Do 20.3-megapixels make for meagre or mighty images?
A follow on from last year’s NX100, the NX200 has a lot more to offer, and should have sorted some of the problems of the three-star-rated NX100.?
The latest, slimmed-down Samsung compact system camera (CSC) packs in a 20.3-megapixel APS-C size CMOS sensor and promises aplenty. But at almost ?700 is the NX200 too pricey to be promising?
A brief history
Samsung has not been making the kind of waves in the CSC market that it ought to have. In part, this has been down to a lack of product availability rather than poor cameras. The not-so-old NX11 and NX100 are decent enough cameras, but the latest NX200 looks to really rock the boat on the features and performance front and, rather crucially, it’s already available to buy in plenty of stores.
As per its predecessors, the NX200 utilises the Samsung NX-mount to serve the large APS-C sensor size. There are nine NX lenses available, but what makes them extra special is their i-Function (iFn) buttons. A simple concept, iFn is a function button on the lens barrel itself where one press will load up the five main shooting options – aperture, shutter, ISO, etc – and you can then use the lens’ focusing ring to toggle between these settings on screen. It’s a simple concept but it’s effective so gets a thumbs up from us.
When we first saw the NX200 earlier this year the concept of squeezing so many megapixels onto the sensor did get us scratching our skulls as to whether it was a good idea. Sometimes too many megapixels means too little light per pixel, too much signal amplification and, as a result of that noisy signal, you get a noisier, grainier image. That’s a simplified writ on how the theory goes.
So it’s good to see that the NX200 has torn up the theory book on this one. The kind of resolution and detail we got from the camera’s low ISO shots was nothing short of amazing. ISO 100-400 are stunning in terms of detail and low noise, but colour noise does creep in to shots from ISO 800.
It’s not a particular problem until ISO 3200 where red blotches infiltrate the frame, and the ISO 6400-12,800 settings aren’t ones we’d want to use too hastily. Still, considering the resolution the low light performance remains good enough, despite not beating the likes of the Sony NEX-7. If you need very large images packed full of detail and have plenty of light to shoot in (or a tripod) then the NX200 won’t let you down in the image department.
There are lots of “fast” things about the NX200. The camera starts up in next to no time and the autofocus speeds into action at up to 0.1 seconds. That’s pretty fast we’re sure you’ll agree – though such a speed won’t always live up to that depending on focal length and lighting conditions. Dim conditions also prove problematic, even with the ISO set to 6400 it was difficult to achieve focus on any given subject with limited light.
It’s not only this that is fast as the NX200 can reel off up to seven frames per second (7fps) in its burst mode at full resolution. This is at a fixed focal point and exposure, however, and slows considerably with continuous autofocus activated – but it’s still speedy compared to much of the competition.
But, and it’s quite the big but, shoot RAW files and the processing time is yawnsome. It takes almost 10 seconds to write one shot to the card. The camera is still useable during this time though, so it’s not all bad – yet the menu, function button and d-pad are rendered useless during this period which means you can’t change that many options. Hopefully Samsung will release a patch to rectify these small issues.
Anyone who remembers the NX100 will recall its odd-shape and rather plastic-looking finish. Frankly it looked like a big girls’ camera, something the NX200 is oh so over. The latest model strips down to the bare essentials, builds itself up from a metal frame and puts functionality at pride of place.
There are plenty of buttons and this makes it easy to jump in and out of options. To support the iFn lenses the body has a main Fn button that loads up a “smart panel” with almost every setting then shown on the screen. It’s easy to cycle through these to adjust a huge list of options: aperture, shutter, quality, flash, metering, focus area and focus type to name but a few.
On top of the camera there is a main mode dial and thumbwheel for control. If you want hands-on control then the NX200 has got you covered.
Most compact system cameras shun the electronic viewfinder (EVF) concept, but the idea of being able to buy one at a later date would be an attractive prospect. Something that, sadly, the NX200 lacks, as Samsung hasn’t designed an EVF suitable for this model.
However there is a hotshoe that’s quite a rare site on CSCs. This means the included flashgun can be easily mounted or taken off, or one of a handful of other accessories (including a GPS device) can be attached. And, who knows, maybe this will be the gateway for a future EVF. Fingers crossed, eh?
As it stands the NX200 is used via the rear screen. The technology here is one to bow down to: Samsung’s OLED (or Organic Light Emitting Diode for its full name) screen is luscious; all crisp resolution, bright colours and significant dynamic range. It walks all over its competitors’ LCD screens, with the exception of the Olympus E-P3, also an OLED screen.
As well as stills the NX200 also revamps its movie mode by offering 1080p capture at 30fps. These MP4 files are of decent quality, but the biggest change from the previous NX-series models is the addition of full manual control. Settings can even be changed during recording which makes the NX200 quite the charmer when it comes to movie capture.
However the quality, decent enough as it is, doesn’t quite match up to some of the competition out there – but it’s more than good enough for the majority of tasks. And, let’s face it, this isn’t predominantly a video camera.
Although the high price and higher-still megapixel count initially cast the ‘Lint team with doubt, the NX200 does a sterling job of delivering the goods where it counts.
Its low ISO images are as good as they come, the camera is well designed, well built and super-easy to use. It feels solid in the hand, is intuitive to navigate, while touches such as the AMOLED screen and standard hotshoe mean the camera’s not only a pleasure to use but is all the more future-proof. Compared to the previous NX100 model, the latest NX200 is a massive leap forward into the next generation.
However the camera is not perfect and there are some shortcomings: RAW file processing is absurdly slow, battery life doesn’t cut it (it’s the same battery as the NX100) and the focusing system misses the mark when the sun goes down. If speed, low-light work and longevity are key areas for your work then the NX200 isn’t a match made in heaven. But for high-detail, high-quality pictures it’s really on the money.
If you’ve not considered Samsung as a CSC option before then the NX200 may well be the camera to change your mind. It’s not the teeniest of systems when considering the lens’ size implications and there are some performance issues. But with all that said it is, without a doubt, among the best CSCs that money can buy.