First Impressions - Samsung NX10


As compact, interchangeable-lens camera systems go, the Samsung NX10 is noticeably smaller than most entry-level DSLRs and size-wise is on par with Micro 4/3-format digicams. And it can be easily mistaken as a sub-compact member of either tribe. But it’s not until you peek behind the body cap where the NX10 makes you go ‘whoa’.

Staring back at you when you peek behind the body cap of a Samsung NX10 is a 14.6Mp APS-C CMOS sensor. Now if you haven’t gone ‘ah-hah!’ yet, the NX10’s sensor is the same size as the sensors found in most every popular compact DSLR, which means it’s about 50% larger than 4/3-format sensors and about 8x larger than the sensors found in point-and-shoot/ bridge cameras. The result is a lot of resolving power in a really small package.

The Samsung NX10 owes its diminutive size to the lack of a mirror box, which means you view the image in Live Mode using the camera’s 3” AMOLED screen. Alternatively you can use the camera’s 921,000-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF), which looks and works like a traditional optical viewfinder ( though not quite as clearly). Both viewing options offer 100% of the total image area and we’ll have more on the NX10’s EVF a bit later.

So how does the Samsung NX10 hold up as an alternative to larger DSLRs and smaller point-and-shoot camera systems? Well… here goes.

First off, if weight is an issue for you, you can carry a body, 3 lenses, cards, batteries, and a bottle of vitamin water around in a small camera bag all day long and not feel like you need to be stretched on a rack come dinner time, which is something you can’t readily claim with other interchangeable camera systems. 

If you’re trading up from a point-and-shoot digicam, the first thing you’re going to notice – besides the fact you now have a heftier, easier to grip camera in your hands – is a noticeable increase in image quality. This is because the resolving power of the NX10’s imaging sensor is much greater than what you’ve grown accustomed to.

Even with Samsung’s basic  kit zooms – an 18-55mm OIS and 50-200mm ED OIS zoom lens – you get sharp, rich stills and HD video containing far better detail in the mid-tones and most noticeably in the shadows and highlights.

If you’re currently shooting with a true DSLR, even a compact (and comparably priced) entry-level model, you’re likely to be disappointed with the camera’s EVF, which because you’re staring at an electronic representation of your subject rather than an optical representation of the subject, can be a bit unnerving when trying to focus selectively, especially under lower lighting conditions. And even though the finder displays focusing points that light up to confirm focus, until EVFs become higher in resolving power (and they will) you just have to pray those lit focusing points are ‘right’.

Autofocus speed is another area where DSLRs (including even entry-level DSLRs) are noticeably more responsive compared to the smaller NX10. Under bright lighting conditions, and especially with the 30mm/2 Samsung prime lens we used during our tour of duty, the camera performed as one would expect it to perform. But when the clouds rolled in, and especially when shooting with the slower kit zooms, the focus tended to wander and miss my intended targets.

Once I acclimated to the camera’s viewing foibles, I found myself going fluidly between the EVF and the camera’s rear screen. We set our test camera to automatically switch to EVF mode whenever you lift the camera to your eye while turning off the AMOLED, and vice versa, which made it easy (and rather natural feeling) to compose from arm’s length, while making for an easy transition to composing the image  through the finder.

Shooting in Manual focus mode, in which the camera automatically zooms in 10x when you touch the focus ring, quickly became my preferred method of focusing when taking pictures indoors or when the sun wasn’t shining. And for the most part my pictures came out fine, though it took me a few rounds of shooting with the NX10 before I became truly comfortable behind the camera’s finder.

As for imaging formats, the Samsung NX10 can capture stills as RAW, sRAW, or RAW+JPEG (Normal, Fine, or Super Fine). For those into video capture, the NX10 captures HD 720p video (H.264), which like the stills the camera captures, are impressive compared to video captured by cameras containing smaller sensors.

One cool feature the NX10’s EVF has over traditional optical finders is the ability to play back captured images and zoom into the details for close-up examination. So while EVFs can be squirrelly when it comes to fine-focusing, on the back end, they make it easy to critically check focus after the fact. And considering it was mostly drizzly and overcast the day we took the NX10 out for a field test, we came home with enough ‘keepers’ to make us happy.

A Quartet of Imagers Captured by Samsung's NX10