Since the beginning of the digital imaging revolution, a new generation of photographers has come of age using point and shoot cameras. Amateur shutterbugs have grown progressively more sophisticated over those twenty odd years, but they still want easy to use cameras that produce excellent images with very little effort on the part of the shooter. Those legions of demanding P&S camera buyers have been the driving force behind the development of a completely new class of digital cameras -- the mirrorless interchangeable lens digital camera, which combines P&S convenience, compact size, and ease of use with DSLR-like performance, creative flexibility, and lens interchangeability. Entry level camera in this class are primarily marketed at P&S users who want to move up to a camera that provides more user control, better image quality, and the ability to use interchangeable lenses, but without accepting any significant increase in operational complexity or giving up any of the popular P&S features of the P&S digicams they've been using. Samsung's NX20 Smart Camera looks a lot like an entry-level digital SLR, but it is actually a mirrorless interchangeable lens digital camera with wi-fi image and video sharing capability.
But the Samsung NX20 enters a market that is jam-packed with fierce competition. Does this camera have what it takes to swim with the big fish?
The NX20 will appeal to entry-level ILC consumers because it offers the enhanced creative capabilities and expanded len versatility of a DSLR yet retains all the familiar convenience, popular features, and ease of use of a P&S. Samsung took that simple equation one step further by building the NX20 a bit larger than its competition to create a more professional looking and handling camera. The vast majority of mirrorless interchangeable lens digital cameras go for the compact P&S digicam on steroids look while the NX20's larger footprint actually makes it easier to use. While the NX20 may look like an entry-level DSLR it actually shares more technologically with the tiny Pentax Q than it does with entry-level DSLR's from Canon and Nikon.
The Samsung NX20 requires a bit more investment than your point and shoot cameras. In fact, its price tag is higher than most entry-level ILC cameras, too. The current street price for the NX20 with the 18-55mm lens is $850.
Build and Design
The NX20 replaces the popular NX10 in Samsung's NX series. The most obvious difference between the NX20 and its predecessor is a new 3.0" AMOLED 614K tilt-swivel LCD monitor whereas the NX10 had a fixed LCD screen. Add a new electronic level, a APS-C sized 20.3 megapixel TX CMOS sensor that Samsung claims, "produces images that rival those of any premium DSLR.", Full HD (1080p @ 30 fps) video output, a 1/8000th of a second top shutter speed, an 8 fps burst mode, and Image/Video Sharing via Wi-Fi.
The NX20's construction/build quality is excellent (polycarbonate body shell over a metal alloy frame) and fit/finish and dust/moisture seals are both impressive for a camera at this price point. The NX20's new larger and more rounded body makes it look a bit more capable than its predecessor. Eagle-eyed users may also notice that the NX20's handgrip is bigger than the handgrip on its predecessor, which is nice -- since a larger handgrip contributes to better stability and balance when using the camera. Still images can be captured in either JPEG or RAW formats.
Ergonomics and Controls
The NX20's user interface is logical and uncomplicated - all buttons and controls are clearly marked, sensibly placed, and easily accessed (by right-handed shooters). On the NX20's back deck, above the compass switch, are the AEL (Auto Exposure Lock), exposure compensation, and one touch video buttons. The NX20's compass switch (4-way controller) is surrounded by a rotary jog dial which I used primarily in review mode to compare saved images, other users might employ it to easily and quickly scroll through menu options. Next are the Menu and Fn (functions) buttons - the NX20's expanded "Fn" short-cut menu is the most comprehensive/graphic function(s) menu that I've seen to date.
Menus and Modes
Menus are comprehensive and necessarily a bit complex, but the layout is logical, navigation is easy, and the fonts are easy to read. Shooting modes encompass the entire range of automatic options loved by casual shooters along with the manual exposure settings preferred by more advanced shooters.
The most obvious difference between the NX20 and its predecessor is the new articulated LCD screen. The 3.0" AMOLED display provides resolution of 614k. Screen articulation makes the monitor a bit more useful, especially when it comes to shooting video or stills from a high angle or when using the screen to compose macro shots at lower angles, or as a waist-level finder. Samsung claims the new Clear AMOLED display offers a 20% improvement in contrast ratio over the NX10 and, although I wasn't able to confirm this claim, the NX20's LCD monitor does deliver contrasty sharp LCD images with good detail rendition and accurate color. The NX20's LCD monitor also features a wide viewing angle and is easy to use for framing and composition - even in bright outdoor lighting. The new LCD couples very nicely with the NX20's (800x600 pixels SVGA) eye-level electronic viewfinder (EVF) which automatically turns off the LCD screen when the camera detects the user's eye at the EVF. The LCD monitor is the default viewfinder and cannot be disabled, except when utilizing the EVF - as soon as the user removes his eye from the EVF the camera reverts to the LCD monitor. There is a diopter adjustment for those who wear eyeglasses and coverage is almost 100%.
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