I have been experimenting with a different camera lately, the Samsung NX10.
This is South Korea’s effort against the Japanese monopoly of Canon, Nikon, Sony and Panasonic. Samsung have always been viewed as the underdog but now I think they are more of a dark horse.
Recent Samsung cameras have been a great leap. Although this is not a video orientated camera like the Panasonic GH1 and it shows, when compared even to the mighty Canon EOS DSLRs and Panasonic GH1 the NX10 is notable in a few other ways. It has a great AMOLED screen, which allows much better visibility outdoors and it uses less power. Samsung are pioneers with screen technology. It is a small mirrorless camera like the GH1 but it has a sexier design and feels nicer to hold, much less boxy than either the GH1 or GF1, and the Olympus Micro 4/3rd’s cameras. The sensor is APS-C like on the Sony NEX5 and it has better dynamic range than the GH1′s Micro 4/3rd’s sensor.
So Samsung have made a good leap with the NX10 and are set to introduce a compact that does full 1080p soon, the WB2000. Also with the EX1 / TL500 they have produced an arguably better camera than the Panasonic LX3 & Canon G11 in the high end compact market – with it’s F1.8 wide angle lens, articulated AMOLED screen and class leading image quality. Samsung have definitely now passed the group stages of the Camera Cup so it should be interesting what they do next.
For stills and creative shooting the NX10 is a great camera, a welcome alternative to the conservative trad DSLRs from Canon and Nikon whilst being very competitively priced. It’s small, light and nicer to use than the Sony NEX and the photo quality is superb.
So how about the video mode?
The video mode in the NX10 is a reminder of why Canon and Panasonic still rule the market. It is fine for casual use and it’s fun, but it has some major caveats for more creative use compared to the similarly priced competition from Canon (550D) and Panasonic. Samsung need to improve it next time round to open up this section of the market as well as appealing to more professional video users.
At the moment it’s just a fun add on.
The main issues are moire patterns (like on the Canon EOS DSLRs but worse), lack of manual control over ISO and shutter speed, poor auto handling of ISO and shutter speed that does not take into consideration basic aesthetic feel, no 24p and very noticeable stepped exposure changes whilst recording. All impact heavily on cinematic feel, as does the constantly high shutter speed the camera employs while recording, giving motion a very artificial electronic feel and degrading low light performance.
You can however work around the automatic exposure by pressing and holding the AEL button (auto exposure lock) when pressing the shutter release button to begin recording but I shot an indoor scene with my Panasonic GH1 at F2, ISO 320 and to achieve the same exposure on the NX10 it used a high frame rate and ISO 1600! That is a bit silly, and there was no work-around for the ISO settings in video mode.
You can use it in aperture priority mode and have manual override on white balance control, but that’s about it. I think Samsung designed the video mode for point-and-shoot simplicity but this is a high end camera and much of the target customers know how to use more advanced controls, so to see them missing from the NX10′s video mode is another goal conceded to the Japanese. Canon got it right, even on their entry level EOS 550D.
The thinking is that photographers can easily use photographic controls in stills mode but that it is trickier in movie mode. True, for handheld family gatherings where you need full-auto, it is.
The NX10 records in H264 – a nice modern codec but the bitrate is a trifling 9Mbit and the audio bitrate is 64kbps. So it’s not even in the same league as the GH1 video quality wise. But remember how far Samsung have come with models like the NX10 and EX1. These are now at least in the league of proper photographic tools whereas previously they were rebranding Pentax DSLRs and supplying only image sensors and screens.
I had 3 Samsung lenses to test as well – the great 30mm F2 pancake, the 18-55mm kit and the very inexpensive (yet with OIS) 55-200mm super zoom. The favourite aspect of the Samsung lenses is that the focus rings are very light to the touch. You can lay just one finger and with the slightest of effort change focus, without nudging the camera at all – so very useful for shooting video.
The sensor inside is APS-C but slightly larger than the Canon variety. This sensor is a huge leap for Samsung and deserves praise. Very good dynamic range and colour, it has a great ‘feel’ to it and I actually prefer it to the GH1 for stills – more dynamic range, shallower depth of field, more controlled in terms of banding, better noise control, has smoother tonal balance, more gradual gradients and smoother fall off from highlights. In photo mode that is. In video mode that’s not so evident.
At ISO 1600 quite a lot of noise is present but it has a photographic film-like appearance and is well controlled by the noise reduction feature, the image sensor is not so much a concern then. With a higher recording bitrate, manual controls and 1080/24p this sensor might have knocked the Japanese team out of the cup.
It’s just that they scored too late and didn’t go the whole hog with more advanced features and manual control. Samsung have been kind enough to give us a K mount adapter for older Pentax lenses, so they recognise the prosumer and enthusiast market exist. They just need more time.
The problem is that now the NX10 is available, Panasonic are not far from their 2nd generation with the GH2 and that will move the goal posts considerably for everyone, least of all Canon and Nikon.
I get the sense that mirrorless cameras have been spurred on by the sales figures from the GF1 and Olympus EP1, and so they’re being marketed as easy to use point and shoots that give better image quality than compacts. The NX10 and Sony NEX5 are firmly in this camp. But I feel this misses a huge market, which is currently catered for only by one camera, the GH1. The Canon cameras although top-notch in terms of image quality are so conservative in comparison to the mirrorless models. Who needs a mirror in a video camera, or a lack of articulated screen?
If Samsung are a bit braver in catering for advanced users next time out with the NX line, they will have a nice surprise when the sales figures come in.Pros
[*]Nice build quality and styling
[*]Good sensor – smooth still quality overall, pleasing colour and dynamic range
[*]High quality, inexpensive lenses
[*]Excellent auto white balance
[*]Chroma noise reduction is superb, noise is fim-like
[*]The screen is my favourite of all the DSLRs, love the AMOLED feel
[*]Very good EVF considering the price of the body
[*]Quieter mechanical shutter than GH1
[*]Inexpensive and to be honest you get a lot
[*]Only a one finger feather light touch required to manually focus with Samsung lenses
[*]Almost silent AF with the Samsung lenses
[*]Very sharp pancake 30mm F2, which is extremely small and light
[*]Lack of control over ISO and shutter in video mode
[*]Only 720/30p, low bitrate
[*]Auto-focus very unreliable (at least on my test model)
[*]Needs an extra rotating dial around the d-pad and fewer buttons
[*]Scroll wheel often duplicates the function of the d-pad, which is maddening (for example it flips left and right through images like the d-pad and the image magnification zoom is done with two extra buttons!)
[*]Memory card insertion backward to what is standard (on Canon, Panasonic, etc.)
[*]Cannot reposition manual focus magnification guide, only works in centre of image
[*]Playback of HD video via HDMI on a TV is not full screen, more like a semi-thumbnail with large black border