DigitalCameraReview.com
Samsung NX10 Review
by Jim Keenan -  5/10/2010

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.

Samsung NX10


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.

Samsung NX10

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 NX10

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:

Samsung NX10 Test Image
18mm

Samsung NX10 Test Image
55mm

Samsung NX10 Test Image
30mm

Samsung NX10 Test Image
50mm

Samsung NX10 Test Image
200mm

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.

Samsung NX10 Samsung NX10

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.

Samsung NX10

Samsung NX10

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.

Display/Viewfinder
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.

Samsung NX10

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.

Samsung NX10 Test Image
-2 Exposure
Samsung NX10 Test Image
-1 Exposure
Samsung NX10 Test Image
0 Optimal Exposure
Samsung NX10 Test Image
+1 Exposure
Samsung NX10 Test Image
+2 Exposure

PERFORMANCE
With a DSLR-sized sensor, image quality and high ISO noise performance should be two of the NX10's strong points, but how a camera goes about capturing images can be as important as the images themselves.

Samsung NX10

Shooting Performance
The NX10 has a self-cleaning sensor and the automatic cleaning function, which is activated whenever the camera powers up, is off as a default setting. Startup with auto cleaning disabled is quick, and I was able to power up and get off a shot in about 2 seconds. With sensor cleaning enabled on startup, you don't even get a focus icon displayed until about the 3 second mark.

Single shot-to-shot times ran about 2 seconds and the continuous rate came in a little over the 3 frames per second (fps) advertised rate. Single AF mode is required to get that rate, however, AF is established for the first shot and applied to all subsequent shots in the burst. Switching to continuous AF slows the rate noticeably as the camera recalculates focus between shots.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Canon Rebel T2i 0.02
Olympus E-PL1 0.03
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 0.05
Samsung NX10 0.05

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Canon Rebel T2i 0.18
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 0.32
Samsung NX10 0.50
Olympus E-PL1 0.84

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Canon Rebel T2i 170
3.7 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 17 3.3 fps
Samsung NX10 12 3.3 fps
Olympus E-PL1 14 3.1 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Shutter lag and AF acquisition times in good conditions felt a bit slower than an entry-level DSLR and the studio timings bore this out. AF acquisition time ran to 0.50 seconds with shutter lag coming in at 0.05 seconds. A little pokey compared to the better entry level DSLRs, but more importantly, generally in the ballpark with the Micro Four Thirds cameras that are the direct competition. The Panasonic has quicker AF and better shutter lag; the Olympus twins have better shutter lag and slower AF. AF acquisition in dim conditions, even with a focus assist lamp, was noticeably slower than in good light.

The NX10's built-in flash has a guide number of 11 at the base 100 ISO sensitivity of the camera, so range will be fairly minimal if you're shooting in the f/4 - f/5.6 or greater aperture range. The camera has a hot shoe to accept an external flash. Here's some flash shots of some cats at play. The original photo below of Delta in flight turned out a little dark but post-processed nicely, and the others were right at the edge of the flash envelope (for 100 ISO).

Samsung NX10 Test Image
Original with flash
Samsung NX10 Test Image
Post-processed
Samsung NX10 Test Image Samsung NX10 Test Image
Samsung NX10 Test Image

Flash recycle times were good and ran between 2.5 and about 4.5 seconds depending on the amount of discharge. Battery life for the NX10 is given as 200 minutes or about 400 shots using a CIPA standard, which is generally fairly accurate.

Lens Performance
Since the NX10 is a new product and its Samsung lenses an unknown quantity (at least to me), let's take a look at how each of the three lenses we had for the review fared. The 30mm exhibited just the slightest hint of barrel distortion and was quite uniformly sharp across the frame, including edges and corners. There was some chromic aberration (purple fringing) in some high contrast boundary areas, but magnifications of about 300% or greater were needed to make the fault noticeable. The 30mm maximum aperture is f/2, making it the fastest lens of the trio.

Samsung NX10 Test Image
30mm

The 18-55 was a bit soft in the corners at wide angle, with very slight light falloff and more pronounced barrel distortion. At the 55mm telephoto end, barrel distortion gave way to pincushion, with a quite uniformly sharp frame, including edges and corners. Chromic aberration was largely absent at 18mm, and, while present at 55mm was pretty well controlled. Magnifications in the 300 - 400% range were required to make the fault noticeable. Maximum apertures range from f/3.5 to f/5.6, typical for "kit" lenses in this focal range.

Samsung NX10 Test Image
18mm
Samsung NX10 Test Image
55mm

Finally, the 50-200 had some softness in the corners at the 50mm end, accompanied by slight barrel distortion. There was a bit of chromic aberration, but again, it was only problematic at 300% + enlargements. At the 200mm end, the lens had developed a very slight pincushion distortion and some softness in the edges and corners. Close scrutiny revealed chromic aberration at 200% enlargements, but at 100% and less, it would be hard to see the effect. Maximum apertures range from f/4 to f/5.6, a bit slow on the telephoto end.

Samsung NX10 Test Image
50mm
Samsung NX10 Test Image
200mm

All in all, the lenses we had for this review did a very good job in the image quality arena and give any potential NX10 owners a versatile complement even without the addition of the other five lenses announced for release this year. Then there's that "K" mount adapter that will probably show up at some point, and open the Pentax lens floodgates for NX10 use. A German company (Novoflex) has already announced NX10 adapters for Nikon, Pentax and Minolta lenses will be available in June. The fly in the ointment at this point is that it's unknown how many lens/camera functions will be compatible using an adapter-mounted lens. But even if not one adapter ever hits the market, Samsung has a decent range of lenses announced for its new camera.

Video Quality
Video quality out of the NX10 at the 720p HD setting is very good. Because the camera has a CMOS sensor, the possibility of rolling shutter effect when panning during video is a concern. Rolling shutter effect is present during unreasonably fast pans, but at normal speeds, the effect is fairly benign. Recording time is limited to 25 minutes per clip.

The camera microphone is susceptible to wind noise, but a wind cut setting is provided to minimize wind impact on the audio. Manually zooming or focusing during video capture will be audible. Unlike many cameras, there is no quick "one button" approach to video; you must set the mode dial to video and then initiate capture via the shutter button.

Image Quality
I was very happy with the default images out of the NX10 with regard to accurate color and sharpness.

Samsung NX10 Test Image Samsung NX10 Test Image
Samsung NX10 Test Image Samsung NX10 Test Image

I was not so happy to note that the NX10 outputs still image files at 72 pixels per inch; you get images that are about 63.8 inches by 42.44 inches in size at full resolution and 100% enlargement. Plan to resize for either Internet transmission or print work. There is a resize tool in the camera's "image edit" menu that allows in-camera adjustment to 10, 6 or 2 megapixel sizes, but even the 2 megapixel file comes in at nearly 27 x 18 inches.

When using the manual exposure shooting modes, the NX10 offers a "Picture Wizard" palette with a range of choices including "cool" and "calm" (but no "collected"). Here's what the PW choices look like:

Samsung NX10 Test Image
Standard
Samsung NX10 Test Image
Vivid
Samsung NX10 Test Image
Portrait
Samsung NX10 Test Image
Landscape
Samsung NX10 Test Image
Forest
Samsung NX10 Test Image
Retro
Samsung NX10 Test Image
Cool
Samsung NX10 Test Image
Calm
Samsung NX10 Test Image
Classic

Colors in the PW palette have a range of sharpness, contrast and saturation adjustments available to fine tune image quality.

Like many digital cameras today, the NX10 has a setting to expand its apparent dynamic range - "smart range" - that is off by default. Here's my standard high contrast shot with SR disabled and then enabled. At first glance, the images look the same, but histograms show blown highlights on the disabled shot, but not with SR enabled. The difference is subtle but most apparent at the right side of both images.

Samsung NX10 Test Image
SR Off
Samsung NX10 Test Image
SR On

The 14.6 megapixel resolution of the NX10 sensor lends itself to cropping to either recompose the image or for nothing more than to get "closer." The cropped version is 8 x 12 inches at 203 dots per inch which will produce a good quality print.

Samsung NX10 Test Image
Original
Samsung NX10 Test Image
Cropped

I used auto white balance for all the shots in this review, and it worked well over most light ranges, but shot warm in the studio under incandescent light. There are seven preset values in addition to auto WB as well as a custom setting and a color temperature setting range from 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin. Multi metering proved accurate for most conditions, but could lose some highlights on occasion. There are center-weighted and spot metering options available.

Samsung NX10 Test Image
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

ISO performance was average; it doesn't seem the NX10 has broken any new ground in this regard. Both 100 and 200 are clean and basically indistinguishable from one another. ISO 400 is very good but there's just the slightest hint of some noise creeping in. ISO 800 shows yet another increase and 1600 is noticeably worse than 800 (but still not too bad for small images). Quality at 3200 drops off a bit more but is still usable for small print work.

Samsung NX10
ISO 100
Samsung NX10 Test Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Samsung NX10
ISO 200
Samsung NX10 Test Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Samsung NX10
ISO 400
Samsung NX10 Test Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Samsung NX10
ISO 800
Samsung NX10 Test Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Samsung NX10
ISO 1600
Samsung NX10 Test Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Samsung NX10 Test Image
ISO 3200
Samsung NX10 Test Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

The NX10 seems to be about even with the Micro Four Thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic in the lower ISO noise department and possibly a tiny bit behind from 800 and up. I don't think ISO performance of the NX10 in comparison to the Olympus or Panasonic offerings is a deal-maker or breaker one way or the other.

Additional Sample Images
Samsung NX10 Test Image Samsung NX10 Test Image
Samsung NX10 Test Image Samsung NX10 Test Image
Samsung NX10 Test Image Samsung NX10 Test Image
Samsung NX10 Test Image Samsung NX10 Test Image

CONCLUSION
Small, mirrorless digital cameras with interchangeable lenses are on the upswing; Panasonic and Olympus have been joined by Samsung with the NX10 and Sony's entry into the competition has just been formally announced. You have to wonder how long it might be before Canon and Nikon join the club.


The NX10 offers DSLR-like image quality, versatility and adjustability with sub-DSLR size and weight. The camera is easy to use for novices and experts alike, and offers a variety of shooting modes from fully automatic to fully manual, with a good assortment of adjustments for the latter modes.

The monitor/viewfinder ability to update the live view image to reflect actual exposure when compensation or other camera settings are changed is a nice touch that can greatly simplify image capture for both novices and pros. I personally like the handling of the mini-DSLR configured NX10 body better than the more boxy Panasonic GF1 I shot with back in October.

The camera came to the market with available lenses that cover a nice focal range, and additional lenses will be available by year's end. The lenses we had for this review are advertised as Samsung designed and built and their optical performance was quite good. Samsung has shown a lens adapter for Pentax lenses and once that becomes available, NX owners will be able to tap the extensive Pentax "K" mount lens inventory as well.

Noise performance is on a par with the direct competition (to date) and AF acquisition time is in the middle of the class in good conditions. Shutter lag was somewhat disappointing; at 0.05 seconds, the NX10 has just enough of a lag to be noticeable (and a bit annoying). With Sony throwing its hat into the ring with the NEX 3/5, things are heating up in this class, but the NX10 is a cool way to go if you think that mirrorless is more.

Pros:

Cons: