Samsung NX20 camera
Samsung NX20 review: an interchangeable lens camera with plenty of built-in features, including Wi-Fi
Samsung has packed a lot of technology into its NX20 interchangeable lens camera. Apart from a 20-megapixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor, this camera has Wi-Fi features, it supports Samsung's iFunction lenses, and it caters to both experienced photographers and beginners with its array of manual features and scene modes. The camera has pretty much all you need built in, including a flash, an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a high-quality, hinged LCD screen.
- Built-in EVF and flash
- Excellent image clarity
- Direct Wi-Fi connection to smartphones using free app
- Some Wi-Fi features can be confusing to use
- Burst mode is limited
- EVF's colours not great
Samsung's NX20 interchangeable lens camera is smaller than a digital SLR, but it offers a similar level of functionality. It has built-in features such as an EVF and a flash, so that you don't have to go hunting for accessories, but most importantly, it has the ability to capture very clear and vibrant images with its 20-megapixel sensor.
Controls and ease of use
Physically, the NX20 is still similar to the NX10 that was first introduced two years ago, and the NX11 that we saw last year, albeit with some slight tweaks to the contours and button placements. It's a comfortable camera to hold and shoot with, though it can feel a little heavy at times. There are many interchangeable lens cameras that are more compact, but the NX20 offers a complete set of features without you having to fork over more money for an EVF or a flash. Furthermore, it has a comprehensive set of controls on its body that allow it to feel more like a digital SLR than a compact camera. There are two dedicated dials on the camera that can be used to change aperture and shutter settings when manual mode is selected, there are dedicated buttons for ISO, focusing and exposure compensation, and you also get quick access to Full HD video recording via a dedicated record button that works in most modes.
Not only are there physical buttons for adjusting features, there is also a quick menu that pops up on the LCD screen when the Fn button on the back of the camera is pressed. This allows you to see all relevant camera features at a glance, and change any of them simply by navigating through them using the five-way thumb control on the rear. It's an effective way of reviewing all features, as well as accessing features that don't have direct buttons, such as white balance. And if you still want another way to do things, you can use an i-Function lens (the kit lens that we used is such a lens), which allows you to press the iFn button on the lens to cycle through settings (shutter, aperture, ISO and white balance can all be accessed through this single button) and change values by rotating the focus ring. This method is best for when you are using the electronic viewfinder to frame your shots rather than the screen and you want to change things such as white balance and ISO without taking your eye away from the scene.
The multiple ways in which things can be changed on the NX20 does make it a little hard to grasp at first — there are so many things to tinker with. It takes a good few days to fully get the hang of this camera and how to use it most efficiently. If you don't want to use any of the manual features right away, there is a competent Smart Auto mode that produces decent results, and there are also scene modes and different art modes that can be fun to play with.
We found the overall performance of the camera, using the supplied 18-55mm lens, to be quite good. Pictures from this camera are exceptionally clear at the pixel level, and because the sensor has 20 megapixels to work with, you can crop images closely without losing too much detail. This can be useful when using a short lens such as the 18-55mm and you want to bring out a distant or small object in your shot — of course, you'll have to make sure that what you shot was in focus first. Colours came out rich and images had lots of contrast by default. The 18-55mm lens isn't a great one though; we found its sharpness to be a little off at the edges, and there was noticeable distortion along straight lines when using the widest angle.
Getting the exposure right on its own all the time was not something that this camera did though. There were many times when highlights were blown or when the camera just decided to lighten things up a little too much, especially on gloomy days. Using the exposure compensation button to adjust the scenes was no big deal and the results that were shown on the screen when we made changes to the exposure were what the camera captured. When using the built-in EVF, you get all of the on-screen information to look at, as well as the scene you're trying to frame.
It's a decent EVF all up, but its colours are not accurate. There was a lot of discrepancy between it and the LCD screen. Mainly, we used the EVF when shooting out in bright sunlight and couldn't see the LCD screen properly. We had to regularly adjust the focus of the EVF, too — perhaps due to the way we just carried the camera around in a normal backpack and let it get bumped. A sensor can detect when you are using the EVF and switches off the LCD screen. While this is a feature we like, we often found ourselves getting caught out by it during times when we needed to shade the LCD with our hands — our hands would get in the way of the sensor and inadvertently switch off the screen.
Focusing with this camera was accurate and fast. We had no problems using the autofocus and we like the ease with which the camera allows for the focus point to be moved anywhere on the screen — all you have to do is press the OK button on the rear and then move the focus square to your desired position.
The camera's overall speed was a little slow at times. Sometimes, we had to wait a few seconds for the camera to finish processing while changing from shooting mode to playback mode, and these long waits were longer when the camera was asked to shoot in RAW mode. Shot-to-shot performance wasn't too bad. There are burst modes that can be used if you want to shoot rapidly, but we found these to be too limiting — the most we could use was a burst of 10 shots for about one second.
A Wi-Fi setting on the mode dial allows you to enable the camera's wireless mode, and this can be used to share photos with a smartphone, or to use a smartphone as a remote viewfinder. For both of these functions, you have to download the appropriate apps: MobileLink for sharing photos with a phone and Remote Viewfinder for using your phone to take pictures through the NX20. The apps need to be started on your phone and the mode enabled on the NX20 in order for the connection between the two devices to be made, and this can take up to about a minute.
Transferring photos from the NX20 to a smartphone only takes a few seconds — even for 20-megapixel photos — but bringing up lists of photos can take significantly more. You can easily select which photos you want to transfer to the phone, which you can then tinker with using other apps or simply upload to your favourite sites. The Remote Viewfinder app allows you to frame pictures and take shots remotely, and it's quite a nifty little feature, especially when you want to take photos at non-standard angles -- you can put the NX20 in a tree or down on the ground and use your phone to check the framing and discharge the shutter. You can't adjust any exposure settings with this app though; the most you can do is change the resolution of the image and disable the flash.
We would have liked some control of the Wi-Fi settings in this camera though. The connections with a smartphone are direct ones, which means you don't have to go through a router, but it would have been nice to be able to configure the camera to connect to a router so that we could then more easily use a PC to take photos of the camera without removing the SD card. When attempting to make a connection to a PC, you are asked to plug in the USB cable and install Intelli-Studio and Auto Backup software, but we found this whole process to be unintuitive.
We also found that with the MobileLink app, we had to disable and re-enable our phone's Wi-Fi before we could use it with our regular access point again. With the Remote Viewfinder app, we had to switch off the camera before our phone's regular wireless network was once again usable. We used an HTC Rhyme smartphone for our tests, which runs Android 2.3.5. The camera's Wi-Fi also works with Samsung TVs and can be used with other built-in functions, such as uploading to SkyDrive.
With a price of $999 for the NX20 kit that includes the 18-55mm zoom lens, the NX20 is fairly well priced, especially considering all the features that you get and also the high quality of its sensor. It's a camera that has the ability to capture very clear images, and it's quite versatile. That said, it can take a while to get used to given there are so many different ways to change settings, either directly or via menus. Once you do get the hang of it, you'll be able to recognise which method of control is more suited to your shooting style. Consider this camera if you want an interchangeable lens capability from a reasonably compact camera body, and also a body that doesn't compromise when it comes to built-in features.
• If you want more manual features and even better image quality in a compact camera, check out the Sony RX100.
• Another compact camera that supplies great image quality, manual controls and even a range finder: Canon's G1X.
• If you're looking for a new digital SLR, the Canon EOS 650D is an entry-level model that's also very fast.
• If you want a funky-looking interchangeable lens camera, it doesn't get much funkier than the Pentax K-01.
• Panasonic's Lumix DMC-TZ25 and DMC-TZ30 are both good choices if you're after a small camera with a big lens and great image quality.
• Bring Wi-Fi to your non-Wi-Fi camera with Eye-Fi.
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