Samsung turned DCR loose in Cologne for a day with a shiny new NX100 unit at this year's Photokina. We've got first impressions and sample images from one of the newest compact interchangeable lens cameras on the block.
Look and Feel
More than once, Samsung's development team pointed out that the camera's sloping top deck and shutter button are inspired by the appearance of "a drop of dew on a leaf." That's a little bit of a stretch for me, but it worked just fine ergonomically.
The NX100 is very close in size to the Olympus E-P1 I had on hand in Cologne. The NX100, with more of an overgrown point-and-shoot appearance, does not have the front leather grip of the digital Pen.
It doesn't have any kind of grip on the front, actually. There's a bit of an indentation on the back for the right thumb, with a few raised lines for a grip.
There's a small control dial on top to complement the control wheel surrounding the compass-point function buttons. Anyone familiar with an interchangeable lens system will be right at home with the controls, and those using it for the first time will find it easy to learn. Overall, it's quite compact considering it houses an APS-C sensor.
I powered the camera on for the first time with zoom lens attached and got an error message to check the lens. Turns out, it has a locking feature to keep it more compact when the camera's turned off. Where have I seen that before?
I'm undecided about whether the new i-Function lens feature is going to register better with more advanced users or beginners. The labeling of different lenses with icons - landscape, macro etc. - would be appealing to beginners stepping up from point-and-shoot cameras. The ability to change your aperture by sliding the ring around the lens is probably going to resonate more with enthusiasts.
In either case, if it's not a function the beginning user wants to use right away, it might make more sense with more time using the camera. A similar feature has been well-received on the likes of the Canon PowerShot S90, but to my knowledge this is the first time it's being used in the compact interchangeable lens category.
It was a bit unclear to me at first how exactly it functioned when I first read the press release. It didn't take long to figure it out, though, once I had the camera in my hands. It's very flexible, as you can scroll through the various settings and set each one to your liking. Or, if you prefer, you can leave it at one setting like white balance. If it's not your thing, then you can leave it totally alone. Despite my initial confusion, I'm almost sure I like it. It will take more use of the whole system to come down on one side or the other, but it was surprisingly useful.
The ring rotation is fluid, and it gives you a kind of sense that you're doing more than just pressing buttons to take the picture you want. A half-press of the shutter button will make the i-Function sub menu disappear.
The NX100 unit I spent some time with was in the final stages of pre-production. I wouldn't take the images you see here as the last word on NX100 image quality, but it seems that the camera was pretty close to full production.
I covered a couple of different lighting situations, from inside the Koelnmessse under convention hall lighting to the afternoon sun on a bridge over the Rhine. The NX100 performed well overall. Colors seemed accurate and auto exposure was generally good, even if I saw a slight tendency toward overexposure.
I put the 20-50mm lens's focal range to work on Cologne's gothic cathedral.
Details are reproduced nicely, even out toward the edges. The same is true in the images below of locks on the Hohenzollern bridge, both taken with the 20mm prime.
If I can nitpick this early in the camera's production life, I'd say I saw a tendency toward slight overexposure in challenging lighting situations. That said, it did a good job most of the time exposing the key areas of my images. In the image below, the highlights on the tower in the distance are lost, though neither the person on the bridge or below it are completely lost.
However, in the image below using the 20-50mm, the details on the coins in the bucket are watery. The camera was in Auto ISO mode, and brought the ISO up around 300.
More to come
The NX100 shows a lot of promise. It's nice to see some outside-of-the-box thinking on features like the i-Function lenses. Some more field use and testing is needed, and since the unit I tested wasn't completely production-ready, we'll have to wait for a full analysis.
And while we're on the subject of review units, I'll take this one please. Zebra included.
Additional Sample Images