ISO 100 GN in feet, about 26), included with the camera. Its flash head swings upward to about 1-1/2 inches above the top deck when it's lifted into operating position, minimizing the dreaded red-eye effect.
One of the NX3000's coolest features promoted by Samsung is that the tilting LCD swings upward a full 180 degrees so it can face forward for shooting selfies, or positioned at a less extreme angle behind the camera for composing high- or low-angle shots. There's even a “Wink Mode” that can be set to fire the camera when you wink at it! A minor niggle: You have to remove the flash unit if you want swing the LCD all the way up, so shooting selfies with flash using the LCD would be problematic.
The NX300's control layout is straightforward and intuitive, and the available options are impressive for a camera in this class. On the top deck there's a large milled control dial with detents for the usual P, A, S, M shooting modes plus a Smart Auto (automatic shooting mode selection) mode marked Auto, that lets the camera pick the best shooting mode to suit the subject, a “mode select” (S inside a camera icon) setting that let you pick any one of 16 subject type shooting modes yourself, a Panorama mode that lets you shoot panoramic images by slowly panning the camera horizontally or vertically in either direction, and a Wi-Fi setting for setting up the camera's extensive array of Wi-Fi connectivity functions that we'll get into later. A basic text description of what each mode does appears on the LCD for a few seconds when you set or change the mode dial—a thoughtful aid for novices and a good reminder for experienced shooters. There's also a little button to the right of the hot shoe marked Mobile and bearing a signal strength logo. Press it and it opens up a window on the LCD for choosing among the three broad categories of mobile connections, Mobile Link, Remote Viewfinder and Autoshare for instantly uploading and sharing images.
The back button and dial array to the right of the LCD is pretty generic, and that's a good thing if you're switching from another camera. There's the usual round 4-way toggle switch with an OK button in the center for inputting the labeled functions, (it also rotates to change any function (such as aperture or shutter speed) that's highlighted in blue at the bottom of the LCD) and MENU and Fn buttons. The MENU button provides access to four main menus for camera, movies, personal settings, and tools, and you then toggle over to access the sub-menus for each. The Fn (function) button provides instant access to all commonly used camera settings, including (depending on the mode in use) aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO, AWB, AF mode, drive mode, AF area, etc. There's also a Picture Wizard setting that (by turning the rotary dial on the back) can be set to vary the color intensity of captured JPEG images to suit subjects such as portraits, landscapes, and forests, or even give the images a retro look. It's hardly a unique feature, but it's well executed and it does provide a way for casual shooters to add a dash of creativity to their images.
As mentioned, one of the strong points of the NX3000 is its full complement of integrated Wi-Fi connectivity options, which are pretty easy and intuitive to set up. The system is onfigured to the IEEE 802.11b/g/n standard and it enables the camera to connect directly to iOS or Android mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. Called Tag & Go, the system is also paired to NFC technology for easy linking of mobile devices. Specific capabilities include: 1. AutoShare that automatically sends images to your mobile phone via a Wi-Fi connection, and utilizes the phone's location data to imbed GPS information into the image metadata. 2. Remote Viewfinder Pro, which lets you see the image on the LCD on your phone in real time, fire the camera from your phone, and even zoom the lens so long as a power-zoom lens is mounted on the camera. 3. Mobile Link, which lets you choose, share, and save images for up to four compatible devices using Group Share, or transfer, save, and update them automatically. 4. Photo Beam, which allows instant sharing with NFC-enabled devices by tapping them together for image transfer. 5. Auto Backup, which automatically backs up images to your home PC or Mac. 6. Samsung Link that backs up images to cloud-based services so you can free up space on your memory card. 7. Home Monitor, which works along with the Baby Monitor function so you can place the activated camera anywhere within your home or local Wi-Fi network and it will send a Live View image of what the camera sees to your smart phone, and send a notification to view if noise is detected.
1/30s / f/4 / ISO 800 / 24mm eq. / flash fired / (16-50mm PZ kit lens)
I didn't get a chance to try out every one of these intriguing possibilities, but I did upload the Samsung Smart Camera app to my iPhone and connected it to the camera, and I did pair the camera to my home computer using the simple procedure outlined in the instruction manual (you've got to know your network password!). AutoShare works like a charm -- the pictures I shot immediately appeared on my phone so I could post them anywhere, and the Remote Viewfinder Pro enabled me to view, fire, and zoom remotely with the 16-50mm Power Zoom lens, which was uncanny (at least for me). The Auto Upload feature also works as expected, and it's a convenient way to upload one or a few images if you're within range of your local area network (LAN). However, if you're uploading all the images on your card at once there are faster ways of getting those large image files onto your computer. Another caveat: All these great Wi-Fi features are dependent on the signal strength of your phone service provider's signal, the speed and reliability of your Internet connection, etc. and if any of these are compromised, all bets are off. However, hooking up all your devices really expands your image-sharing capabilities exponentially, and if you post your images to the cloud via Samsung Link you can access them from anywhere.
Shooting with the NX3000 was mostly a pleasant experience, but there were a few snags. While the LCD is bright and clear, works well in most shooting conditions, and has sufficient resolution for evaluating fine details using the image magnification feature, it can be frustrating when shooting outdoors in bright light. When the subject is severely backlit or there's brilliant sunlight behind the camera, you sometimes can't see a thing on the screen, and literally have to point and shoot and hope for the best. For example, when shooting pictures of a 19th century statue in the park on a bright sunny day I couldn't get a clear view on the LCD even when I tried to tilt it or cup my hand over one side to get a better view -- or any view. This of course is not a problem unique to the NX3000, but it points up the advantage of having a built-in or auxiliary EVF in a mirrorless camera. Many competitors of the NX3000 do, but since auxiliary EVFs go for about $150 a pop (or more) and building one in would have raised the price (and size) of the camera, Samsung evidently made a price point decision.
The other problem I encountered was with the contrast-based AF system. When the camera is able to autofocus, which is most of the time, the NX 3000's AF system is very fast, decisive, and accurate whether you're shooting stills or videos. However, when shooting heavily backlit subjects, or low contrast subjects in low light, especially at close distances, the camera is often not able to achieve focus. When this happens, you can focus on a surrogate subject or press the Fn button and go to manual focus (MF) mode (which automatically magnifies the viewing image to enable more precise focusing). But these things take time and you may miss the moment. Of course, no AF system is 100% perfect, and that's why all AF cameras have a manual focusing option. Nevertheless, in my judgment the AF performance of the NX3000 is not up to par under the stated conditions and it's not equal to some other cameras of its type or in its price class. Given its overall good performance and attractive price point I don't believe this is a fatal flaw considering the camera's intended audience. But for dedicated enthusiasts this is the most serious deficit.
On the positive side, the NX3000 is capable of excellent image quality in both stills and Full HD 1080p videos, and it performs quite well at high ISOs delivering, crisp, detailed images with good color saturation and low noise up to ISO 1600, and reasonably sharp images with moderate noise up to ISO 6400. At least part of the credit goes to the two NX lenses supplied with the camera. The Samsung 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 ED OIS Power Zoom is commendably sharp at all apertures over its entire focusing range, and the power zoom feature is great for smooth zoom effects when shooting video. The Samsung 45mm f/1.8 (69.3mm equivalent) also provides excellent imaging performance, is very sharp even wide open, and has a lovely bokeh that's evident when shooting, for example, portraits at wide apertures. And its high speed gives you an edge when shooting in low light. However, the 3D capture mode will not operate on the NX3000 -- it's designed to work with middle- and upper-tier NXs. I mostly used the Multi and Spot meter pattern options and the camera delivered a very large percentage of accurate exposures in all but the most challenging lighting conditions -- a much better than average performance.
Video is fairly straightforward on the NX3000, with four resolution options: Full HD 30p (1920 x 1080), HD 30p (1280 x 720), SD (640 x 480) and VGA (320 x 240) for small web viewing. Files are MP4 format with the h.264 codec and you can choose between "normal" and "high" quality levels, with high quality being the default setting. There are also options for "multi motion" videos, allowing for .25x playback speed (SD and VGA resolution only) as well as videos in any resolution that will play back at 5x, 10x or 20x (1x just means "normal"). I found the video quality to be good for this price range, though the footage is still a bit shaky even though IS is enabled.
Samsung NX3000 Daytime Sample Video #1
1,920 x 1,080, 30 fps, MP4
Download Original (46.5MB MP4)
Samsung NX3000 Daytime Sample Video #2
1,920 x 1,080, 30 fps, MP4
Download Original (53.1MB MP4)
In my opinion, the Samsung NX3000 is a very attractive Compact System Camera (CSC) despite a few foibles. It's capable of great results, and its striking form factor certainly makes it a fashion-forward choice for people who are into style as well as substance. At the time of this writing it was living in a fiercely competitive market niche hovering around $525 with the16-50mm lens, but has since dropped to around $360, making it a very attractive bargain indeed.
[To see more images from the Samsung NX3000, please visit our NX3000 gallery page!]