In 2005, Pentax and Samsung partnered to jointly develop DSLR cameras. Pentax brought its experience with interchangeable lenses and optics to the table, and Samsung brought its expertise in digital media and semiconductor products. Samsung has marketed what are basically re-badged Pentax DSLRs (Pentax's K10D and 20D, Samsung's GX10 and 20), but the NX10 marks a departure from both the DSLR script and simple re-badging.
Lining up to do battle with the small, interchangeable lens Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds system cameras (EP-1, EP-2 and GF1, respectively), the mirrorless NX10 is like nothing in the current Pentax lineup, right down to its proprietary NX bayonet lens mount. Well, the 14.6 megapixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor might have been borrowed from the K20D and GX20 cameras, but that's about it. That sensor produces a 1.5x crop factor with any lenses mounted on the camera.
Besides the lack of a mirror box and pentaprism that contribute to the NX10's small size, there's a 3.0-inch AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) monitor that promises better visibility in bright outdoor conditions along with a faster refresh rate and higher contrast than the typical LCD monitor. Unlike the competition, an electronic viewfinder is built in, not an optional add-on. A 720p HD video capability is onboard and still images can be captured in JPEG or RAW formats. Face detection technology and automatic sensor cleaning are available and Samsung also promises fast AF performance and easy-to-use menus. The GX10 is marginally larger and heavier than the competition, but it's a matter of no more than a half inch and a couple of ounces.
The camera uses SD/SDHC memory media and Samsung will guarantee performance with SD cards to 4 gigabytes (GB) and 8 GB for SDHC. Samsung provides a battery and charger, camera strap, a fairly comprehensive printed "quick start" manual, USB cable and CD-ROM software with each camera. Conspicuously absent is an A/V cable, which is listed as an "optional" accessory. One note about the quick start manual and full user's manual (found on the CD-ROM): the indexes are arranged alphabetically, but within each letter index, the order of subjects is based on location in the manual, not alphabetical order. For example, the letter "S" index starts with shooting mode, subject, status lamp (pages 4, 6 and 12, respectively), rather than Samsung master, Samsung raw converter and scene mode (pages 68, 69 and 37).
Samsung had three NX lenses available when the camera reached market: a 30mm pancake, 18-55 zoom and 50-200 zoom, with the latter two being stabilized. Not a bad lineup for a new camera right out of the box, and Samsung has already announced five additional lenses for release this year: 20mm pancake, an unstabilized 18-55, 20-50, 18-200 (stabilized) and a 60mm macro. Samsung had an NX10 with an adapter for Pentax "K" mount lenses on display at the PMA show, but as of this writing that piece still does not appear on Samsung's website. Samsung was kind enough to include the 18-55, 30 and 50-200 lenses with our review camera. Here's what each focal range looks like in the field:
Time to put this nice quiver of lenses to use on a subject other than our local power plant.
BUILD AND DESIGN
While the Panasonic and Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras share a retro, boxy look, the NX10 is configured as a mini-DSLR. Vive le difference! The built-in viewfinder on the NX10 is a big plus over competitors' add-on options if, like me, you prefer a viewfinder to the monitor for most of your image composition and capture. The body is a composite, and material quality, fit and finish keep with the camera's price point.
Ergonomics and Controls
The NX10 lines out at 4.23 x 3.43 x 1.57 inches and weighs about 12.3 ounces. By comparison, the Olympus E-420 comes in at 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.1 inches and weighs 13.4 ounces - and the Olympus is about as small as possible in the DSLR ranks. The NX10 features a modestly raised handgrip on the right front of the body and the shooting finger falls naturally to the shutter button. Despite its size, controls on the camera back are arranged and spaced so accidental activations are unlikely.
With its Pentax affiliation, I expected the NX10 to borrow heavily from those DSLRs as far as control placement and overall camera layout, but the clone-like similarity between Pentax and Samsung DSLRs is nowhere to be found in the NX10. Samsung is on record saying the NX10 is its design and the body and proprietary lens mount certainly reinforce that claim.
Dedicated buttons and the direction key on the camera back and top allow quick access to most individual shooting settings in the manual modes; a function button allows access to any available image quality settings in the auto modes and allows for selection of the individual shooting mode in the scene menu. The function button also brings up a variety of image quality settings for the manual modes.
Menus and Modes
As promised, menus in the NX10 are fairly intuitive and easy to use, due at least in part to the control layout described above. Shooting modes encompass the usual range of automatic options along with the manual settings often favored by more advanced users.
The 3.0-inch AMOLED monitor is of 614,000 dot composition and adjustable for five levels of brightness. Its performance in bright outdoor conditions was about average; sometimes OK, but virtually unusable in the worst situations. Coverage is about 100%. The monitor is on by default and cannot be disabled via menu or control. When you bring your eye into close contact with the viewfinder, the monitor is disabled and the viewfinder comes on. The process reverses itself when you take the camera away from your eye. While I would prefer the ability to enable or disable the monitor as a power-saving measure, the AMOLED display reportedly requires significantly less energy than a standard screen.
The viewfinder is of 921,000 dot composition and also offers near 100% coverage. There is a diopter adjustment for eyesight levels. One neat feature of both the monitor and the viewfinder is that they display exposure as it will appear if the image is captured with the current settings, and if you alter the exposure by means of compensation adjustments or manual exposure changes, you get a real time look at the final image. This doesn't hold true if the flash is engaged, but for available light shooting it's a handy tool to customize exposure to your liking. Here are five shots of the NX10 monitor, all taken at the same exposure. The NX10 was in manual mode and settings were at optimal exposure (0) as well as 1 and 2 stops both over and under exposure. These aren't captured shots being displayed on the NX10 monitor, they're the live view of what the exposure will look like with different camera settings.
0 Optimal Exposure
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